The NFL draft is almost here and nobody knows which college player the Eagles will select in Thursday night’s first round, and that includes the Eagles. They have the 22nd overall selection, so it would be impossible to know which players will still be available even if we knew who the Eagles liked the most.
But even though nobody knows the player, almost everybody knows the positions where they need the most help, and that includes the approximately 13 billion mock drafts floating around cyberspace right now.
Of course, there really aren’t 13 billion mock drafts out there – a Google search of “mock draft’’ only turned up 68 million of them.
Anyhow, almost everyone agrees the Eagles’ first round pick will be a wide receiver, a cornerback, an edge pass rusher, or possibly a safety. And we say “almost everyone,’’ because we don’t believe that any of those positions is where they need the most help. A little more on that later…
Some mock drafts are more legitimate than others, of course, and just referring to major-league ones – NFL.com, CBS, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, Comcast Sportsnet and the venerable OURLAD’S Guide to the NFL Draft – the overwhelming majority believe the Eagles will draft a wide receiver to replace DeSean Jackson, who was released and then signed by Washington last month. The most popular choice was Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State, an imposing 6-foot-5, 240-pounder. Another popular choice was Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, an electric 5-9, 189-pounder who ran an impressive 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
What’s interesting about those two receivers is how different they are and how they were described by different mock-drafters – one who had the Eagles taking Benjamin remarked how Eagles coach Chip Kelly likes tall, physical receivers and one who had the Eagles drafting Cooks mentioned how much Kelly likes quick, dynamic players.
Two other popular wide receiver choices for the Eagles are Odell Beckham Jr. of Louisiana State and Cody Latimer of Indiana and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles take one of them, especially if they trade down. And if they go for defense – which everybody assumed was the plan before the Eagles released Jackson – a logical choice would be somebody like Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
But when we look at the 2014 Eagles as they’re constructed so far, we don’t believe wide receiver is the biggest problem. The Eagles lost Jackson, but they’ve gained wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and they’ve added running back Darren Sproles, a dangerous all-around player. Plus highly-touted tight end Zach Ertz, a second-round pick last year, has a season in the NFL under his belt. And this draft is deep in wide receivers and the Eagles should be able to find one in the second or third rounds.
And even though the Eagles could use help in the secondary, we’re a firm believer that it all starts up front with the defensive line. But even there we disagree with most observers, who believe the Eagles should go for an edge rusher – a defensive end or outside linebacker who can sack the passer.
Granted, the Eagles could be better there, but edge rushers had 25 of the Eagles’ 37 team sacks in 2013 and their defensive tackles had just two, both by rookie Bennie Logan, who started the final nine games after the Eagles traded DT Isaac Sopoago, a flop for them, to New England. In fact, Logan, a third-round pick from Louisiana State, is the only legitimate defensive tackle on the Eagles’ current roster.
And that’s the position the Eagles should address first in the draft – defensive tackle – because that was their biggest weakness last season. They need somebody who can pressure the quarterback up the middle more than they need another edge rusher. And it’s not just sack totals – enemy quarterbacks felt comfortable in the pocket last season because they knew they could step into it to avoid pressure from the outside.
That’s how Kyle Orton of the Dallas Cowboys had such a good game against the Eagles last season in the final game of the regular season. Orton, a journeyman backup who was subbing for injured Tony Romo, completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns and he almost beat the Eagles and knocked them out of the playoffs. And the main reason the wily veteran was so effective was because he consistently frustrated the Eagles defense by stepping up into the pocket to avoid the outside pass rush.
There are four defensive tackles in this year’s draft who have first round potential – Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, Ra’Shede Hagemon of Minnesota, Louis Nix of Notre Dame and Tim Jernigan of Miami — and we have no idea what the Eagles think of them. Some are better pass rushers than others and some are more suited to a 4-3 defense instead of the 3-4 the Eagles play as their base defense, but Philadelphia would be wise to make sure one of them is an Eagle by the end of this week.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.