Ranking the Philadelphia Eagles' Biggest Draft Day Needs
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman vows to select the best player available on draft day. That’s fine for the media—and honestly it is the correct strategy—but what folks really want to hear about is how the front office intends to go about filling its biggest needs.
Roseman may not go into each round targeting any one position, but there’s no denying need does dictate selections to some degree. If the Eagles are on the clock with the No. 22 pick, and there are two or more players on the board with similar or equal grades, who is the team going to pick?
Presumably, the player who fills the most glaring hole.
Of course, that brings us to a very pertinent question. Now that the majority of consequential moves in free agency are over and done with, what actually are the Eagles’ greatest needs heading into the draft? We run them down one-by-one and speculate on when each could be addressed.
9. Running Back
In LeSean McCoy, the Eagles have the reigning NFL rushing champion, a workhorse back smack dab in the middle of the prime of his career. There aren’t many extra touches to go around right now.
Whatever the offense wasn’t getting from McCoy, it’s sure to extract out of Darren Sproles. Philadelphia sent a fifth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for an established, all-purpose weapon, suggesting he will have a significant role to play as well.
In all honesty, there probably aren’t roster spots for both Chris Polk and Bryce Brown as it is. Polk was beginning to eat into Brown’s snaps in 2013 and may be able to overtake him for a job.
Either way, it all spells no need to use a draft pick on another running back.
Is Nick Foles the future of the franchise? Maybe, maybe not, but he is Philadelphia’s quarterback for right now. Even if the Eagles could somehow land one of the top signal-callers with the No. 22 pick, Foles has earned the right to be “the man” in 2014 at least.
The addition of free agent Mark Sanchez this week provided a great deal of clarity as far as the back end of the depth chart is concerned. The fifth overall pick of the New York Jets in 2009, Sanchez is expected to provide much-needed veteran competition for the backup job.
Sanchez is trying to beat out fellow USC product Matt Barkley. While many will view the signing of a high-profile player as a bad sign for Barkley, the move was as simple as bringing in an experienced hand to challenge a second-year passer. To the victor go the spoils.
The Eagles could bring in an undrafted free agent for a camp arm, but the roster appears to be otherwise set at quarterback.
7. Tight End
The Eagles are as deep at tight end as they are any other position on the roster. Brent Celek and James Casey are the veteran stewards, while 2013 second-round pick Zach Ertz appears to have an extremely bright future and could be headed for a breakout season as a pass-catcher.
Both Celek and Casey are about to turn 30 though, and Casey in particular is collecting an excessive amount of money for a No. 3 tight end—just south of $4 million in 2014, per Spotrac. If nothing else, the front office could save a few bucks by finding a rookie replacement.
The Birds still aren’t likely to go out of their way to draft a tight end. If one should happen to fall to them though, regardless of which round…hey, it couldn’t hurt.
Yes, Ertz seems destined for big things. Yet we’ve also seen how two-tight end offenses can put pressure on defenses. It’s far from a need but don’t be surprised if another tight end finds his way on the roster during May’s draft.
6. Defensive Line
On the surface, the Eagles might appear to be strong along the defensive line. It’s when we dig beneath the top layer, the issues become exposed.
Fletcher Cox has one defensive end spot on lockdown and all indications are the team likes Bennie Logan at nose tackle. Cedric Thornton is an extremely one-dimensional run defender at the other end, but Vinny Curry can provide the situational pass rush there for now.
The main issue is there is absolutely nothing in the way of depth behind them. At least there’s nobody worth mentioning.
Regardless of how good Cox or anybody else is, defensive line is a demanding position that requires rotating fresh bodies into the lineup throughout a game. Then there’s the matter of whether Logan will continue to grow into the nose position, or for how long a Thornton/Curry combo is viable.
Yes, the Eagles desperately need depth along the defensive line. It’s just they also need prospects that could potentially develop into starters. At the very latest, look for a mid-round pick to join the ranks.
5. Offensive Line
The good news is the Eagles have all five starting offensive lineman under contract through at least 2016. The bad news is several may be candidates for replacement far sooner than that.
Left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and right guard Todd Herremans are all on the wrong side of 30, and they are therefore in danger of rapid decline. Mathis, 32, has also been placed on the trade block due to his desire for a renegotiated contract.
If there is one spot along the line in particular the Eagles need to address, it’s the guard position. Chances are Mathis won't be back in ’14, but there’s no telling where this dispute leads long-term. Herremans struggled noticeably at times last season as well.
For the time being, Philadelphia is blessed with one of the strongest lines in the league. For how much longer is anybody’s guess. The time is now to start developing potential replacements.
If Mathis is as good as gone, a guard in Rounds 1 or 2 would be plausible. Otherwise, a mid-round selection or late-round flier might be more likely.
This may seem low for safety, but Eagles management bought itself some time with a pair of savvy moves this offseason.
Free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints is penciled into one starting spot for at least the next year or two. Nate Allen was also re-signed to a one-year deal and should compete with 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff for the other opening.
Are any of these possible combinations going to form the best safety duo in the league? Almost certainly not, but the defense should be able to get by for another season if the front office chooses to spend its first-round pick elsewhere.
Safety is still a draft-day need for sure. Allen could walk away a year from now, and the jury is still out on Wolff. Even Jenkins on a three-year deal isn’t exactly married to the organization.
Still, it’s a prettier picture than we were looking at heading into free agency. Should a safety happen to fall into the Eagles’ lap at No. 22, great. That being said, it can wait.
3. Wide Receiver
Whether the Eagles dump DeSean Jackson this offseason or not, wide receiver is a team need. A trade merely accelerates the urgency to develop a replacement.
Jeremy Maclin would only agree to a one-year deal this offseason. Riley Cooper is an adequate No. 2 receiver at best. Even if Jackson remains in midnight green for 2014, a contract dispute (meaning more drama) seems inevitable. Then there’s basically nothing behind the three of them.
Luckily for the Birds, this year’s draft looks to contain about as deep a class of wideouts as they come. Howie Roseman told Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com back in February that he could conceivably find a pass-catcher at any point during the draft:
When you look at this class and you compare it to classes in the last few years, we’re going to be sitting there in every round and there’s going to be a receiver we like.
Don’t assume just because this Jackson story might somehow blow over that the Eagles will be content with their current crop of receivers. You can count on some fresh blood entering the mix.
The Eagles can get by with another year of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the perimeters. The real question is what the secondary is going to look like one more season down the road.
Williams will be 30-years-old and already lacks ideal speed for the position. Fletcher was a pleasant surprise in 2013, but he’ll be a free agent and it remains to be seen whether he’s part of the organization’s long-term plan.
Even if Brandon Boykin were under consideration to slide over from his position in the slot to the outside, that still leaves one starting cornerback spot open while simultaneously creating another hole. And just for the record, there was absolutely no indication from Roseman that Boykin would be moving to the outside.
With cornerback being a premium position in the NFL, it would be beyond wise for the Eagles to draft behind Williams and Fletcher now, preferably in the first round. Anything later than Round 3 will be cause for serious concern.
Philadelphia’s last place pass defense is never going to reach its full potential as long as its pass rush is lacking. The Eagles ranked 20th in the NFL with 37 sacks in 2013—just six more than last place compared to a whopping 23 back of first.
Trent Cole came on during the second half of last season, registering 8.0 sacks over the final eight games. The late surge makes sense given Cole was still learning to play outside linebacker. That being said, the two-time Pro Bowler turns 32 this season, and his salary cap figure is scheduled to balloon past $11 million in ’15, per Spotrac.
As far as grooming somebody to take over is concerned, there is no more time to waste.
Unfortunately, the high-end pass-rushers are expected to be off the board by the time the Eagles are on the clock at No. 22. However, there are expected to be no shortage of outside linebacker prospects in Rounds 1-3.
Meanwhile, the Birds need help on the interior as well, where DeMeco Ryans is about to turn 30 and is slated to earn $6.8 million per year over the next two seasons until he becomes a free agent, per Spotrac. Again, it’s time to invest in a potential replacement.
Luckily, all but the most highly touted interior linebackers typically last into the middle rounds, so the Eagles don’t necessarily have to commit two early picks to one position.
Then again, if the Eagles don’t come away from this draft without two linebackers minimum, a year from now, they could be facing potential disaster.