Seven post-draft thoughts about the Eagles

NFL Combine Football-30042017-0005
Washington defensive back Sidney Jones catches the ball during a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, March 6, 2017.

1) Evaluating a draft after 24 hours could be a futile endeavor, but I’ll nonetheless give my take: The success of this draft will be determined by Sidney Jones’ recovery and eventual return. A second-round pick is a valuable asset that could often provide a Day 1 contributor, and four of the next 25 picks were cornerbacks who are not coming off significant injuries. Clearly, there is extraordinary potential value in selecting Jones, who was undoubtedly a high- to mid-first-round talent before the injury. So the pick has “boom” potential. But the six teams that drafted cornerbacks ahead of him know how good Jones is; they also know the risk in returning from an Achilles injury.

There’s a school of thought that the Eagles should have waited until the third round. I understand that, although it doesn’t sound as if the Eagles or Jones thought he would have been available in the third round. (Jones said he thought he would go within seven picks of the Eagles.) Plus, if you really want a player, it’s better a round too early than a pick too late. So the second round is a good time to take him if they’re confident in his return.

Time will tell how Jones recovers and if he can become the player he appeared to be in college. Meanwhile, watch Indianapolis’ Quincy Wilson, Detroit’s Teez Tabor, Dallas’ Chidobe Awuzie, and San Francisco’s Ahkello Witherspoon – they all could have been cornerback possibilities at No. 43. Plus, there was always the trade-up possibility to take running back Dalvin Cook, or the opportunity to select Joe Mixon or Alvin Kamara.

2) Speaking of cornerbacks, the player with the best chance of being a Week 1 starter is third-round pick Rasul Douglas. This is not to take away from Derek Barnett, but remember 2012 when first-round pick Fletcher Cox was the top rookie and second-rounder Mychal Kendricks was best positioned to start on Day 1 because of the depth chart.

The depth chart at cornerback is wide open. Jalen Mills is a front-runner to start, and then Patrick Robinson, Dwayne Gratz, Ron Brooks, and C.J. Smith are the other options. That’s a group that the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Douglas can top. Plus, Douglas is a true outside cornerback with his size and press ability. The Eagles have some inside-outside combinations among the other cornerbacks on the depth chart, giving Douglas the chance to win a starting role on the outside. And the third round isn’t late to find a rookie starter at the position. Of the six rookie cornerbacks who were primary starters last season, three went in the third round or later.

3) Even if Douglas is in the best position to start, look for Barnett to be a significant contributor. In addition to Barnett's talent, the Eagles like to rotate at that position, and defensive ends Vinny Curry and Chris Long have the ability to rush from inside on passing downs to get Barnett on the field, too.

Poll

What is the Eagles’ biggest weakness after the draft?

The Eagles totaled 2,169 defensive snaps among their defensive ends last season. Brandon Graham played 775 snaps, Connor Barwin played 713, Vinny Curry played 435, Marcus Smith played 218, Steven Means played 36, and Bryan Braman played three. Take Barwin out of that group. Give more snaps to Curry, give a good chunk of snaps to Long, but take a few snaps away from Graham and maybe more than a few away from Smith. There will be playing time for Barnett, who should not be considered purely a look-to-the-future pick. He’ll be in position to contribute from Day 1, even if it’s not necessarily on the first defensive snap of the game.

4) The Eagles didn’t add a primary running back in the draft, and it’s a position that should be in focus entering the 2017 season. Despite what the team is saying, it’s still a question whether Ryan Mathews will be on the roster come the summer. There will likely be a running-back-by-committee, but my guess is Darren Sproles remains the top RB. He took 45 percent of the running back snaps last season, 224 more snaps than any other RB on the roster. He was the team’s lead running back last season, even if he didn’t lead the Eagles in carries. This is expected to be Sproles’ final season, but I wouldn’t expect to see a big drop in playing time. If Mathews isn’t back, 287 snaps are available. Wendell Smallwood will likely take a bigger role (164 snaps, 77 carries); maybe he’s in the Mathews role this season. Kenjon Barner is gone, giving 99 snaps to dispense.

I’d expect Donnel Pumphrey to be involved – the Eagles like him, and rightfully so. The 6,405 rushing yards and 1,059 career carries (6 yards per carry) cannot be ignored. There is talent there for the Eagles, and he was the only running back they drafted in a crowded class. Maybe undrafted rookie Corey Clement makes the team and turns into a rotational running back – he showed promise at Wisconsin and has good size (5-10, 220 pounds).

But after Day 1, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, and Alvin Kamara were all available as potential starting running backs. The Eagles didn’t land them, and in a deep running back draft class, they took only one.

5) Speaking of Pumphrey, don’t expect him to come in and be Sproles. It’s an easy comparison because of the height of both players, although Pumphrey, at 5-8, is two inches taller. But Sproles is 14 pounds heavier. When he was at the combine, he benched 19 reps at 225 pounds. Pumphrey benched five reps. Ask around the league, and you’ll hear players rave about Sproles' strength and power.

Pumphrey can still be productive and prove to be a good pick, but the Sproles benchmark is tough for any player to match. A more apt size comparison could be Dexter McCluster, a former second-round pick who has developed into more of a receiver in the NFL. McCluster had 114 carries and 46 catches in his second NFL season, and Pumphrey was a far more productive college runner than McCluster, who was a better receiver in college. 

Maybe Pumphrey develops into a player whom small running backs are compared to in future years. But there is probably too much attention going to the height, because the NFL has had -- and still has -- a number of productive 5-8 running backs. The 176-pound frame is more notable, and the Eagles are listing him at 170.

6) The returning wide receivers should be put on notice after this draft. Mack Hollins will have a spot on the 46-man game-day roster, and Shelton Gibson will likely earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in March. That’s four new wide receivers. The Eagles carried five last season, and all are still on the roster from the end of the year.

You can do the math.

Maybe the Eagles carry six this year. Maybe they trade Jordan Matthews to create roster flexibility and get value before he hits the free-agent market. (I wouldn’t, by the way. I think Matthews is a high-caliber starting receiver in the NFL, especially if he’s not the No. 1 option. And I’d pay him accordingly.) But if the Eagles have Jeffery, Matthews, Smith, Hollins, and Gibson on the roster, that’s five right there.

That would mean Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham could be on the outside looking in, and Paul Turner and Bryce Treggs would be long shots to make the team.

I think the Eagles will give Agholor one more chance this year. There are no cap savings in releasing him, and he’s a player who cares and puts in effort. Maybe if he’s down the depth chart and used situationally, he could get more comfortable. The Eagles aren’t averse to cutting their losses on draft picks – Danny Watkins was sent packing after two years – but I’d try one more year with Agholor.

Green-Beckham is a different story. There is no financial obligation to keeping him, he doesn’t play on special teams, and he didn’t take advantage of a good opportunity last year. It would be hard to let him go because you can see the potential, and it’s rare to find 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds at that position. But the roster numbers just don’t work unless Matthews is traded, one of the draft picks doesn’t make the team, or there’s an injury this summer that opens a spot. He could also be a trade candidate if another team wants to try to develop him and wants to get him in for mini-camps and training camp.

7) If you’re looking ahead to next year, the Eagles have eight draft picks. They have their own picks in the first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds. They get a third- or fourth-round pick from New England from the Eric Rowe trade. (It’s a third if Eric Rowe plays at least 50 percent of the snaps this season, and a fourth if he plays fewer.) They get a fourth-rounder from Minnesota as the final piece from the Sam Bradford trade. They don’t have a second-round pick, which Cleveland owns as the final piece of the trade for the No. 2 selection last year.

So if the Eagles make any trades in the next few months to acquire a running back or a cornerback, that’s their stable of draft picks. They could also make a player-for-player deal, with linebacker Mychal Kendricks still the most likely candidate to moved.