Which Positions Should Philadelphia Eagles Target in 2014 NFL Draft?
Fresh off of a 10-6 season and NFC East title, the Philadelphia Eagles are in good shape heading into the offseason. A new coach in Chip Kelly revolutionized the team, taking a backup QB to a Pro Bowl berth and a franchise record in both points scored and total yards gained.
Meanwhile, the defense made a smooth and successful transition to a 3-4 scheme. First-year coordinator Billy Davis brought out the best in his players, getting consistently strong performances out of a unit that included no superstars.
The Eagles will need to be careful not to overpay for top talent in the spring. The organization tried that to no avail three years ago, bringing in a handful of notable players, including All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
GM Howie Roseman will assuredly approach the draft with a philosophy to draft the best player available, as that has been the agenda of the team since Roseman's first draft in 2012. That means the Eagles could conceivably pick any position high, even quarterback.
Logic, though, would state that the team targets the following positions primarily.
1. Pass-Rushing Outside Linebacker
This is probably the top position the Philadelphia Eagles should target in the 2014 NFL draft. That’s not to say Trent Cole and Connor Barwin weren’t effective this past season; they got the job done.
But Cole is entering his ninth season, and it’s not practical to expect top-tier production from him as he enters his 30s. He’s due to make $5 million in base salary and $6.8 million against the cap, so he may need to take a pay cut to return anyway.
The Eagles didn’t have any player post double-digit sacks last season, and a linebacker who can wreak constant havoc on the opposing quarterback would make coordinator Billy Davis’ job much easier. Imagine a force like Aldon Smith or Clay Matthews on the outside. Teams would be forced to use a fullback or tight end to help the left tackle block.
Top candidates: Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack, Vic Beasley, Trent Murphy, Kyle Van Noy
2. Ball Hawk Safety
The Philadelphia Eagles still haven’t replaced Brian Dawkins (or Quintin Mikell, for that matter). They may have a future starter in Earl Wolff, and Nate Allen could be re-signed given that he played fairly well in a contract year.
But this defense would be much more formidable with a ball-hawking safety in the backfield, one who can do everything on the field. There’s really only one safety who will go in the first round, but should the Eagles draft Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, they’re getting an immediate starter.
Clinton-Dix is a big player who can cover well and lay a hit on a receiver or tight end. He may or may not be available with the 22nd overall pick, but if he’s there, he’s worth taking.
Top candidate: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
3. Shutdown Cornerback
Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin are a talented trio of cornerbacks, and they played well in 2013. Boykin is a future star, and both Williams and Fletcher held their own against some of the league’s top receivers.
But Williams’ three-year deal is backloaded, and it’s highly unlikely he’s still around in 2015 when he’s set to make $8.17 million. Behind those three corners, there’s only Roc Carmichael, and that’s not very good depth at a crucial position.
The Philadelphia Eagles could afford to add a terrific player in the defensive backfield. The Eagles were remarkably healthy a year ago, and they can’t count on that again. That’s why it’s so essential the team addresses this position via either free agency or the draft.
Top candidates: Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett
4. Big Wide Receiver
It’s still unknown as to what the Philadelphia Eagles will do with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, who are both hitting free agency. Cooper is coming off of a career year in Chip Kelly’s offense, while Maclin may have to settle for a one-year prove-it deal to show that he’s really healthy.
DeSean Jackson is under contract, assuming he’s not planning to hold out like his recent remarks may suggest. Jason Avant is due to make almost $4 million as a slot receiver, and the team will likely ask him to take a pay cut.
After that, there’s little depth with players like Jeff Maehl and Damaris Johnson, although Arrelious Benn could be a surprise contributor if he returns.
Regardless, another big receiver may be a worthwhile investment for the offense. Chip Kelly can’t have enough weapons on his team. He already has a talented running back in LeSean McCoy plus a top tight end duo with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. If Cooper walks, the team will really need a big target, but even if he stays, there can never be too many targets in the passing game.
Top candidates: Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews
5. Defensive Lineman for 3-4 Scheme
The defensive line was surprisingly effective in the first year in a 3-4 scheme. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton transitioned well to being 5-technique ends, and rookie tackle Bennie Logan anchored the middle of the line.
Vinny Curry was an effective pass-rusher as a part-time player, and Damion Square contributed at both tackle and end. Still, a good defensive line should have impressive depth, a la the New York Giants’ defensive ends of their Super Bowl days.
The Philadelphia Eagles could use either a 3-4 end or a 3-4 nose tackle. It’s not worth taking in the first round, but a mid-round addition would be beneficial.
Top candidates: Stephon Tuitt, Dominique Easley, Will Sutton, DeAndre Coleman, DaQuan Jones
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