Ranking Philadelphia Eagles' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman vows to select the best players available on draft day, regardless of position. That’s a nice cliché and great strategy all rolled into one clever sound bite, but it’s not always entirely practical.
There’s no denying need dictates picks to a certain degree. If the Eagles are on the clock with the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft, and there are or two players on the board with similar or equal grades, which one is the team going to pick?
My guess it would be the player who fills the most immediate and glaring hole. Assuming that is the case, it’s probably best if the Eagles weigh which needs are actually their greatest heading into the draft. No doubt they already have, and if you happened to be a fly on the wall at the NovaCare Complex the day it was discussed, this is what that list might’ve looked like.
*All contract lengths and salaries courtesy of Spotrac.
7. Interior Linebacker
DeMeco Ryans is coming off of a nice season in the middle of Philadelphia’s defense, setting new personal bests with four sacks and two interceptions.
He seems miscast as an every-down linebacker, though, especially at this stage of his career.
Ryans turns 30 this summer and already looks like he’s lost a step since rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2010. Take into account the fact that his salary cap figure is a whopping $6.9 million and he’s due to become a free agent in ’16, and you have a player the front office will soon be actively trying to replace.
In today’s NFL, only the elite inside linebacker prospects usually attract much interest early in the draft. For that reason, there is a slight possibility SEC Defensive Player of the Year C.J. Mosley out of Alabama will be available when the Eagles are up at No. 22.
If not, it’s an area the front office can likely afford to address in the later rounds on Day 3. Florida State's Christian Jones or LSU's Lamin Barrow could be on Philadelphia's radar at that point.
One way or the other, the Eagles should definitely be in the market for Ryans’ heir apparent in this year’s draft.
6. Defensive Line
On the surface, the Eagles appear to be relatively strong along the defensive line. It’s when we dig beneath the top layer that the issues are exposed.
2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox made the transition to defensive end in Philadelphia’s 3-4 scheme and hopefully can take the next step in ’14. All indications are the team is happy with Bennie Logan at nose tackle. And while Cedric Thornton is an extremely one-dimensional run defender, Vinny Curry can come in on passing situations and get to the quarterback.
Behind them, there is nothing—just a few warm bodies and the natural vegetation of the Delaware Valley.
Given the heavy rotation typically demanded of defensive linemen, this strikes me as a significant problem. Don’t even get me started about injuries. Do you want to see what would happen if Damion Square had to become the primary nose? I didn’t think so.
The starters are set, which keeps this from being one of the team’s top needs. But a late-round draft pick would at least help to fill the current void and alleviate some pressure on Cox and Logan.
5. Offensive Line
The Eagles are currently slated to return all five of last season’s starting offensive line, every one of whom is under contract through at least 2016. However, that could change before the draft has even concluded.
Ian Rapoport for NFL.com reported Philadelphia placed left guard Evan Mathis on the trade block after the All-Pro left guard asked to renegotiate his contract. He may be the best in the business, but Mathis is also the oldest, while the Eagles could stand to add picks in this year’s draft.
Mathis along with Todd Herremans are both on the wrong side of 30, making offensive guard the top priority on the O-line. Additionally, while All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters agreed to a contract extension this offseason, he’s 32 and must continue to be monitored closely as well.
Just how immediate the need is at offensive line could become apparent as early as Monday when phase one of the offseason schedule gets underway. If Mathis skips the voluntary workouts, as Paul Domowitch for the Philadelphia Daily News suggests he will, it might not be a great sign.
Landing UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo in Round 2 would free up general manager Howie Roseman to deal Mathis. If the veteran decides to make nice or a top prospect isn’t available, selecting a guard can probably wait until later on.
Management bought itself some time with regards to the safety position with the moves that were made this offseason. However, now is not the time to grow content.
Free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins has one starting job nailed down and should bring some stability to the back end for the next few years at least. At the other spot, you have Nate Allen—re-signed to a one-year deal—and 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff competing for the opening.
Allen actually played capably last season, but wasn’t a difference-maker or anything like that, plus obviously there’s no commitment from the team there. Wolff held his own for a rookie, even starting in six games, but didn’t do anything to make the coaching staff hand him a job.
Even Jenkins’ three-year contract doesn’t exactly shout from the mountaintops that the Eagles are married to the guy.
If something were to happen where Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville’s Calvin Pryor lasted to No. 22, it would not be unwise at all for Philadelphia to jump at the opportunity to add a top-flight safety in this draft.
After all, either of these two prospects could probably be starting come September.
3. Wide Receiver
Despite dumping DeSean Jackson after a career year, wide receiver isn’t quite as pressing a need for Philadelphia as some are making it out to be.
Assuming Jeremy Maclin is recovered from a torn ACL, he’s perfectly capable of stepping into the No. 1 receiver role. Riley Cooper is an adequate No. 2, while running back Darren Sproles will line up in the slot a bunch and tight end Zach Ertz will be split wide with some frequency as well.
That, of course, is if everything works out according to plan.
Depth is a serious concern, with Arrelious Benn or Brad Smith the seeming favorites for the third receiver job. All it would take is one injury for the situation to turn into a real disaster. Plus, Maclin might not be the same and is operating on a one-year contract, throwing some long-term doubts into the mix.
The good news is the Eagles should have little trouble addressing the problem. This year’s receiver class is incredibly strong, with Roseman suggesting the front office could find a wideout they like in every round.
Unless Texas A&M’s Mike Evans would somehow tumble, the Eagles will be staring at a crop of shorter receivers in Round 1—USC’s Marqise Lee (6’0”), LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. (5’11”) or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks (5’10”).
I personally am fonder of the options on Day 2, particularly Allen Robinson out of Penn State (6’2”) or Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt (6’3”).
The Eagles can get by with another year of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the perimeters. Let’s face facts though, they were brought here as free agents in ‘13 to act as Band-Aids, not serve as long-term solutions in the secondary.
Williams turns 30 this year, lacks ideal speed for the position and is set to carry a salary-cap figure in excess of $8 million in 2015, the final year of his deal. Fletcher has been a pleasant surprise, but is currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason.
Even if the Eagles were considering sliding Brandon Boykin from the slot to the outside, that still leaves a potential opening at one of the two starting cornerback jobs, not to mention creates another hole at slot corner. For what it’s worth, Howie Roseman has said the team likes Boykin in his current role.
Cornerback is a premium position in the NFL, not something to put off fixing until it’s broke. The Eagles absolutely must address this looming crisis during the draft.
Philadelphia has shown interest in Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech, a possible target in the first round. The organization doesn’t necessarily have to go corner with the No. 22 pick, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
1. Outside Linebacker
Philadelphia’s defensive backs are only ever going to be as good as the pass rush in front of them, which I’m sorry to report was lacking last season.
The Eagles recorded 37 sacks in 2013, good for 20th, but only six more than the team with the fewest sacks in the NFL.
Trent Cole came on during the second half last year, registering 8.0 sacks over the final eight games of the regular season. The late surge makes sense given the fact Cole was still learning to play outside linebacker in a new defense at the beginning of the year.
That being said, Cole turns 32 this year, and the two-time Pro Bowler’s salary-cap figure is set to balloon above $11 million in ’15. Decline is likely, his exit inevitable.
Unfortunately, unless UCLA’s Anthony Barr slides, the draft's high-end pass-rushers are expected to be off the board by the time the Birds are on the clock at No. 22. Dee Ford out of Auburn or Kony Ealy from Missouri could be options there, but both might be best suited to play defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.
While outside linebacker is arguably the biggest team need, the Eagles might have more luck filling that spot on Day 2. BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu, Louisville’s Marcus Smith or Stanford’s Trent Murphy might be better scheme fits—and potential targets—in Rounds 2-3.