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April 23, 2018

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

A year ago, leading up the 2017 NFL Draft, we laid out the Eagles' top 10 options with their first-round pick. The Eagles' possible picks were much easier to narrow down then, as they were selecting 14th overall. This year, the Eagles are drafting 32nd overall after winning the Super Bowl, making any predictions of who they might end up picking more of a dart throwing exercise.

Still, we'll take a crack at what the Birds may do, ranked from 10 to 1.

10) Take a guard

If the Eagles were to draft a guard, as in, a guy who only plays guard, he better be really, really good. In theory, that player could compete with Stefen Wisniewski for a starting spot at LG, and should he win it, the Eagles would have a long-term starter at LG, and Wisniewski would become on of the best interior OL reserves in the NFL.

Some believe that UTEP's Will Hernandez and Georgia's Isaiah Wynn are good enough players to take even with a solid starter in Wisniewski already in place. However, if they are indeed that good, they'll be gone before the Eagles pick, as teams across the league are starved for help along their offensive lines. 

9) Trade up

A season ago, the Eagles were sitting at pick No. 14, where they felt confident that they were going to get a very good player. 

"When we look back and we look at our drafts, specifically looking at where we were in the 20's, we've had some good success at 20 and higher," said Howie Roseman, speaking at the 2017 Senior Bowl. "I think there is a line where you don't get a difference maker. This is your opportunity, in the first round of the draft, to find a difference-making player. That's our first priority, is bringing in a difference maker to the Philadelphia Eagles."

In order for the Eagles to get into a spot on draft day where they think the "difference makers" can be had, they would have to trade up into the teens. Unfortunately for them, the Eagles don't have the ammo to do that, at least in terms of draft picks, seeing as they have no picks in rounds 2 or 3.

In order to move up into that philosophical "20-or-better" range, the only real ammo the Eagles have, without parting with a other picks, would be Nick Foles. Beyond a trade of Foles prior to the draft, an unlikelihood at this point, moving up into Roseman's preferred draft territory is doubtful.

Should a player unexpectedly fall, and if the price to jump up a few spots were reasonable, the Eagles could trade up, I guess. But who would the trade-up target even be? A year ago, a guy like Marshon Lattimore, who slid to pick No. 11, might have made sense. But this year, is there anyone even worth the move up? Maybe Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch? Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey? UTSA DE Marcus Davenport? The cost to move up doesn't seem to match the reward this year, at least from the perspective of a team without robust draft capital.

8) Add "linebacker depth"

I put "linebacker depth" in quotes because I'm confused how exactly the Eagles don't have loads of depth at linebacker already, despite common thinking otherwise. For a team that has three linebackers on the field for less than one-third of their defensive snaps, the Eagles presently have a surplus of linebackers.

They were able to re-sign Nigel Bradham, they have Jordan Hicks returning to the lineup this year, Mychal Kendricks is still on the roster, they added free agents Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow, and they still have some younger linebackers who could elevate their game, such as Nate Gerry, Kamu Gurgier-Hill, and Joe Walker. How exactly are they not deep at linebacker? That said, linebacker could still be a position of long-term need, as many of the linebackers on the roster have questionable futures with the team.

• Hicks is very clearly an injury risk, as he has not been able to stay healthy throughout his career, both in college and in the pros. He's also in the final year of his deal, so it will be interesting to see what the Eagles' long-term plans are for him.

• Nelson and Worrilow both signed one-year deals.

• Kendricks is on the trading block for the 47th year in a row. The feeling here is that 2018 is the year he is finally dealt.

And, so, linebacker could be a position of interest to the Eagles in the 2018, especially since Doug Pederson noted that this linebacker class is a strong one

Should a very good linebacker fall to the Eagles at pick 32, could they have interest? Sure. However, most are projecting that the four linebackers worthy of being taken in the first round – Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmonds, Georgia’s Roquan Smith, Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans – will all be gone by pick 32.

7) Add a complementary tight end

This offseason, the Eagles lost Trey Burton in free agency and released Brent Celek to save $4 million in cap space. Obviously, Burton and Celek are survived by one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL in Zach Ertz. If there's one position the Eagles are almost certain to select at some point during the 2018 NFL Draft, it's tight end, for two reasons:

  1. It's an obvious need.
  2. The tight end class is thought to be a strong group this year, which both Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson stated at the NFL Combine.

But would they use a first round pick on a tight end who wouldn't even start, either now or in the foreseeable future? Originally, I thought that would be a bad use of resources. More recently, I come around on the idea of drafting South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert, for the following reasons:

  1. Should we really be thinking of the Eagles' first round pick as "a first round pick," or as "the 32nd overall pick?" By that I mean, let's say the Eagles had the third- and 35th-overall picks in the draft. Would you bat an eye at him being selected 35th? The reality is that the Eagles don't have a premium pick in this draft, because, well, they won the Super Bowl. It's one pick away from being a second-round pick.
  2. The most successful teams in the NFL get it done in the red zone. In fact, the top three teams in red zone efficiency last season were the Eagles, Patriots, and Jaguars. I think we can agree all three of those teams had good seasons in 2017. Goedert could be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, who already have to contend with covering Alshon Jeffery and Ertz.
  3. If Goedert ends up being that good, then just keep him on the field. If there's one thing that Doug Pederson has proven he is great at, it's forming his offensive schemes around the personnel in place.

At a lower level of college football, Goedert dominated, which is what you would expect of a legitimate NFL prospect. In 2016, Goedert caught 92 passes for 1293 yards andd 11 TDs. In 2017, he had 72 catches for 1111 yards and 7 TDs. You'll see in his highlight reel that Goedert has the ability to make outstanding catches:

Adding another weapon to the Eagles' offense would make them even more lethal.

6) Bolster the strength of the defense, which is the defensive line

The Eagles have their defensive tackle starters set for at least the next couple of years in Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. They also replaced outgoing free agent Beau Allen with veteran Haloti Ngata. 

In 2017, the Eagles are in good shape at defensive tackle, but they could look to add talent to the rotation with the long-term in mind. There are four defensive tackles who are worthy of being selected in the first round. They are Washington's Vita Vea, Alabama's Da'Ron Payne, Florida's Taven Bryan, and Michigan's Maurice Hurst.

Of the four, the player most likely to fall to pick 32 is Hurst. In our Eagles-only mock draft, version 1.0, Hurst was our first round pick. The Cliff's Notes on Hurst are that he's quick, he sheds blocks, he consistently makes plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, and would be a perfect fit in the Eagles' defensive scheme that favors defensive linemen who create disruption up the field. Hurst's biggest concern is a heart condition that was flagged at the 2018 NFL Combine.

Drafting Hurst or another defensive tackle would make the Eagles' biggest strength on defense even more fearsome.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end
Offensive tackle | Interior OL | Defensive end | Defensive tackle
 | Cornerback | Safety | Specialists

5) Groom a successor to Jason Peters

The Eagles' roster is so stacked that offensive tackle is (rightfully) thought to be among their biggest needs, despite having arguably the best OT starting combo in the NFL in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, plus an improving 24 year old swing tackle with experience in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who could start on a bunch of teams.

If the Eagles were to draft a pure offensive tackle (as in one who you couldn't also play at guard) in the first round, he would likely be inactive on game day. Howie Roseman was asked if he would feel comfortable taking a tackle in the first round, knowing he may not play at all as a rookie.

"Last year we took a second round pick that we really believed wouldn't play in a game," said Roseman. "I'm excited that Sidney got that opportunity in that Dallas game just to get his feet wet and play in front of our fans. But we're going to take the best player. If that player is at a position with some perceived depth, that's OK. 

"At the end of the day, these guys are signing five year deals in the first round and will be a part of your team for the next five years. I have no idea where we're going to be in 2019, let alone 2020 or 2021. A lot of times when you make those decisions and you get a guy that you think may not play, you need depth in this league, and we saw that last year with how many guys came up, next man up philosophy that Coach Pederson has, and they ended up being huge contributors for us. That won't be a factor."

One player in this draft who would make sense as a long-term answer is UCLA OT Kolton Miller. While Miller has been knocked for his punch, his footwork, and other mechanical issues, his measurables are very impressive.

If the Eagles think they can fix Miller's issues, then he could make sense as a starter whenever Peters decides to retire. At a premium position like offensive tackle, having that level of patience with an early pick can be worth the wait.

4) Take a tackle with versatility to also play guard

A guy like Kolton Miller above will be a tackle or bust in the NFL. He isn't playing guard or center at 6'9. But offensive tackles in this draft come in different flavors. There are a few offensive linemen who could slide to pick No. 32 who should be given the chance to play tackle in the pros, but have less bust potential because their skill sets will, in theory, allow them to also slide inside to guard should their size keep them from been plus starters on the edge.

That kind of player obviously allows for more possibilities:

  1. They can potentially be the successor to Jason Peters if all goes really well.
  2. They can be a successor at LG for Stefen Wisniewski, whose contract expires after the 2019 season. If that player turns out to be really good, maybe they start at LG sooner than later, and the Eagles would then have one of the best swing tackles in the NFL in Vaitai to go along with one of the best versatile interior OL reserves in the NFL in Wisniewski.
  3. They can be short term depth, and active on game day, either on the inside or outside.

The best prospect who would fit in this category is Texas' Connor Williams. Prior to 2017, Williams was thought of as an elite offensive line prospect, and potential top five overall pick. After a down 2017, due to injury, some of his evaluation will be on medical testing, which makes his draft value to teams around the league unpredictable.

At the Combine, Williams' athletic measurables were outstanding:

However, Williams' T-Rex arms, at 33", have to be considered a concern for an offensive tackle. If he pans out as an offensive tackle in the NFL, great. If not, I believe his floor is as an athletic quality starting guard or center. At any rate, he is the type of player who fits on any roster.

Another player who would fit this profile is Mississippi State OT Martinas Rankin, who was a first-team All SEC selection at LT in 2017, but is probably too small (6'4, 308) to play tackle in the pros. Many believe that Rankin is versatile enough to play all five spots along the offensive line, similarly to Isaac Seumalo coming out of college.

3) Find a third safety and/or slot corner

In the defensive backfield, the Eagles have two areas where they have immediate needs – a third safety, and a slot corner.

At safety, the Eagles have one of the better starting duos in the NFL in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, but they presently only have four safeties on the roster. The other two are special teams ace Chris Maragos and Tre Sullivan. The Eagles need added depth at safety, not just in the short term, but also in the long term, as McLeod's cap charge will balloon to around $10 million in 2019.

Corner is a little trickier. Even after the release of Daryl Worley, the Eagles are loaded with outside corners, in Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas. None of the Eagles' corners have extensive experience playing the slot in the NFL, though the team thinks that Mills can handle those responsibilities if need be.

From a need/fit perspective, Stanford S Justin Reid checks all the boxes. In college, Reid was a do-everything safety, as he could cover receivers in the slot, play centerfield, and be a good tackler in the run game. His versatility is reminiscent of Malcolm Jenkins.

As a more traditional safety, one of the players who is thought of as a late first round prospect is Alabama's Ronnie Harrison. At slot corner, players like Louisville's Jaire Alexander, UCF's Mike Hughes, and LSU's Donte Jackson all possess traits that translate well to the next level in the slot.

MORE: Eagles-only mock draft, version 4.0

2) Draft an immediate contributor at running back

The only two running backs currently on the team that are certain to be on the 53-man roster are Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Ajayi is now in the final year of his deal, and the Eagles have openly acknowledged his knee issues, making his long-term standing with the team something of a question mark.

The 2018 running back class is absolutely stacked, as it was a year ago, particularly with guys likely to land in rounds 1 through 3. Obviously, the Eagles currently don't have any picks in the rounds 2 or 3, making a premier running back prospect a possibility in round 1. The three who might be available are LSU's Derrius Guice, Georgia's Sony Michel, and USC's Ronald Jones. Guice is a violent runner, Michel is a classic do-everything three down back, and Jones is a home run hitting speed demon. All three would make sense in the Eagles' offense.

When asked about running backs, Joe Douglas noted that they could be found outside of the first round.

"I think running backs, the last few drafts, you've been able to see guys contribute at every part of the draft," he said. "When you think about third round picks, guys like David Johnson and Kareem Hunt, those guys weren't first or second round picks"

He also noted that taking a running back in the first round was a possibility.

"Great running backs are difference makers," he said. "You see that in today's NFL, especially coming out of the backfield in the passing game. If it's the right player, I don't think we're opposed to taking a running back at any point."

1) Trade back

And, finally – because they only have six draft picks – the Eagles could try to turn their 32nd overall pick in multiple picks on Day 2. 

There's a thinking that there isn't much of a difference between picking at 32nd overall, and a few spots later. Joe Douglas did note that the Eagles would be more than ready to make a pick at 32 when they are on the clock.

"Any number you're picking, whether it's 14 last year, or it's 32, you have to have 32 guys you're excited to take," he said. "Right now we have 32 guys we'd be fired up to get."

Every year, teams trade up into the spots at the end of the first round from second round. Part of the reason for that is they like to have the benefit of potentially exercising that player's fifth-year option at the end of their rookie contract. 

"When you look at the numbers based on what the option year is projected to be, there are some incredible values by having the fifth year of the deal, and I think that's why you see teams that are jumping from the second to the first round, because everyone is aware of those discussions," Roseman explained.

But certainly, the Eagles will be "open for business" when they are on the clock.

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