The Eagles 2019 offseason is crucial. The Eagles still have enough pieces to remain in contention, but there are holes on the team that could seriously hinder their success. They cannot afford to whiff on this upcoming draft class. The core of; Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox are all still top-notch talents that can single-handedly dominate games. Inversely, the Eagles could lose key contributors at positions they’re already thin at. They have 20 players that could hit the open market this spring.
The Eagles are shaping up to have nine draft picks (three of which are projected compensatory picks and not official yet). They own picks in every round, except the third (Golden Tate trade) and seventh rounds. The Eagles are drafting too late to be able to grab some of the headlining names in the draft, but here are five position groups that the Eagles should address when selecting their new crop of rookies.
The Eagles are thin at safety. Malcolm Jenkins continues be one of the best in the league, and is arguably the most invaluable player on the Eagles’ defense. Jenkins will turn 32 in December, so his age may be a point of interest when it comes to looking at potential replacements. Rodney McCleod is under contract for the next several seasons, but a season-ending MCL injury creates uncertainty that he can return to being a starting caliber safety.
Corey Graham started nine games at safety in the absence of McCleod. Graham registered 56 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery, while also being a special teams contributor. Graham’s role is certainly upgradeable, and his contract is expired. On top of being 34 years-old, Chris Maragos missed the entire 2018 season and his contract is up. The Eagles depth at safety was so thin, 5’8 rookie corner Avonte Maddox had to learn the position on the fly. There’s some speculation Rasul Douglas could transition to safety, but until that happens, its a position that needs to be reinforced.
Two names Eagles fans should keep an eye on at No.25 are Deionte Thompson and Nasir Adderley.
Thompson is a long, physical safety that played a vital part in Alabama’s dominant defense. The 6’2 safety is rangy tackler that can make plays deep and is capable of playing downhill. He made 78 tackles in 14 games this season along with forcing three fumbles and picking off two passes. Thompson keeps plays in front of him, and has the agility to develop into a solid pass defender, but is not the ball-hawk many teams covet in safeties.
Nasir Adderley plays the most coveted position in the city: Philly Guy. The Philadelphia native and Great Valley alum is a human highlight reel. It’s easy to become enamored with SportsCenter-type plays, but Adderley is an explosive playmaker. His ball-skills are exceptional. Adderley was a cornerback during his first two seasons at Delaware, before switching to safety.
Just look at some of these plays … I don’t want to put stock into someone based off a single mixtape, but he has an impressive repertoire of impact plays. Punt returns, picks, tackles at the LOS, and big hits over the middle. Adderley can put his fingerprints on the game in a variety of ways.
His fit with Malcolm Jenkins could be a selling point. Adderley’s game mirrors and compliments Jenkins’. Jenkins plays a lot of nickel-coverage and sometimes lines up in the box as a linebacker. Adderley projects as a “centerfield” safety, which would be perfect considering how much the Eagles use a single safety-high. He has also shown the ability to affect the game near the LOS, whether it be breaking up passes or flying to the ball for tackles. Adderley has the sideline-to-sideline speed and nose for the ball that could make him an outstanding sidekick and mentee for one of the best safeties in the game.
Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham both posted at least 90 tackles this season. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry had decent seasons at outside linebacker and on special teams. It’s hard to disparage their seasons in terms of tackles, and I may just be nitpicking, but the Eagles linebackers lacked big plays in 2018.
The Eagles linebackers needed more momentum-changing plays this past season. Between the four previously mentioned linebackers, they combined for; two interceptions and one forced fumble. The entire Eagles defense went through a paltry turnover drought in the season, but that does not excuse the linebackers for finding ways to shake-up the game. The Eagles’ defensive line can single-handedly change a game, and Jim Schwartz’s scheme doesn’t always highlight the strengths of the linebackers, but the Eagles need more out of this position if they want to return to their explosive, scoring defense from the Super Bowl winning season.
The necessity for adding talent at linebacker is dependent on Jordan Hicks’ impending free agency. If the Eagles feel Hicks will be on the team in 2019, linebacker is an area of focus in the middle rounds. If the Eagles aren’t sure of Hicks’ future with the team, linebacker could be addressed in the first two rounds.
One of the easiest things to do every draft is put an Alabama linebacker on your wish-list. Add Mack Wilson to the list of Bama defenders you would select with a blindfold on. Wilson is an instinctive playmaker with six interceptions in his past two seasons, on top of 105 tackles in the same timeframe. This dude flies to the ball. Wilson has the sideline-to-sideline range that is coveted in today’s NFL. The athleticism he possesses is abnormal for the position. Whether it be at a pro-day or the NFL Combine, Wilson’s speed drills will turn heads. He has the instincts and athleticism to lineup at any linebacker position in Jim Schwartz’s defense, especially considering how much the Eagles use nickel defense (two linebackers).
Devin Bush Jr. might be a reach at No.25, but would be a no brainer if he fell to No.53 or No.57. My best guess he’s an early second rounder, but Bush brings a lot to the table. The Michigan middle linebacker was a catalyst behind one of the nation’s top defenses in 2018. Bush is a high IQ player with great vision and play-recognition. Michigan’s defense threw the kitchen sink at you. They used a variety of; stunts, blitzes, and coverages to throw off opposing offenses. Devin Bush made that defense tick.
The All-American linebacker racked up 172 tackles in just three seasons. The biggest thing keeping Bush from being a first round lock is his slight frame. He’s listed at 5’11 222 pounds. It is really hard to be an effective NFL linebacker at that weight, but if Bush can bulk up while maintaining his burst, he’ll be an excellent defender.
3. Defensive Tackle
I thought about putting defensive end on here with the possibility of Brandon Graham and Chris Long not being on the team, but with Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat, defensive end doesn’t feel like a major need that needs to be addressed within the first two rounds. Free agency makes more sense to bolster the position rather than the draft.
Fletcher Cox is coming off a monster season. He’s as good as he’s ever been. His production doesn’t look like it’s dropping anytime soon. Timmy Jernigan missed a big chunk of the season, but he showed he’s still disruptive. After that, there was Haloti Ngata, Trayvon Hester, and Bruce Hector … The Eagles defensive line was great down the stretch, but the depth is certainly upgradable, especially since as Fletcher Cox gets older his snap count becomes more important. Cox and Jernigan are in their 20s, but lessening their workload should become a priority soon. With defensive line being the key to the Eagles’ defense, defensive tackle needs to be retooled.
Christian Wilkins was a key member of possibly the best position group in college football, the Clemson defensive line. Wilkins stands 6’4 300 pounds, but has excellent mobility for someone his size. In the past two seasons, Wilkins has racked up 111 tackles. 111 tackles for a defensive lineman in 29 games is superb, especially with how often Clemson obliterates their opponent and yanks their starters. Wilkins possesses an outstanding rip move that makes his blocker look like he belongs on junior varsity. During his four-year career at Clemson, his natural power has even led Wilkins to catching two passes and four rushing attempts for three touchdowns. Christian Wilkins has a high motor and great technique, which could make him an immediate impact player on the second unit D-Line.
Charles Omenihu is another name to watch for on the defensive line. He is a tantalizing physical presence. Omenihu stands 6’6 275 pounds and has python arms. He’s long and uses his frame to keep blockers at a distance. The former Texas Longhorn could become this year’s combine standout. For someone his size, he’s the total package of speed, strength, and leverage. Omenihu could feasibly lineup anywhere on a 4-3 front.
2. Running Back
This year’s NFL playoffs proved how valuable it is to have a running back you can rely on for 20+ touches in important games. Look what happened to the Rams when Gurley wasn’t effective. The Eagles had to rely a lot on Wendell Smallwood in the postseason, who spent most of the year as the 3rd or 4th running back. The Eagles need to find the best rusher they can select in the draft to take pressure off Carson Wentz.
The last time the Eagles selected a running back prior to the fourth round was in 2009 when they drafted a running back from Pitt in the second by the name of LeSean McCoy. Howie Roseman has not made running back an early round priority since he began with the team in 2010. Given the Eagles need for the position, plus Roseman’s draft history these are running backs that are projecting as mid 2nd- 4th round picks.
Elijah Holyfield would be a really fun second round pickup for the Eagles. The Georgia running back room has been crowded for the past several years, but in a starring role, Holyfield proved he was worth the wait with 1018 yards and seven touchdowns. Holyfield (yes you know who his father is) looks the part of an NFL halfback. He’s compact at 5’10 and 215 pounds. Judging by my scientific calculations, he’s about 94% muscle.
Holyfield hates getting tackled. He’s a runner that thrives on contact, and will make you earn your tackle. With Holyfield, there’s not much dazzling in the open field. He’s fast, but not elusive. If there’s any major question with his skillset, it’s receiving. In three seasons and 27 games, Holyfield had just seven catches. The Eagles rely on backs to contribute in the passing game, and his ability to influence the passing game could be a make or break decision.
Miles Sanders and Benny Snell are two names to watch around the fourth round. The two squared off in the Citrus Bowl where Snell’s Kentucky team topped Penn State. Sanders is a shifty back with great feet, and has solid patience following his blockers. At 5’11 211 lbs. he doesn’t have plus speed or power, and may need a few seasons before he takes on a large workload. If you’ve missed having LeGarrette Blount, Benny Snell might be the guy for you. Snell is a high-motor back with excellent strength. UK’s all time leading rusher would be a nice addition if the Eagles keep their running back by committee mindset.
His speed is average, but he’s a big back who finishes runs and thrives between the tackles. There’s also a chance he’s the best pass protector in the draft. If the Eagles want to return to making power runs a focal point of the offense, Snell could be an old-school halfback that fits the bill.
1. Offensive Line
The choice for offensive line being a paramount need is simple. Carson Wentz has played sixteen games just once in three seasons. Protecting him is an absolute necessity. It’s hard to discern which O-Line position is of higher need. Jason Peters is still a productive tackle, but his frequent trips to the sideline and climbing age will make the Eagles evaluate the left tackle position. Will Peters even play next season? With such little football experience, can Mailata be expected to be a full-time backup? This season was evident Big V is probably not the safest option for a blindside tackle. Jadeveon Clowney nearly broke our lord and savior Nick Foles in half when Peters was sidelined and Big V was getting beat like a drum.
Guard is a position that needs to be retooled. Brandon Brooks’ Achilles injury may put his early-season availability at risk. Starting left guard Isaac Seumalo is the presumed heir-to-the-throne at center, and honorary Philadelphia mayor Jason Kelce said he’ll mull over retirement every offseason for the rest of his career. Second-string lineman Stefen Wisniewski is a stop-gap lineman that can be relied on, but also is upgradable and on a small salary if the team decides to move on. Luckily for the Eagles, there are prospects that have the potential to play multiple positions on the offensive line.
Yodny Cajuste is looking like he’ll stay at tackle, but with the right tutelage could see some time at guard. Cajuste’s biggest strength is his arms. He’s long and strong in the upper body. If he’s anchored and has his hands where he wants them, good luck. Cajuste was the best lineman on a pass-happy West Virginia offense. The defensive “aptitude” of Big 12 teams is no secret among college football fans, but Cajuste’s power and nastiness is no joke. He’d be a wise investment as a tackle, but his potential as a guard could be dependent on a fleet-footed showing at the NFL Combine. He may not make it to the Eagles’ slot in the first round, but would be a worthy investment if he does.
Much like Alabama linebackers, Wisconsin offensive lineman are an annual commodity. Close your eyes and pick a name out of a hat. Michael Deiter is this year’s headlining Wisco lineman. In his three years at Wisconsin, Deiter lined up at tackle, guard, and center. Deiter started 54 games during his collegiate career, which is the second most in B1G Ten history. Wisconsin is notorious for a ground-and-pound offense that regularly tops 200 rushing yards per game. Deiter posses three qualities that made it possible for him to make multiple starts at three different positions; size (6’6 320 lbs.), mobility, and IQ. Deiter is projecting as a guard in the NFL, but it would be surprising to not see him dabble elsewhere along the line. His well-rounded lineman pedigree will make him a contributor sooner, rather than later.