The Philadelphia Eagles have the pieces intact to remain a perennial contender in the NFC East. Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach saw the team capture a division-best 10 wins, setting a franchise record for both points scored and total yards gained.
The defense really clicked under new coordinator Billy Davis, despite the lack of a bonafide superstar. As a result, the Eagles reeled off seven wins in their final eight regular season games, rebounding from a 3-5 start.
The team will have major decisions to make regarding impending free agent wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, each of whom is a key piece of the Eagles’ offense. Still, GM Howie Roseman will undoubtedly have his eye on a slew of prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, as the Eagles constantly stress competition at every position.
Roseman and Kelly would be wise to keep watch on the following five players, as each could be a key fit on the 2014 Eagles.
Chip Kelly would have so much fun coaching De’Anthony Thomas again. It was Kelly who recruited Thomas to the University of Oregon, where Thomas has been a threat to score every time he’s touched the ball. The 5’9” speedster made plays all over the field in 2013. He rushed for 594 yards and eight touchdowns, caught 22 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, and returned a kick for a score.
In all, that’s over 1,300 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns for Thomas. Thomas’ draft stock likely dropped off due to the fact that St. Louis Rams’ rookie Tavon Austin—a similarly-talented player who went eighth overall—didn’t make quite the impact some expected this past season.
Still, Kelly loves versatile players, and that’s what Thomas offers. Thomas could replace aging slot receiver Jason Avant, who is due to be overpaid at nearly $4 million in 2013. If Avant is a veteran release in training camp, Thomas could fill his role fairly easily.
If the Philadelphia Eagles bring back 6’3” receiver Riley Cooper, Mike Evans won’t likely be on Chip Kelly’s wish list. Then again, Kelly has to be intrigued at the prospect of having both players on the field at the same time, plus Jeremy Maclin in the slot, tight end Zach Ertz, and running back LeSean McCoy. That’s a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Evans is listed at 6’5”, and he possesses a similar skill set to that of Vincent Jackson. Evans made Johnny Manziel’s job much easier at Texas A&M University, and he’s a likely first-round talent. He hauled in 69 receptions for 1,394 yards, and an SEC-best 12 scores in 2013.
The Eagles could probably sit and wait for Evans at pick 22, but if they really want him, they may have to trade up a few spots to assure he’s available.
Chip Kelly will always be an offensive-first coach, but he's going to have to load up on some defensive players. How about Justin Gilbert, the cornerback at Oklahoma State?
Gilbert is one of the top corners and he had a pretty impressive 2013 campaign. He notched six interceptions, 40 tackles, and seven passes defensed.
He would likely begin the season as the dime cornerback behind Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin. But should one of them get injured, he’s a much better option than Roc Carmichael. And he would provide strong competition at the position, which is important because the Eagles did give up a league-worst number of passing yards this past season.
The Philadelphia Eagles have swung and missed with a handful of recent attempts at the safety position. There are free-agent flops like Patrick Chung, Marlin Jackson, or O.J. Atogwe, and there are unsuccessful draft picks like Nate Allen or Macho Harris. And there’s Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell, neither of whom should have been allowed to leave in free agency.
But Haha Clinton-Dix would be a step in the right direction for Philadelphia. He’s probably the best safety in the draft, and he’s a big player at 6’1” and close to 210 pounds. Clinton-Dix is a likely first-round prospect who should be available with the 22nd overall selection.
Drafting Clinton-Dix would allow the Eagles to release Chung. Re-signing Nate Allen probably won’t make a difference, since the organization would like last year’s fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff to start if possible. But Clinton-Dix would make Philly’s secondary much more potent.
A significant case could be made that pass-rushing outside linebacker is the top position the Philadelphia Eagles should be targeting.
Trent Cole was a pleasant surprise, with eight sacks all in the second half of the season. But he’s due for a $5 million base salary and $6.6 million cap hit in 2014. He may have to take a pay reduction to come back next year.
Connor Barwin is due about the same amount. He’s a really good player, but he’s more of a jack-of-all-trades linebacker who doesn’t rush the passer as much. And Brandon Graham didn’t transition to a 3-4 defense as well as many would have predicted.
The Eagles need a relentless pass rusher a la Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews, or Ryan Kerrigan. Brian Orakpo is a free agent, but that would mean overpaying for talent. By drafting Vic Beasley, Billy Davis could get a player that can consistently get to the opposing quarterback. That was a serious problem in the final two games, first against Kyle Orton and then against Drew Brees.
Beasley racked up ridiculous numbers in 2013—13 sacks, 23 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles. That’s a pretty good talent to put on any NFL team.