The great stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan does a bit where he talks about The Food Network and how fascinating it is when you’re hungry and how boring it is when you just finished eating a big meal.
It’s that way for Eagles fans as they approach the 2018 NFL draft. The Eagles had high picks the last couple of years – including No. 2 overall in 2016, when they drafted franchise quarterback Carson Wentz – and the fans looked forward to draft day like it was a national holiday. That was especially true last year, when the draft was held in Philadelphia.
Well, the Eagles are now reigning Super Bowl champions and that means they pick dead last – No. 32 overall – in Thursday’s draft. That makes it almost impossible to conjecture which player they’ll select that far back in line, and that’s why Eagles fans are reacting to this year’s draft with a yawn and a yen to watch the replay of Super Bowl LII one more time (OK, two more times).
Not that anybody is complaining, of course, about having the last pick in the first round. And that unknown factor won’t stop us from taking our annual look at the draft and, more to the point, the zillions of mock drafts that precede the real thing.
Then we’ll tell you which player we think the Eagles should draft. And pardon a little smugness if I mention that I wrote last year the Eagles should draft defensive end Derek Barnett of Tennessee in the first round and they did.
Anyhow, a quick and completely unscientific look at 23 mock drafts — all from respectable outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, CBS Sports, The Washington Post, Fox Sports, New York Newsday and the Chicago Tribune – revealed a wide range of opinion, which is not surprising since the Eagles are drafting 32nd. And the mock draft winner was running back Sony Mitchell of Georgia, with four votes.
Next with three votes was running back Derrius Guice of Louisiana State, so apparently the so-called experts think the Eagles will add to their already-loaded backfield. That’s probably because expected starter Jay Ayayi will be entering the last year of his contract and it will cost a lot more to re-sign him than it will be to draft a runner and pay him on the rookie pay scale.
Four other players received two votes – cornerback Mike Hughes of Central Florida, tight end Mike Gesicki of Penn State, cornerback Donte Jackson of LSU and linebacker Rasheen Evans of Texas A&M. Receiving one vote each were tackle Mike McGlinchey of Notre Dame, defensive lineman Maurice Hurst of Michigan, wide receiver Christian Kirk of Texas A&M, tight end Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, safety Justin Reid of Standord, wide receiver D.J. Moore of Maryland, tackle Orlando Brown of Oklahoma and tackle Connor Williams of Texas.
The Eagles don’t have a second- or third-round pick this year and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them trade out of the first round and gain an extra pick if they feel they can get their man in the second or third round. But we’ll work on the assumption that they stay at No. 32. We’ll also assume they draft for need, no matter how much general manager Howie Roseman claims the Eagles will take the best player available, regardless of position. Everybody says that and then everybody drafts for need, and right now the Eagles have a glaring need at the position that has evolved into one of the most important in the game — tight end.
That was evident in the last game of the 2017-2018 season, also known as Super Bowl LII. The two best players on the field that day (not counting quarterbacks) were the two tight ends – Zach Ertz of the Eagles and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Tight ends have become a critical part of NFL offenses because the good ones are too big for defensive backs to cover and too fast for linebackers to cover. And the Eagles did as a good a job as any team in the NFL in taking advantage of those mismatches.
And that’s why we feel the Eagles should focus their first pick on tight end. They had perhaps the best one-two-three punch at that position last year, with Ertz, talented backup Trey Burton and reliable veteran Brent Celek. But Burton signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent and Celek was released, and right now the only reserve with any real experience behind Ertz is Richard Rogers, who played all four of his NFL seasons with Green Bay. In those four seasons he caught a total of 120 passes for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns, including 2017, when he caught 12 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown. Rogers is a good blocker and seems more suited to fill the role held by Celek – a third-team veteran.
And even though Ertz had a Pro Bowl season in 2017, he has dealt with injuries in the past and the Eagles need another tight end who can run and catch and make big plays.
The good news is that the top tight ends should be available at No. 32 and maybe even lower if the Eagles do trade down. The top four tight ends, according to a consensus of position rankings, are Mike Gesicki of Penn State, Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, Hayden Hurst of South Carolina and Mark Andrews of Oklahoma.
Who is the best prospect? Well, that depends on which analysis you read, and I have to read them because I never really saw any of them play except for Gesicki. One thing all of them have in common – they’re better receivers than blockers. But that’s OK, because a young player can learn to block, and the skills needed to be a big-league receiver can be refined, they really can’t be taught.
So, we predict the Eagles will trade out of the first round, and early in the second round they’ll draft Dallas Goedert, even though he played at a Division I-AA school in the middle of nowhere (just like the Eagles’ starting quarterback). Goedert has the size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) and the athletic ability to make it in the NFL, and he also has the production – in his last two seasons at South Dakota State he caught 164 passes for 2,354 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Eagles should draft Goedert and ease him into things, just like they did with Ertz when they drafted him in the second round in 2013. As a rookie Ertz only caught 36 passes for 469 yards and scored four TDs, and now he’s regarded as one of the best in the game. But he can’t do it alone, and after Thursday he won’t have to.