April 03, 2023
Now that free agency is pretty much in the rear view mirror, let's start draft month by ranking the Philadelphia Eagles' positional needs in the 2023 NFL Draft.
We will be heavily weighing the team's views of positional importance below, as well as a focusing on the long-term view, which is how the Eagles typically use their early picks. In other words, the goal here is not to simply pick out the most glaring holes on the roster.
The Eagles have arguably the best offensive tackle duo in the NFL. The right tackle is the best offensive lineman in the world and wants to play two more seasons, while the left tackle is only 26 years old and has three years left on his bargain contract. And this is their biggest need? When you put it like that, you'd think not, but there are also plenty of reasons why offensive tackle is a need, or perhaps better stated, why the Eagles may think it is their biggest need.
1) They lack offensive line depth: In 2022, the Eagles' second string offensive line looked something like this:
|Andre Dillard||Sua Opeta||Cam Jurgens||Josh Sills||Jack Driscoll|
There's a decent argument to be made that the Eagles' backups were as good as a small handful of other teams' starters. But that group has since been depleted. Jurgens (for now) is slated for a promotion to the starting lineup with Isaac Seumalo leaving in free agency, Dillard is gone, and Sills is on the commissioner's exempt list. Opeta was demoted during the season, and eventually released before being brought back on the practice squad. The only backup the Eagles can feel good about is Driscoll.
In 2012, the Eagles were so light on offensive line depth that they were forced to start guys like Demetress Bell, Jake Scott, Dallas Reynolds, Danny Watkins, and King Dunlap. In 2020, remember Jamon Brown, the guy who in one game got tossed like 5 yards on one play, sacked Carson Wentz himself on another, and stopped mid-play to adjust his gloves on a third? If you don't have offensive line depth, your season can got to hell really quickly, and right now the Eagles don't have it.
2) They'll have two starting spots to fill in the near future: Whenever Jason Kelce retires, Cam Jurgens will slide in at center, and there will be an opening at RG. Whenever Lane Johnson retires (again, probably not for another two more years), there will be a hole at RT. The Eagles have proven repeatedly that they like to be proactive — sometimes to an extreme degree — in having succession plans in place along their offensive line.
3) Quarterback aside, they value their offensive line above all else, and they build it specifically through the draft: The Eagles' starting five along their offensive line were all drafted by the Eagles:
• LT Jordan Mailata: 7th round, 2018
• LG Landon Dickerson: 2nd round, 2021
• C Jason Kelce: 6th round, 2011
• RG Cam Jurgens: 2nd round, 2022
• RT Lane Johnson, 1st round, 2013
And for good reason. When you look at the available free agents this offseason, Dillard was the sixth highest-paid offensive lineman to move from one team to another in the entire league. Dude has single-digit career starts and he got paid just under $10 million per year because teams around the league are desperate for anyone who might be able to protect the edge. If you don't/can't draft and develop offensive linemen, you can be left to take costly risks for guys like Dillard in free agency. That usually doesn't work out.
Do the Eagles have more immediate needs at, saaayyy, safety and linebacker? They sure do! But unlike a number of other franchises around the league, they have figured out that great offensive line play can win championships and bad offensive line play gets people fired. You can't say that about safety.
Again, this is just how the Eagles roll. They spend premium resources on their defensive line, and they don't really discriminate between the edge and the interior.
• 2022: They spent the 15th, 124th, 162nd, and 166th picks in the draft on Jordan Davis, and they re-signed Fletcher Cox to a one-year deal worth $14 million.
• 2021: They drafted Milton Williams in the third round.
• 2020: They signed Javon Hargrave to a three-year deal worth $39 million.
The Eagles suffered a big hit when they lost Hargrave to the 49ers in free agency. They still have Cox, Davis, and Williams, which is a decent enough iDL trio, however, Cox is aging is very clearly in decline, while Davis had a disappointing back half of his rookie season. They could use a long-term replacement for Cox, and if they continue to run their fair share of odd-man fronts under Sean Desai, they'll need more capable players to give them quality snaps in the short-term.
The trio of Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham combined for 38 sacks in 2022, which was as good or better than 12 NFL teams. All three players will return in 2023 after Graham signed a one-year deal worth $5 million. Still, even with those three guys playing outstanding football last season, the Eagles went out and acquired Robert Quinn at the trade deadline because they wanted even more juice off the edge. (Obviously, that trade didn't work out, but that's not the point.)
Graham's career is winding down, and not to sound cliché but the Eagles genuinely feel that you can never have too many edge rushers.
Cornerback would have been higher on this list if the Eagles hadn't re-negotiated Darius Slay's contract and unexpectedly re-signed James Bradberry. The Eagles should have one of the best sets of corners in the NFL in Slay, Bradberry and Avonte Maddox in 2023, like they did in 2022.
That doesn't mean that they won't try to re-load at corner since Slay is 32, Bradberry will turn 30 in August, and Maddox has had durability issues.
Cornerback isn't quite as high on the Eagles' roster building totem pole as the trenches, but it is a much higher priority than positions like linebacker, safety, running back, and tight end. Slay's and Bradberry's contracts are both in the top 15 in the NFL in average annual value, and Maddox is top 30. The Eagles will devote resources to corner — they just haven't had much success drafting at that position.
The Eagles' top 4 receivers in 2022 were A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, and Zach Pascal. The only other receiver to get any snaps in the regular offense was Britain Covey, who got 21 snaps in garbage time. The Eagles never needed to dip into their reserves because everyone stayed healthy.
As for performance, Brown and Smith were everything the Eagles could have hoped they'd be, and more, while Pascal did his job in a dirty work role. Watkins struggled as the No. 3.
Pascal left in free agency, and the Eagles are super thin at receiver beyond their two star players. They could use a receiver capable of playing in the slot — possibly as a replacement for Watkins — who can also play outside in the event Brown or Smith go down.
The Eagles have drafted four running backs in the seven years since Howie Roseman reemerged from Storage Closet B in 2016 — Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Miles Sanders, and Kenny Gainwell. Smallwood and Pumphrey are long gone, while Sanders left for the Panthers this offseason.
Newcomer Rashaad Penny is an immensely talented replacement for Sanders, but the team cannot reasonably rely on him to play a full season given his long injury history. Boston Scott will remain the backup, with Gainwell resuming his role as the third down back (and maybe a little more?).
It makes sense to draft a running back every couple of years since they have short shelf lives, and the Eagles have a need for some extra depth, but it's not happening with a high first round pick and people who cover the draft for a living should stop suggesting it.
Ah, finally we get to to safety. The Eagles lost 2022 starters C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps in free agency, and so far have signed Terrell Edmunds and Justin Evans.
If the season began today (it doesn't), Edmunds and second-year safety Reed Blankenship would probably be the starters. Maybe that's good enough, maybe it's not. If they prove to be a good enough tandem on the back end, both players are young and could be long-term answers. The Eagles could very well draft a safety, but if one can't be had at a good value they shouldn't reach for one, as there are still a number of experienced safeties still available on the open market who should be super cheap.
The Eagles' linebacker situation kind of mirrors safety, in that they lost both 2022 starters, in this case, T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White. Second-year linebacker Nakobe Dean is expected to start, perhaps alongside free agent acquisition Nicholas Morrow. Again, maybe that's good enough, maybe it isn't.
But the team has proven that they do not value linebacker enough to take one with a high pick.
The Eagles could very well draft a tackle who can also play guard in the short term. That's not what we're talking about here. I believe it is significantly less likely that they will draft an interior offensive lineman who has no tackle versatility.
Jalen Hurts is the starter and Marcus Mariota is the No. 2. Since Mariota is under contract for only one year, it would make sense for the Eagles to draft a No. 3 quarterback who can develop into a cheap No. 2 in 2024, 2025, and 2026, at least if they don't believe that current No. 3 Ian Book can eventually be that guy. They evidently didn't think enough of Book to hand him the No. 2 job in 2023.
There are some who believe this is an underrated need. Dallas Goedert is a great starter, but backup Jack Stoll doesn't offer much as a receiver, and Grant Calcaterra doesn't offer much as a blocker. I don't necessarily disagree with that perspective, but the Eagles love them some Jack Stoll more than you do.
We all agree that the Eagles absolutely must give Arryn Siposs legitimate competition this year in training camp. But let's be real. The Eagles only have six picks. Unless they add like five more they're not drafting a punter. They're going to have to find one during the undrafted free agency phase of the draft, or sign a vet.
Jake Elliott is a stud and Rick Lovato throws the ball through his legs just fine.
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