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April 30, 2020

Projecting first-year roles for each of the Eagles' 10 draft picks

Eagles NFL

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected 10 players, only one or two of whom are likely to get immediate playing time, barring injury. Here we'll look at each of the Birds' additions, and project their roles as rookies.

Round 1, WR Jalen Reagor: Reagor should play immediately. It's just a matter of where. He fits in perfectly as the "Z" receiver spot currently occupied by DeSean Jackson. If he is healthy, the feeling here is that Jackson will start in that spot. 

The rest is murky. Ideally, the "X" spot would be filled by a bigger wide receiver. It's the spot that has been filled by Alshon Jeffery the last three seasons. The Eagles would love to see J.J. Arcega-Whiteside grow as a receiver in 2020 and leave no doubt that he can start there, but counting on that feels unwise. Of course, the team could just keep Jeffery on the roster, but that remains very unlikely. 

Should Jackson stay healthy, and Arcega-Whiteside show enough improvement in Year 2 to be trusted to play in 2020, then Reagor's short-term fit could be in the slot, where his skill set should translate at the next level. However, playing Reagor inside means that he would likely be cross-trained at multiple spots, a strategy that arguably slowed Arcega-Whiteside's progress as a rookie in 2019.

Or maybe the Eagles will just throw out the traditional body types / skill sets for the WR positions, and you just put two burners on the outside, in Jackson and Reagor. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If/when there's a training camp, we'll get a better idea of where the Eagles' staff's heads are at on that, but the Eagles didn't take Reagor at 21 to have him sit on the bench.

Round 2, QB Jalen Hurts: As we noted in our Eagles draft grades, the idea that Hurts is going to immediately play some sort of "Taysom Hill role" in the Eagles' offense feels very silly.

Hurts is a good athlete, but so is Carson Wentz, and it's not as if the Eagles are going to take Wentz off the field in favor of Hurts to run a few plays here and there. That has disaster written all over it. That aside, Hurts is not a running back, or a receiver. To train him as either would take away from the time he needs to develop as a quarterback. And sure, maybe as a running back, there's no real learning curve, but he's not going to be putting his head down and crashing into linebackers, and he's not going to be better in a skill position role than the skill position players already on the team.

The view here is that he's a backup quarterback, for now, and nothing more. And really, he may not even be the No. 2 right out of the gate. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there will be no OTAs or minicamp, and training camp may not look at all like it otherwise would. There won't be enough quality time learning the playbook, and in practice, expect Wentz to get more day-to-day reps than normal in an already shortened offseason program, leaving fewer reps for the backups. 

There's a realistic scenario in which Nate Sudfeld, who is now in his fourth year with the team, will be the No. 2, and Hurts will be inactive on game day. That's the way I would project it at this point.

Round 3, LB Davion Taylor: The Eagles drafted Taylor because of his athletic measurables and upside, but because of his lack of experience playing the sport, it's unlikely that he'll have an important immediate role in the regular defense as a rookie. I do expect him to be active on gameday, but only in a special teams role.

Round 4, S K'Von Wallace: I would project Wallace to get the second-most snaps among the Eagles' rookie class, behind Reagor. Wallace is coming from a program in Clemson where he played in three ACC Championship Games, and five College Football Playoff games, including two for the National Championship, and he had to cover NFL-calber receivers every day in practice. He has already been a productive player at the highest level of college football.

He is also a versatile defender, who is something of a safety/slot corner hybrid, or as the current NFL buzz word goes, "positionless."

I would currently project the Eagles' starters in their secondary like so:

• CB1: Darius Slay
• CB2: Avonte Maddox
• Slot CB: Nickell Robey-Coleman
• S: Jalen Mills
• S: Rodney McLeod

With no Eagles injuries in the secondary, Wallace could compete for the third safety job with Will Parks. With injuries (and the Eagles always have a slew of them in the secondary), there are all kinds of different shuffles that can occur in which Wallace could find his way into the starting lineup. Of course, he'll have to show that he can play in training camp, and I believe that he will.

Round 4, OL Jack Driscoll: The Eagles' starting five along their OL is set, but Driscoll is going to make the team as a fourth round pick. Rostered players in 2019 like Matt Pryor, Jordan Mailata, and Nate Herbig should be nervous for their jobs, as Driscoll played guard and tackle at Auburn, and may also find some work at center in the pros. But obviously, he's not going to play unless someone gets hurt.

Round 5, WR John Hightower: Hightower is one of many wide receivers the Eagles added after they selected Reagor in the first round. He'll compete with guys like Marquise Goodwin and Quez Watkins for roster spots. He does have some kick return experience at Boise, averaging 24.6 yards per return.

Round 6, LB Shaun Bradley: Like Taylor above, Bradley is a developmental player who will need time to acclimate to the NFL level. Unlike Taylor, he is not assured a roster spot. Should he make the team, Bradley will likely only contribute on special teams if active on gameday.

Round 6, WR Quez Watkins: Like Hightower above, Watkins is a vertical threat who doubled as a return guy who will compete to win a roster spot.

Round 6, OT Prince Tega Wanogho: Wanogho played LT and RT at Auburn, and fell in the draft due to a medical issue (knee). Without the medical concern, he might have been a Day 2 pick. In theory, if healthy, Wanogho could fill right in as a swing tackle replacement for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. However, because he is comparatively new to the sport, a shortened offseason might make it difficult for Jeff Stoutland to get him ready in time to take on that kind of role. 

It might make sense for Stoutland and the Eagles to have Driscoll focus in on RT, with Wanogho and Jordan Mailata focusing in on LT.

• Round 7, DE Casey Toohill: With their last pick, the Eagles nabbed Toohill, a highly athletic LB-DE tweener who needs to bulk up to play DE in the NFL. He feels like a good candidate to get IR'd with a hangnail.

Undrafted free agents: I would rank the top 5 UDFAs' likelihoods of making the roster like so:

  1. Grayland Arnold, CB, Baylor: He was the highest-rated player of the Eagles' UDFAs.
  2. Michael Warren, RB, Cincinnati: The Eagles had a draftable grade on him, and he fits a need as a between-the-tackles runner.
  3. Luke Juriga, C, Western Michigan: Again, draftable grade, and the Eagles have Kelce's retirement on the horizon.
  4. Raequan Williams, DT, Michigan State: Draftable grade, though there isn't much room at DT.
  5. Adrian Killins, RB, UCF: Speed. Maybe he just wows in camp.

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