We will begin our draft previews of the teams around the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who posted the worst record in the division last season at 4-11-1. If not for a blockbuster three-team trade with the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins this offseason, the Eagles would have been picking at No. 6 - a draft spot that former head coach Doug Pederson and third-string QB Nate Sudfeld arguably solidified in Week 17 of last season against the Washington Football Team.
Whether you believe the Eagles threw the final game of last season or not, the lesson learned remains the same: Philly is no longer the team that won Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots in 2017. Carson Wentz was once the franchise quarterback and now he will be under center for the Indianapolis Colts. Pederson has been replaced by Nick Sirianni, who is inheriting a team that is essentially starting from scratch.
Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Eagles have no shortage of needs. Philly entered the offseason with the second-worst salary cap situation in the league. Thanks to some trades, the Eagles have the most draft capital of any team with 11 picks, a big step up from the 10 combined picks the team had in the 2018 and 2019 drafts.
Now, it is a matter of what Howie Roseman chooses to do with these selections.
Because the Eagles have so many needs, I am going to rank them based off of what I believe are their top priorities.
This is controversial because cornerback is also high on the list of holes to fill in Philly. But I am listing this position group first because the Eagles have had a hole to fill at WR for years. Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson were released this offseason. The team’s top receivers are now Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Quez Watkins and John Hightower. While this list does represent quantity, it is short on quality.
The Eagles need to add an explosive wideout to their receiving corps, not only to help improve their lackluster offense (ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in yards per game last season), but for the sake of Jalen Hurts.
The second-year QB got his chance last season when he replaced Wentz under center. He showed flashes of promise, particularly in the team’s Week 14 upset of the New Orleans Saints, and areas of concern. Philly has long prided itself on being a “quarterback factory,” but that model has not served them well in recent years. An investment in offensive weapons is simultaneously an investment in the quarterback and Hurts deserves a shot.
Not to mention, there is the possibility that Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are still on the board at No. 12. Both promise to make an immediate impact at the NFL level.
This is another major position of need for Philly and, in my opinion, the only other one they should consider filling with the No. 12 overall pick. Darius Slay will return as the team’s top cornerback, but the Eagles have lots of questions behind him. Avonte Maddox played on the outside last season, but might serve better in the slot. For this reason, the Eagles could benefit from adding a starting-caliber player.
This is where South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn enters the conversation as a potential first-round option for Philly. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Horn has the ability to make an immediate impact. The Eagles have not drafted a cornerback in the first round since 2002 and this could be the year to break the streak.
While the Eagles are lacking depth all-around, the defensive line in particular is thin. Brandon Graham is going to turn 33 years old this season and both Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat are in their contract years. Philly could use a young player at defensive tackle specifically, who can develop behind Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
The Eagles have not taken a defensive tackle before the sixth round since 2013, but with their abundance of picks in this year’s draft, that streak should be broken. Philly does not have just one position of need to fill on the defensive line but many. The Eagles should draft at least one, but preferably more than one, defensive linemen in this year’s draft.
The Eagles signed former Vikings LB Eric Wilson during the offseason, which makes this position group slightly less thin. But the linebacker corps remains one of Philly’s weaker units as Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley are not great backup options. And Wilson, for his part, was only signed to a one-year contract. As an every-down linebacker last season, he will certainly help the position group but he is not the long-term solution.
Interior offensive lineman:
Similar to the defensive line, the offensive line is poised to become weaker in upcoming years. Jason Kelce’s retirement is impending and Brandon Brooks will turn 31 this offseason. Jack Driscoll is better suited to the Eagles as a tackle and Nate Herbig is not starting material. The Eagles should be on the look out in the draft for a future starting interior lineman, either at guard or center.
Strategy is of the utmost importance for the Eagles heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. With 11 picks on the board, there is no reason Philly does not fill its major positions of need. They should trade back and/or up to choose a specific player if they can swing it, particularly in the later rounds.
Pursuing a quarterback, a goal that some believe the Eagles should pursue wholeheartedly, does not need to be top of mind. Philly is entering a rebuilding year and it has a youngster in Hurts and a veteran in Joe Flacco under center. Filling many of the other positions of need in the draft is more pressing and responsible. Drafting a group of players who can serve as a strong foundation for the team moving forward will help an Eagles organization that has lost its identity in recent years.
Eagles’ draft picks
- First round: No. 12 (from Dolphins, via 49ers)
- Second round: No. 37
- Third round: No. 70
- Third round: No. 84 (from Colts in Wentz trade)
- Fourth round: No. 123 ( from Dolphins)
- Fifth round: No. 150
- Sixth round: No. 189
- Sixth round: No. 224 (compensatory)
- Sixth round: No. 225 (compensatory)
- Seventh round: No. 234
- Seventh round: No. 240 (from 49ers)