While Howie Roseman deserves credit for putting the wheels in motion to lead the Eagles back into Super Bowl contention, some of his past mistakes still haunt the team. As he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft, his top priorities closely resemble the team’s needs entering the 2020 NFL Draft. His misses from two years ago have left the team with glaring roster holes, and he now finds himself in a position to readdress needs at the same positions.
Eagles Show Inability to Solve Wide Receiver Position
A lack of depth at the wide receiver position plagued the Eagles in 2019. Overreliance on injury-prone veterans Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson came back to bite them, and an additional injury to an already underperforming Nelson Agholor forced them to dig deep into their pockets to find replacements.
Mack Hollins went his final eight games in Philadelphia without a single reception, despite playing at least 45% of the offensive snaps in each one. Journeymen free agents Robert Davis and Deontay Burnett both played more snaps than disappointing rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside during an NFC Wild Card round loss.
Wide receiver was the top need entering the draft in 2020. In an attempt to fill the hole, Roseman made perhaps his worst decision as general manager by drafting Jalen Reagor with the 21st overall pick when Justin Jefferson, the consensus choice, was still available.
He also maneuvered in the late rounds in hopes of improving the team’s depth. First, the Eagles selected the speedy John Hightower in the fifth round. Then, Roseman swapped sixth-round picks with the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for veteran Marquise Goodwin. Lastly, he drafted Quez Watkins with the 200th overall pick.
The maneuvering of assets looked like a shrewd strategy that could eliminate the recurring need to sign free agents like Jordan Matthews midseason if injuries piled up. However, a lack of wide receiver depth still exists in the organization for reasons both within and outside the Eagles’ control.
Reagor has contributed minimally in two seasons, and the Eagles should not realistically expect significant future improvement from him. Hightower looks unlikely to play a role on an NFL roster in the future. Goodwin never played a snap for the Eagles.
Watkins was a steal late in the draft. He was second among Eagles wide receivers in 2021 with 647 receiving yards. DeVonta Smith was also the right choice as the 10th overall pick in 2021. He led the team with 916 receiving yards in 2021. Even with the two selections, the Eagles still don’t have a wide receiving corps that can compete with the best in the NFL.
Of the 13 other NFL teams coming off a postseason appearance, 11 had a top wide receiver who outgained Smith in receiving yards. The second-leading wide receiver on 10 of the 13 teams outgained Watkins.
The Tennessee Titans were the only playoff team who didn’t have a top wide receiver outgain Smith or a second wide receiver outgain Watkins. Their two most talented wide receivers, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, missed 11 combined games last season.
The Eagles could potentially use a first-round pick on a wide receiver for the third consecutive year in 2022. The strategy didn’t pan out well for the Detroit Lions when they drafted Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams in the first round in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
Controversial Choice in Jalen Hurts
The Eagles selected Jalen Hurts with the 53rd overall pick in 2020 with the intention of solidifying the backup quarterback position. The circumstances surrounding the pick have been complicated, to say the least.
He has provided good value on the field during his two seasons. Roseman deserves credit for finding a quarterback who has exceeded the level of play by recent second-rounders Drew Lock in 2019, DeShone Kizer in 2017, and Christian Hackenberg in 2016. Hurts’ career track can be reasonably compared to more successful second-round selections Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
However, Roseman’s overall draft strategy also plays into the evaluation. The controversy surrounding the selection of Hurts was more about ignoring integral positions of need, especially on defense. The quarterback’s progress has already paid dividends, but it still hindered Roseman’s ability to solidify another need on the roster with a premium pick.
Eagles Light at Linebacker
The Eagles historically do not prioritize the linebacker position as a top need in roster construction. Following their victory in Super Bowl LII, they allowed a talented linebacking group of Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, and Nigel Bradham to leave one by one in three consecutive offseasons.
Roseman made his most significant investment for a linebacker to replace the trio by selecting Davion Taylor in the third round in 2020. The athletically-gifted linebacker had just two years of NCAA Division I experience and almost no background in high school football. Considering the lack of experience, the Eagles knew he was a long-term project player who wouldn’t realistically make immediate contributions in the NFL.
Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice spoke in November 2021 about Taylor’s development in the NFL after reviewing the game tapes of his rookie season in 2020.
“It was ugly. I mean, he was really, really bad as a rookie last year (2020). He didn’t play a lot, but in the snaps that he did play, I thought he was an unplayable player. And this year (2021), to say that he’s playable, isn’t maybe the most complimentary way to put it, but he’s playable. You can put him on the field, and he’s not just going to completely wreck your defense.”– Jimmy Kempski
Kempski’s summation is far from the highest level of positivity, and the production Taylor has given to the Eagles in two seasons is underwhelming. He did play his two best games as a professional in Weeks 9 and 10 before suffering an injury in Week 11 that kept him out for the remainder of the 2021 season.
The book is not closed on Taylor, but the Eagles cannot count on him as their best playmaking linebacker in 2022. They also have a serviceable player in T.J. Edwards, but Jonathan Gannon’s defense suffered in 2021 in part because the team lacked impact players in the front seven.
The need to supplement Edwards and Taylor is a legitimate priority in the 2022 draft.
Roseman’s Strategy in the Secondary
The Eagles acquired Darius Slay from the Lions in March 2020 for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft. The veteran rebounded from a down season in 2020 and earned a Pro Bowl nod for the 2021 season. He will enter the 2022 season as their presumed top corner.
The rest of the secondary remains uncertain in large part because of the shuffle that took place during the 2020 offseason. The Eagles moved Jalen Mills from cornerback to safety and heightened the role of Avonte Maddox by asking him to move from the slot position to the outside. Neither move worked out particularly well.
Roseman selected K’Von Wallace in the fourth round in 2020. His contributions on special teams justify a mid-round selection, but the Clemson product should not be viewed as a starter in the secondary moving forward. The lack of a key contributor at safety is also part of the risk assumed by drafting Hurts in the early rounds rather than addressing a more obvious position of need.
The secondary should be among the top priorities of the 2022 NFL Draft, especially if unrestricted free agents Steve Nelson, Rodney McLeod, and Anthony Harris don’t return to Philadelphia next season.
Remaining 2020 Picks, Eagles at the 2022 NFL Draft
The Eagles prioritize the offensive and defensive lines as much as any NFL franchise. They wisely spent a fourth-round pick on guard/tackle Jack Driscoll, who has proven himself as a versatile piece when healthy. Offensive line depth is still a need this offseason, but just about every NFL team could make that claim on a yearly basis.
They also took defensive linemen Prince Tega Wanogho and Casey Toohill at a low cost in the late rounds. Neither played significant time in Philadelphia. They selected Shaun Bradley with the 210th overall pick. The Temple product has provided good late-round value on special teams.
Roseman will be in control in one of the most critical drafts in franchise history in April. He hopes that his ability to collect three first-round picks will enable him to bounce back from the series of mistakes he made at the 2020 draft and in the surrounding offseasons.
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