April 21, 2017
The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, and there are few guys in the world of football more qualified to break down the prospects and where they may wind up than ESPN's Todd McShay.
For years now, McShay has been one of the network's two main draft analysts alongside Mel Kiper Jr., and next week, they'll both be in Philly to broadcast the NFL Draft live from the Ben Franklin Parkway. And from the minute he arrives in the city, he's going to get bombarded with the same question he likely gets from every football fan in every city he visits: "What's my team going to do in the draft?"
That's an easy question to answer if your team has the first or second pick, as the Eagles did a year ago when they drafted Carson Wentz. This time around, however, they have the 14th pick. And a lot can happen in the 13 picks before they're put on the clock. So it's hard to say exactly what they're going to do – that will almost entirely depend on which players are still on the board.
In the first draft run by Joe Douglas, who McShay believes is one of the best college evaluators thanks to his time spent under Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, the Eagles have three main areas of need they'll likely look to address: cornerback, running back and wide receiver.
But, at least according to McShay, there are numerous ways the Eagles could go about handling those needs on Thursday night.
"Just looking at needs, cornerback is one of the top needs. But I think if Christian McCaffrey were to fall, he would be a perfect for what they’re looking for," McShay told PhillyVoice on Friday. "He’s obviously an awesome person and individual and brings that work ethic and leadership that the Eagles really covet – just the type of guy they’re looking for. Obviously, what he provides on the field is great too. With the versatility, I think he’s a slot receiver as much as he is a running back. I would argue he’s or two of the best slot receivers in this draft.
"You know, the problem is as we get closer and closer to this draft, it seems like his value has grown, if you will. I just don’t know if he’ll be available at that point."
Part of the reason McCaffrey may not fall to the Eagles is because other potential first-round picks are surrounded by questions regarding their availability. Some are the result of injury issues. Others are off-the-field concerns.
Either way, those red flags could mean that your first-round pick is either unavailable for games you need him most. That, or he is out of the league before he's even had a chance to contribute. And that can be kryptonite for an NFL GM.
"It’s like every day, there’s more concern about a player’s durability and more concern about another guy’s character," McShay said. "Now, you’ve got the Rueben Foster situation, with the diluted test during the combine in addition to other concerns. So it just seems like every day, someone, one of the Top 20 players, you’re finding more negative information. And it’s not unusual. This time of year, I think that’s what happens.
"And I think that’s why ‘clean’ players tend to move up a little bit. Because at the end of the day, availability’s the most important ability. I think if you studied the draft, character concerns and durability issues tend to be the massive majority of why guys end up being busts in this league. And if you miss out on your first-round pick, odds are your organization is going to suffer and eventually, you’re going to be out of a job."
In his latest mock draft (for ESPN In$ider), which was actually a combined effort with Kiper in which the two analysts alternated picks for the first three rounds, McShay projected that the Eagles would take Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the 14th pick.
But when asked about that position, he wouldn't rule out the Eagles trading back if they plan on using their first pick on a cornerback, something he thinks is very likely, assuming McCaffrey is off the board.
"Cornerback, there’s a lot of depth there," McShay said. "It wouldn’t shock me if there were three guys available at that position who would be of value to the Eagles when they get on the board at No. 14. If they get an offer to move back a little bit and get additional compensation, I think that would be a good idea, depending on who’s available. They’ve got picks 14, 43 and 99.
"And this is a draft where it’s loaded in rounds two and three. If you can pick up an additional pick, I think that would be a good way to go."
If that sounds familiar, then it's probably because you heard a very similar philosophy straight from the Eagles GM on Thursday.
"You get into these situations where it's pretty clear cut when you have a draft board, you're picking at 14, you have a list of guys that you have graded as worth going at 14," Howie Roseman said. "If you have a bunch of those guys that are available when you pick, you entertain trade-down offers, far enough that you can still get one of those top guys. If you don't have 14 guys, you see if there's an opportunity to move up.
"I think it goes that way for every round in the draft. If you have guys that are really highly graded and you think they're worthy of moving up, you have those conversations. If you have guys that fit where you're picking right there, you stay. If you have a group of those guys, you pick up additional picks."
One of the ways those extra picks can help the Eagles is by allowing them to further bolster an area of need that was already addressed in free agency: Wide receiver.
Like cornerback, McShay sees some depth and potential value in the middle rounds. Sure, those guys won't be perfect – there's a reason they aren't projected to be one of the first 10-20 players selected – but that doesn't mean they can't help the Birds gain some depth in their receiving corps.
"This year’s class is interesting," McShay said. "You know, it’s not loaded at the top, but there are a lot of quality prospects in Rounds 2 through 4. JuJu Smith-Schuster from USC is never going to be a burner or a vertical guy, but he’s a good route runner, he’s big, physical and can catch the ball. I think he’ll be a value pick in Round 2. Cooper Kupp has a lot of the same qualities. He ran a 4.6 in his forty. But he’s quick, he’s got size, he’s a great route runner and I think he has some of the best ball skills of any receiver in this class.
"You get into Round 3, Chris Godwin from Penn State is an ascending player. Carlos Henderson from Louisiana Tech is an underrated speedster who can help in the return game. He’s explosive after the catch and a great vertical receiver. He’s got some growing up, some maturing to do, but he’s a physical player and loves the game.
"Taywan Taylor is another guy out of Western Kentucky who could be a steal in the third round; really highly productive player. And Mack Hollins is another player to look out for, from North Carolina. [He’s a] big 6-foot-4, 220-pound possession receiver. He’s had some durability issues, and that’s probably why he’ll slip into that third-round range. But he might be the best special teams guy in this draft in terms of covering punts and kicks. A lot of fun to watch him on those cover teams; he’s always the first guy down [the field]."
Of course, if the Birds are looking to add a slot receiver now that they have Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the fold, the best one may be listed as a running back ... and there's a good chance he's already gone by the time they pick.
But one week from now, we'll know the answer to the question Eagles fans have been asking over and over since the season ended: Who are the Eagles going to draft in the first round?
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