Ranking the Eagles Draft Needs
The Eagles are in an ideal position heading into this week’s NFL Draft, with no positions of glaring need. As general manager Howie Roseman pointed out, the Eagles are striving to take the best player available when they pick.
With that in mind, the Eagles do still have positions of less immediate need. Philadelphia also has positional that are so strong it would be foolish to waste a first round choice on them. Here’s a list of the Eagles biggest needs:
1. Linebacker – The Eagles addressed their linebacker need already by acquiring DeMeco Ryans from the Texans in exchange for a fourth round pick and a swap of third-round picks. Ryans will man the middle, but the outside linebacker positions still remain the Eagles most immediate need.
Pencil Jamar Chaney in for one or the other, which leaves Keenan Clayton, Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews, Moise Fokou and Akeem Jordan competing for the other spot.
The Eagles may be content going with that group, given the upgrade they already made at the MIKE, but they would be wise to grab another playmaker for their most neglected unit of recent time.
Due to the Eagles aversion to drafting linebackers in the first round, it seems more likely that they go after one in the second round.
2. Defensive Tackle – It doesn’t jump off the charts as an immediate need, but the Eagles don’t have a lot of youth at the position. Cullen Jenkins is 31, Mike Patterson is 28 and Antonio Dixon is 26 and has had frequent injury problems. Derek Landri is 28 and Cedric Thornton is 23 but remains a relative long shot to be a impact player at the NFL level.
Jenkins wore down towards the end of the season, as his numbers dropped off and Patterson has consistently been underrated and solid, but not spectacular. Patterson also underwent brain surgery this offseason to repair his brain AVM.
The Eagles have used first round picks on defensive tackles three times in the past, selecting Corey Simon in 2000, Patterson in 2005 and Brodrick Bunkley in 2006.
3. Defensive End – The Eagles also place a lot of importance on their pass rushers, and love to spend early picks on their offensive and defensive lines. While they had a fantastic pass rush last season, Jason Babin is 31, Trent Cole is 29 and there isn’t a lot of proven top-level depth behind them.
Darryl Tapp is 27 and seems on the verge of a strong season, but had trouble staying healthy last year after showing similar signs. Brandon Graham is only 24, but hasn’t proven himself yet at the NFL level. This will be a key season for Graham, the Eagles first round choice of 2010, but it wouldn’t hurt to add some quality depth to the position with a pick in the top three rounds.
If they don’t like what’s available at defensive tackle or linebacker in the first round, taking a defensive end there isn’t out of the question given defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s penchant for rotating two four-man units along the line.
4. Offensive Line – The Eagles offensive line was set for the next few years before the Achilles injury to Jason Peters. The Birds patched the hole with Demetress Bell, but could still ad some youth at tackle.
Peters is 30 and will now be coming off of a major injury next year and Bell is 27 and needs to prove that he can consistently play at a high level this year after struggling with injuries and inconsistent play in Buffalo.
At right tackle, Todd Herremans is 29, and King Dunlap backs up both spots. Dunlap is 26, but his peak has probably already been reached as a career backup based on the apparent lack of interest he received on the free agent market. It would make sense to infuse some youth at tackle.
Jason Kelce appears to have the center position locked down for the foreseeable future at 24 years of age, while last year’s first round choice Danny Watkins should be the right guard for a few more years as he’s 27.
That leaves 30-year-old Evan Mathis at left guard, so the Eagles could consider using a pick to add a backup who can play both guard and center and be developed to take over for Mathis in a few years.
5. Running Back – The Eagles are obviously set with LeSean McCoy for the foreseeable future, but they will be looking for a backup after the departure of Ronnie Brown.
While Dion Lewis shows promise as a change of pace back, the Birds may not want to count on the 5-foot-8, 195 pound back to handle the bulk of the carries in the event of an injury to McCoy. That means they’ll likely add another running back in either the draft or free agency.
6. Kick/Punt Returner – Although the Eagles do have options in the return game, DeSean Jackson is not likely to be returning many punts after signing a five-year, $51 million extension. It would make sense for the Eagles to only use Jackson on key returns late in games, much like they did with Brian Westbrook after he blossomed into a featured back.
With Jackson out of the mix, that leaves Chad Hall and Jeremy Maclin as returning Eagles who fielded punts last year. Maclin falls into the same category as Jackson, and Hall didn’t provide any explosiveness.
On kick returns, Dion Lewis was lackluster at best and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only returned two kicks before suffering an injury. With the Eagles expected to trade Asante Samuel, Rodgers-Cromartie’s health is too important to risk. Hall returned two kicks, but again the Eagles are likely looking for more explosiveness.
It would be nice if the Eagles could find a running back who fits their needs and can provide a boost in the return game. If not, they may just take the best returner available somewhere in the middle rounds.
7. Quarterback – The Birds are in an interesting spot at the quarterback position. They could get out of the Michael Vick contract after this season if they aren’t happy with his performance. They could also opt to keep him around for three more seasons, which means that their current confidence in keeping Vick long-term is paramount in where the position falls amongst their needs.
Behind Vick, the Eagles have Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards. It’s no lock that Edwards will be on the roster after camp, especially if the Eagles do take a quarterback in the middle rounds.
With Kafka going into his third season, the Eagles will have to decide whether they plan to keep him as a long-term backup, attempt to trade him and develop another prospect behind Vick or put off the decision for another year. A.J. Feeley was traded after three seasons, while Kevin Kolb was traded after his fourth year.
If the Eagles are confident in Vick, they’ll likely plan for Kafka and Edwards to battle for the backup spot and may only consider taking a quarterback in the very late rounds. If they believe they are likely to move on from Vick after this season, the Birds could go for a signal caller in the first three rounds.
Almost anything could happen here, which makes it an intriguing storyline.
8. Cornerback – The Eagles are pretty well set at cornerback with Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson returning and Asante Samuel likely to be dealt in the next few days. The Birds do have some young depth at the position, but with Asomugha and Hanson both hitting the not-so-magical age of 30, Philadelphia may want to add another youngster to the mix.
9. Safety – Many rank this amongst the Eagles top five needs, but after spending second round picks on Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett in back-to-back years, the Eagles need to find out what they’ve got at the position. Kurt Coleman should provide a solid backup for years to come and can step in and handle the starting job for a few weeks when needed.
The Eagles are likely to consider adding a veteran to the mix between now and training camp, but if they lack confidence in Allen and Jarrett, they could opt to draft another young safety in the fourth round or later. Anything earlier than that would be admitting a big mistake at the position in the previous two drafts.
10. Tight End – Brent Celek is only 27 and still playing at a high level, while Clay Harbor continued to improve last year and provides a good second option. The Eagles have been using increasingly more double tight end sets, though, and might consider taking a flyer on a tight end in the middle-to-late rounds.
11. Wide Receiver – The Eagles already have a young, deep receiving corp. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson should be the Birds starters for years to come barring any serious injuries, and Jason Avant is among the best slot receivers in the league. Avant is the elder statesman of the group at 29 years of age, and the Eagles have some size in the 6-foot-3, 222 pound Riley Cooper.
Don’t count out Mardy Gilyard, who checks in at 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds. The former Cincinnati Bearcat was a fourth round pick in St. Louis, but lost his roster spot before the 2011 season. Gilyard caught 87 passes for 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior year of college and might be a diamond in the rough for the Birds.
Barring a late-round best player available, the Eagles don’t need any wide receivers. Still, they could very well end up adding one relatively earlier if their search for a kick and punt returner leads them to the wide receiver position.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.