Part 6 of a weekly series previewing the NFL draft.
Mock draft season is upon us.
There’s still plenty of time between now and the 2022 NFL draft, but there’s a growing consensus around a few first-round prospects who should be of interest to the Eagles next April.
As the New Year unfolds and the college football postseason gets into full force, here’s who the analysts think the Eagles will be watching closest over the next few weeks.
Kyle Hamilton, hybrid safety, Notre Dame
Hamilton is the most frequent connection in the five mock drafts I compiled, and the fit makes sense. The Eagles haven’t taken a back-seven player in the first two rounds of the draft since selecting cornerback Sidney Jones in 2017. They haven’t taken a safety in the first two rounds since 2011.
Hamilton could break that streak, depending on if the Eagles are in range for him. He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions in the secondary. He’s fast enough to be a post-safety, quick enough to cover in the slot, and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he’s also big enough to play in the box or to take man-coverage assignments against star tight ends.
The Eagles have valued position versatility in defensive backs each of the last two offseasons, so a player like Hamilton could appeal to them even though safety isn’t one of the premium positions we’re so used to seeing general manager Howie Roseman target in the early rounds.
There’s one problem with Hamilton’s projection that must be discussed, though. The Eagles draft picks get worse every week, and Hamilton is expected to be a top-10 pick. The Dolphins pick is projected to be 11th, the Eagles’ slot is at No. 12, and the Colts’ pick is in the 20s, contingent on a playoff berth. Hamilton could slide, especially if some teams view him as a safety and shy away from spending a high pick at a position that’s hard to evaluate, But the Eagles could win themselves out of range for the Notre Dame star depending on how the rest of the season goes.
Devin Lloyd, linebacker, Utah
Votes: 3 (Sikkema, Edholm and McShay)
Lloyd was the subject of our “Game to Watch” a few weeks back, and his draft stock has risen a bit since then.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker had an interception against Oregon on Dec. 3 and a sack against Colorado the week before. He’s generally proven he’s explosive and instinctive, which has catapulted him into the top 15 in some mock drafts.
As at least a few analysts suggest, he’s still got a chance to break the Eagles’ streak of undervaluing linebackers.
Tyler Linderbaum, center, Iowa
Votes: 2 (PFF analysts Mike Renner and Sikkema)
We wrote about Linderbaum a few weeks back and the connection between the undersized, athletic center has continued since then.
Jason Kelce, 34, is still playing at a high level and has been a cornerstone of a dominant offensive line this season, but the Eagles will eventually need to replace him. They’ve enjoyed elite, reliable play from the center position for nearly 10 years and making sure they have a smooth transition from Kelce — similar to the switch from Jason Peters to Jordan Mailata — will be important.
“He’s probably the closest thing to Kelce to come out in the past half decade,” Pro Football Focus draft analyst Mike Renner told The Inquirer. “He’s undersized at around 290 pounds and even played earlier in his Iowa career in the 260s. That almost never shows up as a negative, though, with his play strength and wrestling background.”
The Eagles took Landon Dickerson, who played center and guard at Alabama, in the second round of the 2021 draft and were seemingly open to him staying at center in the offseason. Since then, Dickerson has played exclusively at guard for the team in games and has settled in at the position. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound lineman seems to complement the slighter Kelce. Staying small and athletic at center might be a winning formula for the Eagles, especially considering how often they run screens and how often they pull the center in the run game.
Drafting an interior lineman in the first two rounds in back-to-back years is a bit of a reach in terms of positional value, but Renner points out the crop of center prospects later in the draft is notably thin.
“Center is pretty barren after that,” he said. “The best fit I’d highlight is Dylan Parham from Memphis, who is likely an early Day 3 player. He’s another undersized, yet high-level athlete for the position. He’s played tackle and guard at Memphis, not center, but profiles there physically. He’s going to the Senior Bowl and will likely get reps at center that week.”
David Ojabo, edge rusher, Michigan
Votes: 2 (Renner and McShay)
Ojabo may be second fiddle to potential No. 1 pick Aidan Hutchinson, but he’s still nearly a lock to be a first-rounder in a deep class of edge rushers.
Says Renner: “It is a very talented defensive end class with four guys in the top 15 of the PFF draft board and eight more in the top 50. There’s nothing special about Ojabo’s skillset that makes him a fit for the Eagles — he’ll fit any scheme.”
Ojabo is the first player mentioned here who plays a position the Eagles figure to value highly this April for obvious reasons. It’s one of the spots the team prioritizes, and there’s a legitimate need there with Derek Barnett set to hit free agency and a 33-year-old Brandon Graham recovering from a torn Achilles.
As a Nigeria native who didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school, Ojabo is still relatively new to the game and has developed substantially each year. The Eagles have placed an emphasis on players with backgrounds like Ojabo’s before with picks such as Jordan Mailata and Davion Taylor.