10 NFL Draft Prospects Every Philadelphia Eagles Fan Should Know About

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIJanuary 9, 2014

10 NFL Draft Prospects Every Philadelphia Eagles Fan Should Know About

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    The 2013 season has to be viewed as a massive success for the Philadelphia Eagles, even if it didn't turn out the way many expected in the postseason. The New Orleans Saints dealt the Eagles a crushing 26-24 loss in the Wild Card Round of the postseason, winning on a walk-off field goal.

    Now the Eagles have eight months to assess what went wrong for the team and what can be improved in 2014.

    Most would expect improving the defense to be the team's main goal heading into the draft, and that's not a bad idea. The Eagles had an explosive offense last year, ranking fourth in points scored, but they ranked among the league's average teams in points allowed.

    But general manager Howie Roseman has opted to draft the best player available, regardless of position, in each of the past two drafts, and he'll likely follow the same philosophy in 2014.

    With that being said, it's not just defensive players the Eagles will target in the draft—it's any player who can help improve the team.

    The following 10 slides will highlight potential draft picks for the Eagles in this year's draft, in no particular order.

1. Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M

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    If the Eagles want to draft wide receiver Mike Evans, they may need to trade up a few spots in the first round of the draft. But don't be surprised to see them make a move for a wide receiver, even with glaring needs on the defense.

    Texas A&M's Mike Evans stands at 6'5", weighs 225 pounds and would be exactly the type of receiver the Eagles need to make big plays in the red zone.

    Put Mike Evans with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin (if re-signed) and Riley Cooper (if re-signed), and the Eagles will have one of the top corps in the league at wide receiver.

    Likely draft position: First Round

2. Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State

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    Cornerback may not be a position of weakness for the Philadelphia Eagles, but it's certainly not a strength.

    Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher both had solid seasons after signing with the Eagles in free agency, and nickel corner Brandon Boykin emerged as one of the top playmakers in the league, intercepting six passes despite barely playing in half the snaps.

    But the Eagles don't have a dominant corner who can keep up with the league's top options at wide receiver. If they were a pitching staff, they'd have two No. 2 starters and a No. 3. They need an ace.

    That's where Dennard comes in.

    He's a physical corner, which will help an Eagles team that didn't improve on tackling, despite allowing Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to leave via free agency. If drafted, he likely wouldn't start the year as a starter, but that would obviously be the long-term goal.

    Likely draft position: First Round

3. Louis Nix, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame

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    The New Orleans Saints made it apparent in the playoff game that the Eagles do not have ideal size needed for the defensive line. Drew Brees easily converted a number of short-yardage conversions, as the offensive line pushed the Eagles defensive line back several yards each time.

    Bennie Logan is potentially the future at nose tackle, but the Eagles need some size to clog the middle, especially on short-yardage conversions.

    Nix stands 6'2" and weighs 352 pounds. That is a big man. Pair him with defensive end Cedric Thornton, and the Eagles have two great run-stuffers for their defensive line.

    Likely draft position: First Round

4. Cyril Richardson, Guard, Baylor

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    Bleacher Report

    The Eagles will likely need a replacement for either Jason Peters, Evan Mathis or Todd Herremans within the next few seasons. They don't have any proven depth on their current offensive line, so don't be surprised to see the team spend an early pick on a versatile lineman.

    Cyril Richardson has played both left tackle and left guard in college. He's an enormous body who excels at run-blocking and is solid at pass-blocking. That last part basically describes the majority of the Eagles offensive line.

    The Eagles had all five starting offensive linemen make every start this past season. Don't expect that to happen again in 2014, especially with three starters over the age of 31.

    Likely draft position: Second Round

5. Stephon Tuitt, Defensive End, Notre Dame

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    The emergence of Cedric Thornton on the Eagles defensive line was a pleasant surprise this season, as the former undrafted rookie became the best run-stuffer on the team—and the fourth-best in the entire NFL (subscription required), judging by Pro Football Focus’s standards.

    But the Eagles need an edge-rusher, either at defensive end or outside linebacker, who can consistently pressure the opposing quarterback. Stephon Tuitt would be an ideal fit. He’s a defensive end who possesses the versatility to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. He had 12 sacks in 2012, his sophomore year, and played well late in 2013, although offseason surgery for a sports hernia limited his overall production.

    Fletcher Cox is likely penciled in as one of the team’s two starting defensive ends, but Tuitt would push Thornton for a starting job. The Eagles could also try to move Cox to nose tackle and start Thornton and Tuitt (if drafted), making Logan the first defensive lineman off the bench.

    Likely draft position: First Round

6. Tajh Boyd, Quarterback, Clemson

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    Despite Nick Foles’ record-setting season in 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles will probably still be eyeing a quarterback in the 2014 draft. Veteran Michael Vick is scheduled for free agency and would like to ultimately continue his career as a starting quarterback, meaning, the chances of him returning are slim.

    Last year’s rookie, Matt Barkley, played poorly in limited time in 2013, although it’s difficult to evaluate him because he entered both games with the Eagles losing by double-digits. If Barkley shows a significant improvement over the offseason, the Eagles may opt to make him their backup in 2013.

    But depth is always needed, and Foles has twice had to miss starts because of injuries. Tajh Boyd is a project quarterback the Eagles could look to target in one of the middle rounds. He’s similar to Russell Wilson, an athletic quarterback who is undersized.

    Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job with Foles and his reputation as a quarterback guru is well-deserved. It’s easy to see him selecting a quarterback for the second straight draft.

    Likely draft position: Third Round

7. Hakeem Smith, Safety, Louisville

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    The Eagles will definitely be drafting a safety in 2014. That’s a guarantee. Last year’s free-agent signings, Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung, were major disappointments. Phillips couldn't stay healthy and was released before the start of the season, and Chung was both ineffective and injury-prone.

    Nate Allen had his best year as a starter, but as a free agent, it’s easy to see the team allowing the 26-year-old to walk. Earl Wolff played okay when he was healthy, but it’s probably best to not rely on him as a starter in 2014. Kurt Coleman is a backup at best and Colt Anderson is a special teams player who plays safety the way long-snapper Mike Bartrum played tight end. Plus, both are also free agents.

    So even after drafting a safety in four of the past five drafts, the Eagles desperately need another one. That’s where Hakeem Smith comes in. Projected as a third-round target by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Smith would compete for a starting spot as a rookie.

    He’s a physical tackler, something the Eagles really need, and he’s solid in pass coverage.

    Likely draft position: Third Round

8. Calvin Pryor, Safety, Louisville

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    Building off the previous slide, the Eagles may decide that drafting a safety in the first round is the most important for this team. This could cause them to draft or even trade up for, if necessary, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.

    The Eagles don’t have any safeties right now who can make a big play when needed. They’re more of a run-stopping team, with guys like Earl Wolff and Patrick Chung. Pryor can be relied on to make plays on deep passes in the middle of the field. He’s a football version of a center fielder.

    If Pryor was drafted, he would immediately be a Week 1 starter. Hopefully he would be able to break the curse of Brian Dawkins, as the Eagles haven’t even come close to finding a replacement since Dawkins left after the 2008 season.

    Likely draft position: First Round

9. Kyle Van Noy, Outside Linebacker, Brigham Young

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    The Eagles have the best set of linebackers they’d had since, well, probably before Andy Reid was the head coach. Among Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole, there’s no player who definitely shouldn't be a starter on this team in 2014.

    But there’s also no player who makes “wow” plays when needed. All four have made some great plays down the stretch, but the Eagles really need a disruptive, explosive playmaker who can both get to the quarterback and drop back in pass coverage.

    Enter Kyle Van Noy, who would likely be the team’s first-round pick if drafted. Van Noy probably would enter the season as more of a rotational linebacker but by the middle of the season, he’d likely be a starter.

    Likely draft position: First Round 

10. De'Anthony Thomas, Offensive Weapon, Oregon

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    You know this is one of the top guys that Chip Kelly has his eye on entering the 2014 draft. Who can blame him too?

    De’Anthony Thomas is, quite simply, one of the most explosive players entering the NFL draft. He is everything Chip Kelly looks for in a player: extremely versatile and extremely fast. Think of the mismatches Kelly could make with Thomas. He could line him up anywhere he wanted to on the football field. It’d be like James Casey, but a faster, younger player (who Kelly would actually use).

    Thomas would also be ideal for returning both punts and kicks. That gets rid of DeSean Jackson on punt returning duties, where he’s been inconsistent, and adds a much-needed threat at kick returner, something the Eagles really haven’t had since Brian Mitchell more than a decade ago.

    The jury is still out on where Thomas will be drafted, but a mid-round pick appears likely. That might be enough for the Eagles to pull the trigger.

    Likely draft position: Third Round