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Three NFL draft defensive prospects Eagles fans should watch Saturday | Early Birds

Safety may not be a pressing need for the Eagles’ defense, but Cal's Ashtyn Davis would really fit in Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme.

Washington's Andre Baccellia (5) getting upended by California's Ashtyn Davis (right), during an October 2018 game.
Washington's Andre Baccellia (5) getting upended by California's Ashtyn Davis (right), during an October 2018 game.Read moreBen Margot / AP

Good morning, Eagles fans. All was peaceful at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday. At least I’d imagine it was; I wasn’t there. After two days of roster shuffling, the team had a quiet day in which even the people in charge of swapping out locker-room nameplates had time to relax.

The next time you get this newsletter, the Eagles will be back to business. It will be New England Patriots week, but try not to get too nostalgic about 2017. It didn’t work out so well against Minnesota, or Atlanta, for that matter.

But, until then, we’ll continue to focus on the long view. We broke down three offensive NFL draft prospects yesterday, so let’s do three defensive prospects today.

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Searching for the answer

The majority of the talk this week has been about wide receivers, but the Eagles defense, particularly the secondary, has struggled this season. Getting Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby back the last two weeks has helped, but it might also be the product of playing Josh Allen and Mitchell Trubisky in consecutive weeks. We’ll know more about where the secondary is soon, with Tom Brady coming next week and Russell Wilson the week after. Here are three defensive prospects that would fortify the group for next year:

CJ Henderson, Florida CB

Henderson’s draft projections are all over the place right now. He’ll likely be a first-round pick, but it remains to be seen if he’s a top-10 pick or not. If he’s still there in the middle of the round, the Eagles would likely have a chance at him. There are a few cornerbacks ranked higher than Henderson, but none have the production he’s had at Florida. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound corner has six career interceptions and two forced fumbles. He didn’t allow a touchdown in his junior season, and only allowed 18 catches on 36 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

But there’s a reason his stock has fluctuated. He hasn’t been as dominant in his junior season and suffered a knee injury earlier this year. But, even with the recent struggles, he’s got the size, speed, and ball skills to make him a solid option if available when the Eagles are picking.

Game: Florida vs. Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday, ESPN.

Curtis Weaver, Boise State DE

Until the Eagles don’t place a heavy premium on productive edge rushers in the draft, I’ll keep expecting them to do their homework on guys like Weaver. The defensive end has 31 sacks in 34 games at Boise State. Not only is Weaver’s college production similar to Derek Barnett, who had 32 sacks in 36 games, but he’s also similarly sized at 6-3, 265 pounds to Barnett’s 6-3 260. A little stockier than Barnett, Weaver would likely be able to rush as a defensive tackle, similar to Brandon Graham this year and Michael Bennett last year.

The junior is likely a first-round prospect, but should make it to the middle or end of the first round, depending on where the Eagles end up.

Game: Boise State vs. Wyoming at 10:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN.

Ashtyn Davis, Cal S

Safety may not be a pressing need for the Eagles’ defense, but Davis would be a really great fit with Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme. He’s a slight 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, so Davis is not a conventional “in-the-box” safety, but should do very well in single-high coverage, which is something the Eagles use quite often. With a player like Davis over the top, Malcolm Jenkins would be free to take advantage of his versatility more by moving around in coverage while Davis patrols the back end. Davis has six career interceptions and one forced fumble.

Davis might jump into the first round, but there’s a chance his size hurts his draft stock and leaves him in the second round.

Game: Cal vs. Washington State at 7 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Doug Pederson said Jason Peters’ job is safe, even though Andre Dillard has been playing well in his place. Would it be a mistake to go away from the promising rookie? Paul Domowitch explores that topic and more in his weekly notes column.

  2. From Les Bowen: The Eagles and Vikings swapped safeties through the waiver wire, as the Birds add Marcus Epps, the player the Vikings waived to pick up Andrew Sendejo.

  3. Former NFL receiver turned television analyst Cris Carter is out of Fox Sports, but it’s unclear why, as Rob Tornoe writes.

  4. Tony Romo and Jim Nantz did something never done before in the NFL last Sunday. What was it? Read Tornoe’s story to find out.

From the mailbag

With the Birds receivers as bad as they are, do you see them using more 22-personnel sets with both Sanders and Howard? Have to get playmakers on field more. — David Eldreth on Twitter (@daveeldreth)

Good question, David. I wrote about almost exactly this yesterday, so you should give that a read. The Eagles leaned heavily on 22-personnel and under-center runs the last two weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see them stick to that formula for the rest of the season. They’re running game has been carrying the offense, and they’re doubling down on that. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see more 21-personnel with Howard and Sanders in the backfield. But I don’t expect a whole lot of 22 formations. No team in the NFL runs 22-personnel more than 6 percent of the time, according to Sharp Football stats. I think it limits what teams are able to do too much to really commit to running it.

But I agree with your sentiment that the Eagles need to have more playmakers on the field, and I think there are ways to get Sanders and Howard on the field without having 10 guys in the box. I expect to see Sanders lined up as a wide receiver more often. The Eagles have done it from time to time, and they will likely continue doing so.