Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Fixing the Eagles, Latest 2021 Big Board & MoreNovember 18, 2020
The Philadelphia Eagles have a problem. Or, rather, the Philadelphia Eagles have problems. Plural. A lot of them.
Where to begin? It all has to start with the quarterback position, where Carson Wentz is ranked No. 21 overall in touchdown passes and No. 1 in interceptions, while the Eagles are somehow still in the division lead with a disgusting 3-5-1 record.
And like it or not, that responsibility largely falls on the shoulders of the 27-year-old quarterback whose cash hit accounts for nearly $40 million this year and is on the books for $59 million in dead cap space if the team were to move on from him after this season.
Protectors of Wentz will tell you he needs more weapons around him or that the offensive line has been decimated by injury, both of which are true, but he also isn't showing the ability to elevate those around him. That's been evident this year when he's been asked to carry more of the offensive load, and he's turned in his worst performance of his career.
"I still love him," said one area scout whose team evaluated Wentz in the 2016 NFL draft. "Everyone wants to pile on him, but he's in the worst situation in the NFL in terms of supporting cast. The real question is whether or not that front office is good enough to surround him with the talent he needs. You could cover up some of his weaknesses, but they haven't."
Wentz likely isn't as bad as his 2020 tape, but how do the Eagles find the quarterback who in three previous seasons only threw seven interceptions per year but now has 12 in just nine games? Solving that isn't just about drafting a wide receiver or getting a healthy left tackle.
One theory, shared by an NFL executive, is that Wentz is mentally defeated. "First you have to sit on the sidelines and watch Nick Foles win a Super Bowl with your team, then you watch your general manager draft a quarterback in the second round instead of giving you more help; that's going to take a toll on a kid who was never seen as super mentally tough."
Could a change of scenery be the best thing for Wentz? Perhaps, but the salary cap looms. The Eagles are a projected $64.6 million over next year's estimated $176 million cap due to COVID-19 reductions. Wentz, as mentioned before, would count for $59 million in dead cap space if released, so he's not going anywhere unless the Eagles invent some new kind of cap math.
They can clean up the overall cap by potentially moving players like Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz, but this could be a 2020 New England Patriots situation in which, after years of kicking the cap can down the road, the Eagles are forced to face the music for one season and play with a depleted roster to gain cap health.
Doing that while trying to win a weak division can be very tough, especially for a front office that doesn't have a great track record with first-round picks. The 2021 NFL draft will be crucial for general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson, as they must patch holes on the fly and could be doing so with a much later selection than you'd expect for a team with three wins.
Thanks to the pitiful NFC East, the Eagles are currently slotted as the No. 19 pick in the first round thanks to their standing as the top seed in the division. And that's assuming they'd lose in the first round of the playoffs.
At 19th overall, the Eagles wouldn't land an elite receiver prospect, but even so, you'd worry about a regime that has drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who can't get on the field, and an oft-injured small receiver (5'11" Jalen Reagor) who has yet to really contribute.
So where do the Eagles go assuming the roster fat has to be trimmed to get under the salary cap and they're drafting outside of the top 15?
- Round 1, Pick 19: EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas
- Round 2, Pick 51: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
- Round 3, Pick 83: G Deonte Brown, Alabama
- Round 5, Pick 132: CB Tariq Castro-Fields, Penn State
- Round 5, Pick 147: LB Garret Wallow, TCU
- Round 6, Pick 179: S Marcelino McCrary-Ball, Indiana
- Round 7, Pick 211: TE Mike Martinez, UCLA
This doesn't solve every issue on the roster, but loading up with an athletic edge-rusher limits the team's reliance on Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham, who could both be cap cuts, and gives Philadelphia an injection of youth onto the defensive line.
The same theme carries in Round 2, where a playmaking wide receiver is a gigantic need, even with the emergence of Travis Fulgham as a solid option opposite what could still be a future impact in Reagor.
The rest of this draft is about plugging holes and building roster health for the future while attacking the value of the board.
The Scout's Report
—Mack Brown has officially turned around the program at North Carolina, with quarterback Sam Howell one of the most exciting young players in college football. Howell's weapons are pretty good too, with two running backs and two wide receivers all ranked inside my top 100 players.
Running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are both ranked as Day 2 prospects after fantastic seasons. The same goes for wide receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown. With Carter and Newsome both seniors, expect to see a heavy dose of them at the 2021 Senior Bowl, where each could continue to move their stock up boards.
—Last week's Scouting Notebook caused a stir with a quote from an NFL offensive coach saying that Kyler Murray is better than Lamar Jackson. The same coach texted after Murray's amazing Hail Mary throw, "Told ya so." Murray is playing at an MVP clip, with the Arizona Cardinals one of the most exciting teams in the league.
—The Houston Texans will be hiring a general manager and a head coach this offseason, with the team expected to make the GM a priority. That sounds great in theory, but I'm told from multiple agents who represent several top candidates for the job that the Houston gig is one "no one" wants. Said one agent: "You have to look at every job as maybe the only opportunity you'll get, so maybe you jump early on one you don't love, but the thing about being a GM that's different than a coach is that you really get one chance, and if it doesn't work out, you're fired and out of the league. There aren't many second-time hires for a GM job, so you better get it right when deciding where you want to work."
There are reasons to like the Houston job—Deshaun Watson being a big one—but concerns about ownership and the influence of Jack Easterby, a former team chaplain who now wields a large amount of power, are valid and could push away the best candidates.
—Could the Denver Broncos be looking for a new quarterback? Yes, according to one scouting source. The team isn't set on Drew Lock and knows that if he doesn't show improvement this year, it has to be open to selecting a first-rounder at the position if it is able to add an elite prospect. The Broncos are projected to select at No. 11 overall.
—Miami (Fla.) quarterback D'Eriq King has put the college football world on notice with his playmaking ability as a runner and thrower, but how does the NFL view him? One scout I spoke with scoffed and dismissed King as an NFL quarterback. "He's tiny (5'8") and doesn't have enough arm for the league," he said. We could be looking at the pros viewing King as more of an offensive weapon than a true quarterback.
—As opt-outs continue across the college football landscape, two this week are of importance to watch.
South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn opted out after the Gamecocks fired head coach Will Muschamp and after the 6'1", 205-pounder played like a first-rounder throughout the early portion of the season.
Also opting out was Louisville running back Javian Hawkins, who ranks as a Day 2 player and potential top-75 pick on my board. Hawkins is a little small (5'9", 196 lbs), but he's a run-away threat in the open field and has legit home run speed.
The Big Board
Here's a look at my updated top 32 players for the 2021 draft. Given the staggered start to the season for many teams, some players have been evaluated more than others, but we still have enough tape and prior campaign to consider.
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
2. OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
4. LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
5. WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
6. QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
7. CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
8. WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
9. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
10. EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
11. DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
12. QB Zach Wilson, BYU
13. CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
14. EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas
15. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
16. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
17. WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
18. CB Derion Kendrick, Clemson
19. OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
20. G Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
21. QB Kyle Trask, Florida
22. QB Mac Jones, Alabama
23. OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
24. S Jevon Holland, Oregon
25. EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
26. OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
27. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
28. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
29. TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
30. OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
31. G Trey Smith, Tennessee
32. OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
1. Stock Up: WR Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
When Ja'Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 season, I texted an LSU coached and asked how they'd cope with the loss of their best player. "Oh, we'll be fine at wide receiver," he replied. They have been thanks to the emergence of Terrace Marshall.
Marshall isn't the physically dominant player that Chase was last year, and he doesn't have Joe Burrow throwing him the ball. But he has been the Tigers' go-to offensive weapon and is showing up as an excellent possession receiver and route-runner with enough juice to separate against top coverage.
In a rough year for LSU, Marshall has been the team's bright spot.
2. Stock Down: WR Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
The Wake Forest offense badly misses Sage Surratt, who opted out of the season and declared for the 2021 NFL draft, but because of his early declaration, scouts have time to fully evaluate the big-bodied receiver. That's what I've been doing, and Surratt leaves me questioning his ability to separate against NFL defenders.
So many of his catches are contested, which it's nice to see him attack and win at the catch point, but you have to question why he's always in traffic and not making plays in space. Could it be scheme? Absolutely, but the more likely issue is a 6'3", 215-pound receiver who isn't running away from ACC coverages.
3. Sleeper: QB Malik Willis, Liberty
In case you missed it, head coach Hugh Freeze has Liberty undefeated, ranked inside the AP Top 25 and unstoppable on offense. The biggest beneficiary of this is quarterback Malik Willis.
At 6'1" and 215 pounds, the junior quarterback isn't the biggest or strongest, but he is making impressive plays as a passer and rusher for the Flames offense. Willis has threaded the needle and showed excellent touch passing while answering questions about the level of competition in wins over Virginia Tech and Syracuse that showed he can hang with the big boys.
4. The postseason all-star circuit is incredibly important to the NFL draft evaluation process. Scouts descend on Los Angeles (NFLPA Collegiate Bowl) and St. Petersburg, Florida (Shrine Bowl), before making their way to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, where it all comes together with the top prospects. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, there will be no NFLPA Collegiate Bowl or Shrine Bowl this year.
This leaves scouts—who have already seen school visits either reduced or canceled altogether—way behind the eightball on prospects. More than any year in recent memory, the 2021 draft will be based on film study and how players actually play, as scouts and general managers are reliant more on what a player has done than on basing evaluations on information gleaned from sources and coaches.
5. Speaking of the Senior Bowl, executive director Jim Nagy has already put together an impressive list of accepted invitations.
Among those already committed to play, Nagy has lined up potential first-rounders in Florida State's Marvin Wilson (DL), Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr. (EDGE), LSU's Jabril Cox (LB), North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz (OT) and quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and Kyle Trask (Florida).
COVID-19 has made everything more difficult this year, but if the Senior Bowl is able to happen, this looks to be one of the best early groups it's assembled.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.