Good morning. The NFL draft is one day away and will stretch through Saturday. If you’re a draft nerd like I am, it’s perhaps the most anticipated weekend of the offseason. Follow along for comprehensive coverage from The Inquirer, including a special Early Birds newsletter on Friday and Monday.
— Zach Berman
1) The best-case scenario would be if Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins slips to No. 25. It’s possible, but not probable. It would likely require four quarterbacks going in the top 17 and an early run on wide receivers and offensive linemen, too. But Wilkins is the player in that range who projects the best in the Eagles’ scheme, and he has the off-field qualities that would provide more comfort about the pick.
If Wilkins is off the board, two of his Clemson teammates would be solid picks: Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. On the surface, Lawrence doesn’t seem like the type of defensive tackle the Eagles would pursue. But the 342-pound Lawrence should not be typecast as a run-stuffer, when he has the potential to be more.
His athletic profile is intriguing, he’s 21, and he has shown some pass-rush capabilities. I think he can ultimately help a team on all three downs. Plus, the way he pushes the pocket would make him a good fit next to Fletcher Cox because Lawrence can take advantage of one-on-ones. In the short term, though, he fits in as an early-down defensive tackle who could give way to Malik Jackson on passing downs.
If Wilkins isn’t on the board, I’d look hard at Lawrence.
2) I can see the Eagles trading up or down. That might seem like an obvious comment, but last year, I didn’t think they had the ammunition to trade up. This year, with two second-round picks, they’re in better position if they want to get into the teens.
Throughout the past few months, I thought Ed Oliver would be the perfect trade-up candidate if he slipped. However, I don’t think he’ll get outside the top 10. The Eagles could move up for an edge rusher, someone such as Brian Burns or Rashan Gary, if they’re satisfied with Gary’s medical outlook, but it would likely need to be into the mid-to-late teens. I don’t think they can up higher than that.
As for moving down, I think that’s more a likely scenario. If there’s not clear separation between 25 and 45, it would make sense for the Eagles to see if a team is looking to move into the first round and the Eagles could try to recoup the third-round pick they dealt in the Golden Tate trade.
The key will be the quarterbacks. In 2014, when the Eagles targeted a group of players who were all gone when the team was on the board (and they traded back and drafted Marcus Smith), the problem was there wasn’t an early run on quarterbacks. In 2017 when the Eagles drafted Derek Barnett at No. 14, an early run on quarterbacks (three in the top 12) pushed some top talent down the board.
I don’t think the story on Friday morning will be that the Eagles reached at No. 25. My guess is it’s either a player viewed as a legitimate first-round talent, or they traded down.
3) There’s been a lot of speculation that receiver Marquise Brown will be the first-round pick. I wouldn’t rule it out because he’s a legitimate home-run threat who can help on Day 1 while developing into a long-term starter, but I still think the Eagles will go with a defensive lineman or offensive lineman in the first round. That’s Howie’s Roseman’s type, it’s a deep class, and there’s a need at the position, too.
I think the Eagles will look for an offensive playmaker on the second night of the draft. The player I’d target is Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, whose 4.31-second 40-yard dash was tied for the fastest among wide receivers at the combine after he finished with 90 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Buckeyes last season.
Campbell is the type of chess piece that Doug Pederson has been looking for seemingly for three seasons. Campbell can stretch the field horizontally with jet sweeps and short passes in space, and he has the athletic profile to develop as a downfield threat. He also can help on special teams.
The running back I’d target in the second round is David Montgomery. He’s a physical runner who can play on three downs and pick up yards after contact. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he could pair with Jordan Howard and eventually become the starter.
On the third day of the draft, the running back who would be intriguing is Stanford’s Bryce Love, as long as the medical staff is confident he’ll recover from a torn ACL. You’d need to view this as a redshirt season, but remember what Love did in 2017? He had explosiveness that’s hard to find, and there could be value there.
4) Safety is a position to watch with the Eagles’ first five picks, too — perhaps more than linebacker. They’re getting older at the position, Rodney McLeod is under contract for one more season and coming off injury, and they can find an immediate defensive role for the player if he’s good enough. Plus, this is a deep safety class.
Pay attention to safeties with cornerback backgrounds: Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Maryland’s Darnell Savage, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill, and Delaware’s Nasir Adderley. The Eagles have uncertainty at linebacker, but this isn’t a deep linebacker class and I don’t think the Eagles will force it early in the draft. However, I wouldn’t rule out trading for a veteran linebacker.
5) The Eagles have placed a premium on college production during the past two years — the Donnel Pumphrey pick was an example — but my sense is that projection and fit will take on a bigger role in the evaluations. They’ll still value production, but I think they’ll look at the circumstances of what made a player produce (or why a player didn’t produce) when evaluating prospects. What was the depth chart? What was the scheme? What was the competition? These are all factors.
I’d say Marquise Brown is more likely than Josh Jacobs at No. 25, although I wouldn’t be too critical of a Jacobs pick. Running back at No. 25 is different from running back in the top 10 when you look at salary, and you’re locked in for what’s likely the five best years of that player’s career.
I just think Brown’s home-run ability is a special attribute that could make him worth a premium pick, and I think the Eagles can find a running back after the first night if they wanted to add at that position. I don’t anticipate a cornerback at No. 25 — my guess is the can’t-miss prospect isn’t on the board there, and they’ve invested enough draft capital as it is that there’s probably a different position in that tier on their board.
Still, I don’t think it will be Brown or Jacobs. I think it’ll be a defensive lineman or offensive lineman. And I’d lean toward defensive line in that group.
I don’t believe so, unless they love someone in the second round. But I think the Eagles find more value at other positions with their top three picks (DL, OL, WR, RB, S) than at linebacker. There will be trade candidates (Darron Lee?) who emerge, but the Eagles can trust Nate Gerry’s development and the experience of Paul Worrilow and L.J. Fort at that spot.
Not saying this is the best strategy, but I don’t think they’re pushing middle linebacker right now. And when you get to the later rounds, is that player going to be better than Gerry?
Nope, not at all. Howard is going to be the starter this season, but he won’t keep them from drafting a running back early if they like one on the board. Howard has one year left on his deal, and my guess is the Eagles aren’t going to invest big money at running back if they can find a starting-caliber player on a rookie deal.
It could be Montgomery, or it could be Miles Sanders, whose stock has gone up during the pre-draft process for good reason. He’s going to be a good running back. Justice Hill would be a good fit as a change-of-pace running back, too, although that might be a trade-back candidate. You can’t argue with the production of Darrell Henderson and Trayveon Williams. And don’t forget Temple’s Ryquell Armstead, a tough runner with good speed.