10 Names Every Philadelphia Eagles Fan Should Know Ahead of 2014 NFL Draft
The NFL draft is nearing, which means the Philadelphia Eagles have less than one month to decide which direction the team will go with its initial picks. Predicting what general manager Howie Roseman will do with the team's first-round selection is nearly impossible, considering the Philadelphia Eagles could target a handful of different positions at the 22nd pick.
The recent release of three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson suggests a need at receiver, although a deep class at the position may have Roseman and Chip Kelly waiting until the middle rounds before selecting a replacement.
Aside from the receiver position, the offense appears to be all but set, meaning the team's first-round pick will likely be a defensive player. The secondary could certainly use an upgrade, although if there's a versatile lineman for a three-man front or a pass-rushing outside linebacker, he may take priority.
Because of scheme fit, likely availability and team need, the following 10 players are names worth knowing heading up to draft weekend.
Names like Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater won't be on here; neither will likely be available when the Eagles select, and the latter certainly wouldn't fill a position of need. Rather, these are players who could be reasonable targets in the first round or players who may be added as depth picks in the later rounds.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It's highly unlikely that the Philadelphia Eagles even get a whiff of 6'5" receiver Mike Evans, a talented player whose draft stock could vault him into the top seven overall picks.
Evans would be an ideal fit for Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers just traded away No. 2 receiver Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills. Evans may not even be available there, as he visited with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier Wednesday, per Fox Sports' Peter Schrager (h/t NFL.com's Dan Parr).
By some miracle, though, if Evans falls to the middle of Round 1, he may entice Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly to trade up. Evans fills an obvious position of need, and he's that big-bodied receiver the team could use to come up with contested catches in the red zone.
It should be noted that Riley Cooper did a fine job in a surprise role in 2013, as he hauled in a career-best eight touchdowns as a starter opposite DeSean Jackson. Cooper will see a much tougher task this coming season, as opposing defenses won't have to game-plan for Jackson.
Evans was extremely influential in the success of Johnny Manziel this past year, hauling in 69 receptions for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. That's a ridiculous yards-per-catch average of 20.2, and Evans would replace Jackson while adding an element of size to the offense.
Evans visited Philadelphia earlier this spring. That in no way means the Eagles have a head start; Evans has had numerous visits with numerous clubs. But Sammy Watkins likely won't make it out of the top five picks, and Evans is the next-best thing for a receiver-needy organization.
Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
In terms of talent, team need and projected availability, Auburn's Dee Ford may be the odds-on favorite to be selected by Philadelphia in Round 1.
Howie Roseman has always stated he selects the best player available, although ideally he looks at that philosophy and centers it to the defensive side of the ball. While coordinator Billy Davis did a fine job with a limited group of players in a new scheme in 2013, he could certainly use an upgrade at any position.
Ford is a pass-rusher who would play a standing-up role as an outside linebacker. For now, the Eagles project to enter 2014 with Trent Cole and Connor Barwin slated on the outside and Brandon Graham as the top backup.
While that's a solid group, it doesn't leave much room for growth. Cole's age (31) and $10.0 million base salary for '15 suggest he's entering his last season with the team. Barwin is a good player who excels more as a linebacker that can move around; he doesn't offer too much strictly as a pass-rusher.
Meanwhile, Graham has yet to break out in his four NFL seasons, and a nearly $3.38 million cap hit in '14, per Spotrac, may make him a draft-day trade if the Eagles want to add more picks and rid themselves of a poor scheme fit for a 3-4 defense.
Should the team add Ford, he will undoubtedly see action as a rookie in pass-rushing situations. Ford registered 10.5 sacks in 2013, helping Auburn to the national championship game. The biggest knock on Ford, aside from the historically high boom-or-bust rate of pass-rushers, is his smallish frame (6'2", 252 lbs).
As Ford grows more comfortable at the next level, Davis would get to see whether he can play the run as well as rush the passer. Ford himself has no qualms about his abilities to play in the NFL; he's stated he can play in a 3-4 (as well as a 4-3) and that's he's better than Jadeveon Clowney. If he can put pressure on Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning and Tony Romo, he will help the Eagles defense grow into a strength.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Any Philadelphia Eagles fan who has watched the team in recent years knows of the organization's near-dire need for a safety. The loss of Brian Dawkins after 2008 will live in Philly sports infamy, but allowing Quintin Mikell to leave following a Pro Bowl 2010 campaign sure didn't work out, either.
Veterans like O.J. Atogwe, Patrick Chung, Marlin Jackson and Kenny Phillips certainly haven't worked out; neither have draft picks such as Macho Harris, Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. General manager Howie Roseman's latest move was signing former New Orleans Saints first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year deal. The structure of Jenkins' contract doesn't solidify the team's belief in him as a long-term solution.
If Calvin Pryor is there at pick 22—a very realistic possibility—Roseman has to strongly consider him. Andy Reid never would have spent his first-round selection on a safety, but Pryor has the upside that he's well worth the pick. The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks showed the world how dynamic a hard-hitting safety can be, and Pryor could ease the blow Eagles fans are still feeling from having passed on All-Pro Earl Thomas.
Pryor's downside may be his upside as well. He's a tone-setter on defense who will surely draw a flag and fine or two, but no Eagles fan could complain about that after years of Kurt Coleman in the defensive backfield. Pryor can stop the run, and he's a similar player to T.J. Ward, a high-profile free agent whom the team passed on this past free-agency period.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
If the Philadelphia Eagles want to replace DeSean Jackson, Brandin Cooks is the closest player they'll find to him in the NFL draft.
Chip Kelly has to be looking at the speedy receiver as an alternative to having Jackson. Cooks is six years younger with a similar skill set, will cost substantially less and certainly isn't lacking in confidence, declaring he can be better than Jackson.
Cooks posted a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash, which would put him in the elite class of receivers immediately upon joining the NFL. Cooks' numbers at Oregon State were spectacular; he set Pac-12 records with 128 catches and 1,730 receiving yards, and he finished with 16 touchdowns. That earned Cooks the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's top receiver.
Cooks should be there when the Eagles pick at No. 22, although he could definitely attract the interest of the New York Jets at the 18th selection. If Cooks joins the Eagles, he'll start as the No. 3 receiver behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but he could be the No. 1 receiver by 2016.
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
Trent Murphy is another pass-rusher Philadelphia could add, although it would be ideal to grab him in the second round. Murphy would play a 3-4 outside linebacker position, giving the Eagles another player who can put pressure on the quarterback.
Several factors could tie Murphy to Chip Kelly. Murphy attended Stanford, and Kelly hasn't been shy about drafting players who played in the Pac-12 (Zach Ertz, Matt Barkley). Murphy registered two sacks in a win against Kelly's then-undefeated Oregon Ducks in 2012, which means Kelly saw up close how impactful Murphy can be, even against a top-flight offense.
Murphy has that all-important versatility factor that Billy Davis will love, as he can line up as a 5-technique end or pass-rushing linebacker (he will spend most of his time as a linebacker, though). If the team did draft him, he may make Brandon Graham expendable, considering Murphy would make substantially less money than Graham in 2014.
Brandon Thomas, G, Clemson
The Eagles offensive line is entirely signed through 2016 now that Jason Peters and Jason Kelce received contract extensions. That bodes extremely well for Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, especially with the remarkable health of the unit in '13.
Collectively, the five players will make a combined $28.5 million next season, which is an average of $5.63 million per lineman. That figure rises to $30.0 million in 2015 and $34.0 million in 2016, per EaglesCap.com. That's a lot of money to pay, regardless of how good the players are, and it may lead to some cap casualties.
Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans would be the logical veterans to be released. Mathis is an All-Pro who has rated (subscription required) as Pro Football Focus' best overall guard for three consecutive seasons, so the Eagles would be foolish to let him go unless it's because his contract demands become a problem.
Herremans was the worst lineman last year, though, and Kelly may look to bring in a younger lineman to take his place eventually.
Clemson's Brandon Thomas was projected to be as high as a third-round pick before he tore his ACL earlier this week. Thomas could now go undrafted, and he would be a tremendous value pick if the Eagles take him in the later rounds and stash him on injured reserve for a year.
Thomas was a two-time All-ACC selection at Clemson, starting at both tackle and guard. He possesses NFL strength, having bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times. He held his own against Jadeveon Clowney in a game in college, and he's athletic enough to become a good NFL player in both the passing and running games.
As unfortunate an injury as his ACL tear was, it shouldn't end his pro career before it starts.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Eagles have to know they're in the market for a cornerback heading into the NFL draft.
Cary Williams was a fine starter in 2013, but he's due to make $6.4 million in '14 and $8.1 million in '15, which means he will have to restructure or be a salary-cap release. Bradley Fletcher is set to become a free agent after 2014, and it doesn't seem likely he will be re-signed. Nolan Carroll signed what is basically a one-year deal, and whether or not he returns for 2015 depends on his performance this coming season.
Brandon Boykin is the lone cornerback who could be around for the long haul. If by some chance Darqueze Dennard is still there at the 22nd pick, the team absolutely has to take him and play him substantially as a rookie. He would certainly fulfill the best-player-available strategy. Dennard was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation's top collegiate back.
Dennard plays with such physicality that he would set a tone for the Eagles defense. He's talented enough to become a true shutdown corner in this league, as evidenced by his ridiculous success rate against deep throws, per Rotoworld's cornerback metrics. He's a can't-miss prospect if he's around at pick 22.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin's draft stock definitely appears to be dropping as of late, if for no other reason than the fact that other wide receivers have distinguished themselves with elite 40 times and good pro days. Benjamin was once seen as a prospect likely to go in the top half of the first round, but he could still be available in the second round now.
The ideal scenario if the Eagles are interested would be that they trade back from the 22nd overall pick and take him early in the second round. Benjamin is a huge receiver at 6'5" and 240 pounds, and he posted a respectable 4.61-second 40-yard dash for a man of his size. Benjamin isn't said to be the best route-runner, and his larger frame limits his ability to beat cornerbacks with the double move.
If he can repeatedly come down with contested balls, though, he's doing his job. Benjamin caught the game-winner in the BCS National Championship Game. He's fearless in going across the middle, and he's a solid downfield blocker as well.
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
If he were just bigger than 5'11" and 193 pounds, Jimmie Ward would be an easy first-round pick. As it stands, he still has a chance to go in the first round regardless of his smaller frame; realistically though, the Eagles have as good chance of waiting until the 22nd pick in the second round to grab Ward.
Ward led the nation with seven interceptions a year ago. He's athletic enough to cover slot receivers, and his frame suggests he may be better suited to a hybrid corner/safety role, much like the way the Arizona Cardinals used Tyrann Mathieu in 2013 or the way the Green Bay Packers used to use Charles Woodson.
Ward would be the third second-round safety picked by the Eagles in the last five years. Hopefully, he would develop more than Nate Allen or Jaiquawn Jarrett. Philly would likely go with Malcolm Jenkins as the one starter in 2014, while Ward would be given every opportunity to secure the starting spot opposite Jenkins.
Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State/De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Dri Archer and De'Anthony Thomas possess such a similar skill set that they're grouped together on this list. Archer is significantly faster, having posted a 4.26-second 40-yard dash, and that could push him into the top 75 picks, while Thomas may be better suited as a sixth-round pick.
Either way, Chip Kelly would love the versatility the pair offers. They're younger versions of Darren Sproles, and Kelly will definitely like Thomas, a player whom he recruited at Oregon. Sproles is likely locked up for two more years, so it may not make sense to add another player of such a similar ability.
But Sproles dropped off enough as a return man in 2013 that Kelly may feel it best to use Sproles more as a receiver out of the backfield and either Archer or Thomas as the team's primary returner.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.