WE KNOW THE Eagles are going to take at least one wide receiver in the NFL draft, which begins with the first round tonight and continues through Saturday. We know this because 2014 might represent the deepest draft ever for wideouts, and Chip Kelly is in the midst of reconfiguring the way the Eagles look at the position, team chairman Jeffrey Lurie said last week.
Oh, and then there's the fact that they released their 27-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl wideout, DeSean Jackson, back in March, as part of that reconfiguring.
What kind of wide receiver do they covet, though? And how high in the draft?
The first answer, Kelly gave some hints about when he spoke with reporters at the NFL Meetings in Orlando, a few days before Jackson was released.
"People want to put you in man-to-man coverage. We saw more of that than other people," Kelly said. "Having guys who can get open versus man coverage is a key deal. Whether it's Coop [Riley Cooper] or Mac [Jeremy Maclin] or DeSean or whomever. I think that's the one thing we know as a group going in, one-on-one coverage is a big deal for us. It is a big deal in this league. I don't have the numbers, but people probably played us more man than most teams in the league. We're always looking for guys who can exploit that matchup."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said last week that how a wideout works against good man coverage is something you don't really get a feel for, in assessing college film.
"If you look back at the history of receivers drafted high, the success rate at that position is lower than other positions," Roseman said. "With the advent of spread offense, most of the time, your third receiver is going to be better than their third cornerback. So there's not enough defensive backs to cover these guys. So what defensive coordinators in college football are doing is, they're playing softer. You don't see a lot of press coverage, you don't see a lot of the challenge they get in the National Football League. That's the hardest thing to project, is how a guy is going to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage. When he's going against a 5-8, 180-pound guy, now he's got to go against a 6-1, 200-pound guy with 34-inch arms."
Kelly talked about different ways to beat man-press coverage, through speed or through size. He noted, perhaps a tad wistfully, that there are rare, truly elite receivers who offer both.
So that's the guy, of course, that the Eagles would really like to get out of this draft - someone along the lines of Texas A&M's 6-5, 231-pound Mike Evans. The problem would be that they are scheduled to draft 22nd in the first round, which might be at least a dozen slots after Evans is picked. There have been rumblings that they would like to move up, but a significant move is going to be tough, holding only six selections. And then, this is said to be such a talented draft overall. What are you going to miss out on in later rounds, if you trade picks to move up?
Roseman didn't rule out moving up for the right player. It's hard to remember when any general manager ever ruled out moving up or moving down. But in this situation, given the fact that the Birds have never gone into draft day with this few picks, moving down, and adding picks, seems much more likely.
If the Eagles trade down, there is every chance they could snag a well-regarded big receiver late in the first or even early in the second - Indiana's Cody Latimer (6-2, 215), Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 240), Fresno State's Davante Adams (6-1, 212), or Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (6-3, 212). In this draft, it might be tempting to wait even later, when there still might be a shot at Penn State's Allen Robinson (6-3, 220) or Clemson's Martavis Bryant (6-4, 211).
Roseman said last week that even if he sticks to his "best player available" strategy all the way through, he'll end up drafting at least one wide receiver he likes, somewhere.
"Because you look at the talent at this draft, and when we look at our board, about how good the receivers are in this draft, I think there will be a point in this draft - and that could be in the seventh round, when we have a guy [the Eagles have rated] in the fourth round - that there's going to be a really talented receiver," Roseman said. "When you look back at the history of the draft, the wide receiver position always goes later to begin with. And now with the influx of the underclassmen at the wide receiver position, I think that's how it's going to turn out."
All that being said, if the Eagles stay at 22, you'd think there's a pretty good chance they take a receiver there, given the prominence of that position in this draft - the best player available might very well be a wideout. It just might not be a big wideout - would Roseman (and Kelly) skip over Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5-10, 189), USC's Marqise Lee (6-0, 192), or LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11, 198), just because they don't fit an emphasis on getting bigger?
Hard to say. But the Charlotte Observer did an extensive wideout study this week, going back over the last decade. The Observer compiled a ranking of the league's top 40 current wide receivers, and noticed that Dallas' Dez Bryant was the shortest one in the top 10, at 6-2.
We don't know what Kelly thinks of that, other than his general proclamation that big people beat up little people. It's hard to see being confident that Cooks, Lee or Beckham couldn't possibly excel in Kelly's system. But it isn't hard to see how Kelly might think someone like Latimer, Benjamin on Matthews might be a better fit.
Eagles' draft needs: Wide receiver
Final installment of a series of looks at positions the Eagles might target in the NFL draft.
What they have: Assuming no further ACL or other health issues, we're finally going to see Jeremy Maclin in Chip Kelly's offense, and organizational expectations seem high. "Jeremy's a really good route-runner. He's got really good hands. He's got really good quickness. He's got good size," Howie Roseman said last week. "So those are all factors that we think fit what we're doing out there. And he's worked extremely hard. He's here every day. He's got a great attitude."
It'll be interesting to see if Riley Cooper can duplicate or exceed last year's breakthrough season. Arrelious Benn is back, though his lengthy injury history would argue against counting on him. There's also B.J. Cunningham, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith, Ifeayni Momah and Will Murphy. Of course, Darren Sproles is a running back, but he'll probably line up in the slot some.
What they need: Ideally a big, strong, fast gamebreaker who's deadly in the red zone. But definitely, a starting-quality weapon to complement Maclin. More than one would be welcome.
What's available: All kinds of help is available, in various shapes and sizes, for a team whose first selection is 22nd overall. Notable big receivers who probably aren't going to go in the top 20 include: Indiana's Cody Latimer (6-2, 125), Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 240), Fresno State's Davante Adams (6-1, 212), Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (6-3, 212), Penn State's Allen Robinson (6-3, 220) and Clemson's Martavis Bryant (6-4, 211).
Talented but not that big, we have Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5-10, 189), USC's Marqise Lee (6-0, 192), and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11, 198), at least one of whom will be available when the Birds select.
Predicting the Eagles will draft more than one wide receiver is tough because they have an all-time-low six picks entering the draft, but Roseman made the point that there are so many good wideouts, there will be more than a few rounds when a WR will be high on the Eagles' list of top remaining prospects.