In the final days before the NFL Draft, you can never be sure if a GM is sharing his real thoughts or spinning misdirection. But there was one thing Howie Roseman told reporters last week that rings inarguably true: no matter how much planning goes in beforehand, no one knows exactly what to expect on draft night, and plans can change in an instant. "Something's going to happen that we're going to go 'whoa,'" Roseman said.
It might be a prospect who goes off the board stunningly early. It might be a top tier player who surprisingly falls within reach. It might be a trade by other teams or an incredible offer the Eagles might not have anticipated.
"As much as you think you know, something always changes it. … We sat there a couple of years ago, and we didn't know Jeremy Maclin would be there. Obviously that's a good result for us. If you were to ask me before the draft who we were going to take and the possibilities that would be there, that wasn't in the realm of possibilities to us," Roseman said. "That's why you grade all of the players."
It's also why Roseman said teams have multiple conversations before the draft about potential trades, so they can have all their bases covered in the event of a surprise. If another great player drops, is there someone the Eagles can deal with to move up? If the players the team really likes are gone at 15, can they find a trade partner to move back and get better first round value?
So while we will all put out our mock drafts and attempt to say this is the guy the Eagles are going to get, the truth is even the team isn't sure what's going to unfold and has to be ready for multiple scenarios. Here, then, is a look at those scenarios, and what one reporter sees as the probabilities and wisdom of each option (just in case the Eagles need some ill-informed opinion to help break any war room ties Thursday night). Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts below. (And for more, full Philly.com draft coverage is here).
1. Trade Up: If Eagles want a top-tier defender, they'll probably have to jump up to get a guy like Fletcher Cox or Luke Kuechly. They have the draft ammo – nine picks including two second rounders – and a history of making big moves for D linemen. As I wrote this week, in the five times Andy Reid has picked in the top 15, he chose four defensive linemen (the other player, of course, was Donovan McNabb). Roseman wasn't tipping his hand last week, but moving up seems like a strong possibility. The Eagles have starters set at nearly every position and can draft for quality, not quantity.
One reason for moving back in the middle rounds and stock-piling picks in recent years was a conscious attempt to get younger across the board. The Eagles felt they had grown too old. Now the roster has an average age of 25.9 – and that's with Asante Samuel – and is loaded with late round picks who provide depth, guys who are capable of starting in a pinch (some of whom have been regular starters already). With those solid role players in place, this is the year to go for a big impact, and moving up is the best way to do that.
From here, Cox would be the top target. His athleticism and versatility that would fit in perfectly with the Eagles attacking scheme. A defensive tackle can be involved on every play, run or pass, and pressure up the middle is an absolute killer.
If Cox is out of reach, linebacker Kuechly would also be worth going up for. We know Andy Reid doesn't go for linebackers in the first round, but Kuechly, with his production over multiple seasons, leadership and intelligence checks every box the Eagles use when evaluating prospects. (Yes, I do believe he has a high motor, too, and with the third fastest 40 time among LBs at the Combine, he may even be a fastball). Kuechly could fill in one of the outside linebacker positions to start, giving him time to learn, and one day take over in the middle as DeMeco Ryans ages. He's widely considered one of the safest picks in the draft and would fill a key need, and once we get out of the top 5 or so picks, he would be one of the best players on the board, fitting with the Eagles "best available" mantra.
The other option for a move up is safety Mark Barron. Analyst evaluations of Barron have been increasingly positive, with NFL Films' Greg Cosell even touting him as one of the five to seven best players in the entire draft. Roseman, though, said he was wary of falling in love with the best player in a weak class. Several reporters took the comment as an implication that he wouldn't be going for the top player among an unimpressive group of safeties.
2. Trade Down: If Cox, Kuechly and Barron are all gone by 15 – a strong possibility - the Eagles would likely be looking at players along the lines of Michael Brockers, Whitney Mercilus and Chandler Jones, or perhaps a cornerback such as Dre Kirkpatrick. (I'm assuming big wide receiver Michael Floyd is also long gone by this point). Several of those guys could be available later in the draft, though, so perhaps the team would move back to get the same player and some extra picks. (Some people think Dontari Poe or Quinton Coples could be in play, here, though I think the team will be turned off by Poe's lack of in-game production and questions about Coples' effort.) The other reason to move back, as I'll discuss below, is if they want a big receiver, several of whom should be available late in the first or early in the second.
I wouldn't go backwards, unless the team has big red flags on the players available at 15. The Eagles have plenty of picks (two in the second, three in the sixth). With a veteran roster already in place, I'd take the best player there and eliminate the risk of having to drop to a Plan B. The Eagles aren't lacking depth. The farther you drop, the lower the odds of landing an impact star.
3. Stay Put: If either Cox or Kuechly is available without a trade up, the Eagles should give DeSean Jackson their draft card and have him sprint it to the commissioner. Odds are they'll be gone. Where else to look if they stay at 15?
Defensive line: Some fans get tired of the constant emphasis on the line (or perhaps just the many swings and misses), but the position can impact games like few others and getting after quarterbacks is increasingly important. Brockers has potential but is raw and needs work on his pass rushing. If the Eagles wanted a lineman who could focus on the run, though, he might fit the bill. Mercilus had 16 sacks last year and might be an heir to Trent Cole or Jason Babin, if he carries that play to the NFL. Chandler Jones has gained steam, too. He has had two strong seasons heading into the draft, unlike Mercilus, who had one monster year and one quiet one. The Eagles like production over multiple seasons.
Cornerback: In our Philly.com mock draft, Sheil brought up Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick as a potential Eagles pick, and Jeff wrote about defensive backs today. Going for a corner is a dark horse idea that makes sense. I'm planning to write more about defensive backs later this week, but with Asante Samuel likely on his way out of town and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed for just one more season, the Eagles may need a plan of succession. We know Reid loves edge rushers because of the impact they have on the passing game, and corners can be equally valuable in that phase. Nnamdi Asomugha is signed for awhile, but his disappointing first season only increases the chances the Eagles might re-invest here. If Stephon Gilmore lasts until 15, he could be a steal. If not, there's a chance Kirkpatrick is one of the best available at that slot, as well.
Wide receiver: Unless Michael Floyd falls, the Eagles would be reaching to take one of the receivers here. Many have Baylor's Kendall Wright as a top choice after Floyd and Justin Blackmon, but his primary skill – speed – overlaps with what the Eagles already have in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. For a wide out, it makes sense to add size to add a new element to a very talented group. Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech) and Rueben Randle (LSU) are big bodies who could be had late in the first or early in the second. If the Eagles want to go with either of them, though, they could probably move and get their man later.
Linebacker: After Kuechly, there are not many linebackers who fit the Eagles scheme who are likely to go in the first, and certainly none seen as being worthy of the 15th choice. If they don't get Kuechly, this need probably waits until later. Some solid WIL options could be had in the second round.
Offensive line: Never rule out this group with Andy Reid, but the draft class is light on elite tackles, especially after Matt Kalil, who is expected to go third overall. David DeCastro is a highly rated guard who might be around at 15, but after going with Danny Watkins last year it's hard to see them taking another first round guard, especially considering that tackles are the more valuable and harder to find linemen.
Quarterback: If you've read this blog at all lately, you know I don't think the Eagles should pay the ransom it'll take to move up for Ryan Tannehill and I don't think it make sense to take a mid-round QB project. It wouldn't surprise me if Reid feels differently, and has targeted a quarterback, though I doubt he'll go there in the first round.
Other positions: Back ups at running back and tight end are potential draft needs, but not in round one.
Bottom Line: The Eagles say they will go for the best player available, but at 15 there will likely be several players with similar grades in front of them. Need will play some role, even if it's less influential than in the past. Making a move to bolster the defense and infuse youth at either corner or defensive line would give the Eagles impact this year and building blocks for the future at premium positions. The Eagles have the trade chips to move up if that's what it takes to get top prospects at those positions, as long as they can find a willing partner. Wide receiver could be enticing as well, but the problems on offense last year wasn't a lack of weapons, it was the existing weapons giving up the ball like crazy. If at the end of an unpredictable first round the Eagles have improved their pass rushers or cover men with a top tier talent, by whatever route, it would mark a successful first day.
Of course, with the Eagles, there's always a chance they come up with something that makes us all go "whoa," for better or for worse.