Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Most Likely Targets in NFL Draft
With just one week until draft day, the Philadelphia Eagles have six picks with which to improve the team that went 10-6 and captured the NFC East title a year ago.
Chip Kelly seems to have his quarterback set for now, as second-year pro Nick Foles emerged from relative anonymity to post a ridiculous 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The running game is top-notch with All-Pro back LeSean McCoy, and the players on offensive line are all under contract through the 2016 season.
The defense overachieved week after week under coordinator Billy Davis, who implemented a new 3-4 scheme for the Eagles. Davis coaxed fine campaigns out of veterans such as Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, and Cary Williams, and he has a handful of up-and-coming players in Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Mychal Kendricks, and Brandon Boykin.
It’s likely general manager Howie Roseman targets the defensive side of the ball largely, with the exception of a much-needed pick at wide receiver. Look for the Eagles to trade away the 22nd pick, whether it is up a few spots or down to acquire more draft selections. Whether they do or don't, though, here are the 10 most likely candidates to be the Eagles' first pick in the draft.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Chip Kelly’s aficionado for Pac-12 players is no secret; in 2013, he drafted Zach Ertz (Stanford), Matt Barkley (USC) and Jordan Poyer (Oregon State). This past offseason, he signed veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez (USC). He turned Nick Foles (Arizona) into a Pro Bowl quarterback in year one, despite claims that Foles wasn’t the ideal quarterback to run Kelly’s offense.
The Pac-12 ties suggest Kelly may target USC’s Marqise Lee. Lee played with Barkley in college, and he fills a huge position of need. Lee’s play dropped off in ’13, likely due to Barkley graduating to the NFL. Still, Lee was the conference Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and the Biletnikoff Award winner the following season (118 receptions, 1,721 yards, 14 touchdowns).
What Lee could bring to the Philadelphia Eagles is an incredible ability to gain yards after the catch. He’s comparable to Victor Cruz for his sheer athleticism, and Lee would push Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper for playing time in 2014.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin has seen his draft stock drop as of late, and there’s now a chance the Florida State receiver could be snagged with the Philadelphia Eagles’ 54th overall selection.
Benjamin has size that can’t be manufactured, as he checks in at 6’5”, 240 pounds. He fits with Kelly’s philosophy of bigger people beating up little people, and if the Eagles can’t get Mike Evans, Benjamin may be viewed as a fine alternative.
Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. The reception total won’t "wow" anyone, but an incredible 28 percent of his catches went for scores. He came down with the game-winner (video) in the national championship game, but no one play epitomizes his size advantage better than the touchdown grab he made in the first quarter of that same contest.
Several concerns about Benjamin should push him out of the first round. He’s already 23 years old, which is three years older than Mike Evans, and a year older than two-year pro Josh Gordon. Benjamin is a poor route-runner, and he timed slow in the 40-yard dash (4.61).
Benjamin drops far too many passes, and a case could be made that his only real advantage is being big. The good news if he joins Philly is that Kelly’s offense has a way of bringing out the best in all the players, and Benjamin would be eased in slowly, given the influx of pass-catching running backs and tight ends.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
If Kelly got rid of DeSean Jackson, he couldn’t possibly consider a similarly built player such as Brandin Cooks, could he?
Several factors should link Cooks to the Philadelphia Eagles, though. Cooks did attend Oregon State, which puts him in the all-important Pac-12 Conference. He possesses blazing speed, which would allow him to be the vertical weapon the team doesn’t have right now. Cooks has openly said he can be just as good as Jackson.
Cooks set Pac-12 records with 128 catches and 1,730 yards in 2013, and he also hauled in 16 touchdowns. He should be available by pick No. 22, although there’s a pretty good chance either Kelly or Andy Reid (pick No. 23) snatches him up, especially considering Cooks would be a great fit in Reid’s West Coast offense.
Cooks won’t come into the NFL as the competent blocker Kelly prefers from his receivers, but he has that speed that can’t be taught. If he’s the next Jackson, the Eagles will get him when he’s five years younger and still on a rookie deal.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
The overload of receivers being mocked to the Philadelphia Eagles continues, but that’s because Chip Kelly is an offensive-minded head football coach who needs to replace his best deep threat weapon.
Cody Latimer has skyrocketed up recent draft boards. He’s a prototypical No. 1 NFL receiver who would actually be a value pick for Philly if he’s still there at pick 22. Latimer is 6’3”, 215 pounds, and ran a blazing 4.39 at his Pro Day. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, which ranks him first among his positional group.
Latimer’s numbers in college weren’t spectacular, but he put up his 1,000-plus yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 with two different quarterbacks. Latimer projects to be the real deal in the NFL. He has size, speed, and there’s a good chance the Eagles take him with their first-round selection.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Another wide receiver projected to the Philadelphia Eagles? It’s just such a good draft class for the position, and Kelly does remain an offensive guru who will assuredly want a bigger body. Penn State’s Allen Robinson is a first-round talent with a vertical leap that could push him into the top 20 overall picks.
Robinson is 6’3”, 210 pounds, and came down with 97 catches for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He possesses a 42-inch vertical leap, which means any ball in his general vicinity will become his. Compare that leap to Calvin Johnson (42.5 inches), A.J. Green (34.5 inches), Dez Bryant (38 inches), or Julio Jones (38.5 inches).
Robinson is a refined route-runner as well. He put up good numbers in his last two seasons at Penn State and should flourish in Kelly’s offense. Robinson would be eased in slowly behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but given that Cooper really only signed a two-year deal, Robinson may take over his role by 2016.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Should Howie Roseman and Kelly not pick a wide receiver in the first round, the mantra should be to select the best defensive player available. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix won’t likely fall to pick No. 22, and Calvin Pryor may be deemed a poor fit in the defense.
It’s doubtful Roseman gets nose tackle Louis Nix III, considering the selection of Bennie Logan in the third round a year ago. Versatile defensive linemen such as Stephon Tuitt and Timmy Jernigan are better-suited as second-rounders, and Aaron Donald won’t make it out of the top 10.
Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is a future standout cornerback with the mentality to toughen up a defense. He’s a smaller build at 5’11”, 195 pounds, but he’s a three-year starter in the Big Ten, and the 2013 recipient of the Jim Thorpe award.
Dennard plays the run too, and he would push for substantial playing time right away in an Eagles secondary, given that there are no long-term solutions to the position outside of Brandon Boykin.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Justin Gilbert will likely be off the board by the time the Philadelphia Eagles pick, and Dennard has already been highlighted as an ideal fit.
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is another top cornerback who has seen his stock rise as of late. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris projected Fuller as high as the 10th overall selection in his most recent mock draft, and Roseman may not be able to get Fuller without trading up.
Fuller does everything well, though—he covers, tackles, plays the run and is a team captain. He’s just 21 years old. His outstanding leaping ability (38.5-inch vertical leap) will give him the ability to match up with elite receivers such as Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
There’s predraft buzz heating up that Roseman and Kelly will trade up if UCLA’s Anthony Barr slips in the draft, per NFL Network's Mike Mayock (via Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com). Outside of the super-elite players, such as Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, Barr is the next-best 3-4 edge-rusher.
Barr has supreme athleticism. He’s a former college running back who only converted to linebacker two seasons ago; while he’s raw, his upside is higher than that of a normal first-round talent because he has only played defense for a few years. Barr ran a 4.56 40-yard dash (Mack was 4.59), and his time in the three-cone drill was the fastest for his position, which exemplifies his lateral quickness.
Barr has dominated the Pac-12, averaging over 20 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks and five forced fumbles since 2012. He never played Kelly’s Oregon Ducks (at least not since switching to defense), but he put up consistent production against every opponent he faced.
Barr will need proper coaching to refine his natural pass-rushing moves, but he would learn from an all-time franchise great in veteran Trent Cole, before taking over full time in 2015. Barr also has links to the Eagles, as his father was drafted by the club back in the 1992 NFL draft.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Kelly’s passion for grabbing bigger players doesn’t make Jason Verrett a fit, but Verrett plays much bigger than his size. He’s just 5’9”, 189 pounds, but if he was a little bigger, he would be a cinch top-10 pick.
Verrett is a nasty, physical football player who isn’t afraid to lay a hit on a bigger defender (just check out what he did to 270-pound Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro). Verrett ran a 4.38 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, which put him No. 1 among his positional group. He also led all cornerbacks in the vertical leap (39 inches), three-cone drill and 20-yard shuffle.
The problem with drafting Verrett would be his size; Brandon Boykin emerged as a playmaker last year (six interceptions), but he’s just 5’9”. The two would be one of the shortest combinations of cornerbacks in the NFL, and the Philadelphia Eagles so far have refused to move Boykin to the outside.
Boykin is a fantastic nickelback, but logically, he will have to learn to play on the outside eventually since Bradley Fletcher is a free agent after 2014 and Cary Williams’ contract suggests he will be a veteran release. If the Eagles move Verrett outside and keep Boykin in the nickel, that may not go over well with Boykin.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Chip Kelly loves versatility in his players, and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier brings plenty of it. Shazier is so undersized as a linebacker (just 230 pounds), he could almost project as a bigger safety, especially with his outstanding coverage skills.
Shazier posted ridiculous workout numbers, running a 4.36 40-yard dash and leaping 42 inches. He would be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense, but he has the athleticism to cover tight ends as well as rush the passer. Last year in college, Shazier registered 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and seven sacks.
Shazier should be there when the Eagles pick 22nd. He’s a borderline first-round talent, and the ideal scenario would be that Philly trades back several spots to pick up an extra pick before grabbing the Ohio State playmaker.