Eagles

If Dalvin Cook is available, Eagles should take him and draft CB later

If Dalvin Cook is available, Eagles should take him and draft CB later

When Howie Roseman landed two receivers -- Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith -- on the first day of free agency, most folks assumed the Eagles would turn their full attention to defense in next month's NFL draft. It makes sense given their obvious needs at cornerback. They also could use another pass rusher.

But what about the Eagles using their first-round pick on a running back? I'd certainly consider it, especially if Florida State's Dalvin Cook is still on the board.

The Eagles have made it clear their No. 1 priority this offseason is to build around their young quarterback Carson Wentz. It is absolutely the right strategy. More than any other player, he represents the future of the franchise so it is incumbent upon the organization to surround him with the kind of talent that will allow him to flourish. It is great to draft a blue-chip quarterback but if you don't put good players around him you wind up like the Indianapolis Colts. They have Andrew Luck but they were 8-8 each of the last two years.

The Eagles feel they have the quarterback, now they need the other pieces. They upgraded the wide receivers with Jeffery and Smith and they added depth to the line by signing Chance Warmack. Why stop there? Why not add another weapon to the backfield? Cook would be a very good fit.

I know the argument: You don't draft running backs in the first round. The NFL is a passing league. You can find serviceable running backs later in the draft. Sometimes you can find really good ones. LeSean McCoy was a second-round pick. Brian Westbrook was a third. Wilbert Montgomery was still there in the sixth round. It is a mistake to draft one high.

That is the conventional wisdom but I think it is about to change.

Last year Jerry Jones was widely criticized for using the fourth overall pick to select Zeke Elliott, a running back from Ohio State. Of course, all Elliott did was lead the league in rushing (1,631 yards) and dramatically reshape the Dallas offense. The Cowboys went 13-3 with a first-year quarterback, Dak Prescott, and the rest of the league took notice. Elliott was the only running back chosen in the first round last year.

This year I think at least three running backs will be selected in the first round -- Cook, Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford -- and if so it would be the first time that happened since the 2012 draft (Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson). Richardson, of course, is the ultimate cautionary tale. He was a total bust who lasted just four years and now is out of football.

Fournette is a 6-foot-1 power back (he weighed 240 at the combine) who is built to be a heavy-duty, between-the-tackles runner. He will likely go somewhere in the top 10. Cook and McCaffrey are smaller, quicker backs who are equally effective in the passing game. Cook, in particular, has a skill set that would work nicely in the Eagles' offense.

Cook is 5-10 and weighed 210 at the combine. He ran a 4.49 40, which ranked seventh among running backs, but he isn't defined by his straight line speed. What sets him apart is his instinct and vision. He has a natural feel for running the football. He is patient -- much like Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh -- and he lets the blocking develop before accelerating through the hole. Those are things that can't be taught or coached. Cook does it effortlessly.

He is the all-time leading rusher at Florida State with 4,464 yards. He also caught 79 passes. He is a thicker, stronger version of Warrick Dunn, another Seminole star who played 12 seasons in the NFL. Cook doesn't have push-the-pile power, but that's OK because in the NFL, he will do most of his damage running on the edges and in the passing game, especially screens.

Try to envision the Eagles' offense with three wide receivers -- Jeffery, Smith and Jordan Matthews -- spreading the field, Zach Ertz working the middle and a slippery runner like Cook coming out of the backfield. Wentz can drop the ball off to Cook and watch as he weaves through the open field. If the idea is to put playmakers around the young quarterback, a back like Cook will complete the set.

The Eagles are expected to part ways with Ryan Mathews, which means they have Darren Sproles, a valuable but aging role player, and Wendell Smallwood, who saw limited duty last season, left in the backfield. They have to add at least one more back either through the draft or free agency. They could draft one late and hope they find another Wilbert Montgomery or Correll Buckhalter. Or they could use the No. 1 on a blue chip prospect like Dalvin Cook.

He has undergone three shoulder surgeries dating back to high school, but there weren't any medical red flags at the combine. He knocked out 22 reps on the bench press (225 pounds), which ranked fourth among all running backs. Every team will check him out thoroughly, but I have no doubt he will be a first-round pick. His explosiveness is undeniable.

The Eagles have needs in the secondary, that's for sure, but this draft is uncommonly deep in cornerbacks. There will be good ones on the board in rounds two and three and even four. The Eagles could take a running back in the first and still fill the defensive needs on Day 2 and 3.

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

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USA Today Images

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

Eagles-Redskins
8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles  favored by 4.5

The Eagles can become the first team in the NFL to six wins in 2017 — if they complete a series sweep of the NFC East rival Redskins on Monday night.

No need to pinch yourself, because you're not dreaming. At 5-1, the Eagles entered Week 7 with the league's best record. They're on a four-game winning streak and are set to kick off a three-game homestand. And the Eagles already knocked off Washington on the road in the regular-season opener, so confidence should be sky high.

With another victory over the Redskins, not only would the Eagles take a commanding three-game lead in the division standings, they also would continue to stake their claim as the hottest team in pro football.

Not the same Redskins
Back in Week 1, when the prospect of a new season gave hope to all 32 teams, Washington was a tough opponent. The Eagles would eventually win the initial meeting by a final score of 30-17, but they led by only two points until just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

But much has happened over the past month-and-a-half, and the Redskins do not appear to be as strong of an opponent now. Frankly, they've been decimated by injuries.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and kicker Dustin Hopkins went on injured reserve this week. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out as well, while fellow starting defensive backs Bashaud Breeland and Deshazor Everett are among six players listed as questionable. The questionables also include left tackle Trent Williams, who is desperately trying to delay knee surgery.

The 'Skins certainly have enough weapons on both sides of the ball that they still pose a threat. However, there's no denying their roster has been weakened by injuries, and their depth will be put to the test against the Eagles.

Bombs away
The injuries to Washington's secondary may be especially problematic, given the way the Eagles attacked this area during the previous meeting.

The Eagles managed to score 30, and seven of those were the result of a defensive touchdown, but the offense easily could've been much worse. Carson Wentz had receivers open deep down the field on multiple occasions yet repeatedly overthrew or underthrew the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith.

Wentz completed 26 of 39 pass attempts for 307 yards with two touchdowns in the opener, despite missing on some big gainers. In other words, the outcome could've been far worse.

Think Wentz will miss on those shots again should they present themselves? Don't count on it. The second-year quarterback has been connecting on a higher rate of his deep targets of late, while throwing for 526 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two contests. As long as he's in that kind of rhythm, Wentz is capable of doing some serious damage against this group.

An emerging threat
Starting running back Robert Kelley — officially questionable — remains among the many injuries to Washington this week. That being said, his absence has led to something of a silver lining in the form of a breakout season for Chris Thompson.

Thompson has sneakily become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. His 515 yards from scrimmage are less than 200 behind his career high with 11 games to play. His whopping 18.9 yards per reception were good for fourth in the NFL entering the week.

This is a so-called third-down running back, who with 340 yards receiving through five games is currently on pace to eclipse 1,000 on the season.

Thompson has become by far the Redskins' biggest weapon, leading the team through the air, rushing with 175 yards on the ground, and touchdowns with four. Find a way to slow Thompson and keep him from getting into the open field and the Eagles will likely slow the entire offense.

We're No. 1
Of course, the Eagles probably aren't too concerned about Washington running the ball against them. After all, nobody else has had much success doing so.

The Eagles may have the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense through six weeks, but that's at least partially because they boast the league's best run D. Allowing only 67.5 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles are forcing opponents to put the ball in the air, and while that's led to some statistical production, it's also played right into their hands.

One-dimensional offenses have led to plenty of opportunities in the Eagles' secondary, which entered the week tied for 11th with six interceptions. The Eagles' 14 sacks are also tied for 15th.

These aren't incredible rankings, either. Still, it goes to show what can happen when offenses are forced to repeatedly throw the ball for lack of another option against even a suspect secondary. Often times, it's an approach that will eventually lead to mistakes — like Brandon Graham's sack of Kirk Cousins that resulted in a 20-yard fumble return against Washington in Week 1.

Controlling their destiny
Washington is an opponent that's there for the taking. And as long as the Eagles take care of business, they will remain squarely in the driver's seat in the NFC East, and the entire conference for that matter.

The Eagles are the only team with two wins in the division, and the Cowboys are currently the only other team without a loss. In terms of the entire NFC, the Eagles are also a perfect 4-0 going into this game, while only the Falcons (3-0) remain unbeaten in conference play.

This game is all about control. If the Eagles control the Redskins, they will control the East, and they will be well on their way to controlling a conference that's very much up for grabs.

In other words, the Eagles need to take what is rightfully theirs on Monday.

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

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Tom Finer | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

As soon as a towel-clad Jaylen Watkins walked out of the showers and into the Eagles' locker room Thursday afternoon, his shoulders slumped and he let out a near-silent sigh. 

He approached the horde of reporters near his locker stall before he locked eyes with one who was standing directly in his space. The two chuckled as they awkwardly sidestepped each other to swap positions. 

The media contingent that covers the Eagles is one of — if not the — biggest in the entire league. That's great news for fans, who have plenty of options. 

It's not great news for Watkins, who just wants to get changed. 

See, Watkins' locker is positioned just to the left of team leader Malcolm Jenkins'. Jenkins holds court with reporters a couple times per week, which can be a slight inconvenience for Watkins and Patrick Robinson, who also shares a wall with him.

And Watkins knows whenever there's a political story in the news, reporters are going to want to talk to his outspoken teammate. 

"I guess that's what comes being next to Malcolm," Watkins said. "You get good insight on stuff, but you also have to deal with the baggage that comes with him." 

NFL locker rooms are weird places and it's not because of the nakedness. After all, locker rooms are meant for changing. But trying to change while a group of media members slowly infringes upon your personal space makes it a little strange. 

But for three 45-minute windows each week, reporters fill the room. On any given Wednesday or Thursday during the week at the NovaCare Complex, there can be as many as 30 to 40 media members in attendance. It's just a part of the deal in Philadelphia.

For Shelton Gibson, this is all new. 

The rookie receiver said reporters weren't allowed in the West Virginia locker room. They met with players in a different space.

Being placed next to Torrey Smith has been a great thing for Gibson and the two have become close. But Smith is one of those guys who draws a crowd. 

"It's funny," Gibson said. "Last week I was looking at it. It's just like, you can't interrupt. You're not hoping that he'll hurry up or anything. It's just funny because it just be a big ass [crowd] around your locker." 

While Watkins normally stands behind the media scrum, waiting for his moment to pounce, Gibson has taken a different approach. While waiting for the crowd to disperse, he takes walks. He'll find a teammate in another part of the locker room to visit. Sometimes, though, he will hang around as Smith gets interviewed. He wants to see how the veteran handles it all and he always comes away impressed. 

In the middle of the locker room, on the right side, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are neighbors. Two of the best defensive players on the team, they are both pretty popular interview subjects.

So just about every week, one of them will walk out of the showers and see a seemingly impenetrable wall of camera and recorder-holders in their way. As veterans, though, they're beyond patiently waiting. 

"It's cool, man, because I just tell everybody to move out the way," said Graham, one of the more jovial players on the team. "That's all. That's my cue to have a little fun with the reporters." 

Watkins has dealt with this long before he was placed next to Jenkins. In fact, during his first training camp in 2014, he was in a popup stall in the middle of the floor. The locker on the wall nearest to him belonged to LeSean McCoy. It used to be annoying, especially when he didn't have a good day of practice, but there's not much he can do about it. 

After practices, the coaching staff will tell the players if that day is a media day. When Watkins knows it is, he hurries into the locker room as fast as he can and if he's lucky, he gets out before Jenkins gets in. 

But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes when Watkins goes to the cold tub and for treatment, he'll get back in the room at the same exact time Jenkins is about to start answering questions. 

And then the waiting begins. 

"So I just kind of stand by the side and let it happen," Watkins said with a shrug. "I'm used to it now."