Eagles Have Plentiful Options for First Round Pick

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone becomes an expert on the NFL draft and almost everyone – including the real experts – is wrong.

Hundreds of thousands of professional and amateur forecasters come up with their own mock drafts – a recent Google search of “NFL mock draft” came up with more than 230,000 entries – and that just emphasizes the fact that, really, nobody has a clue.

Cornerback Gareon Conley of Ohio State is a top NFL pick. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

The Eagles have the 14th overall selection in Thursday’s first round and, as always, it’s fascinating to see what the mock drafts have to say about their pick. We did a quick survey and of the 25 mocks we looked at – all from reputable sources – the overall winner was cornerback Gareon Conley of Ohio State, who was chosen on eight mock drafts. Next was running back Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, with six votes.

No other player had more than two and only two players had that – Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Louisiana State running back Leonard Fourette. But there was a common thread throughout most of the other mock drafts. It’s clear that most people think the Eagles will take a cornerback, but they don’t know which one it will be. The corners who got one vote are Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State, Tre’Davious White of LSU, Sidney Jones of Washington and Quincy Wilson of Florida.

The remaining mocks had the Eagles taking safety Jabril Peppers of Michigan, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas of Stanford and linebacker Reuben Foster of Alabama. That adds up to 14 votes for cornerback, eight for running back, one for safety, one for defensive lineman and one for linebacker. But what that really means is that nobody knows what the Eagles are going to do on Thursday night, including me and including you.

Taking an overall look at the Eagles’ 2017 draft, it’s interesting to note that the one position that seemed to be a priority when the 2016 season ended doesn’t even get a sniff in the mock drafts – wide receiver. The Eagles signed two receivers in free agency, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and apparently people think that’s enough.

Anyone who has followed the pre-draft hoopla – and it’s almost impossible to escape it – knows that there has been a lot of buzz about McCaffrey, the multi-talented running back from Stanford. And we wouldn’t have a problem with the Eagles taking McCaffrey at No. 14, provided they use him enough. People compare him to former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook because McCaffery is good at the three “R’s” – running, receiving and returning. And if the Eagles use him in all of those capacities and use him a lot, then he could be a good pick. But it would be a waste if McCaffrey touches the ball just 10-12 times a game.

If the Eagles do draft for offense, it still wouldn’t be a major surprise if they take a wide receiver in the first round, and we wouldn’t complain if the Eagles selected one of the top-rated receivers, like Mike Williams of Clemson or John Ross or Washington. Even though they signed Jeffery and Smith, there is no guarantee either will pan out. And even if they do it would cost the Eagles a lot to re-sign them, since Jeffery signed a one-year deal and Smith signed for two years. It would be a wise move to add a talented young receiver unless the Eagles feel Nelson Agholor will turn things around in his third NFL season after two disappointing years.

So, the Eagles have plenty of options, simply because they have so many holes to fill. And even though we have no idea which player they’ll draft – just like all of those mock drafters – there is one player who is very intriguing and could be available at No. 14. Defensive end Derek Barnett of Tennessee could still be on the board, especially if a couple of the top-rated quarterbacks get drafted before the Eagles’ turn rolls around.

Despite all the attention given to cornerback, running back and receiver, the area where the Eagles need help the most is along the defensive line. Right now, their starting defensive ends are Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, with help from free agent signee Chris Long, and that simply isn’t good enough. Last season, the three of them combined for 12 sacks and five individual players had more than that.

The starting tackles are Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Baltimore Ravens, and they finished the 2016 season with 6.5 and five sacks, respectively, which isn’t bad for tackles. Still, it’s clear that the Eagles don’t have enough pass-rushing punch from their front four and that’s critical because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hates to blitz and most of the pressure on the quarterback has to come from the big guys up front.

If the Eagles stay at No. 14 they have almost no shot at landing one of the top three defensive linemen, Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, Solomon Thomas of Stanford or Jonathan Allen of Alabama. But Barnett could be a real possibility. Over the last three seasons, Barnett had 32 sacks and 52 tackles for losses while playing in the talented and tough Southeastern Conference. We don’t know if he’ll be a superstar in the NFL, but he could provide a big boost to the Eagles’ pass-rushing rotation and that would have a major impact on the defense as a whole.

If the Eagles do take Barnett they could still add a talented cornerback or receiver or running back later in the draft. But their main focus should be on a pass rusher, because, as we’ve been told time and time again, it’s what’s up front that counts.

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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

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