2014 NFL Draft Picks Who Could Be Opening Game Starters for Philadelphia Eagles
Every year at the NFL draft, numerous franchises are searching for instant solutions to their problems.
Not the Philadelphia Eagles, though. At least not in 2014.
Philadelphia is currently projected to return 20 of 22 starters from last season on offense and defense. Granted, multiple positions could use an upgrade, but more or less this same crew returns from the team that won 10 games and an NFC East championship in 2013.
There simply aren’t many areas on the Eagles where a rookie is going to step onto the field and beat out a veteran, at least not while the franchise holds the No. 22 pick in the draft.
That being said, there are a select few spots where it would appear that a select few prospects might be able to win a starting job in training camp. The real question is whether the Birds will actually be able to get their talons on any of these guys.
WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Eagles don’t necessarily need a starting wide receiver for 2014, not as long as Jeremy Maclin is recovered from a torn ACL and Riley Cooper can come close to duplicating his modest breakout season. And not if the return of Maclin, the addition of back Darren Sproles and the development of tight end Zach Ertz can in the aggregate recreate DeSean Jackson’s pure production.
If they wind up drafting Mike Evans, though, who’s gonna tell him no?
At 6’4”, 231 pounds, Evans is an imposing figure to cowardly sportswriters and NFL cornerbacks alike. Toss in 4.5 speed, a 34-inch vertical and an absolutely stunning 35-inch arm length, and you have the makings of an almost indefensible wideout.
That’s also why Evans is anticipated to come off the board well before Philadelphia gets on the clock with the No. 22 pick. However, that fact hasn’t stopped the front office from imagining a scenario in which it lands the consensus All-American.
Head coach Chip Kelly did attend his pro day. The Eagles also visited with the Texas A&M receiver at their facilities. Finally, Tony Pauline for Draft Insider reports the team would consider trading up in the event Evans started to tumble.
Evans racked up 151 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns in just two seasons before turning pro. He was an instant success in college, and I’m willing to bet he will be at the next level as well.
WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Again, with Riley Cooper returning and Jeremy Maclin expected to take over DeSean Jackson’s role in the offense, Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily need another starter at receiver. If there is one player in this year’s draft who can replicate exactly what No. 10 brought to the offense though, it’s Brandin Cooks.
It’s not even so much Jackson’s Pro Bowl stat line in ‘13 (82 REC, 1,332 YDS, 9 TD) the Eagles have to be concerned about. It’s his elite speed that draws the attention of the safeties or pushes cornerbacks 20 yards off the line of scrimmage before the ball is even snapped. It’s the threat of the home run on any given play.
Fortunately, Cooks is practically Jackson’s clone, minus the attitude, if Kelly is still into such a thing. Like Jackson, the sight of the Oregon State wideout is nothing intimidating at 5’9”, 189 pounds. He is, however, faster somehow, running the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the scouting combine in February—a shade faster than the 4.35 Jackson ran at the combine in ’08.
If the Eagles wanted to recreate what DeSean Jackson did for the league's No. 2 offense last year, clearly Cooks would be the way to go.
And, yeah, I’d venture the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner for best wide receiver in the nation is ready to contribute in the NFL from day one. Cooks led all NCAA players with 1,730 yards in his junior season to go along with 128 receptions and 16 touchdowns. Those numbers are bonkers.
Of course, the Eagles don’t necessarily need to clone Jackson. It’s comforting knowing they probably could if they want, though, provided Cooks actually lasts to No. 22 overall.
OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
As currently constructed, the Eagles are slated to return all five starting offensive line from a season ago. However, that may no longer be the case before draft weekend has concluded.
Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports Evan Mathis was placed on the trade block when a request to renegotiate the All-Pro left guard’s contract was denied. Mathis may be the best in the biz, but he’s also the oldest, so while moving him clearly weakens the Eagles in the short-term, a preemptive move to cash in on his remaining value could prove wise.
Especially if the front office manages to land his replacement in this draft.
There’s a chance Philadelphia could land a mauler such as UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, who will almost certainly be around when the Eagles pick in the first round. He might even be available when Philadelphia is on the clock in Round 2, at which point, the Eagles could move Mathis for the third- or fourth-round pick—as CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora reported the team may be interested in doing—and not feel even a bit of remorse about it.
Sure, the Eagles don’t have to use a first- or second-round pick on a lineman, or it might seem they have bigger holes elsewhere. That being said, Mathis’ discontent, Todd Herremans’ declining play plus the fact that both veterans are in their 30s suggests it is an area that will require addressing sooner rather than later.
Su’a-Filo could probably take over for either one of them immediately if it came down to it. The potential for such a turn of events probably depends on the market for Mathis, but don’t be surprised if the Eagles scoop up a guard on Day 1 or 2 and ship out a Pro Bowler for an extra pick or two.
S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Signed to a three-year, $16.5 million contract one hour into free agency, Malcolm Jenkins is clearly the starter at one of Philadelphia’s safety spots. Nate Allen and Earl Wolff are currently slated to compete for the other opening this summer at training camp—and they might have company.
If Louisville's Calvin Pryor somehow lasts to No. 22, and he’s the best player available at that point, the Eagles could potentially wind up adding yet another safety to the mix.
After all, Allen only signed to a one-year deal, and while Wolff performed competently during his rookie season, there isn’t much of a sample size there to go off of for the fifth-rounder. Even in Jenkins’ case, three years and $8.5 million guaranteed doesn’t exactly scream the organization is married to the guy.
If Pryor enters the fray, not only would he find himself in competition for a job. There is an excellent chance he could win.
Pryor would immediately inject his reputation for being a big hitter and playmaker into a secondary desperately lacking both. In three seasons, the Cardinals safety recorded 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, seven interceptions, 18 pass deflections and nine forced fumbles.
While it’s not as likely to happen, should Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama take a tumble in Round 1, he would be in line to compete for a job as a starter right away as well.
It’s a clear sign that while the Eagles have stability at the position unlike they’ve had since Brian Dawkins’ departure in '09, there remains plenty of room for improvement. Pryor and Clinton-Dix may not be there at No. 22, but if either one is, there’s no reason to pass.
K Chris Boswell, Rice
You almost have to feel a little bit bad for Alex Henery at this point. Whoever the Eagles bring in—and they will bring somebody in before training camp—that person will be the prohibitive favorite to take over the place kicker job in 2014.
That player doesn’t have to come from the draft, but he could. After all, Henery was a fourth-round pick himself in '11. The top kicker in the draft in ’14, based on most rankings, is Chris Boswell out of Rice.
Unlike Henery, Boswell at least seems to have an NFL leg. According to his NFL.com scouting report, he kicked 13 field goals of 50 yards or more, while Henery has only attempted five in three seasons as a pro. He also boots the ball out of the end zone "consistently" for touchbacks on kickoffs.
Personally, I believe the Eagles would be better served by signing an undrafted free agent to challenge Henery. Fewer than half of the kickers in the NFL in ’13 were drafted, so obviously spending a draft pick on the position is not the greatest indicator of success. More to the point, the franchise doesn’t have enough picks as it is to go blowing one on a kicker.
Of course, there's no guarantee Boswell gets drafted, either. Especially in a draft as deep as this one.
Whether it’s Boswell, another selection, an undrafted player or free-agent veteran, that person will have a very real shot at becoming Philadelphia’s kicker for the season ahead. It’s the most wide-open position on the roster, which is really saying something, because at the moment there is only one on the team.