By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — The Philadelphia Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champions. Never get tired pf saying it, let alone typing it.
Go ahead – say it. Scream it one more time. Type it out in BOLD LETTERS.
Now, though not letting go of the afterglow, let’s get down to the business at hand.
The Eagles will make their first league-wide appearance as champions at the annual NFL Draft, which begins with Round 1 on Thursday , and then continues with Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 2 (Rounds 4-7) throughout the weekend.
The fact that it takes place in Dallas, at Jerry World, makes it even sweeter.
Howie Roseman, the vindicated de facto general manager, and loyal sidekick Joe Douglas built their world championship roster on many fronts. They signed the scheme-fit veteran free agents, plucked the right guys off the scrap heap, were quick to the punch on trades and did well in selecting college talent – in the draft and after with undrafted talent – since being brought back after being exiled at the whim of one whose name we not mention.
It is likely we will hear the generic clichés from Roseman, Douglas and head coach Doug Pederson about how nothing has changed in their draft approach.
But the reality is much different.
Everything – at least for this year – has changed.
The view from the top of the mountain is different than the one various combinations of front offices and coaching staffs have been trying to scale throughout a Super Bowl era that included just two losing appearances in the Big Dance.
The rightful price of wearing the ring is picking last in the first round at No. 32. The Eagles presently have no picks – as in zero – on Day 2 and then four (two late fourth-rounders, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh) on Day 3.
In the past, such a scenario would have been enough to make Roseman need sedatives.
But the past is the past. In the present, the Eagles are not in desperate need of a quick fix. To stay atop the mountain, and maintain their magical mojo, they can project a year or two down the line and wait merely wait their turn in the chow line and select the best prospect on their board for starting down the road.
For the Eagles, with Carson Wentz coming off a serious knee injury, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is an insurance policy worth its megatons in gold. Even if – and it’s a big if – Wentz is ready for training camp, his snaps will be limited. Even if – and it is a moderate if – Wentz is ready for the season opener, there is no guarantee he stays healthy. His playing style and history, even before his season-ender in Los Angeles last December, suggests otherwise.
A team still climbing the mountain in fits and starts may have dumped Foles, who has a definite year left on his since-sweetened deal (reportedly including an option for another year), for a Day 2 pick. A team on top of the world – looking down on creation – has another viewpoint.
In the new reality, trading Foles is just not worth it.
Roseman could put wheels in motion to gain more picks in other ways, such as trading back from No. 32 to the middle of the second round and maybe picking up another fourth in the process. With three fourths, at least two could be packaged – or one with a commodity like linebacker Mychal Kendricks – to get into the third.
It takes some creativity, but Roseman is more creative than Spielberg.
Given that the Eagles have no urgent needs, let us take a by-position looksee and assess what they have and who, in theory, they could add:
In The Nest: There’s Wentz, an MVP candidate pre-injury, and Foles (left). Behind them is the likely successor to take over for Foles in Nate Sudfeld. Sounds like an ideal situation, but a fourth arm will be needed for camp and a developmental quarterback of the future could be added either late on Day 3 or in free agency.
Need level: Low
Prospects: Tanner Lee (Nebraska), at 6-foot-4 and with a strong arm, seems to fit the Eagles’ prototype. He would need work on mechanics and accuracy, but there would be no hurry. Another name to watch is small-school standout Kyle Lauletta (Richmond), who would fit a West Coast scheme but lacks arm strength. Moving into the seventh round, there could be intrigue around Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (pictured blow), whose fantastic college career doesn’t seem to pass inspection with pro scouts.
In The Nest: With LeGarrette Blount signing with the Lions, the Eagles have Jay Ajayi and undrafted rookie surprise Corey Clement as a 1-2 punch. There is some talk about Darren Sproles returning. Still, that is speculation. Wendell Smallwood may get another chance to put last year’s injured-riddled campaign behind him and nail down the No. 3 job. The talent is there, and the coaches know it. What isn’t known is if the talent is there for last year’s fourth-rounder, Donnel Pumphrey, who struggled last preseason and was stashed on IR with a bruised ego.
Need level: Moderate (Ajayi has knee issues and would need to be re-signed to stick around beyond this season).
Prospects: It wouldn’t surprise anyone, from so-called experts to the guy waiting for a cheese steak at Pat’s, if the Eagles used their first-rounder on a back. Ideal fits – for all-round skills like Clement, who is a clone of running back coach/mentor Duce Staley – are LSU’s Derrius Guice (5-11, 218) or Georgia’s Sony Michel (5-11, 215). Others in the conversation could easily include USC’s Ronald Jones II (pictured above), who draws comparisons to Jamaal Charles, and Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson (6-1, 212). If the Eagles chose to wait until Day 3, there are system-fit backs who may never be a true No. 1 but could slide right into a rotational role. There are smaller backs – Southern Mississippi’s highly productive Ito Smith (5-9, 195, picured below) and Miami’s human highlight reel, Mark Walton Jr. (5-9, 205) – and a litany of bigger backs: Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (6-1, 225), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (5-10, 234) and Alabama’s Bo Scarborough (6-2, 232). There is also the best of both worlds with compact power runner John Kelly Jr. (5-9, 205) of Tennessee.
In The Nest: Alshon Jeffery is the No. 1, while Nelson Agholor should pick up where he left off in the Super Bowl in the slot. At the No. 2 spot, ostensibly reserved for the deep threat, the Eagles upgraded by signing Mike Wallace to take the place of Torrey Smith (even though the guy received in return, Darryl Worley, was since released following a peculiar brush with the law). Mack Hollins (fourth round last year) is the quintessential fourth receiver who excels on special teams while developing starter skills. Fellow second-year man Shelton Gibson (fifth round last year) will likely be battling the likes of Bryce Treggs, journeyman Marques Wilson and slot receiver Greg Ward Jr., a converted college quarterback who seemed to be getting it by the end of last preseason, for a roster spot or two.
Need level: Moderate (Only the first four are set in stone)
Prospects: With so many college teams running spread offenses, receiver has become one of the most difficult positions to evaluate. A guy with no real size/speed measurables can have a million catches for a billion yards and a thousand touchdowns while one with seemingly all the drool-worthy tools may not have produced up to his potential, either due to a run-first system or lame quarterback play or injuries, etc. This leads to early-round busts and late-round – or even undrafted – receivers making an impact. Looking ahead, Roseman may want to hedge his bet with what is in-house with another future weapon for Wentz. It is considered an average crop this year, which means there could be some temptation if a guy like SMU’s Courtland Sutton free falls to the end of Round 1. Sutton was once considered the best receiver in this class, but comparisons to Randy Moss have given way to being seen more in the mold of Hall of Famer – and one-time Eagle – Art Monk. Sutton has size (6-3, 218) and ball skills (68 career touchdowns, many in the red zone), but runs a pedestrian 4.58. While Sutton’s stock has dropped a bit, he is still unlikely to last until the Eagles pick. While they would love to get their hands on Washington’s Dante Pettis, a record-setting return man and productive pass catcher who projects to the slot, it is unlikely he lasts beyond Day 2. That would leave options like Trey Quinn (benefitted from playing across from Sutton at SMU after transferring from LSU, bringing in 114 catches for 1,236 yards last season), Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson, Florida State’s imposing Auden Tate (6-4, 235) and Texas Tech’s Swiss Army knife Keke Couttee as options in the fourth or fifth round. In the seventh round, or in the UDFA phase, the Eagles may even consider waiving their ban on Temple players and looking at Keith Kirkwood (pictured below).
In The Nest: Super Bowl hero and All-Pro Zach Ertz is entering the prime of his career. Veteran Richard Rodgers was signed to be his backup, making the apparent need for a No. 2 – which seemed dire after Brent Celek (left) was released and Trey Burton went on to sign a big-bucks deal with the Chicago Bears – less obvious. The Eagles are high on Billy Brown, a former record-setting Division II wide receiver, and kept him on the practice squad to learn the tight end trade. Also in house is Canadian rugby player Adam Zaruba and Joshua Perkins, who also has some intriguing tools as a receiving tight end.
Need level: Moderate (It’s a sold incoming class, so …)
Prospects: Before the signing of Rodgers on a stop-gap deal, many projected the Eagles taking an Ertz stunt double in South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert (6-5, 255, pictured below), whose stock has risen to the point where a late first-round pick would not be accompanied by a sitcom laugh track. If the Eagles wanted to wait until Day 3, they could dare to fill Celek’s blocking void with the draft’s alleged best blocking tight end, Florida State’s Ryan Izzo (6-4, 255) or a receiving type in Adam Brenneman (6-4, 255) who transferred from Penn State to Massachusetts and caught 134 passes the last two years.
In The Nest: Poor Halapoulivaati Vatai. Dude started a bunch of games for the suspended right Lane Johnson as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2016 and came back last season and started at left tackle after Jason Peters went down for the season in Week 7. After some initial struggles, the TCU product was sound throughout the run to glory. Yet, with Peters deciding to give it another season, a general presumption is that the Eagles will make a priority to find his heir apparent in the draft as if Vatai were never born. Johnson came back last year and was a Pro Bowl selection at right tackle. Ditto for Brandon Brooks at right guard, while Jason Kelce had a career year at center and was a second-team All-Pro. Stefen Wisniewski solidified the line at left guard when Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack both failed to impress. Others in-house options are guard Darrell Greene, who was on the practice squad, and converted defensive lineman Taylor Hart, who is trying to cut it as a tackle. Center Jon Toth, like Greene, spent the season on the practice squad.
Need level: Moderate (Even without an abundance of picks, it is standard operating procedure to draft at least one lineman at some point).
Prospects: The Eagles have reportedly shown tire-kicking interest in Oklahoma’s massive Orlando Brown (6-7, 345). But, if he lasts to No. 32, it seems his NFL home would be at right tackle, meaning Johnson would have to jump to the blind side and push Vatai to the bench. Other possible first-round tackles are Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin (6-5, 304) and Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor (6-5, 330), but another realistic option could be a pure guard like UTEP’s Will Hernandez (6-3, 340). Despite playing for a putrid team that went winless, Hernandez (pictured below) distinguished himself at the Senior Bowl and his tape shows balanced play in pass protection and run blocking. Later in the draft, the Eagles could look at small-school prospects, like Maine’s Jamil Demby, a Vineland, N.J., native who used his frame (6-5, 323) to dominate at tackle but may be more suited at guard in the big leagues. A similar small-school prospect who may project inside is Stony Brook’s Timon Parris (6-5, 310). A wild card could be Army’s Brett Toth (6-6, 303). At center, the Eagles may have interest in Alabama’s Bradley Bozeman (6-5, 314), even though the Crimson Tide connection to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is lessened with each passing year.
In The Nest: As is the case with the offensive line, the Eagles have one of the best situations in the league here and are positioned to throw fresh legs at opponents. They already upgraded, replacing the solid Vinnie Curry with Pro Bowler Michael Bennett at defensive and adding Haloti Ngata to replace Beau Allen as the third tackle behind standout Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. Brandon Graham is back at the defensive end spot while ascending star Derek Barnett and cagey veteran Chris Long bring depth. The group is rounded out by end Steven Means, who has always produced when given a chance, and defensive tackles Destiny Vaeao, Aziz Shittu, Elijah Qualls and Winston Craig.
Need level: Low (meaning they will draft one in the first round)
Prospects: If the scouts/coaches/front office fall in love with a guy who falls, who knows? They are likely to give last year’s sixth-round pick, Qualls, a shot to improve – and move ahead of Vaeao – before adding a tackle, but maybe another pass rusher wouldn’t be the worst idea. Late in the fourth round, someone like the long and lean Miami product Chad Thomas (6-5, 275) or Missouri’s Graham-like Marcell Frazier (6-4, 261, pictured below) might be worth a shot as someone to develop, with Long likely hanging up his spikes after one more year and Bennett possibly only passing through for a season.
In The Nest: With Kendricks still around, this is presently a nice mix of solid starters – Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham – along with experienced backups in free agent signees Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow followed by young guys with potential (Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry). However, it could become thinner, considering that Kendricks might really be on the auction block this year and that Hicks – and his back-up, Walker – are injury prone.
Need level: Moderate
Prospects: In the first round, the Eagles could conceivably score with someone like Alabama’s Rashaan Evans (6-2, 232, pictured below) or reach a bit for a Hicks clone – even from the same school, Texas – in the versatile Malik Jefferson (6-2, 240), who runs a 4.66 40 (a good speed for a linebacker). However, they could also wait until Day 3 and grab Wentz’s college teammate at North Dakota State, Nick DeLuca (6-3, 243), who had a stellar career but was prone to injury and runs a pedestrian 4.84. One the draft’s fastest linebackers, UCF’s Shaquiem Griffin (4.62), is not quite as physical and is on the smaller side (6-1, 229). However, as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, he could at least add a special teams boost.
In The Nest: With Patrick Robinson gone after one solid year in the slot, this now becomes the kiddie corner (pun intended). The likely starters are third-year man Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, who was acquired last preseason and missed a chunk of the regular season but returned for the stretch run at what looked like less than 100 percent. The wild card is Sidney Jones, who was slated to be one of the top corners drafted in a strong corner class last year before an Achilles injury bumped him out of the first round to the Eagles in the second. He played a few snaps late in the year, but it was not a true test. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas did well as a rookie (two interceptions), all things considered, playing extended snaps while Darby was out. In the wake of Worleygate, and with versatile corner/safety Jaylen Watkins now with the Chargers, there could be a need for one more fresh face or another veteran who ends up on the street. At safety, Pro Bowler and spiritual leader Malcolm Jenkins (left) forms a sound duo with Rodney McLeod. However, with Corey Graham currently unsigned, depth – and plans for the future – are twin concerns. Chris Maragos remains, but he is a special teams standout and only a safety in an extreme emergency. Two guys under the radar are Randall Goforth and Tre Sullivan. Goforth went undrafted last year, despite a solid career at UCLA, with his size (5-9, 176) being the likely reason. Sullivan, out of Division II Shepherd (the same school as Brown, the possible third tight end) hit like a truck in the preseason and was added to the practice squad the middle of the year.
Need level: Moderately High (although too many young players could spell trouble)
Prospects: While the Eagles are unlikely to go corner in the first round, safety is a real possibility. A name that keeps coming up is Stanford’s Justin Reid (6-1, 196, pictured below). The younger brother of Eric Reid brings a similar skill set as Jenkins (the ability to do anything from manning center field to play in the box to cover the slot receiver). Another name to consider at No. 32 is Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison, who has drawn comparisons to Ronnie Lott and Landon Collins, providing he puts his size (6-2, 214), speed (4.54) and instincts together consistently at the pro level. If they wait on a safety, a fourth-round possibility would be Wake Forest’s Jesse Bates III (6-2, 198, 4.57), who adds punt returning to his resume. Later in the draft, there is Louisiana’s Tracy Walker, who runs a 4.43 and has the type of wing span in his frame (6-1, 198) that makes NFL teams salivate. Another player who might fit, given the versatility that the Eagles like from their secondary, is San Diego State’s Kameron Kelly (6-1, 195). Kelly played safety and then transitioned to corner and looked the part, with excellent ball skills and a knack for big plays. He could be around in the fourth round. If Kelly is gone, there are two pure corners from polar opposite ends of the college football universe – Alabama’s slightly undersized Levi Wallace (5-11, 185) and Jacksonville State’s Siran Neal (6-0, 206), who also has experience at safety. A versatile defensive back that may or may not get drafted is four-year Temple starter Sean Chandler (6-0, 190), who is a Camden native.
In The Nest: Placekicker Jake Elliott, coming off a terrific first year after being signed to replace the injured Caleb Sturgis, and long snapper Rick Lovato are not going anywhere and likely won’t even have competition in training camp. Punter, though, is another story. Donnie Jones allegedly retired, and last year’s training camp challenger, Aussie Cameron Johnston (a national champion at Ohio State), showed enough to be brought back. However, he will not be handed the job and will surely face competition.
Need level: Low-ish
Prospects: There are two excellent punting prospects in the draft, one of which – another Aussie, Texas’ Michael Dickson (pictured below), could even go somewhere during Day 1. The other – Alabama’s JK Scott (an imposing 6-5, 207) – is not far behind and can also be a viable emergency placekicker. With so few picks, and so many unemployed punters with NFL experience on the street, it is unlikely the Eagles go this route. But when you are sitting atop the mountain, seeing a different view than the other 31 teams, anything is possible.
This analysis originally ran in PhillyPhanatics.com