Wayne Gallman

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

You could make a strong case from head to toe, the NFC East is the best division in the NFL. Some may argue the NFC South, but in these parts, we are locked in on the division the Eagles call home. So let’s dive deep into the No. 1 issue for each team entering the 2017 season.

Eagles: Pass rush
We begin, naturally, with the Eagles. As has been Howie Roseman’s style since his return from exile, it was an extremely busy offseason for his club. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Ronald Darby were added to the team that went 7-9 last season. All are major upgrades from what inhabited those positions last year. 

So while I fully expect Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense to be much improved, the key to the season lies with the men up front on defense. Pass rush is the name of the game if the Eagles want to reach their first postseason since 2013. Jim Schwartz's unit was tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks – and middle of the pack isn't going to cut it again this year. A strong pass rush cures a lot of ills, specifically a secondary that, despite the addition of Darby, has major questions at cornerback. 

The NFC East is loaded with talent at receiver, not to mention the Eagles' out-of-division foes. Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan will be a force inside, but the Eagles' defensive ends need to get to the QB. If that group, including rookie Derek Barnett – the best natural pass rusher of the lot – delivers, the Eagles are a playoff team.

Cowboys: Elliott's suspension
The Cowboys have a lot of talent on offense, but Ezekiel Elliott is the straw that stirs Jerry Jones' Johnny Walker Blue. A judge blocked Elliott's six-game suspension Friday that will set the stage for the battle to play out in court. If Elliott ends up on the wrong end of a final verdict and has to miss games, what is the trickle-down effect on the rest of that offense? Dak Prescott was great in his rookie year, but he attempted only 459 passes. Compare that to Wentz's 607, and you see the impact the NFL’s leading rusher had on the entire unit. Prescott had a 23/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. An ineffective run game could cause him to throw more and increase the odds of a turnover. 

Giants: Running game
Much like the Cowboys, the Giants' return to the postseason could hinge on their running game. New York spent lavishly and wisely on defense heading into last season and it paid off in a big way. But the Giants ranked 29th in rushing. Can Paul Perkins or rookie Wayne Gallman become a consistent force? And perhaps the bigger issue is can their offensive line open up the holes? Eli Manning is now 36, and despite excellent weapons to throw to, a balance will be the key for Old Man Eli.

Redskins: New-look wideouts
To the Birds' opponent Sunday, the Redskins. They lost two productive receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. No one in the NovaCare Complex is shedding any tears over their departures (see story). Now in their place for the Redskins is a much bigger and stronger pairing in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. The question is can Pryor, the converted quarterback who burst onto the scene last year in Cleveland and signed a surprisingly low one-year deal, deliver in his new surroundings? And what kind of leap can Doctson, who played in just two games his rookie year because of an Achilles injury, make now that he’s a starter?  

Week 1 prediction: The Eagles beat the Redskins, 24-22, in a game that will come down to the final possession.           

Hudrick's 2017 seven-round Eagles mock draft 1.0

Hudrick's 2017 seven-round Eagles mock draft 1.0

Paul Hudrick's first seven-round mock draft for the Eagles in 2017 is here. In his NFL mock draft 1.0, he had the Eagles taking Washington corner Sidney Jones. With Jones suffering an Achilles injury during his pro day, the Eagles go in a different direction.

First round (14th overall (from Vikings)): Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, 6-3/259
Yes, I'm aware corner may be a bigger need, but with Washington's Sidney Jones suffering a torn Achilles, Barnett is the best player available that would also fit a need. Barnett accumulated 32 sacks in his three seasons at Tennessee. He could be the type of player that registers double-digit sacks consistently on the next level. Last I checked, the Eagles don't have a player like that on their roster.

Barnett isn't the twitchy, physical specimen of a pass rusher we've seen drafted recently. He wins more with brute strength and violent hands. He's not just a one-trick pony either. He defends the run well, setting the edge while also making plays on the ball carrier (52 tackles for a loss in his career). He tries to make up for his lack of twitch by anticipating snap counts and will get flagged for the occasional neutral zone infraction. That's something Jim Schwartz and the Eagles will likely live with.

A popular notion is that the Eagles have to take a corner, but that type of thinking has gotten them into the trouble in the past. To grab a potentially elite pass rusher at 14 is excellent value. Much more than say, a certain Florida State running back.

Second round (43rd overall) Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA, 6-0/206
In the second round, the Eagles get their corner. In a different draft, Moreau might be a first-round talent. In a stupid deep class, he slips to the second round. Moreau missed most of 2015 with a broken foot so he was actually a redshirt senior in 2016. He played and started every game this season and excelled. His 4.35 40 at the combine matched what you see on tape.

The obvious knock on Moreau will be his lack of interceptions. He picked off just three passes in 38 career games. More importantly, Moreau is excellent at mirroring receivers and has the makeup speed to not get beat deep. He's learning more and more how to use his athleticism. He'll give Schwartz plenty to work with. My knock on him would be that he needs to get a little stronger to contend with some of the bigger, more physical receivers in the NFL.

Third round (74th overall): Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado, 6-3/198
Again, with such a deep corner class, players are bound to get lost in the shuffle. With how great Washington's secondary was this year, Colorado's fantastic back end might have been overlooked in the Pac 12. Witherspoon played on the other side of Chidobe Awuzie, arguably the best corner in the conference not named Sidney Jones. Tested frequently on the opposite side, Witherspoon only had one pick but registered 19 passes defended. Proof that he was tested often and passed those tests. 

Witherspoon has prototypical size, but he also showed he can compete with faster, quicker receivers like Washington's explosive John Ross. I see Moreau and Witherspoon as an intriguing tandem. Neither player is excellent in the run game, so be prepared for a missed tackle or two. But before you moan and groan, remember that a corner's primary function is to cover receivers. Both of these guys do that well.

Fourth round (119th overall): Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech, 5-11/199
Henderson is explosive and quick. His 40 time wasn't elite (4.46) but he shows plenty of game speed. He's coming out early after having a monster junior season, hauling in 82 catches for 1,535 yards and 19 receiving touchdowns. He's also a dangerous kick returner, taking two returns to the house last season. 

He's small and his level of competition wasn't great. He's not the greatest route runner either, but he'll have time to develop behind Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Jordan Matthews. With Matthews not having a contract for next season, Henderson could be an ideal replacement for a more traditional slot. Henderson is excellent in the screen game and at making people miss in tight quarters.

Fourth round (139th overall (from Browns)): Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson, 6-0/215
Gallman seemed to be the player lost in the shuffle in Clemson's star-studded offense. He had a huge sophomore season running for 1,514 yards on 282 carries. His numbers dipped a little in 2016 because the team didn't want to overuse him. He's got the ideal size and a nose for the end zone (30 rushing TDs last two seasons combined). 

The knocks on Gallman are his lack of footwork and patience. From watching him, I'd say these concerns are slightly overblown. The Eagles are lacking a back with his physical mentality and toughness. He also has decent hands out of the backfield. 

Fifth round (155th overall): Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane, 6-1/296
It's always tougher to project guys from smaller schools to the NFL, but Smart certainly produced at Tulane. Smart's numbers went up every season. During his senior year, Smart registered 5 1/2 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. His most impressive game was probably against Houston, who was ranked for a good chunk of the season. In the loss, Smart recorded 1 1/2 sacks, 3 1/2 tackles for a loss and seven total tackles. 

Smart is a little smaller and will get pushed around a bit by bigger guards. He's better playing more of an attacking style. He struggles when he's asked to hold blockers up. With Bennie Logan headed to Kansas City, the Eagles seem committed to using the 327-pound Beau Allen on early downs. Smart could provide another option for Schwartz to get an inside push on third down.

Sixth round (194th overall): Jalen Robinette, WR, Air Force, 6-3/220
Coming from an offense that runs a ton of read option, Robinette still managed to post 959 yards on 35 catches. That's an insane 27.4 yards a catch. He also caught six of the Falcons' 14 touchdown receptions. Robinette benefitted greatly from play action, seeing a lot of man coverage and using his size and strong hands to outmuscle defensive backs for the ball.

I'm not sure if Robinette can run good routes. I'm not sure if Air Force even has a route tree. Behind more accomplished receivers, Robinette will have the opportunity to learn the nuances of the position under new receivers coach Mike Groh. His 40 time wasn't impressive (4.62), but his ball skills and size are intriguing.

Seventh round (230th overall): Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado, 6-0/204
Another part of Colorado's underrated secondary, Thompson was tied for third in the country with seven interceptions. He's a ballhawking safety with cover skills and strong instincts. 

He's not physically imposing or a big hitter. Colorado had him sort of interchange between strong and free safety. In the NFL, he'd be much better served to be a centerfielder and showing off his ball skills. Thompson falls here because of his physical profile, but his seven interceptions weren't an accident. The Eagles used a third safety a lot, having Jaylen Watkins come in with Rodney McLeod while Malcolm Jenkins went down to the slot. Having a player like Thompson out there could lead to more turnovers.

2017 NFL draft: National Championship Game prospects for the Eagles

2017 NFL draft: National Championship Game prospects for the Eagles

Hard to believe the college football season ends Monday night.

No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 2 Clemson in the CFP National Championship Game at 8 p.m. (ESPN). It's a rematch of last year's championship, which was an all-time great game. 

And just like last season, the game will be littered with NFL talent.

Here are some prospects for Eagles fans to keep an eye on Monday night:

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, redshirt junior, 6-3/225
I've seen negative reports on Williams recently, citing that he's not the "focal point" of Clemson's offense. That somehow means he's not an elite prospect? That makes little sense to me. He's been plenty productive (90 catches, 1,267 yards, 10 TDs) and is Deshaun Watson's go-to receiver. Corey Davis may be an incredibly close second, but Williams is still the best receiver prospect in this draft. His physicality and ball skills are unmatched. Remember, Williams didn't play against Alabama last year. Could he be the X-factor?

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, redshirt sophomore, 6-1/196
The matchup of Humphrey vs. Williams should be a lot of fun to watch. Humphrey has the size and physical style to compete with Williams. He also has world-class speed so Williams isn't running by him. Humphrey is one of, if not the top corner in the draft. Could he be available at No. 14 or 15? Not likely but not impossible.

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson, junior, 6-0/210
I'm out on a limb with my assessment on Gallman but I just love his game. The footwork and quickness jumping in and out of holes are so impressive. His toughness is off the charts. He carries the load for Clemson (497 carries in the last two seasons) and is also a lead blocker for Watson on many running plays. Throw in his 62 catches during his college career and you've got a complete back. If he slips out of the second round, he's a steal. He's going to help an NFL offense.

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, junior, 6-6/310
You can look at the Eagles' offensive line and consider it a relative strength when compared to some other positions. But all you have to do is look at what the Cowboys have done in building their offensive line to see that the strategy works. Robinson might be the only true "elite" offensive line prospect in this draft. If you keep Jason Peters, you can slide Robinson in at left guard and have him learn from a future HOFer. It may not be the sexiest pick, but it could go a long way in developing Carson Wentz and the offense as a whole.

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson, senior, 6-1/200
Tankersley isn't the greatest athlete, but he's physical and solid in both man and zone coverage. He also has decent ball skills (nine INTs the last two seasons). He's more likely part of the second tier in the draft, but he should be a decent NFL corner. He's also proven to be a strong leader for Clemson's defense. The matchup between Tankersley and Alabama sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley should be intriguing.

 

Also worth watching

Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson, senior, 6-3/305

With Bennie Logan's contract status uncertain, the Eagles may need to draft his replacement. You could argue that Watkins would be an upgrade with his ability to rush the passer (10½ sacks this season).

Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama, redshirt senior, 6-3/305
See above about Logan. Tomlinson is part of the NFL prospect assembly line along the Crimson Tide's D-line.

Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama, senior, 6-1/236
Can't imagine a scenario where Foster falls all the way down to the Eagles but crazier things have happened. Foster has been compared to Luke Kuechly. And those comparisons are more than fair.

Tyrone Crawford, G, Clemson, redshirt junior, 6-2/340
Crawford is massive and a bully in the run game. Another player that could help bolster the Eagles' line immediately. 

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson, junior, 5-10/190
It would behoove the Eagles to draft more than one receiver. Scott is more of a slot receiver with versatility. He's a great athlete that Clemson just looks to get the ball to in any way possible.