Here are the biggest questions Eagles fan will be asking and debating over the next few months:
- Should the Eagles draft a top-tier cornerback?
- Should the Eagles acquire a cornerback in free agency?
- Should the Eagles draft a top-tier offensive lineman?
- Should the Eagles acquire an offensive lineman in free agency?
- Should the Eagles draft a top-tier wide receiver?
- Should the Eagles acquire a wide receiver in free agency?
- Should the Eagles draft a top-tier running back?
- Should the Eagles acquire a running back in free agency?
These eight questions will be deliberated and discussed until we’re all blue in the face. It’s going to happen because that’s what Eagles fans do. And we’ve been doing it for way too long, season after season over the past decade. The offseason will be here before we know it. So, let’s look into it, decipher and try to prioritize the best steps the Eagles front office can take to continue their rebuild.
When looking at the running back position, I’m getting a strong impression and feeling that Wendell Smallwood is going to play a larger and expanded role next year. Call it gut instinct, but he may actually become the featured back since he’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 77 attempts. Not bad for a rookie. Ryan Mathews is as good as gone via trade or a straight out release. The role Darren Sproles will continue to play on this team doesn’t command 16-20 touches per game. Kenjon Barner might be the odd man out since his role has diminished significantly throughout the season. Howie Roseman may look to add a running back in free agency or the draft, but the thought moving forward may be to enhance Smallwood’s productivity and snap count out of the backfield. They’ll look to develop him more into the featured back position.
So that leaves us with the cornerback, offensive lineman and wide receiver positions. My prediction is that we will see one of each drafted and we will see one of each position, if not more, getting picked up in free agency. In terms of prioritizing, The offensive lineman position should be second or third on this list. Hear me out.
Look, I’ve said on our podcast show I think the NFL is becoming less of a “quarterback league” and more of an “offensive lineman” league. Case and point, the Dallas Cowboys and the successes they’re seeing this year. They’ve been building that dominant offensive line for the past three years. Roseman made a good decision taking offensive linemen in rounds three and five this past draft considering they only had a few picks. Isaac Seumalo (third-round) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (fifth-round) have a great chance of being starters on this offensive line in the future. Both rookie players are showing they can be developed and that’s a key element we have to keep in mind. Perhaps the front office can target a guy in free agency like Byron Bell from the Titans. Yes, he’s been on IR all season, but if he’s able to come back healthy, he’s a good option the Eagles could potentially get at a bargain. This is why I would hesitate to draft an offensive lineman in the first round. The Eagles have effective and very efficient options moving forward. When looking at the wide receiver and cornerback positions, however, the Eagles have far fewer options.
Jaylen Mills and Nolan Carroll seem to be the only two cornerbacks the Eagles should keep on their roster after the season concludes. Mills has shown us that he’s an up and comer as well as aggressive on the field even though he’s not perfect in coverage by any stretch of the imagination. There’s still much for him to learn. Carroll had a nice first half of the season, but has fallen flat in recent weeks. He’s a veteran , though, and the Eagles need to retain someone. It would surprise me if Leodis McKelvin, C.J. Smith, and Ron Brooks (who’s on IR) have a future long-term with this Eagles team.
For some reason, the front office just hasn’t been able to hone in on and draft a dependable, solid cornerback for years. They’ve been striking out badly ever since the latter part of Andy Reid’s tenure and certainly within the recent Chip Kelly years. Even free agents such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher didn’t panned out. This team desperately needs a young and skilled cover corner that can keep up with the Dez Bryants and Odell Beckhams of the NFL. Free agency is very thin at this position in 2017, but it still wouldn’t surprise me to see a few new faces acquired by Roseman and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The real question we need to decipher, is drafting a cornerback the best use of a first-round pick?
For sure, finding a top cover corner will be a critical priority in the draft. It’s not easy to find the next Richard Sherman. But at this point, the scouting department should be looking at the second-round, an ideal place for the Eagles to set their sights on to get that strong cornerback of the future. Why not draft two cornerbacks in 2017? It’s an option they’ll need to look at in terms of value and talent. Now, why am I thinking the second-round for a cornerback? Because I still believe this team needs to draft a player they deem to be an elite wide receiver with their first overall pick.
Roseman decided to invest a great deal of resources in Carson Wentz, the quarterback of the future. Now they need to provide him and the offense talent to grow and prosper. He cannot grow by simply throwing to slot receivers on the field. That’s what Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham are. I’m not disparaging these receivers, but the analysis of what kind of players they are provides us the reality that Wentz cannot mature and flourish on this professional stage with only slot receiver talent. As with the cornerback position, this team desperately – and I mean DESPERATELY – needs to draft a top-tier wide receiver who will be a threat in the end zone.
Here’s how I’m prioritizing the wide receiver position. The way offenses are structured today in the NFL, teams are lining up in a 3×1 set (three receivers to one side, one to the other). Effective pass play calling, which we’ve seen from a number of teams, has the “X iso” receiver (the lone receiver on one side) winning his matchup. But we’re not seeing this from the Eagles because they don’t have that kind of receiver. Therefore, it’s almost impossible for them to be consistently effective in man coverage – hence the screens we see every single game. The problem is the imbalance on the offensive side of the ball with wide receivers not being able to get separation. That’s what it comes down to. Consequently, the consistent ineffective imbalance in the passing game (and you could also argue in the run game) has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense. As a result, the defensive unit continues slipping further and further week after week. This is cyclical and we see the domino effect of not having a top-tier wide receiver filter itself down to defensive struggles. This is why I believe it is so imperative and critical for the Eagles to draft early a young wide receiver who can grow with Wentz.
Of course, the front office will almost certainly acquire a veteran receiver in free agency. We’re all eager to find out who it will be. Depending on who that talent is, it might lower the draft priority for a wide receiver, but I hope not.
Listen, all four positions mentioned are critical to the rebuild of this team. Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jordan Hicks, and Fletcher Cox; these are players who could arguably be considered top-tier NFL players. These are the only true playmakers the Eagles have – and two of these guys are offensive linemen. Howie Roseman’s first and only priority is finding elite talent in the offseason at the aforementioned positions. Of course, that’s easier said than done. As history tell us, teams should not build through free agency. That’s why this upcoming draft is so critical for a team who’s rebuild is, thus far, going pretty well.