The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the most interesting teams to watch over the next season because of their unique position relative to the rest of the league. They may become a dominant, year-after-year playoff contender, or they could fall completely flat and continue a decade of mid-tier mediocrity. The Eagles are building a good roster. They have their quarterback (time will tell Wentz’s fate, but the ceiling is high), and an incredible defensive front. Jim Schwartz was the perfect fit at coordinator and the defensive side of the ball will continue to improve under year two of his leadership.
I have questions about Doug Pederson, as I would any first-time coach, but he’s a likeable guy. Nice doesn’t get a coach far in the NFL, but he could have the leadership and charisma to drive the team forward, similar to Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin. The Eagles showed a lot of poise in his first year as head coach. While some will point to a 7-9 record as a failed effort, considering Chip Kelly was fired the year before with the same win-loss, consider the scenario. They shipped starting quarterback Sam Bradford off one week before the start of the regular season. They go under center with their 2nd overall-pick-rookie quarterback, who missed the preseason with a fractured rib injury, despite reports saying Wentz would need a year or more develop.
For those who watched the Eagles play last season, they were much closer to a 10-6 playoff record than they got credit for. They demolished the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Lost to Detriot on a ridiculous last minute fumble by Ryan Matthews. Went for two against the Ravens in a game they could have won in over-time. And largely stayed competitive against many of their opponents not named Green Bay or Cincinnati. I would not be surprised to see the Eagles repeat a record of 7-9 in 2017 due to their brutal schedule, but they have a good team in the making.
Given Philadelphia’s abysmal cap situation going into free agency, they were unable to sign big name players outside of Alshon Jeffery. However, they still acquired Timmy Jernigan on a one-year deal for next to nothing, signed veteran leadership DE Chris Long for cheap, and brought in deep-threat Torrey Smith on a three year prove-it deal. They also essentially lost no starting players outside of Nolan Caroll II. Thanks to the Sam Bradford trade to recoup their first-round pick, the Eagles are in position to continue building upon their keystone roster.
An Overview of the Eagles Draft Picks
Round One: 14th Pick
Round Two: 43rd Pick
Round Three: 99th Pick
Round Four: 118th & 139th Picks
Round Five: 155th Pick
Round Six: 194th Pick
Round Seven: 230th Pick
8 total Picks, 5 in the first four rounds
Here are a few moves I would be interested in the Eagles making in next week’s draft:
First Round: Go Big at Wide Receiver
Assuming he is not drafted by the 14th overall pick, the Eagles should go for Clemson WR Mike Williams. That’s a big if. The Bengals and Bills (picks #9 & #10) are likely targets for a first-round wide receiver. Despite signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the offseason, the Eagles need more ammunition at wide receiver. Smith is approaching thirty and, while primed for a bounce-back year, there are no guarantees. Alshon Jeffery is another boom-or-bust proposition. If he plays well, the Eagles could lock him up for several more years with an extension. If his play is average or muddled by missed time due to injury, the Eagles could also employ the franchise tag to keep him on another year. There is no better way to continue to build competence and confidence in your young quarterback than giving him great receivers to throw the ball to. Particularly early in his career, the Eagles should be stacking up receivers for Wentz to rely on. Mike Williams, like Jeffery, is a big-bodied wide receiver with great hands. Signing Williams accomplishes three things:
- Increased depth at the WR position. There has been talk of the Eagles moving on from Jordan Matthews. I like Matthews. His play suffered last season when he was thrust into the WR1 role when he is more of a slot/rotational player. Behind guys like Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, who can stretch defenses and shift coverages, I could see Matthews having a very productive year. But if the Eagles draft Mike Williams, they have more than enough depth at the position to trade a recoup a draft pick out of Jordan Matthews.
- Helping Your Quarterback. I alluded to this earlier, but the greatest thing a team can do for a young quarterback, aside from quality pass protection, is to surround him with great receivers. Watching Wentz play last year was exceedingly frustrating at times due to the lack of talent at the wide receiver position. He was making the throws, but his receiving core repeatedly let him down. This translated into all kinds of media talk about Wentz’s decline from the beginning of the season and his lack of franchise talent at the quarterback position. If you watched the games, you saw the real reason behind Wentz erratic play.
- Insurance for Alshon Jeffery. There are too many question marks for Alshon Jeffery to be a long-term solution for the Eagles at wide receiver. He was suspended four games last season for PEDs, he’s missed game time due to injuries and there were locker-room troubles in Chicago. I’m optimistic Jeffery views this year as a chance to turn around both the quality of his play and his reputation in the league. It’s also a huge plus that he reportedly turned down larger contracts to play in Philly. Mike Williams provides insurance in a situation where Jeffery underperforms on and off the field. Williams will be on a relatively cheap, five year rookie contract. Even if Jeffery blows past expectations and the Eagles lock him to an extension, they will be in position to keep both wide receivers.
If Mike Williams is off the board by the time the Eagles pick, they could still draft at the wide receiver position with John Ross and Corey Davis. Ross has incredible speed (broke the 40 yard dash record at the combine), but lacks the size and durability of Mike Williams. Davis is also a bigger bodied receiver, but might lack the overall talent to be drafted in the top half of the first round.
If the Eagles are unable to draft the wide receiver they want with the 14th overall pick, the next best option would be:
Find a Team that is Willing to Trade Up
A team like Denver or Seattle may be looking to trade up in the first round to get the offensive lineman they want. Houston could also be willing to trade to grab a quarterback, although most of the QB selections will probably be made prior to the Eagles pick. The Eagles should do everything they can to squeeze another second round pick out of this draft and move back in the first round. Again, it goes back to roster strength. The Eagles could forego an early round pick and still get a quality player at pick #20 or later. The depth in this year’s draft makes for a boon of players still available in the second round, hence the value in getting another second round selection. Assuming the Eagles do move back in the first round, and can grab another 2nd rounder, here’s a few moves they could make:
- Draft a Cornerback or Offensive Tackle in the First round. The only glaring hole on the Eagles roster at present is the cornerback position, which they are woefully thin at. However, the 2017 draft class happens to be exceptionally deep at this position. I’m skeptical of drafting cornerbacks early in the draft, given the high rate of busts at the position, and how many top-tier cornerbacks came in late round selections or go undrafted (Richard Sherman, Chris Harris Jr and Malcolm Butler to name a few). I think the position is one of the most unpredictable in all of football and therefore not a high-value pick in the first round. However, if the Eagles can obtain extra picks for a first-round move, they could risk taking a cornerback at the end of the first round. Depending upon their position after the trade (given the likelihood of Seattle and Denver selecting Offensive tackles), they could go after OT Ryan Ramcyzk or Garrett Bolles. The Eagles are going to have to address the offensive tackle position sometime soon with Jason Peters entering the twilight years of his career. Again, the offensive tackle position seems to produce busts at an alarming rate. Couple that with the underwhelming talent of OL prospects in this year’s draft and I would be wary of taking a tackle in the first round. But gaining draft picks and moving back in round one gives the Eagles more flexibility and room for risk.
- Draft Joe Mixon with the 43rd The Eagles should use their highest 2nd round pick on Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon. Mixon is going to be a controversial pick. In no way do I support his off the field behavior. Domestic violence is becoming a huge detriment to the sport of football and it’s hard to watch some of these guys be rewarded with million dollar contracts. Philly.com columnist Mike Sielski put it best in his open letter about drafting Joe Mixon. The Eagles need a running back to replace Ryan Matthews. Character issues aside, Joe Mixon is the most talented powerback in this year’s class. The three keys to helping a young quarterback: a solid offensive line, a good receiving core and a powerful running back. Look at Dak Prescott. There is no way he would have been half the player without such a dominant offensive line and running game in Ezekial Elliott. Instead of looking like a typical fourth-round rookie QB, Prescott went on to win offensive rookie of the year. The Eagles have a decent offensive line assuming Lane Johnson avoids further suspension. They’ve made strides at the WR position and could continue to do so in the first round of the draft. Picking Mixon early in the 2nd round would be a steal. There’s a chance another team is willing to take a risk on Mixon ahead of the Eagles selection, but most experts are anticipating the running back to slide well into the second round.
- Draft Cornerbacks in the 2nd and 3rd Panthers’ GM David Gettleman made a mistake last season letting Josh Norman walk in free agency, but I like what he did by drafting three cornerbacks in their first four picks (2nd, 3rd & 5th round). The cornerback position is so hit and miss. If you can’t bring in a proven talent through free agency and need to fill the position through the draft, the most efficient method is casting a wide net. The Eagles should ideally go for 2-3 cornerbacks with their 8 picks (9 if we are counting the scenario above of dropping back in the first round). They are thin at the position, could use for the depth, and need a committee process to find who deserves the starting role. Unlike the Panthers, who were in position to make another Super Bowl run, the Eagles are in a building season. They can go young at a position like cornerback and take a year to develop their talent. They also benefit from an incredible defensive line and edge-rushing group that will help harass opposing quarterbacks into making less than ideal throws—which should aid the defensive backs by proxy. Despite the proposed selection earlier, the Eagles should resist going cornerback in the first round and instead use their second and third rounder to fill the position.
- Draft a TE in the 2nd Assuming the Eagles don’t draft Mike Williams or another WR in the first round, they should target David Njoku in the second round to achieve the same purpose. Zach Ertz is a reliable, solid tight end that has great rapport with his quarterback, but Njoku would provide the Eagles with another big-bodied weapon to run two-tight end sets. Like most of the league outside of New England, the Eagles offense lacks a dominant player at the TE position. Doug Pederson had Travis Kelce in Kansas City. Njoku has that sort of potential with his size and ability to catch the ball.
If the Eagles can come away from this draft class with Mike Williams, Joe Mixon and a handful of cornerbacks, they are well on their way to creating a dominant force in the NFC East. As with all draft predictions, much of this scenario could be disrupted by 9pm on Thurday night. However, I want to see the Eagles continue to build on offense and give their quarterback the weapons he needs in his sophomore season. Even if these selections come at a detriment to the defense, the Eagles could find value in a number of 2nd and 3rd round picks at cornerback. I don’t trust the Eagles coaching staff—or the league’s overall method for assessing the cornerback position—to burn a 1st round pick on such a risky position. The Eagles can’t afford to have a bust this close to creating a playoff caliber team.