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April 28, 2021

What they're saying: How likely are the Eagles to land a top pass-catcher in the NFL Draft?

Some final thoughts on the Birds' options with their 11 total picks in this year's NFL Draft...

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Jaylen-Waddle_042821_usat Gary Cosby Jr./Imagn Content Services

The odds of one of Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) or DeVonta Smith (not pictured) being available when the Eagles pick is probably higher than you think.

The scouting is over. The order is (for now, at least) set. The mocks have been posted and analyzed — and in some cases actually mocked. 

Now, the only thing left to do is watch commissioner Roger Goodell step up to the microphone, welcome the viewing audience to the 2021 NFL Draft, and announce that the Jaguars are on the clock with the first overall pick. 

There should've been just five picks between that moment and the Eagles being placed on the clock, but a somewhat surprising trade back now has Philly picking 12th overall, a spot that could change at a moment's notice with the Birds always being a team rumored to be eyeing trades in every direction but sideways (but only because that makes no sense — if you could make a lateral trade, Howie Roseman would figure out a way to be linked to that as well).

With there expected to be an early run on quarterbacks in Thursday night's first round, the Eagles should still have several options when their turn comes, even if they don't trade back up into the top 10 to try to land a quarterback or perhaps Philly native Kyle Pitts, largely considered to be the best prospect not named Trevor Lawrence. 

With time running out before the picks are made, let's take one last look at what they're saying about the Eagles heading into the draft... 

A safe bet?

Seth Walder | ESPN+

When the Eagles first traded back, many thought that might spell the end of their chances at landing one of the top pass-catchers in this draft, as that (along with cornerback) remains one of Philly's top needs. The top tier is Pitts, the tight end from Florida who could go fourth overall to the Falcons, and LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who could go one pick later to the Bengals and be reunited with his former quarterback Joe Burrow. If that's the case, it would appear that the Eagles were never really in play to get either with the sixth pick. 

But it looks like there's a chance that the other two top receivers in the draft, who are just a peg below Pitts and Chase, will still be there for the Birds with the 12 pick. And according to ESPN's Seth Walder, there's more than just a chance one of those two is still on the board at 12.

After the Philadelphia Eagles' trade back to No. 12, what are the chances a top-four pass-catcher is still available when they are on the clock?

Well, they have a better chance than you might think! Sure, they can forget about Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. But Alabama's DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle? There's a 53% and 54% chance they are available at the No. 12 pick, respectively.

And get this: There's an 80% chance at least one of the top four pass-catchers lasts until No. 12. (Again, this is basically just pointing to Waddle or Smith.)

That might be surprising, but if five quarterbacks, Pitts, Chase and Oregon tackle Penei Sewell all go in the top 10, then we're already eight players down with a variety of options to go after that. Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn are all legitimate possibilities to go off the board before No. 12. The Eagles likely need just two of the three picks between Nos. 9 and 11 to come from that group to have at least one of Waddle or Smith slide to them at No. 12.  [espn.com]

If the Eagles were planning on taking one of those two players at 6, and they're still available at 12, that means that Howie Roseman basically got an additional first-round pick in 2022 without really having to give anything up (since he got the player he wanted at six anyway). We drag him plenty, but that would be a huge win for him, especially if the player pans out. Of course, there's an argument to be made that, with the trade being made a month prior to the draft, there's no way he could've known this would happen and he simply got lucky, but hey, let's give him this one.

[UPDATE: According to ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler, despite some believing that Waddle or Smith will fall to 12, some NFL teams picking ahead of them believe the Eagles are trying to trade up to ensure they land their guy, who may not be the guy you think it is...]

Should vs. will

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

In our last WTS, we linked to Brandon banging the drum for Smith, something he's been doing for a while now. And over at Bleeding Green Nation, he again made that point in a great post featuring several BGN writers opining on what the Eagles should do with the 12 pick and then trying to predict what they will do. 

The differences between the two are actually hilarious. 

SHOULD

For once, the Eagles shouldn’t overthink it. Instead of trying to outsmart themselves, they should do the right thing and draft DeVonta Smith. The Eagles should be aiming to build an elite passing offense and adding Smith to their roster helps towards achieving that goal. Unlike some previous Eagles draft picks, he’s a stone-cold baller with Big Winner Energy in spades. He’s also just a really good football player, which is important. The concerns about his weight are overblown. If Smith isn’t on the board, Jaylen Waddle or Jaycee Horn could be reasonable consolation prizes.

WILL

With the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select ... Kwity Paye, defensive end, Michigan. (Cynicism aside, I wonder if the Eagles might feel pressured to do the popular thing instead of trying to outsmart everyone again.)  [bleedinggreennation.com]

Longterm thinking?

Mike Kaye | NJ.com

Speaking of drafting a defensive lineman, NJ.com's Mike Kaye posted his five final Eagles thoughts ahead of the draft, and one of them included a look at why taking a lineman (on either side of the ball) wouldn't be a bad pick. It would all depend on the player they took. 

Drafting an offensive or defensive lineman at No. 12 isn’t a bad pick, necessarily.

Depending on who is left on the board at No. 12, the Eagles could fall back into their longstanding “trenches” philosophy. While some fans would balk at the idea of selecting a lineman in the first round -- especially considering the class -- the Eagles wouldn’t be foolish to make a forward-thinking selection on either line.

The Eagles are in rebuilding mode, so, understandably, they’d want to address their internally viewed “premium” positions first. While they might pass on a quarterback, defensive end and offensive tackle could still be priorities. Northwestern lineman Rashawn Slater could be a reasonable option if the Eagles view him as a long-term fit at left tackle. The same could be said for Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, who would fit in nicely within the Eagles’ pass-rushing rotation.

Slater has the versatility to fill in several holes, which is ideal, as right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks are coming off major surgeries, and center Jason Kelce considers retirement every offseason. Paye could be long-term insurance for Brandon Graham, who is entering the twilight of his career.

While the Eagles might be better served this season with a wideout or cornerback in the first round, the team needs to pick with the long-term future in mind.  [nj.com]

Drafting one of those two position would certainly be thinking for the future, but it likely wouldn't go over well with the fanbase. 

Chips on the table

Paul Domowitch | Inquirer.com

As we've written about several times in the lead up to the draft, the Eagles could do pretty much anything in the first round: trade up, trade back (again), or stand pat. They could even make a pick at 12 and then trade back up into the bottom half of the first-round. 

The most interesting of those choices would obviously be the first, in part because of how it would be, in a sense, undoing a previous trade that's just a month old, but also because it would mean the Eagles were going after a top prospect. 

It seems like a lock that Pitts and Chase will be off the board in the top five or six picks, but what if one winds up slipping a little bit? Here's more from Inquirer.com columnist Paul Domowitch... 

Could they stay put at 12? Most definitely. This is the year of the Great Quarterback Grab. Five QBs very well could go among the first seven or eight picks. That’s going to push the position players down and increase the chances of the Eagles getting an impact player at 12.

But if somebody like tight end Kyle Pitts or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase were to unexpectedly slip to eight or nine, the Eagles could pounce. [...]

The Eagles have a league-high five picks in the sixth and seventh rounds, and two picks in the third round. So they certainly have the wherewithal to do some maneuvering in the next three days.

They also have another potential bargaining chip — three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, who many expect to be moved at some point during this draft. FYI, the Carolina Panthers, who own the eighth overall pick, got a total of 27 receptions from all their tight ends last season.  [inquirer.com]

Fields of (midnight) green?

Tim McManus | ESPN

Another reason the Eagles might be willing to trade up, as was recently reported by Jason La Canfora, would be to draft a QB. Earlier this week, Todd McShay reported that there was some interest on the Eagles' end in Justin Fields, but that seemed to be more of a smokescreen as the team was simultaneously "tossing out feelers" to other teams who might be looking to trade up and draft a QB at 12 should he fall to them. 

Of course, those feelers could be the actual smokescreen to convince QB-needy teams that the Eagles aren't looking to draft a QB, thus keeping someone from trading up in front of them to take a QB before the 12th pick. In other words, who actually knows at this point? 

The one thing we do know is that the Eagles have been hesitant to name Jalen Hurts the starter and have said they want competition at every position, including quarterback. With aging Joe Flacco being the only QB they've brought in so far, that's not really creating much competition for Hurts. But it's beginning to look more and more like they'll have to move back up if they want one. Here's more from Tim McManus...

You can bet there are people inside the building who view Fields as one of the top three quarterbacks in this draft class. There is a thought one of the QBs could be in play should they slide to 12.

But there seems to be a growing sense around the league that all five of the top QBs -- Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, Alabama's Mac Jones, Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance -- will be drafted within the first eight picks, meaning the Eagles would have to trade back into the top 10, a month after moving from No. 6 to 12 overall in a deal with the Miami Dolphins that netted a future first-round pick.

It's possible they move back up at a lesser price -- call it a second-rounder -- and secure a coveted player while holding onto that newly acquired first-round pick. But the initial move back is not the kind of behavior teams typically exhibit when pursuing a franchise quarterback, because it increases the risk of missing out on the prospect.

If the Eagles were hot after Fields, I don't think they would have moved out of the six hole just to improve their overall draft stock.  [espn.com]

Busting out

Jeff Kerr | CBS Sports

The most important thing the Eagles will need to avoid on Thursday night is drafting a bust. They've struggled with that in the past, and over at CBS Sports, Jeff Kerr took a look at the biggest draft bust for each team, and then ranked them. Here's who he picked for the Eagles, who came in at 21st overall for their third overall pick back in 1969... 

21. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Leroy Keyes, No. 3 overall (1969)

There were a few offensive line candidates that could have been selected here, but Keyes was supposed to be the franchise changing running back for Philadelphia. After winning the last two games the prior season and missing out on the No. 1 pick (and O.J. Simpson), the Eagles chose Keyes one spot ahead of Mean Joe Greene. Keyes wasn't the "do-it-all" running back he was at Purdue, rushing for just 361 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season before the Eagles moved him to defensive back. Keyes actually had six interceptions in the 1971 season, but was drafted to be a franchise-changing running back. Keyes lasted just four years with the Eagles and was out of the NFL after spending the 1973 season with the Chiefs.   [cbssports.com]

It was surprising not to see Danny Watkins on here (although he's surely one of the offensive linemen Kerr alludes to). But it's really hard to argue with Keyes, especially considering who they passed on.

Here's hoping the Eagles don't try to overthink this year's draft...

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