Since the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, they have tried to maintain their winning form. But each season since has seen a steady decline, as the Eagles lost in the divisional round the next season and dropped the wild card game a year ago.
Yet, the Eagles’ run to the playoffs last season was an improbable success, relatively speaking. They did play in what was the worst conference in football in 2019, but the team managed to string together wins despite injuries. DeSean Jackson and veterans Alshon Jeffrey and Darren Sproles all went down last season and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside struggled. Yet after dropping three straight in the second half of the season, the Eagles closed out 2019 with a four-game winning streak that included an overtime victory over the New York Giants and a clutch 17-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The leadership of Doug Pederson’s coaching staff has guided the Eagles to the playoffs the past three years. But Philly will be without many of their long-time on-field leaders this season, including Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and veteran Ronald Darby.
These changes to the Eagles roster signal that, though Philly is the defending NFC East champ, they will not be winning games the same way they once were. As Philly looks to recreate a winning team, focus will shift to acquiring more offensive weapons for Carson Wentz in the 2020 NFL Draft.
As I mentioned, the slew of injures to the Eagles offense has severely limited Wentz’s offensive targets. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, once one of the Eagles’ most reliable red-zone weapons, has been involved in trade rumors throughout the offseason. While it is still uncertain what Philly will do with Jeffrey, who is coming off of two injury-prone seasons, it would be smart for them to unload his $15.4M salary in 2020.
Tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz are among the best in the league but Wentz needs some consistent play makers on offense.
The biggest failure of the Eagles’ free agency was not picking up a wide receiver. Philly watched idly by as DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and Brandin Cooks all headed to new teams. Perhaps the Eagles did not pursue a wide receiver too heavily during free agency because they wanted to wait to draft someone out of this historically talented wide receiver draft class.
Philly should also look to add a safety, edge rusher, linebacker or cornerback as these are all positions they would like to improve upon in the later rounds of the draft.
The Eagles own the No. 21 overall pick in the draft. General manager Howie Roseman has long preached the tenet of selecting the “best player available,” at a position of relative need. After five years as the GM, it seems unlikely that Roseman is going to change his ways for the 2020 NFL Draft.
In order to analyze the possibilities for the Eagles’ first round, we must first consider potential trades. Mock drafts have Philly trading down and trading up. Let’s start with the rumors surrounding Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
Like Washington’s Trent Williams, Ngakoue has gone public this offseason with his demands to be traded from the Jaguars. The Eagles seem like a potential good fit for Ngakoue, who is only 25 years old and recorded 37.5 sacks in four seasons. But is he worth the price? Philly would likely have to sacrifice its top two picks or at least their No. 1 and 3. Without those picks, Philly’s chances of drafting one of the draft’s top receivers seems less likely. There are many wide receivers options in this draft class, but the Eagles should try to pick the best one they possibly can because of their need at that position.
That being said, a more likely scenario involves trading up. The top receivers in the draft, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III, will probably all be gone by the time the Eagles pick at No. 21. A more plausible trade scenario therefore involves a strategy in which Philly tries to acquire one of these top-tier play makers.
If the Eagles decide not to trade up or down though, LSU’s Justin Jefferson is Philly’s top first-round target. He may not be Jeudy, Lamb or Ruggs, but Jefferson has the potential to make an immediate and explosive impact wherever he lands.
I might be hammering the wide receiver need too much at this point, but I think it is safe to expect the Eagles to pick up another WR in the later rounds.
Depending on where the Eagles try to draft a receiver, Memphis’ Antonio Gibson, Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr., and Rhode Island’s Isaiah Coulter are some late-round sleepers to consider. Gibson and Bowden showed versatility in college as Gibson acted as a sort of running back receiver and Bowden even played quarterback when needed for the Wildcats.
With eight picks in the draft, Philly should also look to shop for a safety, edge rusher, linebacker or cornerback, as these are all positions of need. At both the cornerbacker and linebacker positions especially, Philly could benefit from adding some youth. Of course, the Eagles added standout CB Darius Slay from the Detroit Lions but they could use an upgrade from Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. As far as the linebacker position, Philly has a solid front seven but should look to add a fresh face in the later rounds if the situation allows for it.
It is more difficult to feel confident about what a team like the Eagles will get out of the draft because so much can happen between the No. 1 and No. 21 picks. Factor in the trade possibilities Philly might indulge in and the outcome for the draft becomes even murkier. That being said, I believe that the best-case scenario for the Eagles is choosing an elite receiver. Trading up to pick someone like Henry Ruggs would be cause for celebration but adding a player like Justin Jefferson would also be a strong step in the right direction for the Eagles offense.