Five Positions to Watch for Eagles in Round One

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized
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072813-kelly-roseman-600In just over 24-hours, the NFL draft will commence. Sitting at pick 22, the Philadelphia Eagles will have a few hours to wait until their selection comes up in round one (unless they trade up, of course). After a season that saw Chip Kelly revolutionize the offense, one should not be surprised to see Philadelphia address their beleaguered defense early on. Still, the loss of DeSean Jackson creates a bit of a chasm where the team’s wide receiver depth used to populate. So, addressing the offense is certainly not out of the question.

Like a trap-door spider waiting for its pray, Kelly and GM Howie Roseman will wait, ponder, and peruse their draft board for the perfect value in round one. After sending their fifth round pick to New Orleans for Darren Sproles, the Eagles could certainly look to either trade up or down to improve a roster that still has significant holes. Assuming they stay at 22, here are the top-five positions that the Eagles are likely to address in tomorrow night’s opening round of the NFL Draft:

1. Wide Receiver

After releasing DeSean Jackson in April, the Eagles saw a position that was once considered a strength morph into a significant weak point. Yes, Riley Cooper, fresh contract and all, is a starting caliber target. But, Jeremy Maclin, with his balky knee and one-year contract, is the only other seasoned vet on the roster. The other players on Philadelphia’s roster, including Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn, Jeff Maehl, and Brad Smith, would hardly be considered anything more than organizational filler/special teams contributors.

All of that is evidence as to why the Eagles are highly suspected of selecting a wideout early this weekend. It helps that the 2014 draft class is one of the richest in receiving talent in years. At 22, the Eagles could grab high value picks in Marqise Lee or Odell Beckham. Should they choose to trade up, 6-5 Mike Evans would be a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s scheme. Whether or not one is taken tomorrow night, expect the Eagles to grab a target for Nick Foles at some point in the first three rounds.
Most likely targets: Odell Beckham (LSU), Marqise Lee (USC), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Allen Robinson (Penn State)

2. Pass Rusher

Yes, Trent Cole did surprise with his successful transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013. The veteran, who was drafted by the team all the way back in 2005, recorded 8 sacks to lead the Eagles. But, the long-in-the-toothed pass rusher didn’t get much help. He’s also aging and coupled with a very lucrative contract. Philadelphia would be wise to find someone who can help Cole on the outside in a situational role, before eventually replacing the veteran in a few years. Brandon Graham was thought to be this player when the Eagles snagged him back in 2010. But, he’s not a great fit for the 3-4 and has had difficulties staying on the field.

At 22, the pass rush possibilities will be a bit diluted. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, the best rushers in this class, will be long gone. It’s possible that UCLA OLB Anthony Barr will slide a bit, and he would certainly be a monumental steal if that were the case. More than likely, the Eagles would have to settle on someone like Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Auburn’s Dee Ford, or Missouri’s Kony Ealy. Any of those players would fit in the 20-30 range and all have venerable pass rushing potential.
Most likely targets: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Ryan Shazier (Ohio State), Dee Ford (Auburn), Kony Ealy (Missouri), Jeremiah Attaochu (Oregon State)

3. Safety

Ah, yes. The Eagles’ Kryptonite since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009. The safety position has seen many different faces in midnight green over the last five years. Early draft picks like Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett haven’t turned out very well. Nor have late round value selections like Kurt Coleman. The verdict is still out on Earl Wolff, who had injury problems at times during his rookie season. The team did dip their hands into the free agent grab bag with Malcolm Jenkins. But, he’s hardly a difference maker in the secondary.

If one of the top-two safeties in the draft, Haha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor, fall to 22, it behooves the Eagles not to take them. Their needs at other positions are evident. But, a playmaking safety can make all the difference in today’s NFL. Just ask the New Orleans Saints, who spent $56 million on Jairus Byrd this offseason. If those two aren’t available and the Eagles don’t trade up to grab one of them, it would probably be smart to wait until at least round two or trade down later in round one. Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward is expected to go somewhere between 25 and 40, so he’s a possibility in the event that the latter does occur.
Most likely targets: Haha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)

4. Cornerback

The Eagles don’t have at tremendously pressing need at corner, though many seem to think they do judging by their mock drafts. Yes, the Eagles’ depth at the position could use an influx of talent. But, there’s little doubt that the team could get by with Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, and Brandon Boykin for one more season. The latter is likely the team’s best cover corner, so his position as a playmaker is cemented in stone. Williams’ contract is large, and cutting bait with the veteran seems likely following 2014. As for Fletcher, he’s a talented player when on the field. But, health has always been a vice for the former St. Louis Ram.

Perhaps the reason why many believe the Eagles are interested in grabbing a corner in round one is because of how deep the talent is in this draft. The only corner guaranteed to go in the top-20 is Justin Gilbert. After that, all bets are off. If the Eagles want to grab a potential starting caliber corner now, they could certainly land one at 22.
Most likely targets: Darqueeze Dennard (Michigan State), Jason Verrett (TCU), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Bradley Roby (Ohio State)

5. Offensive line

Don’t look now. But, the Eagles could shock everybody and grab an offensive lineman in round one. Yes, their unit was among the best in football in 2013. But, depth is still an issue, as Philadelphia has little experience behind their talented starting corps. One also has to consider the fact that Evan Mathis is on the wrong side of 30 (and reportedly disgruntled with his contract) and Todd Herremanns is in rapid decline. It’s unusual for a team to select a guard in round one. But, it does happen.

The only problem with this scenario is that most of the first round graded offensive linemen are expected to go in the top-15. After that, there’s a precipitous decline in talent. If someone like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin falls to 22, a player who can play both inside and outside, Philadelphia would have to take a long look.
Most likely targets: Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama)

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