The 2014 NFL draft is hours away. We have all viewed many mock drafts and have a general idea of which players will be selected in the first round.
“When do mock drafts become valuable? It depends on what you value. If you want to know the ballpark of picks that would be in consideration for your team, then it would appear that checking mock drafts after the Combine at least gives you close to a 50/50 shot of seeing players within a small range of where they will be picked. If you are wanting to know actual selections, then it is not until the leaks of draft day that we begin to see some clarity.”(1)
The Philadelphia Eagles won their division in 2013 after only winning four games in 2012. Head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman have done a nice job getting this team back on track. Offensively the Eagles were tops in the league last season, but the departure of wide receiver Desean Jackson could leave a negative effect. On defense and special teams the Eagles have some work to do.
If the Eagles believe there is a worthy nose tackle in this draft then they should use a pick on that position. Starting nose tackle Bennie Logan did a decent job in 2013, but the Eagles may need someone who is a better two-gap player and run-stuffer. The nose tackle edges out the inside linebacker as the most vital part of the 3-4 defense.(2)
In 2013 the Eagles had the 20th-best pass rush (number of sacks) in the NFL. According to NFL.com, having a great pass rush is a common trait amongst recent Super Bowl champs.(3) Trent Cole did well in 2013 as an outside linebacker. His stats in 2013 look comparable to those from his prime years of 2007-2010. Linebacker Demeco Ryans had his best year ever statistically, although he seems to be a bit slow in coverage at times. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin improved significantly from 2012 to 2013 as well. Cole and Ryans are both going to be over 30 at the start of next season. There are a few linebackers on the current roster, like Jake Knott, Najee Goode, and Josh Kaddu, that may put forth exceptional effort, but are probably not starter-caliber.
The Eagles pass defense was worst in the entire league last year. It is not wise to draft “for need,” but if part of your team is dead-last in all of football, it must be addressed. After acquiring safety Malcolm Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints, and with the expectation that safety Earl Wolff will be available for the 2014 season, not much hope is left that the Eagles will draft a safety–unless a top-talent falls in their lap, or they have a late-round selection in mind. Of the 20 best safeties in NFL history, listed on bleacherreport.com, seven were drafted in the first round, and four in the second round–even the current premier safeties are first or second round picks (Jarius Byrd, TJ Ward, Earl Thomas, Devin McCourty, Eric Berry).(4)
Since the undersized, nickelback Brandon Boykin is the Eagles best cornerback, there should be an emphasis to draft a corner on May 8th. Possessing a shutdown corner that can take an opposing team’s best receiver out of a game (like the Redskins Desean Jackson or the Cowboys Dez Bryant) is worth its weight in gold.
Similarly to the nose tackle position, the Eagles should not hesitate to pick a guard if the right athlete is obtainable. Both guards on the Eagles roster are ten year veterans.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manzeil as a first round selection is a bad idea. He may be a joy to watch, but his unorthodox style of play will allow superior NFL defenders many opportunities to injure him.
The selection of quarterback Matt Barkley last year, and the pickup of Mark Sanchez this year, does not bode well to the likelihood of the Eagles drafting a quarterback in 2014. However, drafting by “best available” could cause a conundrum should a top ten talent slip to pick twenty two (the Eagles 2014 first round pick).
The Eagles running backs are stacked. Chris Polk, Bryce Brown and Darren Sproles are backups, but they could all be starters elsewhere; or at the very least, effective rotational players.
For how many weapons the Eagles have on offense, there were times during several games last season when the scoring would stall for a significant amount of time. The team could definitely use a first-rate slot receiver. If there is one thing that Chip Kelly tries to do, it’s allow guys to get open in space and gain chunks of yardage.
We have not drafted a wide receiver since 2010–Riley Cooper.This year’s draft is chock-full of talented wide receivers–due to a lot of underclassmen choosing to forego their junior and senior years of college. If the Eagles have truly done their homework, they should be able to find one or two good wideouts without having to give up picks in order to secure someone like Texas A&M-wideout Mike Evans (the latest rumor swirling). By allowing Desean Jackson to walk, the Eagles must feel that wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s knee will be ready come September. A healthy Maclin, along with wide receiver Riley Cooper, who signed a respectable contract this offseason, should provide the fans some relief after losing Jackson. We should also not forget that Arrelious Benn will be competing for playing time in 2014 as well.
The Eagles were very poor returning kickoffs last year. The Eagles return yards (790) compared to their opponents (1229) is absolutely striking. Punt return yards for the Eagles (171) is also significantly lower than their opponents (223).(5) Darren Sproles should help in this facet of the game immensely, but a speedy new receiver could elevate their special teams to one of the best in the league.
We have no clue which players the Eagles really like, but we do know that the past two drafts have been good. Six of the nine draft picks from 2012 are decent contributors, and five of the eight from 2013 are as well. So eleven of seventeen, or 65%, of our picks in the last two years see the field on Sundays.
The Eagles have their list of how the draftees rank. So if they start to see a lot of their highly ranked players being taken early on, they may opt to trade up for a higher pick. Conversely, if pick twenty two is approaching, and fifteen of their top thirty-ranked players are still available, they could possibly bet on having several quality players available in the second and third rounds–thus trading down to acquire additional draft picks.
The Eagles have Chip Kelly as head coach. We have already seen him turn a 4-12 team into a 10-6 team in one season. He is not married and does not have any children. His focus is 100% football. He has a plan to keep this team competitive for several years.
Howie Roseman has proven himself to be one of the best general managers in the NFL. He knew he wanted to be a general manager of an NFL team before he was ten years old (6)–there are very few kids out there that would say they want to be a general manager of a football team when they grow up.
We have to trust that together, Kelly and Roseman will do right by Eagles fans on draft day.