Philadelphia Eagles Mock Draft: 7 Round Predictions Post Week 1 of Free Agency
With the first week of free agency just about in the books and most of the big-name players already locked up, it’s time to turn our attention to the NFL draft. By making few moves of consequence during the signing frenzy, the Philadelphia Eagles sent a clear message the draft is where they will target the pieces to continue building a championship contender.
Nothing the Eagles have done since the market opened last Tuesday altered their team needs. Every option that would’ve been on the table seven days ago still projects to be on the table come the draft this May.
Of course, how other teams went about filling their needs might’ve changed who’s available for the Eagles, particularly in the first round.
Plus, our view on some of the players from the incoming draft class and what round they could be taken have changed. This is my first attempt at an Eagles mock since three weeks prior to the NFL Scouting Combine. In the meantime, stocks have risen and fallen, lending a fresh feeling to some of the analysis.
So without further adieu, here is the latest stab at projecting the Eagles’ draft, complete with some news names and even a few surprises.
* All combine results via NFL.com.
Round 1, Pick No. 22: S Deone Bucannon, Washington State
As I mentioned in my previous mock, the Eagles could be compelled to trade down from the No. 22 selection. After trading for Darren Sproles, they only have six picks in the draft, so the opportunity to add more would be tempting. Not only that, but depending how the board shakes out, the top prospects at Philadelphia’s primary positions of need—especially linebacker, cornerback and safety—may be gone by that point.
With that out of the way, let’s address what most “experts” would undoubtedly label a reach at No. 22 in Deone Bucannon.
You will be hard-pressed to find a mock that has Bucannon going in the first round. Most rankings lean the second or third for the 2013 AP All-American. ESPN Insider’s Scouts Inc. service (subscription only), lists Bucannon 43rd. CBSSports.com’s rankings powered by NFLDraftScout.com have him way down at 82nd.
That being said, Bucannon’s stock could be on the rise after his impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The Washington State product finished among the top three at his position in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill—better than consensus top safeties Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, both of whom are expected to be gone by the time Philly is on the clock.
Bucannon’s tape should only lend greater validity to his workouts. He has the skill set to excel in both coverage and run support at an impressive 6’1”, 215 pounds. A four-year starter, Bucannon recorded 15 interceptions and seven fumbles during his collegiate career.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly knows as well as anybody what this young man is capable of. Bucannon picked off two passes against Oregon in 2012 while Kelly was still pacing college sidelines. For what it’s worth, NJ.com’s Eliot Shorr-Parks reports the team has already scheduled a pre-draft visit with Bucannon.
Time will tell whether Bucannon truly has the potential to have his name called in the first round. General manager Howie Roseman has stressed he will take the best player available, so while safety remains a need even after the addition of Malcolm Jenkins in free agency, Bucannon will have to have legitimately distinguished himself over the other options there.
Don’t rule it out.
Round 2, Pick No. 54: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Wide receiver might not look like an area of great need, but with Jeremy Maclin signed to a one-year deal and given DeSean Jackson’s seemingly murky future with the Eagles, the club would be wise to draft a backup plan. Plus, there’s that whole “best player available” thing again.
That could easily be Jordan Matthews at No. 54, the highly productive pass-catcher out of Vanderbilt. In the last two seasons alone, the 2013 first-team All-American has hauled in 206 passes for 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Matthews appears to be the total package. He has the ideal build for an outside receiver at 6’3”, 212 pounds, which pairs well with above-average athleticism. Matthews clocked a quality 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and was among the strongest players to work out at the position; his 21 reps was second among all receivers.
While a Jackson trade this offseason still seems unlikely, it’s definitely something that could be on the horizon should he continue to make waves about a contract. Maclin must prove he’s fully recovered from the ACL tear that erased his 2013 campaign, while Riley Cooper is a questionable No. 2, let alone No. 1.
Not only would Matthews provide some stability in the event of a shakeup, he could make the league’s No. 2 offense even scarier to defend. Either way, expect a pick to be used on a receiver at some point during the draft.
Round 3, Pick No. 86: OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
Due in part to a barren free-agent market for outside linebackers, the Eagles still need pass-rushers, so this selection remains unchanged from my previous mock draft. While several readers expressed they would be surprised to see Trent Murphy last until the third round, the fact is the buzz has not been favorable.
Murphy’s stock took a hit at the Senior Bowl, where analysts such as Bucky Brooks for the NFL Network remarked on a lack of strength and athleticism. He did little to quell those concerns at the combine finishing among the bottom of the pack among linebackers in the 40-yard dash and bench press drills.
That being said, there’s something to be said for pure production, which Murphy had in bounds during his career at Stanford. He was tops in the nation in sacks with 15 in 2013, and over the past two seasons, the 2013 All-American registered 25.0 sacks and 43.5 tackles for loss.
Murphy’s lack of athleticism still might be of some concern in a 3-4 defense, particularly with regard to dropping into coverage. Then again, he played in the same alignment in college. Plus, he would likely be the heir apparent to Trent Cole, a converted 4-3 defensive end who is used primarily as a pass-rusher in the Birds’ scheme.
If Murphy lasts to Round 3, it would be a tremendous value for the Eagles. He could be an immediate contributor in his rookie season, with the potential to become a disruptive force for years to come.
Round 4, Pick No: TBD: ILB Christian Jones, Florida State
There were suggestions DeMeco Ryans could be a surprise cut by the Eagles largely due to his $6.9 million salary. Obviously, that hasn’t happened (and likely won’t), largely because they have no replacement. However, it says a lot about where the two-time Pro Bowler is at this stage of his career.
Management would be wise to begin the search for Ryans’ eventual replacement, and it could lead them to a talented prospect like Christian Jones in the mid-rounds of the draft. Jones was an integral piece in Florida State’s 2013 National Championship run.
Jones doesn’t possess elite athleticism, but at 6’3”, 240 pounds, he certainly looks the part. The production was there as well in every phase. As a senior, Jones simply made plays, coming up with eight tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and an interception.
Given Mychal Kendricks is on the small side at 5'11" for the other interior linebacker spot in the Birds defense, Jones' height and length may be among his best traits. Ryans is a perfect example, though, that it's not all about flash and sizzle in the middle. In due time, Jones could take over that role of stabilizing force and quarterback of the defense.
If nothing else, he's a versatile linebacker who can move around the defense. Thanks to his size and speed, at worst he may be able to hold down a role as a third-down specialist.
Round 5, Pick No. TBD: CB Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State
Kelly’s Eagles are believed to be almost exclusively interested in taller cornerbacks on the perimeters, which has been all but confirmed by their recent additions at the position. Since last offseason, management has brought in three cover-men who were 6’0” or taller—Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in 2013 and Nolan Carroll during the ongoing free-agent period.
Considering the fact that none of the three are locked into roles in the defense beyond 2014, cornerback is a relatively big need, one that could certainly be addressed earlier. At 6’2”, 200 pounds, Donate Johnson fits the bill perfectly much later in the draft process.
Why is height so valuable? The corner’s sheer length and presence alone can means there’s less space for a quarterback to fit the football in to an intended target. Likewise, it can interfere with the receiver’s field of vision. And in today’s NFL, there are so many receiver and tight ends at 6’3” and up, it’s almost out of necessity.
On top of being tall, Johnson possesses the athleticism for the position, timing in the top 10 among corners in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
And what might look like a downside to some teams might be a plus in the eyes of the Eagles. Johnson played some safety at North Carolina State and may be best suited to that role in the NFL. However, to Kelly, that makes Johnson versatile and more likely to catch on with the defense in some capacity.
Johnson started at cornerback his final season, coming down with three interceptions. Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski reported the Eagles spoke to the defensive back at the Senior Bowl.
The Eagles would probably prefer to wind up with a more highly touted prospect, but with the premium being placed on bigger cornerbacks these days, it might not be in the cards. Johnson, at least, is a raw prospect who could be molded and contribute somewhere down the road.
Round 7, Pick No. TBD: QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
* The Eagles do not have a sixth-round pick at present time.
Granted we’re not even a full week into free agency, but the Eagles have yet to make a move to add a legitimate third quarterback—unless you believe G.J. Kinne is a legitimate option for the role.
Obviously, the Birds could be waiting for the draft. At the very least, we know they are looking there. According to NFL draft pundit Benjamin Allbright, the club had scouts at the pro day of Wyoming signal-caller Brett Smith.
As a small-school prospect, Smith doesn’t have the pedigree or even name recognition. Heck, he wasn’t even invited to the combine. He does have the attributes Kelly is known to prefer from his passers.
No. 1, he can run. Allbright reports Smith completed the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, which is a tremendous time for QBs. It would have been the fastest at the combine.
No. 2, he has big hands. At 10 inches, Smith has bigger hands than all of the top prospects at quarterback, from Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel to Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater to Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Kelly is said to believe hand size is one of the most important attributes for a passer.
For being at a small school, Smith didn’t dominate in all the ways one would hope. In particular, he only completed 61.9 percent of his passes over three seasons as the starter. However, for a seventh-round prospect, there’s a lot to like. He could push Matt Barkley for the backup job behind Nick Foles.