The Philadelphia Eagles hold just six picks in the upcoming NFL draft, beginning with the 22nd selection in the first round. For general manager Howie Roseman to emerge with as much talent as possible, he will have to be thrifty with his selections, capitalizing on the best players available while also looking to fulfill positions of need.
Defense should be a priority for the team, considering the offense set franchise records for both points scored and yards gained in the first year of Chip Kelly's system. Meanwhile, the defense employed a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that resulted in nine consecutive games of 21 points or fewer allowed.
Coordinator Billy Davis' unit finished near the bottom of the pack in yards allowed but near the middle in points allowed, which is a testament to the defense's ability to toughen up near the end zone. Davis coaxed solid seasons out of a number of players, doing so while implementing a new three-man front in the 3-4 defense.
If the Eagles pick a defensive player in the first round, it’s the ideal scenario for Davis. A safety like Calvin Pryor would be an instant improvement over Malcolm Jenkins or Nate Allen. A cornerback like Darqueze Dennard would solidify the secondary.
A pass-rushing outside linebacker like Anthony Barr would provide a young player to get to the opposing quarterback. And a versatile defensive lineman like Ra’Shede Hageman would add depth to the line.
In the second round, though, the Eagles need to be looking at a wide receiver.
Kelly’s decision to release DeSean Jackson makes receiver a pressing need for the 2014 season. Even if Jackson hadn’t been released, Jeremy Maclin is signed for just one more year and Riley Cooper’s contract only locks him up through 2015.
Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will likely be top-10 picks in the upcoming draft, while Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham are expected to be first-round selections as well. Allen Robinson has a chance to go in the first round, and Kelvin Benjamin does too.
The Eagles have reportedly been interested in trading up for Evans, via Andy Jasner of ESPN.com, but that doesn't seem plausible without giving up a huge ransom of draft picks.
When Philadelphia picks in the second round, Kelly should be targeting a bigger receiver with good speed and the ability to contribute at the NFL level as a rookie. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews is an underrated playmaker with the tools to be successful in the National Football League.
Matthews is 6’3”, 210 pounds and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash. He set the all-time SEC record for career receptions and receiving yards. He put up an impressive 21 reps in the bench press, second-most for his position. And he happens to be the cousin of Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
Last year, Matthews put up stellar numbers as a senior. He caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns, giving him two straight 90-reception seasons in college.
Matthews would begin the season as the No. 3 receiver behind Maclin and Cooper. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), last year, Kelly’s offense featured the No. 3 receiver on over 800 snaps, which was one of the highest rates in the league.
The addition of Darren Sproles and the continued development of Zach Ertz will ease the pressure on Matthews, but the Eagles will need a receiver who can make plays even as a first-year player.
If the Eagles wait until the 54th pick in the draft, Matthews may not be there. The ideal scenario for Roseman is that he trades back in the first round, accumulating an early second-round pick and maybe a third-round pick. That would give the Eagles four picks in the second and third rounds, and the team could pick three defensive players and Matthews.