The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching and for the Eagles, a sense of anxiety fills the air. With a barrel of offensive playmakers within reach at pick #6, it’s easy to get lost in the lights. Kyle Pitts and Ja’Maar Chase are undoubtedly incredible talents, but should the Eagles even be looking to bolster their offense at this point?
New face, same aim
If you look at the rise of the Colts defense over the last few years, you’ll notice it’s been built in a similar way to how the Eagles constructed their roster a few years back. Chris Ballard has been able to find a cornerstone player at each level in the way of DT DeForest Buckner, LB Darius Leonard, CB Kenny Moore, and S Malik Hooker (until his heartbreaking injury and the decline of his fifth-year option).
Philadelphia’s cornerstone plan worked well. The problem is that most of those players given hefty extensions in the years of 2016/2017 are either no longer with the team or headed towards the end of their tenure. The exceptions here are Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, but both are coming off significant injury. Most other spots, however, especially on defense, is lacking stability.
A change of heart
It’s fair to assume that Jonathan Gannon will be running his version of the Tampa-2 scheme ran by Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. What does this mean?
The Colts, like the Eagles, thrive when getting a lot of pressure up front. Unlike the Eagles, they can actually make plays on the ball and play a scheme that allows corners to play their man across the board, with some safety scaffolding, and their linebackers to wreak havoc.
For this to work in Philadelphia, three things need to happen:
- The Eagles really need a reliable MIKE linebacker…and while they’re at it, a SAM linebacker not named Nate Gerry.
- A cornerback opposite Darius Slay who can one day grow into his shoes is absolutely vital. Otherwise ‘big-play Slay’ will be making no plays at all because quarterbacks will continue to brutalize the opposite side of the field.
- The Safety position needs a ball-hawking menace to align with a strong downhill tackler. They may have one of these pieces already in K’Von Wallace, but with the uncertainty surrounding Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod, it may be worth adding more help.
Obviously, these objectives will not be accomplished overnight, but the defense is oddly in a much more vulnerable state than the offense. Whether we’re talking cornerbacks in Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley, or even someone like Penn State’s linebacking prospect Micah Parsons, there are plenty of avenues for a cap-strapped Eagles to begin adding those cornerstones again.
The Eagles clearly believe in their WR coach
I know what you’re thinking. ‘But what about DeVonta Smith??!’ ‘Have you not watched Ja’Marr Chase?!’ ‘Jalen Hurts needs playmakers’. I hear you, I do.
The Eagles cleaned house this offseason. Every single coach who failed to live up to expectations was promptly kicked out of the building…all but two. Jeff Stoutland’s retention was a no-brainer, but several people were surprised to hear that Aaron Moorehead was also staying.
It’s not like he had a lot to work with in his first year as the teams’ WR coach. A shortened offseason meant he couldn’t really get hands-on with his new players and then injuries decided to rip through the position just to keep things fun. Not that this is an excuse, but it’s hard to really get a gauge on ‘development’ if you’re throwing fifth and sixth-round picks into the deep end and expecting immediate results.
Moorehead was kept on for a reason. If you need a reminder of just how impressive his track record is, let me jog your memory:
2019: Kalijah Lipscomb: 511 yards, 4 TD, 13 games
2018: Kalijah Lipscomb: 916 yards, 9 TD, 10 games
2017: Christian Kirk: 919 yards, 10 TD, 13 games
2016: Christian Kirk: 928 yards, 9 TD, 13 games
2015: Christian Kirk: 1,009 yards, 7 TD, 13 games
2014: Sammie Coates, 741 yards, 4 TD, 13 games
2013: Sammie Coates, 902 yards, 7 TD, 13 games
He’s also coached up draft picks such as Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Damion Ratley.
The Eagles spent a first-round pick on Jalen Reagor and drafted a pair of speedsters later that same weekend. It would be asinine to assume that a rookie year in an offense so broken with a quarterback struggling so mightily with accuracy is a good enough reason to declare all three as lost causes.
Jalen Reagor might be living in the shadow of Justin Jefferson, but this is a new era now and there is a chance the Eagles believe he is their Z receiver of the future. If that’s the case, you can make the argument for Chase or maybe even Smith, but can the Eagles afford to risk spending another high draft pick on a wide receiver at such a crucial time of retooling?
Familiarity and foundation
The Eagles are not one piece away. After watching Carson Wentz carry a corpse of an offense to a playoff berth in 2019, many believed they were. This is much bigger than ‘get Jalen Hurts a receiver‘. You can make the case that Hurts actually has a wider array of skill sets (not necessarily production) at his disposal than Wentz did during his rookie year.
If you want Kyle Pitts, I present (RFA) Mo Allie-Cox. Ja’Maar Chase? Have you heard of (ERFA) Zach Pascal or T.Y Hilton? These players may not have the same upside as the upcoming rookies, but they tick a box…and right now that’s really what counts for a team that’s just trying to find an identity.
I am absolutely all for drafting an offensive playmaker with the sixth overall pick, but you can make a very strong argument that the pick would be better utilized on the defensive side of things while the offense is built back to a unit that can actually function – learning to walk before it can run.
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire