Draft needs and prospect fits for the Philadelphia Eagles

PFF Analyst John Breitenbach looks at the biggest needs for the Philadelphia Eagles in the draft after the team got reinforcements in free agency.

| 3 months ago
(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Draft needs and prospect fits for the Philadelphia Eagles

Phase one of the new regime in Philadelphia was completed successfully in 2016 as the Eagles exchanged the inadequate Sam Bradford for the promise of Carson Wentz. Quarterback of the future secured, phase two began with the arrival of wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. The playmaking overhaul, however, is as yet incomplete. The Eagles remain desperate to add a talented speedster, could use more depth on the perimeter, and need a legitimate lead back. Defensively, corner is pressing. Jim Schwartz needs at least two bodies capable of executing his jam-heavy scheme while isolated on an island on the perimeter. He further needs to re-tool a defensive line lacking a serviceable nose tackle. Here are a handful of prospects that could help.

Need: Developmental wide receiver

The additions of Jeffery and Smith were mere stop-gaps. Jeffery is only signed for one year, and Smith has not produced in a couple of seasons. Among the incumbents, Jordan Matthews is solid but nothing more, and patience with Nelson Agholor is almost spent. In order to expand the offense from head coach Doug Pederson’s conservative first-year scheme, a legitimate vertical threat is needed. Specifically, a receiver with game-breaking ability is a priority. Depending on the organization’s attitude toward retaining Jeffery over the long-term, Mike Williams could fulfil that criteria. Combining the pair sounds good on paper, but they might conflict because of the similarity in skillset. Rather, the Eagles might look to the other end of the size-speed spectrum.

Early-round target: John Ross, Washington

Assuming his medicals check out, Ross could be a steal at 14. He is an electric playmaker, with unmatched speed. The freakish wheels might have been evident at the combine, but Ross is so much more than a straight-line runner. He displays a developed skillset throughout his game, including an understanding of the subtleties of route-running. Ross wins consistently during the stem on breaking routes using a number of techniques. He understands how to press leverage and how to occupy a bailing corner’s blindspot. Double moves are a nightmare to defend. Combining Ross with Jeffery and Matthews would restore the corps to respectability.

Mid- or late-round target: Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse

Etta-Tawo is a genuine one-year wonder, transitioning from underwhelming recruit to the ACC’s leading receiver in a single year. Transferring to Syracuse proved a masterstroke, as Etta-Tawo cruised to a 1,500-yard, 14-touchdown season. The Orange’s veer-and-shoot offense catapulted their top receiver into conversations around in the 2017 class. Although featuring in an aggressive, vertical system boosted his stock, to say his route tree was rudimentary would be an understatement. Despite requiring an adjustment to a pro-style offense, Etta-Tawo’s raw tools are mouth-watering. He has good speed, is ultra-competitive at the catch point, and breaks tackles on screens and other underneath routes. Etta-Tawo’s potential makes the gamble worthwhile.

Need: Starting interior defender

Bennie Logan was not the best scheme fit in Jim Schwartz’s aggressive front. He suits a more passive, rather than penetrative, style. The loss of Logan, however, opens a large hole in the Eagles’ base package. One-gap schemes place great responsibility on the defensive tackles to make plays consistently, because the linebackers are regularly exposed at the second level. Beau Allen is capable in a rotation, but is some way short of starting quality. Paying Cox $100 million has depleted the potential funds for a deal with free agent Jonathan Hankins. Fortunately, the 2017 class has a variety of options.

Early-round target: Solomon Thomas, Stanford

If the Eagles opt to address their need directly, Thomas would represent an excellent option. His blend of strength and athleticism makes an interior role in the base-package plausible. Thomas is far from the stoutest against double teams, but his powerful hands and quickness off the snap suit the style Schwartz demands. The Stanford product’s incredible instincts also shine. He may not wow the way Malik McDowell can at times, but his consistency collapsing the pocket with power is impressive nonetheless. Thomas’ range of skills would make him an excellent selection at 14 overall.

Mid- or late-round target: Larry Ogunjobi, UNC Charlotte

Ogunjobi is a beacon for the new Charlotte 49ers’ programme. Just being selected will be an achievement, but Ogunjobi has the talent to emerge as an NFL starter. Despite his size, he moves surprisingly well, impressing with his first step in particular. The next phase in snaps, initial contact, is equally inspiring for Ogunjobi’s prospects. He delivers violent blows with heavy hands, nullifying offensive momentum of even multiple blockers at times. Gutting the Eagles’ one-gap scheme would be a different proposition with Ogunjobi manning the middle.

Need: Corner (or two)

Such is the state of the cornerback position, the Eagles can ill-afford to emerge from the first three rounds without at least one body to add to the mix. Ideally, the organization would enter the draft without such a desperate need at any position. However, years of mistakes, in free agency in particular, have left the unit seriously depleted. A starting pair of Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson could plausibly be a downgrade on the 2016 combination of Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. An upgrade is also required at nickel, a position currently manned by Ron Brooks. Expect the Eagles to go hard and heavy in this stacked corner class.

Early-round target: Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson

Tankersley’s development has been a joy to behold through his two starting seasons at Clemson. Young corners are tested early and often in the ACC, but Tankersley held his own in 2015. Overall, he was excellent that year, yet he only emerged as a legitimate first-round pick through his performances last season. Tankersley is a long, versatile defender, capable of nullifying college football’s top receivers. He possesses outstanding press technique, transitions fluidly and is gifted with excellent ball skills. The Clemson corner could also execute the zone elements of Schwartz’s varied scheme because of his marvellous instincts and physicality attacking the line of scrimmage. Tankersley is right atop the second tier of corners.

Mid- or late-round target: Desmond King, Iowa

A disappointing Senior Bowl week hurt King’s reputation somewhat, but his performances at Iowa make him a tantalizing prospect. Covering long-developing crossing routes man to man is amongst a corner’s most difficult assignments, yet King thrived in those situations. He used his long frame to reject inside-breaking routes on a consistent basis in 2016. While King is most natural mixing it up physically at the line of scrimmage, he also possesses excellent zone awareness. He could legitimately thrive in a predominantly cover two or cover three scheme. At worst, he’ll be a dominant nickel option.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Developmental wide receiver? Teams have little interest in investing developmental time on players that aren’t either QBs or OL these days. If your a WR your expected to make a contribution from the get go.

  • Bob B

    The Eagles have absolutely no shot at getting Soloman Thomas, so why do a writeup on him? The players in this article seem random and hastily chosen.

  • Patrick

    I agree with the need to draft a WR. But Ross at 14 is ludicrous. Eagles fan here. A lot less polished than DJax. He is a 2nd round talent due to the development needed. Big reach and high chance of bust in 1st round. After busting on Agholor a couple years ago that wouldn’t go over well in Philly.

    Also agree with interior defender and CBs. They really could use another starting player on the DLine opposite Graham and Cox. Curry, Marcus Smith, etc. have busted so far.

    RB is a big need, but not in the 1st round.

  • Sifter

    Well done John, thanks for taking on the thankless task of putting together a draft needs piece. No one ever agrees with you, not even polite people such as I. But it’s fun to discuss!
    From my POV, the Eagles already have 3 developmental receivers in T.Smith, J.Matthews, and N.Agholor (maybe even 4 in Green-Beckham). None are playing to their potential, and all need to improve. I think the Eagles did the best they could this offseason, but if they draft an unpolished WR it’s like they are throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. They keep changing WR coaches, so maybe one of those will stick too.
    They just traded for Timmy Jernigan, so that shakes up the need for a DT. Maybe they’ll still draft someone, since he only has one year left on contract, but it’s a thought provoking move at least. Maybe a Jernigan/Beau Allen platoon could do OK opposite Fletcher Cox. Not great, but acceptable.
    Unfortunately, the biggest need otherwise is probably RB, and as a believer in the ‘you can get a RB anywhere’ theory, I’d hate to see the Eagles spend a lot of draft resources on one.
    So I guess it’s a CBs I’m hoping for, early and often, and we’ll see who drops to number 14!

    • Patrick

      Jernigan was a great and cheap pickup. Solidifies the DLine. As long as the rotation at DE across from Graham picks up the slack it should help out the secondary immensely.

      It all depends on what falls to the Eagles at 14 imo. But Ross and McCaffrey are not pick 14 talents and would be huge reaches in the 1st round. I hope a top tier CB or pass rusher prospect falls to them at 14. Or maybe one of the best OLine prospects falls to 14.

    • Patrick

      Jernigan was a great and cheap pickup. Solidifies the DLine. As long as the rotation at DE across from Graham picks up the slack it should help out the secondary immensely.

      It all depends on what falls to the Eagles at 14 imo. But Ross and McCaffrey are not pick 14 talents and would be huge reaches in the 1st round. I hope a top tier CB or pass rusher prospect falls to them at 14. Or maybe one of the best OLine prospects falls to 14.