Every Eagles fan hopes that when general manager Howie Roseman — appropriately masked and gloved — rolls up to the metaphorical NFL takeout window at the April 23-25 virtual draft, he supersizes the wide-receiver order.
The Eagles need a wide receiver in one of the first two rounds, maybe in both of the first two rounds. They have eight selections in the seven-round draft, to be held via video conferencing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two or even three wide receivers would not be out of order for a team that didn’t have a wideout with as many as 500 receiving yards in 2019, and whose best outside weapon is 33-year-old DeSean Jackson.
But after that, what? Or in addition to that, what?
Could the Eagles somehow draft for another position in the first round?
Not addressing the position through trade or free agency this offseason decreases the odds of this — it would be a gamble, but sure, they still could. This is touted as one of the best wide-receiver classes ever. If one of the top three receivers is there when the Eagles pick at 21st overall (assuming they don’t move up or down), they probably ought to draft that guy.
Right now, it seems as though Alabama’s Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb will be taken by the time the draft gets to the mid to high teens.
The most highly touted option after that would be LSU’s Justin Jefferson. But is Jefferson that much better than Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, or TCU’s Jalen Reagor (whose father, Montae, played briefly with the Eagles at the end of his career)?
If the answer is yes, you draft Jefferson; if it’s maybe, then you consider trading back. Or you consider going for another position at 21. If you think there is a huge drop-off from the top three to everyone else, you consider what it would take to trade up, while being mindful that this is a draft in which the Eagles expect to address several needs, and moving up usually requires trading away picks.
You might have heard that cornerback has been a bit of a problem area for the Eagles over the last decade or so. As Roseman said in a conference call with reporters a few weeks ago, “It’s hard when you’re watching games, and the ball is getting thrown over your head.”
The top two, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah and Florida’s C.J. Henderson, should be gone by 21, though there might be a glimmer of a chance that Henderson could slip through. If you can’t get one of the top three wideouts, but you can get Henderson, that very well might make bypassing a wide receiver in the first round a good play.
(Just ignore the wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from a hunting camp somewhere in North Dakota.)
If Henderson isn’t available at 21, there’s a good chance the Eagles would have a shot at corners such as Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, or LSU’s Kristian Fulton in the first round. Whether that is worthwhile might depend on how many years of Darius Slay you envision, and how you grade Avonte Maddox or Sidney Jones starting opposite Slay whenever the 2020 season starts. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Diggs, Terrell, or Fulton might be available in the second round.
There is nothing defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prioritizes over the pass rush, though, and regardless of the other options on the table when the Eagles make their initial pick, it’s possible they go for, say, LSU defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson.
Brandon Graham turned 32 this month, and we’re still waiting for Derek Barnett to really break out. Chaisson is an elite pass rusher, pegged to be drafted in the second half of the first round. You have to think that’s an Eagles consideration.
If edge rush isn’t addressed in the first round, it surely will come up at some point. Ditto defensive tackle, in a draft that offers good depth there.
Then there is the L word. We all know the Eagles don’t draft linebackers in the first round. The last one, famously, was Jerry Robinson in 1979. But in the last week or so, ESPN’s Todd McShay and the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah have posted mock drafts that had the Eagles doing just that.
McShay forecast LSU linebacker Patrick Queen as the Eagles’ pick. Jeremiah, who worked under Roseman in the Eagles’ personnel department, went with Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray.
Nobody who listens to Schwartz and knows the Eagles’ draft history is under the impression that they place a high value on linebacking. They line up in nickel and dime a lot and have really embraced the trend toward converting safeties into linebackers, or flat-out using safeties as quasi-linebackers, as was the case with Malcolm Jenkins the last two seasons.
Jenkins is back in his original New Orleans home now, and last year’s top linebacking duo, Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill, left in free agency.
Maybe, having not spent anything higher than a fifth-round pick (Nate Gerry, 2017) on a linebacker currently on their roster, the Eagles think it’s time to make a big move for a three-down guy. Also, this apparently is not a draft where you are likely to find such a player in, say, the fourth or fifth round.
“The linebacker group is not real strong this year,” NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
Would a first-round linebacker look too much like reaching for need? With Queen or Murray, maybe not.
The Eagles are unlikely to take a safety in the first round, having not done that since Ben Smith in 1990. With Jenkins gone and Rodney McLeod turning 30 in June, that possibility exists this year, if just barely.
More likely would be a second- or third-round safety. LSU’s Grant Delpit probably won’t make it that far; ditto Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. Cal’s Ashtyn Davis, coming off core muscle surgery, probably will. Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn might.
The Eagles have six picks in the first four rounds. One of those ought to be a safety. Maybe everyone’s favorite small-school prospect, linebackeresque safety Kyle Dugger, from Lenoir-Rhyne?
It’s hard to see the Eagles using their first-rounder on any offensive position other than wide receiver, but they apparently have done a lot of predraft work on Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, widely expected to be drafted in the first 40 picks or so. The Eagles draft 53rd in the second round.
How to process this: Maybe they are pretty sure that Jason Kelce, at 32, doesn’t plan to play much longer, and that their on-hand replacements, such as left guard Isaac Seumalo and backup Nate Herbig, can’t fill Kelce’s Mummers suit. Ruiz seems like the sort of pick that might look more likely if you traded down from 21.
The Eagles probably will add an offensive tackle somewhere in the draft, having let Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai go in free agency. How high that tackle gets drafted might give insight into how the organization sees the Jordan Mailata experiment, two years in. Another quote from Roseman’s March conference call: “You can never have enough offensive linemen.”
One late-round name to think about: Jon Runyan Jr.
At some point this offseason, the Eagles will add another running back to the stable. It might be in the draft, and it might not. Miles Sanders is the main guy, and Boston Scott can add value. The need there is for a very limited role.