Following general manager Howie Roseman’s recent pick swap with the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles hold the 15th and 18th overall selections in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Optimism is swirling based on the idea of having the pick of the litter of NFL prospects. Looking at the talent pool that will be available in Las Vegas, one trend becomes very obvious: the top of the draft is loaded with players from the University of Georgia.
Carlos Medina, an NFL Draft analyst and host with 860 The Fan in Atlanta, spoke with Philly Sports Network about the depth of talent the defending National Champions will send to the draft.
Attitude of the Georgia Bulldogs Personified by Lewis Cine
Medina lauded the way Georgia has developed its players under head coach Kirby Smart.
“If you’re playing at Georgia there are certain things every player is expected to do. If you’re a receiver, you must block in the run game or you won’t get on the field. If you’re a defensive player you’re expected to play discipline football and bring it on every play. It’s part of the reason Georgia rotates so many players defensively, you’re expected to play fast and tough.”-Carlos Medina (@FrontOfficeLos)
As a guest on the John Kincade Show on 97.5 The Fanatic in March, he described a “level of toughness that every player has to play with” to earn his way into a role.
Describing the environment of the program led him to discuss his high opinion of Lewis Cine, the “best centerfield safety in this draft.” The junior earned the honor as the defensive MVP in the National Championship Game in Indianapolis in January.
Medina credited the 6-foot-1 safety’s ability to play “tougher than his size” as an attribute that earned him the most snaps of any Georgia defender in 2021. He achieved the feat at the same position Smart once played for the Bulldogs.
The most successful Eagles teams of the modern era have been led by safeties with similarly valuable intangible qualities. Brian Dawkins and Malcolm Jenkins both brought character as heart and soul players of their respective teams during some of the best seasons in franchise history.
The 15th and 18th picks will most likely afford the Eagles the opportunity to draft Cine, ranked 20th on Medina’s big board on FrontOfficeFootball.com, while top-ranked safety Kyle Hamilton is more likely to come off the board earlier. However, selecting Cine would require the Eagles to break a remarkably persistent trend. They haven’t taken a safety in the first round since the creation of the NFL Draft in 1936.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon deployed his safeties in a passive scheme during his first season with the Eagles in 2021. A playmaker who exceeds the talent level of Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps, and K’Von Wallace could change the dynamic of the pass defense.
The Eagles are still reportedly interested in Tyrann Mathieu, but if the soon-to-be 30-year-old free agent doesn’t end up in midnight green, a young playmaker like Cine would make perfect sense for the Eagles.
Devonte Wyatt (DT)
The Eagles have reportedly shown serious interest in defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound mammoth showed an ability to play multiple techniques well during his time in college. His role on the nation’s top scoring defense in 2021 helped him earn the 27th overall spot on Medina’s big board.
“Wyatt is the only sure-fire three-down defensive tackle at the top of this draft. I believe Wyatt will excel as a three-technique defensive tackle where he is allowed to shoot gaps and cause havoc with his explosive first step.”-Medina
Medina also believes that Wyatt’s total of 2.5 sacks in 2021 is misleading because of the consistent rotation along the Georgia defensive line. An increased role as a pass rusher in the NFL could unlock a new element of his skill set.
Strength on the interior of the defensive line has been a point of heavy emphasis for the Eagles over the past two decades. Fletcher Cox noticeably regressed in 2021, and the 31-year-old could very well be entering his last season in Philadelphia. Javon Hargrave is coming off a Pro Bowl selection, but he will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
Wyatt could join Milton Williams as part of a new group of defensive linemen slated to carry the franchise into a new era. The most successful teams in recent Eagles history all featured effective rotations along the defensive line, and selecting Wyatt in the first round would continue a trend for an organization that has spent 21 of its last 31 first-round picks on linemen.
George Pickens (WR)
Roseman spent a second-round pick in 2019 and first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 on the wide receiver position, but he must acknowledge an inconvenient truth that wide receiver is still a legitimate roster need.
Of the 13 other NFL teams coming off a postseason appearance, 11 had a top wide receiver who outgained DeVonta Smith’s team-leading 916 receiving yards. The second-leading wide receiver on 10 of the 13 teams outgained Quez Watkins, second on Philadelphia’s depth chart. The additions of Zach Pascal and Devon Allen will provide solid depth, but the Eagles still need starting-level talent.
Although the Georgia defense grabbed the spotlight during their National Championship season, the Bulldogs could also produce a solution Philadelphia’s woes on the outside. Medina called 6-foot-3 wide receiver George Pickens an “elite pass catcher on downfield 50/50 throws,” and his highlight-reel catch during spring ball in 2019 indicates as much.
Pickens’ “questionable on-field maturity” and an ACL tear in Spring 2021 will cause some NFL teams to pass on him. He famously warranted an ejection during the second half of a blowout game against Georgia Tech in 2019, and NCAA rules pushed his ineligibility through the first half of the SEC Championship Game the following week.
However, Medina spoke positively about Pickens as a player and as a teammate.
“I’m of the belief that losing football for half a year due to his ACL injury may have been the best thing for him. Everything that he has said during his media availability demonstrates a more mature young man who worked to get back with his teammates.”-Medina
Pickens returned from the ACL injury to play a limited role by the end of the 2021 season. He ran an impressive 4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Perhaps a blessing in a terrible disguise will ultimately help Pickens. He is the seventh-ranked wide receiver on Medina’s board, and the Eagles could benefit from a player of his caliber falling into the second round if they decide not to address wide receiver at 15th or 18th overall.
Eagles Looking for More Bulldogs
The Eagles last selected a Georgia player in the NFL Draft in 2012 when they took cornerback Brandon Boykin in the fourth round.
Boykin brought more than adequate production based on his draft position, most notably securing the NFC East title in Week 17 of the 2013 season with a crucial interception against the Dallas Cowboys. However, Medina questions whether the 5-foot-9 corner would’ve even fit into the Georgia defense in 2021 because he doesn’t compare to the “freakishly fast, freakishly big” Bulldogs entering the draft this year.
Georgia sent 14 players to the NFL Combine in March. It was the most of any school this year and the most in program history. Eight were on the defensive side of the ball. It isn’t surprising for a team that allowed 13 touchdowns in 15 games playing in the nation’s best conference in 2021.
The Philadelphia defense padded its stats in 2021 against quarterbacks without quality NFL pedigrees. They allowed an average of 13 points per game against teams who finished with losing records and 33.2 points per game against teams who finished with winning records. They allowed five of the first nine opposing starting quarterbacks they faced to complete 80 percent or more of their passes. All five played for teams with winning records.
Their underwhelming unit could use an infusion of playmakers looking to make the jump from a championship defense at the college level to a championship defense at the professional level.
As Medina boldly stated on 97.5 The Fanatic, “If you draft a player, and it says Georgia next to their name, you’re doing something right.”
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire