By Stone Loitfellner, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Well, we are certainly living in a moment in history with the entire world basically on pause, including sports, leaving fans in a sports purgatory all due to COVID-19. With that in mind, I would like to take this time out to tell everyone to be safe, take necessary precautions, wash their hands and ultimately that we will all get through this together to see our beloved birds take the field for the 2020 season. However, before we get to that highly anticipated first kickoff, teams still have key pieces to address through the NFL draft. Starting on April 23rd and ending on the 25th, the draft will change the lives of many young men and either make or break the future for many franchises.
When it comes to Philadelphia, many fans in the city see this draft as a crucial stepping stone in becoming a dynasty as well as a crucial year for Howie Roseman, who has eight picks to prove he can help build and guide this team to success. Of course, many fans, myself included, like to play a bit of fantasy GM and predict who the Eagles will draft and what players make the most sense. Let’s take a look at some potential prospects that could find themselves landing in the Eagles’ nest this upcoming season.
It’s safe to say most fans view wide receiver as the top priority for the Eagles, with some viewing it as an absolutely urgent need that must be addressed heavily in the draft since Philly opted to skip on receivers in free agency. Nonetheless, it’s said this years draft class is historically deep at the receiver position with headliners like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III all being predicted to go well before the Eagles’ 21st overall pick. Of course, the Eagles could trade up to land one of the big three but that would most likely require them to jump into the top 10, if not spot 11.
Rumors have actually emerged about the Eagles wanting to move up specifically for Ceedee Lamb, who is starting to become the most popular receiver name. Having his best season in 2019 with 62 catches for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns, it’s easy to see Lamb is an excellent talent that would automatically provide a boost to the Eagles offense.
However, if Philly stays put there will most likely be some talented receivers with first-round projections still available for Philadelphia to take. The main prospect being mocked at 21 is the LSU product, Justin Jefferson. Although Jefferson ran his most successful routes out of the slot, LSU utilized the young talent outside at the X and Z, as well. Of course, when it comes to ranking and looking at prospects there’s plenty of different opinions, but one trait that seems to be universally viewed as Jefferson’s best is his sure hands. Jefferson has displayed his ability to reach his arms out to snag an almost out of reach pass and racked up quite an impressive amount of catches in 2019, leading the country with 111. Out of those 111 catches Jefferson was able to turn 18 of them into touchdowns, which was second in the nation. He was also able to gain 1,540 yards, third-most in the NCAA.
Still, scouts are able to find some downside in Jeffersons’ play, finding his lack of separation down the field to hurt his draft stock. Jefferson is also regarded as a “safe pick” with a high floor but a lower ceiling than other hopeful prospects in the draft. Regardless, the Eagles certainly need help at receiver and a prospect that leads the country in catches could surely help the offense get back on track.
Although it looks as if Jefferson will be there at 21 the draft is unpredictable and should Jefferson be off the board or if Howie Roseman simply has another receiver in mind, Philadelphia may end up with a receiver like Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr, Brandon Aiyuk or Denzel Mims. Out of the five receivers listed, only one has been mocked to go to the Eagles in the first round. Charles Davis’ latest mock has Philly passing on each previously mentioned receiver in favor of Clemson’s Tee Higgins.
Higgins is a true outside receiver that makes plays down the field even though scouts find he lacks true burner speed. To make up for his speed, Higgins seems to have a “my ball” mentality, displaying the willingness to go up for a contested pass and come down with the ball. Higgins also has shown the capability to maneuver his body into the best position for the catch and has shown an impressive catch radius. However, scouts do find Higgins to have a lack of versatility in his route tree that hurts his draft stock. Still, Higgins was able to post 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns off 59 catches in 2019 and scouts have admitted that his route tree can be expanded on with coaching.
Then there’s Laviska Shenault Jr., the talented athlete out of Colorado who is a plug-and-play receiver that can play basically anywhere in the offense. A prospect with versatility and toughness that may be unmatched in the draft, he was previously mocked inside the top 20 before he re-aggravated a core muscle injury at the combine which may be the only reason to cause him to slide in the draft.
When it comes to Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, his run after the catch ability is quite impressive, but his place in the offense may not fit the Eagles’ needs. Aiyuk is a great player in the slot that can pay you back when you hit him in the open field with room to run. However, when it comes to beating press coverage and contested catches, Aiyuk tends to find himself on the losing side.
That brings us to Baylor’s Denzel Mims, who has rapidly turned from a diamond in the rough to a possible first-round pick. Mims is considered to be one of the best route runners in the draft, impressing during the Senior Bowl one on ones. Mims also had an impressive send-off from Baylor with 12 touchdowns, 1,020 yards and 66 catches. Mims is a rare prospect with very few cons but plenty of pros with scouts finding his catch radius to be the most eyebrow-raising while finding the young talent to only be developing and getting better.
Even with a plethora of options in the early rounds with names like Jalen Reagor, K.J. Hamler, Donovan People-Jones and Van Jefferson, there’s still enough talent projected around the third round with names like Michael Pittman Jr, Bryan Edwards, Quartney Davis, Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. Even then the Eagles could find a late-round gem in players with post-fourth-round projections like Antonio Gandy-Golden, Jauan Jennings and Lynn Bowden Jr.
Following the always exciting free agency moves the Eagles next need after receiver may have changed from cornerback to linebacker. After acquiring Darius Slay via trade with Detroit and signing Will Parks and Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Eagles secondary doesn’t look too bad. However, the Eagles opted to not sign any linebackers in free agency besides Jatavis Brown, who (no disrespect intended) doesn’t strike me as a game-changer. The way Philadelphia handled linebacker in free agency may be a tell to what their draft-day plans are. Since the receiver class is so deep this year, there is a possibility the Eagles elect to draft a linebacker with the 21st pick. If Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray fall down the board enough, the Eagles could find themselves with a top-three linebacker prospect, which, let’s face it, is nothing to scoff at, even if the fans desperately want a receiver in the first.
Murray tends to be the highest-ranked linebacker besides Isiah Simmons, who’s in a class of his own, and is slated to be on the board at 21 by Charles Davis and Matt Miller. The Oklahoma talent was able to rack up 102 total tackles and four sacks during the previous season’s campaign. Throughout his collegiate career, Murray has only progressed and sharpened his talents at linebacker. Murray is comfortable setting the tone when in the second level while also playing with an impressive and aggressive sense of urgency. Of course, scouts doing their jobs were able to find Murray’s weak points: finding some of his decision making worrisome, finding the linebacker running himself out of plays while jumping at the wrong read or sitting and being too patient allowing more yards than necessary at times. Still, Murray is a talented and budding prospect that could easily bloom and instantly provide for whatever team he goes to.
Meanwhile, another talented prospect slated to be available at 21 is LSU’s Patrick Queen, who posted 85 total tackles, three sacks and an interception in 2019. While Kenneth Murray brings explosive aggressiveness that’s perfect when it comes to attacking the run game and rushing the passer, Queen brings excellent pass coverage with his ability to move laterally with ease. Queen is also a very flexible and fluid defender that can move and switch directions to stay with his man while maintaining awareness to navigate his way to the ball. Scouts are worried about Queen’s lack of experience, only starting in 16 of 29 games with LSU. Scouts also find his tackling skills to be average, finding him aiming too high on tackles, even if he can manage to stay with the ballcarrier. Regardless, like Murray, Queen is viewed to be an instant starter in the NFL that can play at the MIKE or WILL in a 4-3 formation, which would be perfect for the Eagles.
However, the Eagles could choose to lock-in at receiver in the first round and wait to see what linebackers are available in the second or third rounds. If this is the case they could try to go for Zack Baun to play outside linebacker. They could also take aim for Malik Harrison or Jordyn Brooks. However, to get one of those two the Eagles would most likely have to pick them a little higher than their projections with the second-round pick or trade up in the third for a better chance to land the prospects.
Slightly more likely prospects to slide to Philly’s 103rd overall pick are Anfernee Jennings and Troy Dye. Still, both are being slated to be gone by the time the Eagles are on the clock, which would leave Philly with a choice to wait another round for a linebacker or reach to land one then. If this is the case, fans could see the likes of Davion Taylor, Justin Strnad or Akeem Davis-Gaither. Matt Miller has Philly taking the latter with their 145th overall pick. Regardless of the Eagles taking a linebacker early on or not, they could choose to use one of their day-three picks on the position which could leave them with names like Markus Bailey, Willie Gay Jr, Cameron Brown, Evan Weaver or Joe Bachie Jr.
Once again, since the Eagles traded for Darius Slay and signed Nickell Robey-Coleman, cornerback may have slid on their draft board. Although the Eagles have Rodney McLeod, Will Parks and Jalen Mills at the safety spots, they could still be looking to get a young talented safety in the draft to mold into a three-down starter for the future. Regardless of how the Eagles feel at safety, they most likely aren’t spending their first-round pick on one, but the same can’t be cemented in stone when talking about the second round. While some mocks have Philly going corner in the second round for the very reason I previously mentioned, I disagree. I can see them going for a safety with their 53rd overall pick.
If this is the case fans could hear the name Kyle Dugger announced at 53. Which would be a welcome surprise with Dugger mostly being slated to go before pick 50. Still, if the Eagles do go safety in the second round it would most likely be caused by Dugger being there for them. The safety out of Lenoir-Rhyne is simply a big name talent from a small school with scouts saying he looks like a man amongst boys when he plays. Scouts also praise Dugger’s controlled aggressiveness and his ability to use his big frame to his full potential. On the other hand, there are worries on whether or not his game will translate against stronger competition. On top of that, scouts find his instincts, footwork and consistency needs to be improved.
A more likely spot for the Eagles to draft a safety is with their third-round pick. Sitting at 103 Matt Miller actually has the Eagles looking to the XFL for talent, taking Kenny Robinson Jr, the only XFL player eligible for the NFL draft. Robinson is only 21 and has already displayed the ability to perform against professionals posting 21 tackles and two interceptions in his five games as a Battlehawk.
A more traditional pick the Eagles could possibly make is Ashtyn Davis out of California. In 2019 Davis was able to post 55 total tackles, four pass defends, two interceptions as well as a forced fumble, displaying his playmaking ability. Scouts find Davis to be a true free safety that lurks around the top looking to play the ball on pass plays but find him lacking when it comes to supporting the run. Although he plays physically. he needs to work heavily on his tackling technique.
The most likely round for the Eagles to go safety is the fourth round, where they own three picks. One of those picks could easily be Maryland’s Antione Brooks Jr., who put up 87 total tackles, five pass defends and an interception in 2019. They could also take Daniel Thomas, Tanner Muse or Geno Stone, the latter of which being most likely of the bunch to be there for Philly’s 145th overall pick. If the Eagles elect to be patient at safety and wait to draft one until after round four, they could end up with one of these prospects: L’Jarius Sneed, Josh Metellus, J.R. Reed, K’Von Wallace or Alohi Gilman.
Even after the additions of Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Eagles could still be looking to add to their secondary with a talented rookie. The Eagles, having eight picks in this year’s draft, are in an adequate position to draft a corner with fringe starter expectations, as well as a corner that’s expected to begin their career as a backup, but hopefully develop into a solid starter. If the Eagles are looking for a corner in the early rounds, the earliest I see them taking one is in the second round. If this is the case, a likely prospect to go to Philly is Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene.
Igbinoghene is an interesting prospect, only playing one of his three seasons at Auburn as a full-time cornerback, having made the transition from wide receiver recently. In his one and only season as a true corner, Igbinoghene was able to record 42 total tackles and seven pass deflections. While playing both ways in 2018, the versatile prospect was able to put up 50 total tackles, 11 pass defends, an interception and a forced fumble. Credit to Igbinoghene in his two seasons at defensive back, he’s shown promising production and growth in his defensive IQ.
Still, the prospects main concern is his lack of experience at corner. A likely career path for Igbinoghene is starting out as a kick returner (averaged 35.2 yards a return in 2019) and special teamer before eventually developing into a starter. Igbinoghene’s promise comes from his athleticism, scrappiness and body control. He has also shown natural defensive abilities over his 25 games at corner.
Another possible second-round option could be Cameron Dantzler out of Mississipi State. With 22 starts over three seasons, Dantzler has shown plenty of promise posting five interceptions and 108 total tackles during that time. Dantzler is a corner with range and length that uses it to his advantage. However, Dantzler’s narrow build could cause him to lose match-ups against more physical receivers. Other than that, scouts’ main concerns lie in Dantzler’s transitions, finding his hips to be a bit too high causing him to have to rely on sharp movements to keep up receiver’s breaks.
If the Eagles choose to wait until the third or fourth rounds, the Eagles could be picking from names like Damon Arnette, Terrell Burgess, Amik Robertson or Lamar Jackson. Arnette and Burgess are both most likely third-round picks. Arnette may be looked at as a possible late bloomer that had his best collegiate season in 2019, displaying impressive coverage when asked to press the receiver and play man up. Meanwhile, Burgess fits the philosophy the Eagles seem to be trying to implement on defense. A converted corner, Burgess could be expected to play safety and corner in the NFL. While playing for Utah, Burgess performed his best when in man coverage but his ball skills are viewed to be one of his weak points.
Regardless of the Eagles early to mid-round selections, they could still look to add another corner or two with their fifth or sixth-round picks. If the Eagles decide to take a corner late they could find themselves with a player such as John Reid, Darnay Holmes, Dane Jackson, Lavert Hill, Javelin Guidry or Michael Ojemudia.
Recently there’s been some debate whether or not the Eagles will take a defensive end in the first round. The main cause for this theory is Howie Roseman’s first-round history, taking four defensive linemen and three offensive linemen since 2010. The two exceptions being Carson Wentz in 2016 and trading out of the first-round in 2018. If the theory reigns true, the Eagles could be looking at a talented prospect that spent his past three years playing in their backyard. Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, who is projected to fall slightly further than pick 21, with Matt Miller having him go to the Patriots at 23 while Charles Davis has him going 27 to Seattle.
Gross-Matos is a talented prospect that posted 40 tackles and nine sacks in 2019 but had arguably his best season in 2018 when he put up 54 total tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles. Standing at 6’5″, Gross-Matos uses his size wisely, with his arms being described as long levers that he knows how to use. Although a taller defender, the edge rusher is credited with the ability to keep his pads low. A quick trait for fans to fall in love with is his high motor, always keeping his eyes on the football and resulting in a good amount of plays being made by pure effort. Not only does Gross-Matos provide impressive impact from the outside, during his time with Penn State he was able to rush from multiple alignments and displayed enough versatility to play from the interior.
Another defensive end that could be worth taking with the 21st pick is A.J. Epenesa. The Iowa State product has shown the knack for finding the football when rushing the quarterback, forcing eight fumbles in his past two seasons (four in 2018 and four in 2019). In the past two seasons, Epenesa has put up double-digit sacks as well, with 10.5 in 2018 and 11.5 in 2019. Still, Matt Miller has the talented prospect falling to pick 25 to Minnesota while Charles Davis has him falling out of the first round altogether.
Although Epenesa’s build is a bit leaner than Gross-Matos’, one of his main flaws is lack of burst. Besides that, scouts find his pads to be a bit too high when engaging a block and feel his recognition needs improvement. On the other hand, scouts are astounded by the way he uses his length and power to force his way to the quarterback. Epenesa has also shown a variety of block shedding techniques, most notable of which being his push-pull and hand swatting abilities.
Besides these two prospects, it looks like the most likely path for the Eagles to take if they want a defensive end is to wait until at least the second or third round where names like Joshua Uche, Bradlee Anae, Curtis Weaver, Alton Robinson and Jason Strowbridge would be available. One of the main prospects that stand out to me from this group is Utah’s Bradlee Anae, who put up 41 total tackles and 13 sacks last season.
A real likely scenario for the Eagles to land a defensive end is in the fourth round, where Matt Miller has them taking Kenny Willekes out of Michigan State with the 127th pick. Willekes has shown promise and development throughout his time in college, posting back to back seasons with 78 tackles as well as improving his sack numbers each year, finally hitting double digits in 2019 with 10 on the season. If the Eagles don’t end up with Willekes they could end up with Jonathan Garvin, Darrell Taylor or Trevis Gipson.
This leaves only the fifth and sixth rounds to look at, where the Eagles could double up on an edge rusher or choose to look for a diamond in the rough with a late-round hopeful. The most likely players for these scenarios are Broderick Washington, Chauncey Rivers, Trevon Hill or Tipa Galeai.
I believe it’s safe to say the Eagles won’t be going after a defensive tackle in the early rounds but could be looking to develop a rookie to eventually get significant snaps after a couple of seasons. If this is the case, the earliest I see them taking a interior defensive linemen is in the fourth round where they could land LSU’s Rashard Lawrence. Lawrence had a productive but not dominant career at LSU having 120 total tackles, nine sacks, seven pass defends and a forced fumble over 39 games. However, there is a red flag with Lawrence with his lack of production, possibly being due to a 2017 ankle injury and 2019 knee surgery. Still, Lawrence has shown a quick first step accompanied by a high motor that allows him to quickly get past offensive linemen.
The Eagles could wait to draft a defensive tackle even later, possibly taking one in the fifth round with possibilities like Davon Hamilton or Khalil Davis. With Davis being mocked to be available at pick 168 and Hamilton having to fall past his projections. Davis had an impressive 2019 campaign posting 44 tackles and eight sacks. Although being praised for his hustle, quickness and agility, the rest of Davis’ game scouts are concerned about finding his balance, hand technique and play strength to be underdeveloped.
Finally, that brings us to the Eagles’ last pick of the draft, pick 190 overall, where Matt Miller has them taking McTelvin Agim out of Arkansas. Agim has had a productive career at Arkansas, putting up 140 total tackles, 14.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in four seasons. Although scouts feel Ahim needs to bulk up when he gets to the next level, they find his quick, flexible playstyle helps him fire into the neutral zone and stresses out offensive lineman that aren’t so fluid with their feet.
If the Eagles don’t get Agim, they could draft Raequan Williams or Larrell Murchinson. Murchinson has only played 25 games at North Carolina State but was able to record 80 total tackles and 11 sacks, seven of which he recorded in 2019. Meanwhile, Williams put up 157 total tackles and 11.5 sacks in 49 games at Michigan State.
Although the Eagles seem set at offensive line with All-pro talents like Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson taking up 3/5 of the offensive forefront, recent chatter from Philly sports media has linked the Eagles to a first-round interior lineman. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is highly considered to be the best center/interior lineman in the draft and is set to be drafted well before the Eagles 53rd overall pick but after their 21st pick. A trade could be a likely scenario for Philly if they are looking to land Ruiz. They could trade back from 21 to 26-28 or could possibly try trading up from 53 if Ruiz falls out of the first.
Ruiz could be a perfect player to bring in and groom as Kelce’s successor with the veteran center mulling retirement in recent years. Starting 26 games at center and five at right guard, Ruiz has shown an impressive mix of power, technique, mobility and size. While displaying his versatility by playing two positions, Ruiz also displayed the ability by performing adequately in both gap and zone running schemes. Still, scouts feel Ruiz could shed 10-15lbs in order to move a bit quicker and find he can be a tad too patient at times in pass protection, causing some ugly footwork to catch up with the defender. With projections to be a first-year starter in the NFL, although not a ‘sexy’ pick, Cesar Ruiz wouldn’t be a bad decision for Howie Roseman in the slightest, keeping the center of the line fortified for his franchise quarterback.
Regardless, looking at the depth chart and circling the Eagles’ needs it seems more likely for Philly to wait until the third or fourth rounds to start looking at offensive linemen. With the 85th pick, the Eagles could land Temple’s Matt Hennessy, who Matt Miller has going to New England with pick 87. Center Matt Hennessy fits Philly’s grit and grind culture, earning Temple’s highly coveted single-digit practice jersey that’s awarded to the toughest player on the team. Hennessy is described as mobile, smart, controlled and technically-refined and that works better in a zone-blocking scheme. Although he posses impressive hand and footwork, scouts are concerned with his lack of size and strength, wondering if it will make it tough for him to handle the next level of defenders in the NFL.
The Eagles could also have eyes on Robert Hunt, Ben Bredeson or John Simpson, all of which being projected to be available late in the third round. Bredeson particularly stands out with four starting seasons at guard for Michigan, impressing scouts with his run blocking skills. Although being credited with the ability to roll his hips through blocks and work his hands well, scouts are concerned with Bredeson’s lack of length and feel his hand placement needs improving.
Of course, the Eagles could be looking to land a lineman in rounds four to six, where they own five different picks. If this is the case, expect to see names such as: Nick Harris, Damien Lewis, Logan Stenberg, Netane Muti, Zach Shackleford, Keith Ismael and Tremayne Anchrum.
The Eagles aren’t exactly in a prime position to draft a running back early on, with second-year back Miles Sanders likely taking a three-down role next season and unlikely standout Boston Scott backing him up. Sanders isn’t known for his power but for his elusiveness while Scott is a 5’6 back with some power, but mostly shiftiness. The Eagles could be looking to draft a power back in the mid to late rounds after losing battering ram Jordan Howard to Miami in free agency.
There are a few late-round prospects that could possibly provide that power like Patrick Taylor Jr, Joshua Kelley, AJ Dillon and DeeJay Dallas. The running back that seems to stand out the most and cause the most chatter amongst Eagles fans is Boston College’s AJ Dillon. In his three seasons at Boston College, Dillion was able to rack up 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns. Although Dillon put up impressive numbers in college and displayed excellent strength, his technique and get the ball and go style has scouts fearful for his NFL production, which may be the reason why Matt Miller has Dillon going in the sixth round.
Another running back Eagles fans should be looking into is Memphis’ Patrick Taylor Jr., who Matt Miller has going to Philly in the fifth round with the 167th pick. Taylor Jr. is best known for his physicality and strength that allows him to play through contact and be useful in short-yardage situations. Although only hitting a thousand yards once in his four years (2018) at Memphis, Taylor Jr. was able to put up 13 and 16 touchdowns in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Meanwhile, Joshua Kelley of UCLA was able to post back to back seasons of 1,000+ yards and double-digit touchdowns, posting 12 in his two collegiate seasons. There’s also DeeJay Dallas out of Miami, who arguably had his best season last year posting 693 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games.