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April 12, 2021

The Eagles' top 10 options with their first round pick

Eagles NFL
041221DeVontaSmith Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Don't overthink it, Eagles.

Each year, we lay out the Philadelphia Eagles' top 10 options with their first round pick, and we have found that while the player they have picked has occasionally been surprising, their base strategies have been predictable.

For example:

• In 2020, it felt rather clear that the Eagles were going to pick a wide receiver, and they did.

• In 2019, we correctly diagnosed that the Eagles were likely to trade up (option No. 1). They picked who they thought would be Jason Peters' successor (option 8).

• In 2018, it felt like a year to trade out of the first round (option No. 1), and that's what's they did, eventually picking a tight end (option No. 7).

• In 2017, we were a little more specific, and had the Eagles staying put and drafting Derek Barnett as option No. 3.

Now that we've taken that little trip down memory lane, let's look at the Eagles' top 10 options in 2021.

10) Our yearly linebacker conversation

It feels like every year there's a linebacker or two whose likely draft position closely aligns with the Eagles', and draft experts endlessly project the Birds to draft them, seemingly unaware that they haven't taken a linebacker in the first round since 1979. 

Last year it was Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen. In 2017, it was Reuben Foster. This year it's Penn State's Micah Parsons.

Because new Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is a Mike Zimmer disciple, there's a decent bet that Eagles linebackers are going to get more opportunities as blitzers. There's also speculation that Gannon will run a lot of Cover-2, which means that those linebackers better also be able to play zone coverage. So there's an argument to be made that the linebacker position will maybe gain some priority points in the view of the front office.

That said, forget it. They're not taking a linebacker at the 12th overall pick. Not happening.

9) A quarterback couldn't still be in play, right?

When the Eagles still owned the No. 6 pick, drafting a quarterback was seemingly still in play, and there was a report (since deleted) that the Eagles unsuccessfully attempted to move up for BYU's Zach Wilson. Now that they have moved out of the No. 6 pick, a quarterback is seemingly no longer in play.

But what if the San Francisco 49ers selected Alabama's Mac Jones at pick No. 3, and somehow a guy like North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields fell all the way 12? Could they take one of those guys?

Obviously, if the Eagles really liked one of those guys, they'd have either stood pat at pick No. 6, or tried to trade up for one of them. Still, while they clearly didn't love the idea of taking one of those guys at sixth overall, maybe at pick No. 12, with an extra 2022 first-round pick in their pocket would make Lance or Fields more appealing? Is that so crazy?

But again, we're talking very low probability here.

8) Trade up

Would the Eagles trade back just to trade right back up? I guess they did that in 2018, when they traded out of the first round from pick No. 32, and then later made a modest move up in the second round ahead of the Cowboys to take Dallas Goedert. But trading from 6 to 12, and then back up into the top 10 wouldn't exactly be the same thing.

Logically, if there were a player the Eagles felt was worth trading up for in the top 10, then they, you know, probably wouldn't have traded out of the top 10. Let's not overthink it.

7) Take one of the tackles likely to become guards

There are a pair of prospects in this draft who were standout tackles in college, but are likely to play guard in the NFL. They are Northwestern's Rashawn Slater and USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker

If the Eagles had a gaping hole at guard, then selecting either player would probably be unpopular, because, well, it's boring to take a guard in the first round. Eventually, most would probably accept it. 

However, the Eagles' roster, as currently constructed, does not offer any starting opportunities at guard, so either of these guys would sit as rookies, assuming the Eagles have a healthy OL Week 1. Otherwise, the Eagles would have to find a way to deal Brandon Brooks for adequate compensation. 

The bet here is that the fan base would be furious if the Eagles took a guard who wasn't even projected to start as a rookie. While I certainly couldn't blame them, there maybe is some logic to taking a guard. Jason Kelce is a threat to retire every offseason, and Isaac Seumalo's impending move to center would open up a spot at LG. Meanwhile, Brooks has had three major injuries in an 18-month span:

  1. January 13, 2019: In the Eagles' divisional round loss to the Saints, Brooks tore his right Achilles.
  2. December 29, 2019: Brooks suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Eagles' NFC East-clinching Week 17 win over the Giants that required surgery.
  3. June, 2020: Brooks tore his left Achilles.

If the Eagles think that Slater or Vera-Tucker have All-Pro careers ahead of them, then they would make sense as a long-term play.

Ultimately, the belief here is that the Eagles are more likely this year to make a crowd-pleasing pick. Look at the replies to literally anything the Eagles tweet out. You'll see at least a half dozen fans responding, "Fire Howie." They no doubt see that. While I don't believe the Eagles' front office cares much about what the fans think when it comes to roster decisions (nor should they), there's still little doubt that heavy pressure is on Roseman to nail this draft, and taking a guard just has no juice.

6) Trade back for even more picks

We covered this last week, but while we believe the Eagles' move from 6 to 12 will still net the Eagles a good player, the feeling here is that there is potentially a more substantial dropoff from who the Eagles might land at pick No. 12 and who they would have to settle for later in the teens.

If a top 5 quarterback were to still be available at pick No. 12, and a quarterback-needy team like the New England Patriots or the Chicago Bears came calling, and the offer was too good to pass up, then sure, the Eagles would be smart to consider all options.

Another opportunity to siphon off an extra pick would be to deal with the Chargers at pick No. 13. The Chargers desperately need a LT, so if Sewell and another player of interest to the Eagles were both on the board, the Eagles could perhaps coax something like a third- or fourth-round pick out of the Chargers so they can be certain they get their guy, while the Eagles still land a player they can be happy about at pick No. 13.

But ultimately, with 11 picks in 2021 and 9 picks already in 2022, the Eagles should have no further urgency to move back again.

5) Take another crack at a long-term LT

Jordan Mailata played in 15 games in 2020, starting 10, and he showed that he belongs in the NFL as one of the 32 starting LTs league-wide, with the potential to become really good. While Mailata was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season, it's also not as if he was Anthony Muñoz out there either. By our count, he gave up seven sacks, which led Eagles offensive linemen. It's also worth noting that he had to be shut down early in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, with back injuries.

Meanwhile, after the team traded up for Andre Dillard in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, he was bad as a rookie (at both LT and RT, to be clear), and he missed the entirety of the 2020 season with a torn biceps.

The Eagles have a lot of potential at LT, but no sure thing. If Oregon's Penei Sewell slid to 12, he might be too difficult for the Eagles to pass on, giving the importance of the position.

4) Tried and true building of the defensive line

The Eagles have taken either an edge rusher or an interior defensive linemen in the first round in eight drafts since the start of the Andy Reid era in 1999.

  1. 2017: Derek Barnett
  2. 2014: Marcus Smith
  3. 2012: Fletcher Cox
  4. 2010: Brandon Graham
  5. 2006: Brodrick Bunkley
  6. 2005: Mike Patterson
  7. 2003: Jerome McDougle
  8. 2000: Corey Simon

If the Eagles don't take an edge rusher or interior defensive lineman in the first round of the 2021 draft, it will be the longest gap during that span in which they haven't.

The Eagles also have defensive line needs. Graham and Cox are aging, while Barnett and Josh Sweat are both in contract years. Beyond those guys, the Eagles have Javon Hargrave, and then not much else. 

It's just... this defensive line group in the 2021 draft isn't very appealing this year, especially at the top of the first round. Taking one at 12 would be a reach.

3) Fill the obvious glaring need at cornerback

I mean, this is the depth chart at corner right now:

 Eagles CBs
 CBDarius Slay Michael Jacquet Jameson Houston 
 CBCraig James Kevon Seymour  
 Slot CBAvonte Maddox Lavert Hill Shakial Taylor 

Cornerback is the Eagles' most glaring need, and there could be appealing options at 12, in Alabama's Patrick Surtain or South Carolina's Jaycee Horn.

2) Another first-round wide receiver

Could the Eagles go receiver again after taking one in the first round last year (three WR selections overall), and one in the second round in 2019? They sure could, if they want to finally get it right.

As you're all well aware, the top three receivers in this draft are LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, Bama's Jaylen Waddle, and Bama's DeVonta Smith. We could also maybe throw in TE Kyle Pitts, who is like a giant WR, but who is unlikely to be available at pick No. 12. They're all very, very good prospects.

As we outlined a couple weeks a go, as long as all three of those receivers don't get taken in the first seven picks, there's a good chance at least one will still be there at pick No. 12. If one is indeed there, it shouldn't be a hard decision. Just take him.

1) Stick and pick

As we outlined in detail last week, barring an offer they can't refuse, the Eagles would probably be best served to stay put at pick 12, as there is a sizable list of players who (a) would make sense for the Eagles, and (b) would represent appropriate value at pick No. 12. There's little need to play games, or get cute. Stick and pick.

Also, just FYI, there's some overlap of the above discussion in the "BGN Radio #177" episode below. Give that a listen, please and thank you.

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