Philadelphia Eagles 2014 NFL Draft Fact or Fiction
There's one thing you can usually count on when it’s draft season, and that is the quiet emanating from NFL franchises afraid any action, one whisper might tip off another to their plans. The Philadelphia Eagles are no different in that respect. In fact, they’re one of the best at staying tight-lipped when they want.
The downside is that leaves us—analysts, members of the media and the general public—room only to speculate. What will the Eagles do? What won’t they do? Your guess might be as good as mine, but I do know one thing for sure.
The Eagles don’t have any intention of telling any of us who or what position they intend to draft in the first round, who’s calling about trading up or down or anything in general about their feelings or blueprints heading into this event. That means you’ll have to take my word for it. Or you can go see a psychic, I guess.
There are a lot of theories out there about how the Eagles will approach the annual selection process, some better than others. Let’s see if we can’t tell a little fact from fiction in some of the buzz that’s going around as we approach the draft just four weeks away.
Eagles Targeting Bigger Wide Receivers: Fact
In a sampling of 20 mock drafts by national pundits, seven had Philadelphia choosing a wide receiver in the first round. Six were split between Brandin Cooks from Oregon State and Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU.
What’s interesting about that is both Cooks and Beckham are under 6’0”. Wouldn’t either selection be counter to head coach Chip Kelly’s old mantra, “Big people beat up little people?”
If predraft visits serve as any indication, the Eagles are looking to get bigger on the outside. As Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com notes, the Eagles have hosted USC’s Marqise Lee (6’0”), Indiana’s Cody Latimer (6’2”), Texas A&M’s Mike Evans (6’4”) and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin (6’5”) at the NovaCare Complex so far.
Conspicuously absent from the guest list? Cooks (5’9”) and Beckham (5’11”).
Kempski also mentions Kelly has attended the pro days of Evans, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews (6’3”) and Penn State’s Allen Robinson (6’3”)—although he also would’ve seen Beckham while at LSU’s workout. Additionally, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell went and saw Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief (6’2”) and Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman (6’6”).
It could be a coincidence. It could be a smokescreen. It could be Cooks’ and Beckham’s visits are actually scheduled and simply have yet to take place or went unreported. Beckham may not require a visit after Chip was in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.
However you want to spin it, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest the Eagles are thinking big.
Eagles Must Target Wide Receivers in Round 1: Fiction
No, the Eagles do not automatically have to draft a wide receiver No. 22 overall just because they released DeSean Jackson. Quit being so melodramatic.
For one, although Philly does lose out on one of the most explosive deep threats in the NFL, there is more than enough talent to go around in the league’s No. 2 offense.
Jeremy Maclin returning from injury, the addition of Darren Sproles and a greater number of opportunities for Zach Ertz should more than make up for Jackson’s missing production, while LeSean McCoy, Riley Cooper and Brent Celek reprise their roles from last season.
Furthermore, the 2014 class of receivers is loaded. There’s a good chance the Eagles will be able to find starting-caliber wideouts in the third, maybe as late as the fourth round of this draft.
Heck, let’s not forget Jackson himself was a second-round pick, No. 49 overall. And the guy replacing him—Maclin—was No. 19.
Finally and quite simply, the Eagles can’t afford to restrict themselves to any one position with their first-round pick. Drafting for need is a bad idea on principle, but in this case, the team in question needs help all over the roster—particularly on its 29th-ranked defense.
The Eagles need to come away from this draft with a wide receiver for sure. They lack depth and a clear-cut No. 3. It’s not necessarily the first or even the second priority though, with so much talent littered throughout the draft.
Eagles Likely Go Cornerback in the 1st Round: Fact
I’m not personally a huge fan of the Eagles’ spot in the draft. Unless somebody falls, No. 22 seems to land just out of reach of who I would consider to be the upper-echelon prospects, particularly at the Birds’ positions of need.
There will still be good players to be had at 22 for sure though, and looking at those needs, the area where there seems to be the most value is at cornerback. You could make a case for receiver, but some of the Round 2-3 wideouts (Benjamin, Matthews, Robinson) are almost equally appealing as the names that are slated to go around Philly’s pick (Cooks, Beckham, Lee).
It looks like there will be a better array of options at outside linebacker on Day 2. Conversely, 22 might wind up being out of reach of the top safeties.
But what should be available in bunches at No. 22 are cornerbacks. The list of covermen who could be in consideration at that spot is long and distinguished—Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, TCU’s Jason Verrett and possibly even Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
In our sampling of 20 mock drafts from national pundits, a whopping nine projected one of those corners to Philly in the first round.
It’s a position the organization has consistently valued through the years. Granted, those were mostly the Andy Reid/Joe Banner years, but Howie Roseman was technically general manager when the Eagles awarded Nnamdi Asomugha a five-year, $60 million contract, and he would’ve been instrumental in negotiating the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
It’s a position of need once again. While the Eagles addressed cornerback by signing Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in 2013, Williams turns 30 this year, and Fletcher is scheduled to become a free agent. Time to start planning for the future.
Eagles Need Not Use 1st-Round Pick on Safety: Fiction
It wasn’t Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, but the Eagles cemented one of their safety spots with the addition of Malcolm Jenkins during free agency. That leaves Nate Allen, who was re-signed to a one-year deal, to compete with 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff for the other job.
That makes for a competent albeit not overly impressive safety duo either way. With a potential crisis averted, that leaves the front office free to look elsewhere with its first-round pick, right?
Not necessarily. If one of the true stud safeties in this draft falls to Philadelphia at No. 22—Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville’s Calvin Pryor—the franchise could certainly still go that direction.
Let’s face it. Jenkins’ three-year contract worth $8.5 million guaranteed doesn’t exactly scream the organization is married to the guy. As noted, Allen is on a one-year deal, and if 2013 was his ceiling, the defense can do better. Wolff showed some promise as a rookie, but it’s far too early to count on his development.
It’s not like there are any Pro Bowlers in that group either.
Absolutely, the Eagles could still use a star safety. The front office did enough so that it won’t be pressured into reaching to fill a hole. If he happens to be the best player on the board though, it sure wouldn’t hurt my feelings to hear a safety’s name called in the first round.
Focus Should Be on Defense: Fact
This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but again, there are many fans and those in the media who believe wide receiver became a priority for the Eagles after they cut Jackson. So much so, Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia were debating whether the team should draft two.
Obviously, the Eagles need a wide receiver, and there’s a good chance it will happen early—like one of the first three rounds. The front office could stand to add a guard as well, where both starters are in their 30s, and Evan Mathis wants his contract renegotiated.
The reality is the needs are much greater on the other side of the ball. The equation I used to figure that out is really very simple.
And while the offense might regress somewhat without Jackson, one absent player doesn’t take it back to the stone age.
Three starters on defense are going to be in their 30s and are already showing their age—outside linebacker Trent Cole, interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Cary Williams. The other projected starter at corner, Bradley Fletcher, will be a free agent in '15. The safety position is far from settled, and the defensive line has very little in the way of depth.
Roseman has been trumpeting the “best player available” strategy all offseason, and I’m certainly a believer. If a wide receiver is the top guy on the front office’s board, by all means grab him.
If it’s a tie between an offensive and a defensive player though, need absolutely becomes the tiebreaker.
Eagles Should Draft a Kicker: Fiction
While the Eagles could use upgrades at numerous positions, kicker arguably is the biggest need on the roster. Yes, kicker.
Alex Henery doesn’t do anything particular well. He’s not the most accurate, and he doesn’t have the biggest leg. Two separate coaching staffs wouldn’t trust him to kick field goals in excess of 50 yards, and Kelly actually adjusted his strategy in a game against the Minnesota Vikings to account for Henery’s inability to boom a touchback on kickoffs.
I can probably stop with the hard sell—Henery doesn’t have many supporters left these days. That being said, drafting a kicker is not a necessity.
Will somebody do it? Most likely. At least one kicker has been drafted in 14 of the past 15 drafts. Then again, history would suggest it’s a very questionable strategy.
Only 13 of the starting kickers employed in the NFL in 2013 were once draft picks. That’s less than half the teams in the league, and given twice that number were chosen over the past 15 years, apparently it’s not been met with a great deal of success.
Of course, Philly fans understand that last part all too well. Henery was selected in the fourth round in '11.
At the very least, the Eagles need some form of competition, yet there’s no need to go blowing valuable draft picks on the guy. If there truly are no better veterans available—and right now, it seems there’s not—just sign an undrafted free agent.
After all, that person could hardly do worse.
Eagles Could Trade Up for Player Z from Mars: Fiction
Let’s say an elite prospect such as UCLA pass-rusher Anthony Barr or Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans tumbles out of the top 15. Howie Roseman is no stranger to wheeling and dealing. The Eagles could trade up and add a real blue-chip player.
Only here’s the problem: Philadelphia only has six picks to begin with—and a lot more than six needs. The front office can’t solve all the team’s problems with the resources it has. Giving picks away may net a slightly better player but means another area won’t get addressed this year.
And believe me when I tell you this is the year to fill as many holes as possible. Thanks in part to a record number of underclassmen throwing their names into the hat, this is shaping up to be one of the deepest drafts in memory.
Believe me, the idea of landing a player like Barr or Evans is enticing, and Roseman will undoubtedly be working the phones if either one falls. The reality is unless he can add picks with a corresponding move—like dumping Brandon Graham or Evan Mathis—the Eagles probably don’t have the firepower to get it done.
Eagles Must Look to Add Draft Picks: Fact
If the Eagles strike any deal involving the No. 22 pick, my money is on moving down. Their roster has aging players, depth issues or outright holes practically everywhere. We’re talking receiver, offensive line, defensive line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety and kicker.
Philadelphia has a whopping six selections to address them all. Something tells me that’s not gonna get the job done.
It’s not merely about need though. It’s the sheer quality of this draft, which in terms of quality could wind up being one for the books. There are players who will go early in the third round this May who might’ve come off the board in the first in another year. There will be more potential to find future starters in the later rounds than ever.
For a team that is trying to build through the draft, it sure doesn't have enough picks in the biggest draft in recent memory.
Fortunately, the Eagles can make some moves. The aforementioned Graham isn’t an ideal fit for their scheme and will be seeing even less playing time if another pass-rusher is drafted. Mathis may the best guard in the NFL, but he’s also the oldest and is asking for more money—it may be best the organization take what it can get.
Another fourth here, another fifth there: If the Eagles have an opportunity to add them, they should listen, even if it means trading down from No. 22. Any team with as many needs it has can use the help.