If you listen to this past week’s PST podcast show, we left little room for doubt that the Eagles will likely pick a wide receiver in the first-round. With the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, there’s a great deal of talent available for the Birds to choose from at various positions. But I think we all know what’s coming down the pike with their first selection. While GM Howie Roseman has consistently said – and frankly, I believe him – the team will be selecting the best player on the board throughout the draft, there are certain depth needs that should and will be addressed in less than two weeks.
We’ve read the reports that head coach Chip Kelly has been visiting countless college program’s Pro Days. In fact, more than any other NFL head coach. He visited Penn State, Texas A&M, LSU, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt just to name a few. It seems obvious he’s not leaving anything unnoticed or unchecked as he looks to upgrade an already young roster with weapons on both offense and defense. The best player on the board will be taken in correlation with addressing future needs, too. We’re going to witness a balancing act.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m not going to complain once about any draft pick this year (with the exception of this organization taking a punter in the second round). We’ve seen Kelly’s work ethic, steadfast dedication to his program and overall record of accomplishment in just a little over a year with a team that really wasn’t his to begin with. Last year, he selected his first draft class. Eight players, overall. Let’s take a look at those players and where they were selected.
1st round – OT Lane Johnson
2nd round – TE Zach Ertz
3rd round – DT Bennie Logan
4th round – QB Matt Barkley
5th round – S Earl Wolff
7th round – DE Joe Kruger
7th round – CB Jordan Poyer
7th round – DE David King
With the exception of Poyer and King, the rest of this draft class are on the team as of today. Four of the top five picks had a significant positive impact or made strong dents in their level of play on the field as rookies. After one-year under their belt in the NFL and as Eagles, you’ll see Johnson, Ertz, Logan, and Wolff become better football players in the months and years ahead. The point is; Kelly knows how to draft and understands the balance between “best on the board” and “need.” This fact shouldn’t be taken lightly by any fan.
Before getting to my 2014 Eagles draft predictions and analysis, I’d first like to throw out a few possibilities of what shouldn’t surprise us from the front office as they’re making moves from Radio City Music Hall in New York. With only six draft picks, look for the Birds to seek out more. Look for them to possibly give up their second or third round pick to obtain more in later rounds. Look for them trade LB Brandon Graham, DE Vinny Curry and/or RB Bryce Brown on day two or three. I’m confident we’ll see them acquire more draft picks in some way shape or form. That being said, my position forecast will only look at the six current picks.
So, what positions will be drafted and during what rounds? Let’s be honest. It’s safe to say there’s a 90% chance a wide receiver is drafted in the first round. Defensive depth will be addressed at the linebacker and defensive backfield positions. Here are my predictions and the rationale.
Round 1: Wide Receiver – No need to over analyze.
Round 2: Linebacker – Age is factor for the linebacker corps and especially the starters; DeMeco Ryans, 29; Trent Cole, 31; Connor Barwin, 27. The starters aren’t spring chickens anymore and the LB depth chart in this 3-4 defense is rough around the edges. Jake Knott, Najee Goode, Emmanuel Acho, and Jason Phillips haven’t necessarily proven much, thus far. And I still have no idea how Casey Matthews has been on the roster this long (four seasons). There’s great linebacker talent in this draft, which defensive coordinator Bill Davis should be excited about. I’m envisioning this linebacker pick to be a rotational player during their rookie season and an eventual starter two years from now.
Round 3: Safety – As many of us know, this is one position that’s not too deep draft-wise. With a total of five safeties on the Birds roster (and Colt Anderson is still an UFA), there’s raw talent to be picked up if certain players are still available. Might this position be addressed in Round 2? Absolutely. However, the likes of Terrence Brooks (FSU), Dion Bailey (USC) or Deone Bucannon (Wash.St.) may be available and could likely help calm the waters in the backfield. Let’s not forget how important the safety position is covering tight ends in the Davis defense.
Round 4: Offensive Lineman – Sure, the Eagles likely have one of the top two or three offensive lines in the NFL. However, I’ve said before on the podcast show, this offensive line is getting old. There’s a total of nine guards and tackles. Whether a starter or within the depth chart, here’s who I’m concerned about in terms of age; Jason Peters, 32; Andrew Gardner, 28; Allen Barbre, 29; Evan Mathis, 32; Todd Herremans, 31. The average age here is statistically just over 30-years-old, and it’s time to molding future and younger blockers. While I do think we’ll end up seeing more older linemen in Kelly’s offense because of the nutrition and sports science program he brought to the NovaCare Center, you can’t thoroughly battle age. Whether this round or even prior, I’m sure a guard or tackle will be drafted.
Round 5: Tight End – What’s that? They drafted this position last year in the second round, right? So, why draft another just one-year late? I can see this as a pick where Kelly selects an offensive “toy,” as Len described a few times on the show. Inevitably, it’s a smart pick, and here’s my rationale. There are four tight ends on the roster. Emil Igwenagu has been on the team for two years and hasn’t been a factor. James Casey, who didn’t contribute anything on offense last season (kind of bizarre considering the size of his contract) and Brent Celek are both 29-years-old. Unless you’re Tony Gonzalez, I’m not a fan of tight ends in their 30’s, and I doubt Kelly is either. Once again, age is a factor. Also, he likes his offensive weapons and wants speed from his tight ends. The Zach Ertz draft pick from last year made this plainly obvious.
Round 7: Kicker – It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Alex Henery, and I think the kicking game desperately needs to be upgraded. I’ve read reports stating it’s likely Henery will remain the Eagles kicker for at least another season. No kickers were brought in during free agency to compete with him. Certainly, Kelly can look to pick up an undrafted kicker during the course of training camp. But in reality and in terms of the draft, what other kind of value can the team get with a seventh round pick? Let’s take a look at Round 7 picks over the past five years: DE Joe Kruger, CB Jordan Poyer, DE David King, RB Bryce Brown, LB Greg Lloyd, FB Stanley Havili, LB Jamar Chaney, DT Jeff Owens, S Kurt Coleman, LB Moise Fokou, G Paul Fanaika, T King Dunlap. Productivity-wise, Brown is the only significant standout from the group. If Chris Boswell (Rice) is available, he’d be a good seventh round investment and would give Henery a run for his money. Boswell was a consistent long field goal kicker at Rice. He made 13 field goals that were at least 50 yards and 3 that were longer than 55 yards. Booting the ball well within the end zone is needed since too many times this past season we saw Henery giving other teams very good field position as a result of short kicks.