Only a year out from being considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Philadelphia Eagles are now in quite a sticky situation this offseason. They have some key players slated to hit free agency and a key defender who they might not be able to afford under the cap. Their secondary needs an overhaul and they will have to address other areas of the defense accordingly depending on how free agency goes. Philadelphia’s squad is ageing so a priority must be placed on building through the draft.
Mark Sanchez is one of those headed for free agency and the organisation seems in no rush to keep the backup-turned-starting quarterback in town. The Eagles will definitely need a backup QB but it may not come via the draft. How much do the team believe in Nick Foles? Could they be on the lookout for a starting QB? Not in this draft anyway.
Philadelphia has a full crop of draft picks to use, both in selecting players and as trade fodder.
The old saying is that you can never have enough cornerbacks in the NFL and the Eagles opt to take one with their first pick to address their dire secondary. Bradley Fletcher will likely not be on the roster for next season but the Eagles might want to upgrade both spots.
There are teams ahead of Philly who will be on the lookout for a corner so the Eagles will likely miss out on at least one of the top-rated prospects. Trae Waynes is the only certainty to go in round one and PJ Williams would be the other option but I think the Eagles will choose the 6’0 playmaker from Washington.
Peters is extremely athletic and plays physical – two imperatives for an NFL corner. Despite his physicality he always remembers to turn back towards the ball to avoid penalties and to try and make a play: evidenced by 20 passes defensed and 11 interceptions over 18 games as a Washington player (more on that low number of games later).
Peters is an aggressive tackler but he is sometimes too handsy with receivers which will cost penalties in the NFL. He could also be better in coverage.
The biggest question marks over Peters regard his character: he was dismissed from Washington following repeated clashes with the coaching staff. If the Eagles do take him they will have to be sure about him during the interview process but a stellar showing at the Combine might make things a little easier for the 13.5 stone corner. If Philly are sure they are getting a good player with great potential then it will rule out any temptation Chip Kelly has of mortgaging the franchise’s future to go back to the institution he coached at and trade up for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
The Eagles will need a safety with Nate Allen likely on his way and the position suffering from poor play in general. However, with Trent Cole turning 33 and Brandon Graham also not likely to be at Lincoln Financial Field next season the Eagles will scout for a pass rusher in the second round in a deep class. The top safety, Landon Collins, will be gone before the Eagles are on the clock in the first round and there isn’t a whole lot to separate the other prospects – it can wait until the next round.
Nate Orchard would be the best player for Philly to take but there is a good chance he is off the board by now. Eli Harold is the next best prospect and his versatility will attract Philly.
The Eagles were good at rushing the passer last year and tied for second-most sacks in the league. Keeping in mind that at least one of these sack generators is gone next year though and Harold’s selection means this is a welcome choice at a position of need.
Harold is 6’4 and just over 16.5 stone so he has more than adequate size for the position. It might be useful for him to add a few pounds and fill out as his lanky frame isn’t ideal for an outside linebacker. Harold is quick out of the blocks at the snap and is good in the pursuit of ball carriers. His technique and eyes are decent, if not good (or consistent) but his sack total of 17.5 over 24 games would be welcome in any defense.
The Eagles could look to bolster their ageing offensive line – particularly at guard – with this pick considering the possibility that top prospects at the position like John Miller and Arie Kouandjio will still be available. But that would mean the Birds avoiding the glaring need at safety twice in a row.
Jaquiski Tartt continues to rise and fall between the second and thirds rounds but we will anticipate that he is still on the board just now with guys like Anthony Harris going before him. There is a decent chance Philly could trade up to grab a safety.
Tartt had a poor showing in his showcase Bowl game vs Auburn and there are questions about the level of competition he faced at Samford in the Southern Conference. He does however have good size (6’1 and over 15.5 stone) and is quick, clocking in at a reported 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Tartt plays as physical as his size suggests and as such is very useful in run defense. The Eagles gave up a total of 375.6 yards per game in 2014 (tied for 5th worst in the NFL) and Philly can hope Tartt will pair up at strong safety with Malcolm Jenkins as a free safety who now should be now entering the prime of his career. Tartt isn’t as good against the pass as he is against the run but he could be useful from the box for a team in need like Philly.
The Eagles will turn to the offensive side of the ball in the later rounds and start with their offensive line. It’s unlikely that Oregon tackle Jake Fisher is still available here but Kelly might want to trade up for someone he will like and can fill in at guard before moving to tackle to replace Jason Peters after retirement.
Instead the Eagles look for one of the more traditional guards and try to nab a tackle in free agency or wait till next year’s draft, in my opinion. Josue Matias is that man.
Matias is rated by most as a third-rounder but his decision to drop out of the Senior Bowl could hurt his stock – especially considering Florida State team mate (and fellow guard) Tre Jackson went along to prove himself. Cameron Erving of Florida State is also rising up draft boards (mine included) and teams may be impressed with his greater versatility along the line.
For those reasons, Matias could fall to the Eagles in the fourth (or they could trade up for him).
Matias was part of the line that protected Jameis Winston in 2013 and 2014 and EJ Manuel in 2012. He went to the National Championship in 2013 and reached the College Football Playoffs this year so he is a proven winner.
At 6’6 and 23 stone he is a genuine man-mountain though there are questions regarding his inconsistent technique. He is good at engaging defenders and gets wide – but sometimes too wide. He is a good pass protector and with Nick Foles the likely starter it will be important to give him a chance to emulate his 2013 season and find out if the franchise needs to look for a QB in 2016.
The Eagles will be looking for an inside linebacker to pair up with Mychal Kendricks in a couple of years considering that DeMeco Ryans is on the wrong side of thirty and is suffering from injuries. Ryans failed to register a sack in eight games last season but did have one interception.
Jones has NFL size and strength at 6’3 and 18.5 stone and scouts will fall in love with him because of it. He has long arms and a powerful upper body and all of these traits will translate particularly well to a 3-4 defense like Philly’s.
Jones is quick and eager in pursuit and a more than willing tackler. The constantly-raised problems regard his ability to read and react to what is happening during a play, sometimes struggling after the snap by disregarding his fundamentals and losing sight of his assignments. If he fails to locate the ball early he will sometimes overrun plays. For this reason it would seem that at the outset Jones will only be used in certain situations and more than likely not against the run until he rounds off his technique. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing as Jones seems more than capable of being coached up to a level to be able to start in the NFL; he has a good base of tools and a keenness to learn and his size will be attractive to everyone. Philly shouldn’t pass him up if he is available considering he had four sacks, two fumble recoveries, 12.5 tackles for a loss and an interception in his senior year at Michigan State.
The Eagles will need to resign Jeremy Maclin and he will demand plenty of cash after a stellar season following the departure of DeSean Jackson. If they don’t they will be addressing the receiver position much earlier than this.
Brad Smith is no more than a backup receiver but he’ll be gone anyway, he wasn’t used as a return specialist in Philly after showing flashes in Buffalo and New York with the Bills and Jets.
Nevertheless, the Eagles can take a flyer on someone at this late stage or look to trade the pick away. Kenny Bell is a crisp route-runner that can offer Nick Foles something different underneath should he develop. Bell’s ceiling is not high and it depends on his Combine performance if he can go any higher than this.
Bell would work out as a backup slot receiver and he has surprising strength considering his lean 13.5 stone frame. Bell was a good blocker in college – which might help his case on special teams – but just how well it will translate to the NFL is a different story. The Eagles can feel comfortable adding to their receiving corps with Bell. He was the top senior receiver in the Big Ten, finishing with 788 yards and six touchdowns for Nebraska in 2014 (in an offense that favoured the run). He led Nebraska in receiving each season and averaged 14.9 yards per catch over four years.
The seventh round is used almost exclusively for players with potential on special teams or who have red flags over them for whatever reason. The former reason will be utilised by Philly – they already have Marcus Peters’ red flags to worry about.
Justin Coleman is quite light at just over 13 stone but he is a good tackler and an aggressive hitter into the bargain. These traits could be useful on special teams, as could his ability to close down opponents quickly when they make a move for the ball by keeping his eye on the target.
As I said earlier the Eagles might want to upgrade cornerback with more than one selection but this direction will allow them to deepen the position and add a player of better quality in free agency or the draft next year if that approach yields nothing. At 5’11 Coleman may one day develop into a starting NFL corner but it won’t be during his rookie season – where he can help out on special teams and increase depth.
These picks should help the Eagles continue to challenge for the NFC East. Peters can be an instant impact and while Eli Harold is not a best case scenario, he can contribute. Jaquiski Tartt is rising and falling on some boards but I am a fan (for now) and he will upgrade a position of need. Matias is a steal if he comes to Philly in the fourth. Jones is a good developmental prospect and can step in now that Casey Matthews looks to be gone. Bell and Coleman could help on special teams before possibly hitting the field on opposing sides of the ball in a couple of years. Watch out though Philly fans as your team is primed for a trade at some point – will it be for Marcus Mariota?