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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The Eagles are in need of help at quite a few positions heading into the 2022 draft.
In particular, the Eagles will need to address safety, defensive end, linebacker, wide receiver, and perhaps even punter.
Well, right in the Eagles’ backyard is Penn State, a program that figures to have top players at every one of those positions in the 2022 NFL draft.
Even more so is that most of these players are slated to go in the late first or in the second round of the draft – a position that the Eagles not only have many picks in, but with Howie Roseman’s typical style of making trades and value seeking in trading back, the Birds may wind up with even more picks in the range of Penn State’s players.
Penn State has safety Jaquan Brisker, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, linebacker/defensive end combo Jesse Luketa, linebacker Brandon Smith and wideout Jahan Dotson who figure to be off the board by the conclusion of the second day of the draft. They’ve also got punter/kicker Jordan Stout, who may wind up being drafted for his big leg.
The Eagles’ local area scouts are going to be busy this season scouting these guys and getting their reports in on whether these are guys the Eagles should take or not.
The trade back strategy is one that the Eagles should be targeting with three first rounders, particularly if a quarterback falls and the Eagles can take advantage of a team that has the fever to make a crazy move up the board. Why not use the spoil of riches they have now to garner a couple extra picks high in the draft and/or accumulate high picks in the 2023 draft to keep those riches flowing? With the 2022 class looking like it has some depth that should last many positions (outside QB) through a couple rounds, this may be the way to go.
This article will take a look at these potential targets to see if they might be fits for the Birds within the range of picks they will likely be looking to fill these needs.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Arnold Ebiketie
Ebiketie, a Temple transfer, is seemingly being underrated at the defensive end position. With just one season at Penn State, he became a wrecking ball in the B1G. Michigan’s David Ojabo, who played opposite one of if not the top DE in the country this season, is being looked at as someone who might “fall” to the Eagles at pick 15. Ebiketie did not have the advantage of playing opposite of a guy who was regularly double or triple teamed and his stats were still impressive. He had 62 tackles (18 for loss) compared to Ojabo’s 35 tackles (11 for loss).
Perhaps the sack number (9.5 compared to 12) is what is dropping his stock. Perhaps the fact this was Ojabo’s first year seeing the field that has scouts thinking he’s got tons of room to improve, but it also provides some skepticism as he’s only played in a stacked unit and has not had the chance to show consistency while Ebiketie managed to post 42 tackles (8.5 for loss) and 4 sacks in just 6 games with Temple in 2020.
Both Ojabo and Ebiketie figure to have long careers and I’d take either, but if the current mocks are accurate and there was a trade available to chose either Ojabo or Ebiketie and an additional first or second-round pick (in this draft or a future one), I’d certainly opt for the ladder.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Jaquan Brisker
A Pittsburg native, Brisker went the JUCO route before his time at Penn State.
While Hamilton is often considered the top safety in this draft, his average draft position among current mocks may make it a wiser move for the Eagles to look elsewhere and Brisker should be at the top of that list.
Brisker offers essentially everything that you could want in a safety, including excellent coverage abilities combined with the no-fear, attacking mentality in the run game. Not only that, but he brings a mind like a coach to the game.
In Penn State’s opener against Wisconsin this past season, there were two interception at the goal line to prevent points and seal the game for the Nittany Lions. One was made by Brisker himself and one was made by his fellow starting safety, Ji’Ayir Brown. The important thing to note about that Brown interception is that he told reporters after the play that Brisker had told him how to play certain formations and had told him if he played that formation in a specific way, he’d come up with a pick. That’s coaching abilities as a college student already paying off for teammates.
That, combined with his return for another season so that he could complete his degree, amount to a guy who could be a tone-setter in the locker room as well as on the field. Many mocks have Brisker falling to the mid second round and if the Eagles can get him anywhere near that spot it’ll be highway robery.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Jesse Luketa
Luketa is a more interesting case. Committed as a linebacker, he rarely ever stood out at the position for large chunks of his career in State College.
A move to defensive end in 2021 seemed to do the trick for Luketa as he registered his first career interception and a career-high in tackles for loss.
Even as a defensive end, however, Luketa maintained the skills and mindset of a linebacker, knowing when to rush the passer, collapse on a run, or drop into coverage to prevent the play. It’s this hybrid mentality that may make Luketa a target for the Eagles and, more particularly, Jonathan Gannon.
One of the most frustrating things about the 2021 Eagles season was that the new defensive coordinator would seemingly count on a play like Fletcher Cox to not push upfield and instead cover a tight end or running back. While that doesn’t work and anyone with half a brain should be able to figure that out fairly easily, Luketa’s play this past season is seemingly the perfect match for this sort of scheme.
There will be plenty of other linebackers and defensive ends off the board before Luketa considering he’s looking like he’ll be selected between rounds 3 and 5 at this point, but if the Eagles don’t feel they can get another impact player at this point, Luketa has shown the skill set that should match up with the scheme the team will be running in 2022, so it’ll be hard for the Eagles to pass up the opportunity to see how that match might pay off.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Brandon Smith
Brandon Smith is perhaps the most difficult player to evaluate on this list.
The linebacker registered 81 tackles, five defensed passes and a forced fumble this past season, but would still seem to vanish from games at times.
Whether the Eagles should look to take him or not depends on the board. There will be plenty of top linebackers they should be able to get (from well-known players like Nakobe Dean to lesser-known guys like Leo Chenal) that might just fall into the Eagles’ laps. Of course, the problem there is that the Eagles have a much-discussed history of not taking linebackers.
Should that trend continue, Smith may be available in the third round, where the Eagles have seemingly begun to consider linebackers in the past.
Smith is a guy with the athleticism and strength but whose technique and seemingly not being in totally in on every snap has hampered what could be a career that would be widely discussed.
Due to this, recent Penn State products play both for and against Smith. Going against Smith is Micah Parsons. Parsons is in a league of his own and Smith shouldn’t be compared to him, but rest assured there will be those that see his taking over the mantle as Linebacker U’s next top LB and will try to convince themselves he’s the next Parsons. On the other hand, there’s the athletic defenders that have been in similar situations with less production at the college level than you’d like leading to their being draft steals. Among this group are shutdown Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye and 2021 late first-rounder Odafe Oweh, who wound up being perhaps the most impactful defensive end taken in last-year’s draft.
If a team makes the leap and picks up Smith too early convinced he’ll be Parsons, they’ll likely be disappointed, but if his lower rate of college production ends up hampering his draft position, he could wind up being a hidden gem come the last weekend in April.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Jahan Dotson
A local product out of Nazareth, PA, Dotson would seem to be a victim of yet another deep wide receiver draft.
Despite all the talk about the guys from Alabama, Ohio State, Treylon Burks and Skyy Moore, Dotson regularly appears to be a late first-rounder in mocks.
Dotson has not been the beneficiary of strong QB play, but managed nearly 900 yards in a COVID-shortened 2020 season before putting up 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
He’s often been mis-catagorized by draft analysts who clearly haven’t watched any tape as a “burner”. This, combined with his running “just” a 4.41 40-yard at the combine may sway public opinion away from him, but Dotson is not a player who relies soley on speed. Sure he’s got some speed, but he creates separation with his strong route running abilities.
Perhaps more importantly than that, he is a guy who can go up to attack the ball (and has successfully done so one-handed numerous times) and will rarely, if ever, drop a pass given he has the best hands in the draft.
While Dotson is a guy the Eagles should certainly look at trading back to grab rather than throwing away resources to move up, the receiver position in general may be better filled in free agency while other positions could be better served in the draft. That all depends on how the board falls, of course.
Potential NFL Draft Target: Jordan Stout
The Eagles letting Cameron Johnston go was a big mistake that the Birds probably wish they hadn’t done at this point. Now, they are left with a below average punter, but with so many high picks and the potential to trade back for more, the Eagles could have extra late-round picks. Now if that happens and they are confident in their draft picks, they could choose to trade these picks for veterans as they have in the past (acquiring Hassan Ridgeway is an example), move them for future picks, or selecting players to bring competition – and that’s where the Eagles could look to a punter.
Stout brings additional value for his capability to be a back-up kicker if needed, but he averaged a solid 46 yards (though this was of course limited by field position at times.
It is unlikely Stout will be the first punter taken, however. Matt Araiza out of San Diego State averaged an incredible 51.2 yards per punt in addition to also serving as a kicker. Oklahoma’s Michael Turk also averaged 51.2 yards, though he has no experience as a kicker.
If the Eagles wind up with enough picks that picking a punter makes sense, there may be better options on the board, but Stout is a player who may not end up hearing his name called at all and in that case, it would behoove the Eagles to bring him in to compete for the position on the roster.