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Ranking the Eagles’ defensive needs for the draft, plus a college game to watch this weekend

When ranking draft needs, you could arguably rank three defensive positions above the first offensive one.

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is an edge rusher that could fall to the Eagles in the draft come April.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is an edge rusher that could fall to the Eagles in the draft come April.Read morePaul Sancya / AP

Part of a weekly series previewing the 2022 NFL draft.

It doesn’t take a well-trained eye to discern the talent deficiencies on the Eagles’ defense this year.

The group has been up-and-down this season and, even coming off a 30-13 win against the Denver Broncos, it’s easy to see most of the Eagles’ biggest needs are on the defensive side of the ball going into the offseason.

When ranking draft needs, you could arguably rank three defensive positions above the first offensive one.

Here are those three:

Defensive end

Defensive end is probably the safest bet when projecting which positions the Eagles will address early in the upcoming draft.

Howie Roseman’s prioritization of the offensive and defensive fronts is well-documented, but adding an edge rusher makes sense for myriad reasons: There are several first-round edge rushers in this class, it’s a premium position that the Eagles value highly, and they badly need to restock at that spot.

Outside of Josh Sweat, the team doesn’t have any proven, developing edge rushers to bank on longterm. Brandon Graham is recovering from a torn Achilles, Derek Barnett is set to become a free agent and would probably benefit from a change of scenery, Ryan Kerrigan is a veteran rental, and Tarron Jackson is still a late-round pick who hasn’t played much.

Fortunately for the Eagles, it’s a good year to need an edge rusher. Pro Football Focus has 10 edge rushers in its top 50 prospects, including four in the top 10. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 1 player on most boards, is likely outside of the Eagles’ reach, but there are still plenty of options in the top half of the round.

If the Eagles end up with one or two picks inside the top 10, players like Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Purdue’s George Karlaftis could be solid fits.

» READ MORE: What we learned from Eagles-Broncos

Off-ball linebacker

Roseman’s reluctance to use many resources on the linebacker position combined with new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon putting a lot of responsibility on the position has led to a good amount of the team’s defensive struggles this season.

The Eagles will once again need to remake the position groupn. T.J. Edwards and Genard Avery are both set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason and Alex Singleton will be a restricted free agent.

Even if they keep Edwards and if Davion Taylor continues to progress, there’s room for improvement on the current duo that see the most playing time.

Perhaps this is a place to plug Notre Dame “safety” Kyle Hamilton. Don’t get your hopes up too high though; he’s a top-three prospect and doesn’t play a position the Eagles are likely to value as highly as others. A hybrid safety isn’t even a position Gannon has used much this season, but still ... At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he has enough positional flexibility to justify being a high pick. He could be the pseudo-linebacker/slot corner/hybrid safety the Eagles lost in Malcolm Jenkins and could be talented enough to build a defense around.

It’s too early to separate the late-first-round linebackers from the ones who will go early on Day 2, but names worth monitoring are Utah’s Devin Lloyd, a quick riser who can hit and cover, and Alabama’s Christian Harris, who has struggled in coverage this season but is still athletic enough to go on Day 2. If you’re holding out hope that the Eagles will take a first-round linebacker, Georgia’s Nakobe Dean is the one to pull for.

» READ MORE: Eagles film: The good, the bad and the ugly from Davion Taylor


If it weren’t for Zech McPhearson showing some good things during training camp, this would probably be the second-biggest need.

The outside cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay, currently occupied by a one-year rental in Steve Nelson, will once again be an area of need this offseason. McPhearson could step in capably, but we haven’t seen enough of him in-game at this point to be certain.

McPhearson also has the versatility to play in the slot if the Eagles were to add a starting-quality corner in free agency. Avonte Maddox is having his best season at that position, but he’ll be a free agent this offseason.

So which prospects should you know about? LSU standout Derek Stingley is considered the top corner in the draft. He’s projected to be a top-five pick, but he suffered a season-ending foot injury last month. Whether it leads to him falling out of the top five will likely depend on his medical evaluations before the draft. After Stingley, there isn’t a consensus on who should be No. 2 corner off the board, but Florida’s Kaiir Elam is intriguing. He’s 6-foot-2, athletic, and productive in the Southeastern Conference.

Looking ahead to the draft

- Part 1: A ‘transformational’ opportunity

- Part 3: What is the Eagles’ bigger need, O-line or WR?

- Part 4: Taking stock of the quarterback options

- Part 5: Carson Wentz pick watch

- Part 6: Who the analysts think the Eagles will be watching

Game to watch

Oregon vs. Utah, 7:30 p.m., 6abc

This one’s pretty straightforward. You tune in to watch Thibodeaux wreak havoc on a college game because it’s fun to do that, and you also make sure to watch Lloyd on the other side of the ball. Lloyd is expected to be at the Senior Bowl, too, so getting familiar with him would be a wise move going into the offseason.

Thibodeaux is the consensus No. 1 prospect at any position for good reason. He’s a 6-foot-5, 250-pound athletic freak with production to go along with the physical tools. He has six sacks and has put plenty of eye-catching rushes on film this season.

A few other prospects to worth keeping an eye on in the game are Oregon corner Mykael Wright and safety Verone McKinley.