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April 27, 2017

The Eagles’ top 10 options with their first-round pick

Eagles NFL

A few weeks ago, we laid out the Philadelphia Eagles' 10 options with their first round pick. In that version, I laid out what I would do at pick 14, not necessarily what the Eagles will do. In this version, I'll take a look at what I think the Eagles' top 10 preferences would be.

To begin, we'll just eliminate players like Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Jamal Adams, O.J. Howard, Malik Hooker, and Leonard Fournette, all of whom are highly unlikely to be available when the Eagles pick at 14, and would not be considered trade-up targets.

(Wildcard) Roll the dice on Ohio State CB Gareon Conley

Had Conley not been accused of rape two days ago, the Eagles would have taken him at pick No. 14 if he were still available. 

In a press conference a few weeks ago, Howie Roseman noted a very under-the-radar employee who influences personnel decisions. That would be Dom DiSandro, the Eagles' Vice President of Team Security. DiSandro is the big guy you'll often see in photos lurking behind Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and now Doug Pederson. Roseman (rightfully) noted that DiSandro is among the best in the business at his job, part of which includes investigating situations like the one Conley is in now.

The Eagles have unquestionably done as thorough a job as possible looking into Conley's incident. If they are confident he did nothing wrong, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of the Eagles taking him at pick No. 14, but clearly, this is a wildcard situation.

If the Eagles really like him and are willing to roll the dice, pick 43 in the second round would obviously be a much better value, but will he still be available there?

10) Settle for Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Personally, I think that drafting Cook would be a horrible use of resources. Cook has a significant list of red flags, including character concerns, three shoulder surgeries, a bad performance at the Combine, and 13 career fumbles in three years at Florida State.

You can look at any one of those issues and argue against them individually. For example, you can make a case for taking a risk on a character concern player if his game tape is really good. You can maybe take a risk on a guy with three surgeries to the same area of his body if you think he's special. You can reason that maybe you can coach up his fumbling issues. And finally, you can talk yourself into the idea that a lot of players have have disappointing Combine performances and ended up being good players.

However, when you combine those four things together, there is simply too much in the way of concern for a player at pick 14, especially when it's debatable whether you should value running backs that highly in the first place, in a year where it's one of the most loaded running back classes ever.

I can't imagine any scenario in which there aren't 14 better players on the Eagles' board heading into the draft, but the latest intel says that he's in play.

9) Piss off the fans by taking Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

"BOOOOOOOOOO!" ESPN will get their "Philly fans are horrible" story if the Eagles select Harris, which really, wouldn't be the worst pick. Harris has legitimate pass rush skills, and is a player who would make sense on a defense that must get pressure from the front four without the aid of blitzes.

While I believe there will be better players available, this would not be an egregious pick at all. But it'll almost certainly bring out the pitchforks.

8) Modest trade back

Previously, the thinking on my end was that the Eagles could just sit at pick 14 and a really good player would be there. But, as can occur during the draft process, weird things happened. This year, Sidney Jones ruptured his Achilles, Alabama LB Reuben Foster screamed at hospital workers in Indianapolis and got sent home from the Combine (and then later failed a drug test), and as noted above, Conley was accused of rape.

All three players, sans injury or incident, were of clear interest to the Eagles at pick 14. Now? Jones, no. Foster and Conley, probably not. As the list of players of interest to the Eagles at pick 14 has dwindled since the start of the draft process, logically, players on the periphery have entered consideration.

If the next tier of players all have similar grades and there's nothing particularly appealing at pick 14, it might be in the Eagles' best interest to make a modest move back and add an extra pick.

7) Draft Alshon Jeffery clone Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Williams' skill set very closely resembles that of Alshon Jeffery's, so I would be more inclined to see Corey Davis or John Ross, both of whom are extremely close to Williams grade-wise, in my opinion, as better fits.

Yes, Jeffery is only on a one-year deal, however, the Eagles will have the opportunity to franchise him (or get a long-term deal done with him) at the end of the season if he plays well, as I expect he will. Would it be the worst thing to have two guys like Jeffery in the Eagles' offense? No, but if I'm the Eagles, I'd prefer a receiver who can complement Jeffery's skill set, not mirror it.

The Eagles may feel that he's the best player available at 14, and just take him.

6) Grab a corner while you can, in Marlon Humphrey from Alabama

With Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore likely long gone by pick 14 and Conley a major risk, the consensus best corner available would be Humphrey, a player I personally like more than most.

Humphrey has great athleticism, and at 6'1, 196, he has ideal size. He is also as physical a corner as you'll find in this draft, and is a legitimate big hitter who looks to intimidate opposing receivers. He's big, fast, and ill-tempered. The biggest concern with Humphrey is the deep ball, as he gave up a number of them in 2016. Still, he's only 20 years old. Those issues might not be correctable with a player who is not as gifted as Humphrey, but a guy with Humphrey's natural ability should be able to get that fixed, but any team drafting him should probably be prepared for some rough sailing early in his career.

5) Add an all-purpose guy in Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey can run, he can catch, you can move him all over the formation in the passing game, and he can return kicks and punts, so you don't have to squint too hard to make a comparison to Brian Westbrook. McCaffrey would be a great fit in the Eagles' offense, but if you take him at 14, he better be a huge part of your plans offensively, and you better feel confident about his ability to stay healthy.

4) Give Carson Wentz some added weaponry in Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan or John Ross, WR, Washington

Davis has size, speed to be a downfield threat, YAC ability, and he runs great routes. If there's one knock, it's that he'll have occasional drops, however, those become forgivable because he makes so many improbable acrobatic catches. As a fit in the Eagles' offense, you can play him inside or outside, and just watch him produce.

As for Ross, the guy ran a freaking 4.22. But can he play football? Yes. In 2016, Ross had 81 catches for 1150 yards and 17 TDs. While his calling card is deep speed, Ross also has good hands, he can work the short-to-intermediate routes, and get yards after the catch. He was also a dangerous kick returner, taking four kicks to the house in his career at Washington. He's hardly a one-trick pony. Unfortunately, any team drafting Ross will have to be deeply concerned about his significant injury history.

In a scenario in which the Eagles landed Davis, they may be able to get him with a small move back in the first round.

3) Sit tight and land Tennessee DE Derek Barnett

Barnett is a thick, strong defensive end who reminds me a little of Brandon Graham. Barnett is equally effective against the run as he is as a pass rusher, and has been an impact player since his freshman year. Barnett is best known for breaking the all-time career school sack record that was previously held by former Eagles legend Reggie White.

This draft class is considered to be very strong at edge rusher and defensive backs. I believe that the edge rushers taken in the first round will have a bigger impact than the corners taken in the first round. Conversely, I believe that the corners taken later in the draft will have a bigger impact than the edge rushers taken later. Given the choice in the first round, I'd go edge rusher, and Barnett is a great one.

2) Trade up for Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

If somehow Lattimore falls to somewhere around the 10th pick, which is something I don't anticipate happening, the Eagles could be all over trying to trade up for him.

Lattimore was only a redshirt sophomore last season who has participated in under 20 games in his career at OSU, partly due to hamstring issues. 2016 was Lattimore's only season as a starter, when he had 41 tackles, four interceptions, and nine pass breakups. Lattimore is a phenomenal athlete, doing a great job of staying in phase with opposing receivers out of tight press coverage.

According to cfbfilmroom.com, Lattimore was targeted 36 times in 2016, and gave up just 13 receptions, or approximately one per game. He allowed one TD while collecting four INTs. He was also credited with 36 tackles, and just one missed tackle. That's outstanding.

In recent draft history, the Eagles have had by far the most success when they have traded up for their draft targets

1) Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama, slides to pick 14

Allen was our pick for in the first round in our final Eagles-only mock draft. He is thought to be a top five prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, talent-wise, and for good reason. Over the last two seasons, he has been the best player on a dominant Alabama defense, posting 22.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss. While not an elite athlete by any stretch, Allen does very clearly possess impressive quickness for a 286-pound man, and his country strength is evident when you watch him shed blocks. Some have made the comparison to Fletcher Cox, which I can see.

Allen is what people used to call a "tweener," because he doesn't have prototypical measurements specifically for a DE or DT. In today's NFL, "tweeners" have become guys who are considered versatile because they allow defensive coordinators to have multiple fronts. In the Eagles' scheme, Allen could primarily play DE, and then move inside on passing downs.

The bigger concern, however, is that Allen has an arthritic shoulder, which has caused teams to lower his draft grade. For example, an NFC college scouting director acknowledged that his team bumped him down a bit, via Eric Edholm of Yahoo:

“I put a higher grade on him before the medicals came in and we had to lower him because of that. That was really it. You don’t see too many like him; he’s that good to me. It is what it is. He’s an interior rusher and we badly need one. I honestly don’t know where he’ll go because of the [shoulder concern].”

The Eagles are confident in their sports science program, and over the last few years have been among the healthiest teams in the NFL. The thought of a front four of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Jonathan Allen on obvious passing downs could be too scary a proposition to pass up if Allen is still available at 14.


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