April 22, 2020
It's almost here.
With the rest of the sports world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL will give fans a much needed break from the monotony when they host their first-ever virtual draft, beginning on Thursday night live from Rodger Goodell's basement.
It will be an even more interesting exercise than usual, as social distancing restrictions have caused teams to have even less information on prospects than usual. Furthermore, the multitude of scouts and executives normally crammed into team facilities will now be spread out all over their respective cities as they'll try to use technology to huddle up and make sure they get their picks right.
That's a hard enough task under the best of conditions, let alone what teams will be dealing with this year. But that's no excuse, since every team will be dealing with the same restrictions.
So, how will it all play out? Will there be fewer trades than normal? More? And how will the Eagles specifically adapt to this new draft format? We'll get into all that and more in our NFL Draft Eve edition of What They're Saying...
Over at Inquirer.com, Eagles beat writer Jeff McLane has a fascinating story about the Eagles draft process, where it's let them down in the past, and how this year could be different given that everyone is working remotely. And to hear McLane tell it, it's often their draft-night decision-making process — and not their pre-draft evaluations of players — that have caused some of their recent misses.
Interviews with almost a dozen Eagles employees involved with the draft, both past and present, paint a similar picture of the team’s methods. For nearly a year, a systemic, meticulous approach is taken to building the draft board. But when the actual selecting of players begins, the process is anything but workmanlike.
The Eagles aren’t alone. The draft is a moving target. The permutation of possibilities, with 32 teams, 1,500 eligible prospects, and tens of trades, are endless. And they aren’t alone in striking out more than they hit, despite the narrow lens many fans have of their particular team’s drafts.
But the four drafts since Howie Roseman regained his power over the personnel department have been dubious if not yet near-final assessment. There have been starters, several more projected, and a couple of promising prospects in the pipeline, but the Carson Wentz selection stands alone as the success story of the group.
Of the misses, or the potential ones, several have been a product of the decision-making process, more so than the initial evaluation -- specifically the Sidney Jones, Donnel Pumphrey, Andre Dillard, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside selections. [inquirer.com]
McLane then goes on to outline that draft-night process, wondering if there may have been too many voices in the room in the past. While Roseman still has final say, significant weight has been given to Joe Douglas (his job now belongs to Andy Weidl), Doug Pederson and even owner Jeff Lurie at times, according to McLane. This year, with the draft being done virtually, things could look a little different. In the past, there have been up to 30 people in the room on draft night, but Roseman could have slightly more control as he navigates the draft from his home.
The Eagles like to be unanimous on their picks, but as McLane puts it, when the decisions are split, those with more power typically tend to win the argument, as was the case with J.J, Arcega-Whiteside over Parris Campbell in 2019, despite the team having Campbell graded higher on their draft board.
Here's more on how they that process works:
The board isn’t black and white. The Eagles don’t list prospects numerically and select the next available name when they’re on the clock. Using the system Douglas brought to the franchise in 2017, they rank players on five tiers and give them numerical grades with evaluations that give additional weight to how they project to the Eagles’ schemes and preferences.
Most of the grades fall somewhere in between 7.0 and 5.5. The numbers come with “alerts” based on size, character, or medical issues, for instance. “Day 1″ starter is the top tier, and prospects who fall into that category are listed according to their grade, usually somewhere between 7.0-6.7.
There could be, for instance, several prospects with a 6.7 grade at various positions, but there is an overall ranking, and one within each position. There is wiggle room and subjective choices will be made based on need, etc. [inqurier.com]
When it came time to make the decision between Campbell and JJAW, the Eagles brain trust talked it over. Two wanted Campbell. One wanted JJAW. And Roseman sided with the official with "more clout." Read into that what you will — and definitely go read Jeff's full story.
In case you're wondering, here's a look at what Howie's setup will look like this year:
This is VERY cool. @Eagles GM Howie Roseman was just on ESPN and gave an inside look at his #NFLDraft setup in his living room. Howie is dialed in and ready for round one tomorrow. Take a look: pic.twitter.com/4mMCCXGl50— mark meany (@markmeany) April 22, 2020
Of course, there's the question of whether or not the Eagles will actually make a pick at 21. NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Frank says don't count on it, as Howie Roseman has a history of moving up or down in the first round. In fact, he's done that far more often than actually making the Birds' original pick.
All we've done the last month or two is talk about what the Eagles will do at No. 21. But the odds are low that they'll actually be on the clock Thursday night when the 21st pick rolls around.
It's just not the Howie Roseman way. ...
The only players Roseman has taken in the first round without trading are a couple of offensive linemen — disastrous Danny Watkins at No. 23 in 2011 and three-time Pro Bowler Lane Johnson at No. 4 in 2013.
And with the Eagles' desperate need for a young, explosive playmaking receiver likely not lining up with the 21st pick this year, there's a good chance Roseman once again won't be sitting still.
Roseman doesn't wait for the draft to come to him. He's going to be aggressive and do everything he can to go get the player he wants. And if he can't, he's apt to trade down, add picks and start over. [nbcsports.com]
As we've wrote a few times on here, the Eagles kind of painted themselves into a corner by not addressing wide receiver in free agency, basically telegraphing the fact that they'll be looking to draft a wide receiver in the first round. That could be a problem, especially if teams ahead of them decide to trade up and steal their guy, whoever that might be, out from under them.
One such team could be the Minnesota Vikings, who also likely need a receiver after trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills earlier this offseason. Considering they're slated to pick one spot behind the Eagles, Roseman might need to be proactive and move up himself in order to prevent the Vikings from doing that to the Birds.
The Minnesota Vikings, who pick at 22. Since Rick Spielman became the GM in 2012 he’s traded his top pick three times and seen a team trade up in front of him twice. The team could certainly use another WR after the Stefon Diggs trade, and that trade gave them the draft capital to move up. The Vikings have the 22nd and 25th picks, along with a 2nd, two 3rds, a 4th, a 5th, two 6ths and three 7ths. The pair of 3rds is the key here. Looking back at past drafts, moving up from 22 to the middle of the 1st would cost a 3rd. To move up just a few picks, should cost the Vikings about a 4th, with two 3rds and five selections in rounds 6 and 7, they could get creative with a multi-pick trade that gets them a better day three pick. They’ve got options, history, and incentive beyond just having a need at WR.
Three times Rick Spielman has made a draft day trade involving his top pick. In 2012 and 2014 he traded down one spot, and in 2017 he moved up seven spots in the 2nd round (which was his first pick of the draft due to the Sam Bradford trade) to take Dalvin Cook, who may have been taken by the Eagles if he was on the board. Sure, two of the three were trades down, but the point is he’s no stranger to moving around with his top pick. [bleedinggreennation.com]
According to a recent Football Outsiders story on ESPN+, wide receiver isn't even the Eagles biggest need. That would be linebacker. And when you look at their current depth chart, it's kind of difficult to argue.
That being said, the Eagles don't put much stock in that position and still have one of the best run defenses in the NFL thanks to a solid front four anchored by Fletcher Cox. And as bad as those linebackers were last year, their receivers were even worse.
Biggest need: Linebacker
Eight-year veteran Nigel Bradham won't be a major loss, even if a declined $10 million option makes it seem like he would be. The Eagles' problem is that they don't have compelling internal candidates to replace Bradham. According to Sports Info Solutions, Nathan Gerry missed 29% of his attempted tackles, third-highest among linebackers with 50 such attempts. T.J. Edwards was undrafted in 2019 and played just 112 defensive snaps in his rookie season. Newly signed Jatavis Brown fell short of that total, transitioning to more of a special-teams role in his final season with the Chargers. The Eagles need a blue-chip player in the second level, and the draft gives them their best chance to find one.
Prospects who might fit: Patrick Queen, LSU; Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma [espn.com]
Finally, Dan Graziano took a look at a handful of players who are likely to be traded on draft night, and Philly was mentioned twice, once as a potential landing spot and also as a team who could be looking to deal a player during the draft.
Interestingly enough, Graziano isn't the first person to suggest these two players get moved by the end of the week.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
It was either Vince Lombardi or Bum Phillips who said, "The best way to get yourself traded is to rip the owner's son on social media." Ngakoue has made no secret of wanting out of Jacksonville, and he took the bridge-burning to new levels Monday in a Twitter feud with Jaguars executive Tony Khan. The Jags designated Ngakoue their franchise player last month, but he doesn't want to play for the one-year, $17.8 million tag. He would like a new deal, and he'd like it to be with a team other than the Jaguars.
Ngakoue just turned 25, and he has 37.5 sacks in his first four NFL seasons. The reason he hasn't been moved yet is that Jacksonville's price has been too high for teams that know they also have to sign him long term. It's possible his market could pick up once Jadeveon Clowney signs and the teams that missed out on Clowney get desperate. It's also possible Jacksonville could take the best offer on the table Thursday or Friday to make sure they get 2020 picks for Ngakoue, instead of 2021 ones.
Regardless, don't expect Ngakoue to be playing for the Jags this season. The list of potential suitors is extensive and includes Seattle, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit and the Giants, to name just a few.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles need a total overhaul of their wide receiver corps. And while keeping Jeffery, who has a guaranteed $9.91 million due this year and no guaranteed money after that, isn't a bad option, there are plenty of folks around the league who believe Philly would part with him for the right price. Look for the Eagles to draft at least one wideout early in this year's draft and to continue to rework that position as the offseason moves along. [espn.com]
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