Philadelphia Eagles: Ranking Top 10 Most Likely Candidates for First-Round Pick

Cody SwartzSenior Writer IFebruary 27, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles: Ranking Top 10 Most Likely Candidates for First-Round Pick

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    Rogelio Solis/Associated Press

    Much of what the Philadelphia Eagles do in the NFL draft will depend on how the team approaches free agency. The Eagles have been aggressive thus far since the season ended, ensuring the top talent on the team stays intact.

    Deals have been signed for a handful of other veterans—an extension for center Jason Kelce and offensive tackle Jason Peters, plus a multi-year deal for wide receiver Riley Cooper. There are also talks of a one-year, prove-it deal for receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles are also thought to be preparing for a run at a premier safety in free agency, seeing this is far and above the organization's biggest positional need (per csnphilly.com).

    Should the Eagles sign a player like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, it remains less likely that a safety becomes the team's first-round draft pick. So while it is difficult to know yet what Philadelphia will do in the spring, here's a glimpse at the 10 most likely candidates for the Eagles to take with their first-round pick.

10. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota

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    The Philadelphia Eagles could use another player to add to their three-man front on the defensive line.

    Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton transitioned well to 3-4 defensive ends, the former looking like a future Pro Bowler and the latter an exceptional run-stopper. And Bennie Logan played fairly well as a 0-technique nose tackle, lining up directly over the center.

    But Ra’Shede Hageman has the ability to play both the 5-technique and 0-technique role in this defense. He’s a big man at 6’6” and over 310 pounds, and his versatility would make him Billy Davis’ top backup in a scheme that prides itself on versatility.

    Per CBS Sports, Hageman has been compared to J.J. Watt, and that’s as high of praise as it gets. It’s not a stretch to see Hageman available with the 22nd pick. He’s a borderline first-round prospect who has the ability to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, and he would help improve a defense that overachieved in all of 2013.

9. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

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    Justin Gilbert’s ridiculous 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash likely means he will be the first cornerback selected. It would be highly unlikely that he’s still around when the Philadelphia Eagles pick at 22, but general manager Howie Roseman could still grab an immediate starter at cornerback.

    Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard looks like a future star in the National Football League. He ran a pretty impressive time himself, checking in at 4.42. That’s elite NFL speed for his position. Football runs in Dennard’s blood, as his brother, Alfonzo, is a starting cornerback with the New England Patriots.

    This Dennard was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection each of the last two seasons, and he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football. He put up top-notch, consistent production as a three-year starter, and he fills a position of need for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Brandon Boykin is a developing star, but Cary Williams’ $6.4 million cap hit in ’14 and subsequent $8.1 million cap hit the following year suggests he’s entering his final season in Philadelphia. Bradley Fletcher is a solid player, but he’s not the long-term answer.

    The Eagles need a player like Dennard who can cover the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver.

8. Kony Ealy, OLB, Missouri

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    Adding a pass-rushing linebacker should be another priority for the team.

    Trent Cole was productive in 2013, but his $11.6 million cap hit for ’15 means he has just one more year with the team, unless he restructures. And while Connor Barwin is a fine linebacker, he's not an exceptional pass-rusher. That means the team needs more depth at the position.

    Missiouri’s Kony Ealy can play 4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker. He looks like a first-round prospect, seeing as he racked up eight sacks and 14 tackles for a loss in his junior season at Missouri. Ealy lined up opposite SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, but he projects to be a far superior NFL player than his teammate.

    Ealy has the size to play in the NFL, and CBS Sports compares him to St. Louis Rams’ All-Pro end Robert Quinn. Ealy even recorded 13 passes defensed in college, which suggests he should be able to transition to being a 3-4 linebacker on the Eagles, should they take him in the first round.

7. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

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    Adding a 5-technique defensive end like Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt isn’t a glamorous move, and it doesn’t fill the biggest position of need. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton are a solid duo, and they’re both still young.

    If the Philadelphia Eagles do pick Tuitt—a likely first-round pick who could very well be picked around the low 20s—they get a versatile defensive lineman for their three-man front. Tuitt could play 3-technique tackle in a 4-3, end in a 3-4 and even a little nose tackle, considering he does weigh a solid 304 pounds.

    The Seattle Seahawks showed this past year that a team can never have too many defensive linemen. Tuitt will allow Billy Davis to get creative with his schemes. An offensive line will have its hands full trying to block a line with any combination of Cox, Thornton, Tuitt, and Bennie Logan, plus players like Trent Cole providing a pass rush off the edge.

6. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame

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    Stephon Tuitt’s teammate Louis Nix is the top nose tackle in the draft. He is a mammoth of a man. Nix weighs 340 pounds, and he is a Haloti Ngata-type player who can line up directly over the center and require constant double-teams.

    Nix certainly isn’t the workout warrior the 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe was; Nix ran just a 5.42 in the 40-yard dash, and his 25 reps on the bench press aren’t particularly impressive given his size. Nix is coming off season-ending knee surgery, and he’s a very minimal force against the pass.

    But Nix’s sheer size and athleticism could vault him into the top 20-25 picks. He’s significantly bigger than the Eagles' Bennie Logan, who didn’t hold up well against the New Orleans Saints in the playoff game. Nix projects to be a similarly-talented player to Green Bay’s B.J. Raji.

    If Nix can keep his weight down and his conditioning up, he has the ability to be a force in the NFL.

5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

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    Haha Clinton-Dix appears as just the second safety on this list because he’s not as likely to make it to pick 22 when the Philadelphia Eagles are drafting. If by some reason he’s there, the team would be absolutely foolish to pass on a player who's both supremely talented and fulfills a tremendous position of need.

    Clinton-Dix will probably go in the top half of the first round, which means the Eagles would have to trade up to acquire him. Andy Reid never would have done that, but Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman have to know how important a safety is for their team, especially after what the DBs for the Seattle Seahawks did to Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl.

    Clinton-Dix didn’t run that well in the 40 (4.58), and his 11 repetitions on the bench press were disappointing. He’s lean and less of a hitter than Calvin Pryor, but he’s a great cover safety. He tackles well, he plays the run and he’s big enough to be a productive NFL player.

    He’s the top safety the Eagles should target, but he’s not the most likely one they’ll get, considering he will probably be drafted first.

4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Even with the Philadelphia Eagles bringing back Riley Cooper, there’s still a good chance Chip Kelly picks a wide receiver high in the draft. He showed last year he’s not shy about adding onto an already-well-stocked position, as evidenced when he selected tight end Zach Ertz.

    LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. is a playmaker with a similar skill set to Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles are reportedly working out a one-year deal for Maclin; if they bring him back and then he leaves in free agency for ‘15, the team has a replacement in Beckham.

    Beckham is undersized at just 5’11” and 198 pounds. But he’s a legit playmaker with 4.43 speed. He is a weapon with the ball in his hands, and he’s not just an electrifying receiver, but a top punt returner as well, having returned two for scores in college.

    Kelly remains an offensive-minded head coach, and Beckham’s talent makes him a good fit for the Eagles offense. He looks to be a late first-round pick. If both of the top safeties are off the board and no pass-rushing specialist stands out to Kelly, he may go for a wide receiver like Beckham.

3. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

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    In my initial mock draft, I had the Philadelphia Eagles selecting Kelvin Benjamin, the standout wide receiver out of Florida State.

    The recent re-signing of Riley Cooper makes it less likely Chip Kelly adds Benjamin, considering he too is a big receiver. Then again, Kelly wasn’t shy about drafting Zach Ertz a year ago when he already had tight ends Brent Celek and James Casey on his roster.

    Benjamin is physically imposing at 6’5” and 240 pounds. He ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, which is pretty impressive for a man of his size. Benjamin is essentially a superior version of Cooper. He can make contested catches with ease and he has rare size for his position. He caught 15 touchdowns in 2013—averaging a touchdown every 3.5 receptions—and he came down with the game-winner in the national championship win over Auburn.

    If the Eagles do grab Benjamin in the first round, they’re overloading an already-solid position, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Imagine Nick Foles throwing to DeSean Jackson, Cooper, Benjamin and the tight ends on the roster.

2. Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn

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    If Andy Reid was still the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach, Dee Ford would be his man. He’s an undersized pass-rusher with a high motor, much like the kind of players Reid frequently drafted (Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry or Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, to name a few).

    Even with Chip Kelly, though, Ford is an ideal selection in the first round. He fills a position of need. There have been reports that the team will trade Graham, considering he hasn’t reached his full potential since being selected 13th overall in 2010.

    Ford would likely play minimally as a rookie, seeing action on passing downs. He’s just 252 pounds, which means he could struggle against the run. Ford’s 8.5 sacks in his final collegiate season show he can really get to the opposing quarterback. If he’s available when the Eagles pick, he’s a fine selection.

1. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need a safety. It appears likely that both T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd will be franchised by their respective teams. Donte Whitner is a solid option in free agency, and it’s actually a fairly deep class. But GM Howie Roseman will probably draft a first-round safety, given the importance of upgrading this position.

    Simply put, the safeties were awful in 2013. Nate Allen was average at best, but he’s nothing to build around, and he’s hitting free agency. Patrick Chung will assuredly be released. Earl Wolff may develop at one point, but he was a fifth-round pick, and it’s asking a lot for him to be a starter in 2014.

    Calvin Pryor should be around with the 22nd pick. He’s the second-best safety behind Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, although they did run identical 40-yard dash times. Pryor is a tremendously hard-hitting player, and he can set a tone for a defense that has lacked an identity over the recent years. It’s time defensive coordinator Billy Davis get a ball-hawking safety to anchor his defense, especially since he was able to coax such a fine all-around effort out of his 11 starters a year ago.

    Pryor is a good enough player and fills a big enough need that if he slips past the New York Jets at pick 18, the Eagles may be looking to trade up to grab him. They can’t keep waiting to grab a safety.