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April 01, 2023

Mailbag: What position are the Eagles most likely to select with their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft?

Eagles NFL
040123AndreDillard Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

You should maybe mentally start preparing yourselves for an unsexy "OT of the future" selection. Ideally for the Eagles it will go better than last time, if so.

On Friday, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This will be Part I of a two-part mailbag.

Question from @MattKrady: How mad is everyone going to be when the Eagles draft a tackle at 10 or 30? No way they go into this season with Jack Driscoll as their only backup tackle option. I feel like free agency has set up edge rusher and offensive tackle as the first two picks.

I'm beginning to lean toward the Eagles' first pick being used on an offensive tackle who can also play guard in the short-term. As you note, they lack depth along their line. If you think about two recent seasons that cost head coaches their jobs — namely, 2020 and 2012 — the offensive line suffered a bunch of injuries and the team did not have adequate depth, turning their offenses those years into outright disasters. The Eagles are terrified of those seasons repeating themselves.

But also, they'll have two starting spots to fill in the near future:

  1. Whenever Jason Kelce retires, Cam Jurgens will slide in at center, and there will be an opening at RG.
  2. Whenever Lane Johnson retires (probably not for at least two more years), there will be a hole at RT.

And then as we all know, the Eagles build on their lines first and foremost, specifically through the draft, and for good reason. When you look at the available free agents this offseason, Andre freaking Dillard was the third highest-paid offensive lineman to move from one team to another. If you don't draft and develop offensive linemen, you can be left to take extremely costly/risky plays for guys like Dillard in free agency. 

It's also worth noting that there are a cluster of offensive tackles that are likely to be selected in roughly the 6-20 range, like Northwestern's Peter Skoronski, Georgia's Broderick Jones, Ohio State's Paris Johnson, and Tennessee's Darnell Wright. I plan on looking at the available OT options who could be available to the Eagles soon, but the simple point we'll make here is that there's plenty of offensive tackle supply if the Eagles have a demand, which I believe they do.

Question from @thesneckodecko: Nick Sirianni praised Trey Sermon [at the NFL owners meetings]. How often does praise from Sirianni correlate with increased playing time?

Sirianni was asked a question about the loss of Miles Sanders to the Panthers, the potential addition of Ezekiel Elliott, and the addition of Rashaad Penny. He went through the top four backs on the roster, praising each of them, beginning with Penny, then Kenny Gainwell, then Boston Scott, and then Sermon. So I wouldn't say that Sermon got singled out.

The Eagles will get a long look at Sermon in training camp this year, which is something they didn't get to do a year ago because they claimed him after the 49ers waived him at final cutdowns.

We published a breakdown of Sermon's game soon after he joined the team. During that exercise, we concluded that while Sermon has good size at 6'0, 215, his game more closely mirrors Sanders', than, say, a bigger back like Jordan Howard's. The Eagles are going to have to work with Sermon on being the type of north-south runner that the Niners wanted him to be.

We'll see what he can do this summer, but the reality is that he only got two carries last season.

Question from SeanCarrollNews: Isn't it safe to assume the Eagles will only spend a top 10 Pick on a QB/OL/DL and MAYBE a WR? History supports this. I find it relevant given how many mocks still send us a CB and I'm not convinced the franchise values CB in draft as highly as some assume.

The Eagles absolutely value the cornerback position. Darius Slay's contract ranks 10th in the NFL in average annual value. James Bradberry's ranks 15th. Avonte Maddox's ranks 30th. The Eagles are comfortably top 5 in the NFL in cornerback pay.

But also, the Eagles are indeed willing to spend high picks on corners even if that hasn't happened in a while. For example, in 2021, my understanding is that Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn were higher on their wish list than DeVonta Smith. They were also interested in Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley in 2022, but those two guys ended up being way out of reach.

Is cornerback as big of a priority as offensive tackle or edge rusher? Obviously, no. But it is also way higher on the Eagles' priority list than positions like running back, linebacker, safety, and tight end. Above, I noted that I would lean offensive tackle at this point. I would probably have defensive line just below that, and then corner. If Christian Gonzalez is sitting there at 10, it wouldn't shock me in the slightest if they took him.

Question from @InsultComicDog: Am I missing something or could Emmanuel Forbes be the best CB in the draft?

I'm a fan. He's a ball-hawking corner with 14 INTs the last three seasons, six (!) of which he has returned for touchdowns. And you can clearly see his confidence when you watch him.

He's 6'1, long arms, ran a 4.35, etc. etc. There's a lot to like, and I do think there's a argument that he's the most skilled corner in the draft.

BUT... he's 166 pounds. I'd be fearful of him having to cover/tackle guys like Deebo Samuel, who have 50 pounds on him, and then obviously there are going to be concerns about his ability to play the run, and just general durability.

He'll be a polarizing prospect.

Question from @bigslacker321: Should the Eagles trade for S Ryan Neal?

They should not trade for him, because he's not on an NFL roster. 😉

The Seahawks had originally offered Neal a low restricted free agent tender, which they pulled on Friday to save roughly $2.6 million. They had previously signed Julian Love this offseason to a two-year deal worth $12 million to join Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. 

Neal is the little brother of former Packers edge rusher Mike Neal. He had experience in college both at corner and safety, which has always appealed to the Eagles. He has gotten significant playing time in each of the last three years in Seattle. In 2022, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 63.9 when they targeted Neal, per Pro-Football-Reference. He finished with 66 tackles, an INT, 8 pass breakups, and a forced fumble in 14 games.

Neal has a couple of notable ties to the Eagles:

  1. The Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018 out of Southern Illinois. They cut him early in training camp that season.
  2. Neal played for new Eagles DC Sean Desai last season.

So, yeah, I can see the Eagles having interest in adding Neal to their safety group, assuming the cost is low, as it should be.

Question from @TheSmartyJones: They’re gonna bring in another punter this year, right?

Yes, I strongly believe they will.

Question from @TARiley3: Do player incentives count toward the cap? If not, why not load up on fairly easily-attainable ones to create cap-friendly contracts?

The short-short answer is yes, all money paid to players counts toward the cap. 

Question from @Phil_1976: Can you name more head coaches by name than Travis Kelce could name by team on the owner‘s meeting group pic?

I'm sure most of you have seen this by now, but in case you haven't...

The best part of that is Jason Kelce calling Mike McCarthy "Matt Foley."

I was confident that I would be able to name all of them. But, nope. I missed three (circled in purple):


Question from Mike (via email): Now that the Eagles will be wearing Kelly green this season, are the black helmets going away?

After Jeffrey Lurie's press conference at the owners meetings, I asked him if the black helmets would remain, and he seemed confident that the league would allow three helmet colors instead of the current two, whether that's this season (likely, it seems), or soon. And if indeed the NFL allows for three helmet colors, the Eagles' third color will be black.

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