Eagles

Top Eagles positional needs heading into the draft

Eagles

The NFL Draft begins later this week and the Eagles enter the draft with 10 total picks and several big positional holes to fill.

Of course, last week, Howie Roseman warned against forcing picks to fill needs.

“You can't really predict what other teams are going to do and you can't be in a situation where you have to do something,” Roseman said last week. “Certainly, when you look at some of the mistakes that I've made personally, it's because you try to force something. So, you can only do what the board allows you to do.”

Roseman after the big wave of free agency around the league, tried to explain the Eagles’ relative inactive by saying they wouldn’t want to block any talented young players from seeing the field. This is all pretty hard to balance because the Eagles enter this draft with some pretty clear needs that either need to be filled with the draft or with what’s left in free agency.

For this exercise, I removed the specialists positions because it’s relatively unlikely the Eagles will use a pick on one, although they need an upgrade at punter. And we’ve also removed the QB position because it’s just too divisive and it seems pretty clear that the Eagles are sticking with Jalen Hurts in 2022 anyway.

With all that in mind, here’s how I’d rank the rest of the Eagles’ needs from most pressing to least:

1. Cornerback

If the season began today, the Eagles would have Darius Slay starting as their CB1, Avonte Maddox as the nickel and then a bunch of young and unproven cornerbacks fighting for that all-important CB2 spot. Maybe Zech McPhearson is great or maybe Tay Gowan, Kary Vincent or Mac McCain could take over that role. But that’s asking a lot for players who were all Day 3 picks or undrafted. The Eagles had veteran Steven Nelson fill that CB2 role last year and while he wasn’t great, he was solid. And it allowed Avonte Maddox to take his rightful position inside. The cornerback starting opposite Slay is a big deal for this defense, especially as he follows top receivers from side to side. Not only does CB2 have to feel comfortable flipping sides of the field; he also has to stand up to seeing a ton of passes thrown his way if offenses want to avoid the veteran Pro Bowler on the other side.

 

The Eagles haven’t taken a first-round cornerback since Lito Sheppard back in 2002. But maybe 20 years later, it’s time to go that route again if the value lines up with Derek Stingley, Andrew Booth or Trent McDuffie. If not, then there will be some decent Day 2 options as well.

2. Safety

This is another obvious need for the Eagles going into this season. They have Anthony Harris back on a one-year deal but Rodney McLeod left in free agency. That would leave Harris and veteran Marcus Epps as the starters with K’Von Wallace as the top backup. Could they get by with that? I guess. But the Eagles after the 2021 season needed to improve their safety position and they haven’t done that; in fact, they’ve gotten worse because they let McLeod walk after a strong second half of his season. Tyrann Mathieu is still out there on the open market but the Eagles will be more desperate if they don’t leave this draft with an early-round safety.

Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is the top safety in this class and might be out of their range even with a potential trade up. Besides, the Eagles have never drafted a first-round safety. But there is a strong group of safeties expected to go in Round 2.

3. Edge rusher

The Eagles added Haason Reddick this offseason on a three-year deal and that will definitely help an Eagles defense that had just 29 sacks last season. The Eagles are calling Reddick a linebacker but his primary role as their SAM linebacker will be to rush the passer. Even with that addition, the Eagles still need more edge rusher help. They have Josh Sweat as one of their starters and he’s a young Pro Bowler. After that, they have 33-year-old Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett back on a cheaper two-year deal. That’s not enough.

If the Eagles trade up in the first round, they might be able to get one of the top edge rushers in this class like Jermaine Johnson or Kayvon Thibodeaux. That would be a big win, especially with how important this position is to them. Even if they don’t take an edge player in Round 1, it’s hard to imagine them getting through Day 2 without one.

 

4. Receiver

DeVonta Smith is a starter and the Eagles hope he’ll be a star. But after him, the Eagles still have a need at receiver. As bullish as the Eagles are on Quez Watkins as a No. 2, he has one year of solid production as a former sixth-round pick. After that, they added Zach Pascal as a solid but unexciting depth player. And they can’t really count on Jalen Reagor going forward.

The Eagles could very well use a first-round pick on a receiver for the third straight year. But if they want to wait it out, there are receivers on Day 2 and even some on Day 3 who will be good players at the next level. There will be many options all three days of the draft. Some of the names in the first round are Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Drake London and Treylon Burks.

5. Defensive tackle

Sure, the Eagles appear to be in a good spot on the interior of their defensive line with Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Milton Williams. But Cox and Hargrave aren’t under contract beyond this season and as promising as Williams’ rookie season was, it’s hard to know exactly how high his ceiling is. Not only is this a position of need, but it’s also a position that the Eagles value quite a bit.

The Eagles haven’t drafted a defensive tackle in the first round since Cox back in 2012. But one of the Georgia tackles — Jordan Davis or Devonte Wyatt — might be worth it this year. If not, there are plenty of decent options throughout the draft class.

6. Linebacker

It’s hard to remember the last time linebacker wasn’t an extremely pressing need. But the Eagles bring back T.J. Edwards coming off a career season and then they added Kyzir White as a free agent this offseason. It’s just a one-year deal for White but he has the chance to earn an extension if he gets off to a good start. And even thought we don’t know how good he can be, if Davion Taylor can at least stay on the field, he showed some promising signs in Year 2 in 2021.

The Eagles haven’t drafted an off-ball linebacker in the first round since 1979. Perhaps Devin Lloyd (Utah) or Nakobe Dean (Georgia) could stop that streak. If not, the value might be there in Rounds 2 or 3.

7. Tight end

This is a sneaky need for the Eagles. Dallas Goedert is their TE1 and is a borderline top 5 tight end in the NFL. But their top No. 2 tight end in the second half last season was UDFA Jack Stoll, who caught just four passes. Their No. 3 tight end was Tyree Jackson, who tore his ACL in the regular season finale. Getting an NFL-ready tight for an offense that was in 12 personnel as much as the Eagles last year seems like a wise thing to do.

 

It’s unlikely there will be a first-round tight end in 2022, but this is an overall pretty solid class of tight ends. The Eagles will have a chance to add a pretty decent one even if they wait until Day 3.

8. Interior offensive line

Yes, the Eagles lost Brandon Brooks this offseason when the three-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement. But Brooks had played just two games over the last two seasons anyway. The Eagles still have Landon Dickerson, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Nate Herbig, Sua Opeta and Jack Driscoll to play the interior positions.

Could the Eagles draft a backup who can be a starter next season as center or guard? Sure. Based on how much they value the offensive line, that wouldn’t be shocking. But they don’t have to feel any pressure to do so this week unless they get great value.

9. Running back

Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell all return for the 2022 season so the Eagles are in pretty good shape. Of course, Scott is on a one-year deal and Sanders is under contract through just this upcoming season. So if the Eagles want to draft Sanders’ eventual replacement, that could happen. If not, they’re most likely looking for another rotational back to throw into the mix; one who could potentially replace Jordan Howard, who is still a free agent.

It’s not a bad idea for the Eagles to draft a running back in Day 3 like they did last year with Gainwell, who had a nice role as a rookie. This time, perhaps they can find more of a bruiser.

10. Offensive tackle

The Eagles have both left tackle Jordan Mailata and right tackle Lane Johnson under contract through the 2025 season. If they can stay healthy, the Eagles have two Pro Bowl-caliber bookends for the next four seasons. Even beyond them, they still have Andre Dillard (although he could be traded), Le’Raven Clark and Driscoll as their backups.

If the Eagles want to deal Dillard, however, they could be looking for a backup swing tackle in this year’s draft. That could become a very important piece. But it’s hard to call this a need right now.

Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube