NFL draft 2017: Seven pre-draft thoughts about the Eagles

Draft Barnett Football
Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (9) plays against Florida in a September game.

1) I picked Derek Barnett in the Inquirer/Daily News mock draft, but it's tough to get a good read on what will happen this year. Obviously, I don’t know what the board will look like at No. 14. But philosophically, the Eagles place an extraordinary value on pass rushers. It’s not just essential to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense, but it’s also part of the principles pounded into Howie Roseman's head as he has grown in the organization. The Eagles brass told Barnett he reminds them of Terrell Suggs, which should not be taken lightly. Why? Because Joe Douglas was in Baltimore when the Ravens overlooked Suggs’ poor combine testing and drafted him. Fourteen years later, Suggs is still getting to the quarterback.

2) The Eagles are interested in wide receivers, but it’s not a position I’d prioritize. Then again, I’m higher on Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews than I think the organization is. And if you want a wide receiver, there’s a dropoff after the top three – all of whom should go in the first round. That said, I think there’s enough talent elsewhere – and enough need elsewhere – to avoid forcing a wide receiver. If the Eagles can keep Alshon Jeffery long-term, they will have a No. 1 wide receiver. From where I sit, Matthews is a good No. 2. Add in tight end Zach Ertz, other receivers, and running backs out of the backfield, and that’s a receiving game the Eagles could build around.

3) Speaking of tight ends, I expect the Eagles to add one in the draft. It’s not a need for the Eagles, and they’d have to take a roster spot from another position to keep four tight ends on the roster in 2017. But Trey Burton is only on a one-year deal, and my guess is it’ll take a decent contract to keep him beyond 2017. Brent Celek could be playing his last year in Philadelphia. More important than need, there should be a lot of value at the position. It’s as deep a tight-end draft class as there has been in a while. Move past players such as O.J. Howard, David Njoku, and Evan Engram, all of whom are first-round-caliber players. On Day 3, prospects such as Iowa’s George Kittle, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges, and Florida International’s Jonnu Smith also have potential.

4) The two players I like the most in the No. 14 area are Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Temple’s Haason Reddick. Both could play on every down. McCaffrey would be a high-caliber wide receiver if that was his position. He can help in the slot, outside, and in the return game – and he’s a really productive rusher, too. As for Reddick, he could fit two needs for the Eagles. He could become Mychal Kendricks’ replacement at weak-side linebacker, but when the Eagles go to nickel, he could be used as an edge rusher. That versatility is so important because it allows players to adjust to different packages.

5) The best-case scenario on the defensive line would be if Jonathan Allen slipped to the Eagles. Allen isn’t just scheme versatile – he’s versatile within the 4-3. He can be a base-down defensive end and a passing-down defensive tackle, providing both the edge-rushing boost they need and the defensive-tackle depth that would also be useful. The medical background (shoulders) is the only reason he’d drop. In speaking to Allen on Wednesday, he said he hasn’t really had contact with the Eagles during the pre-draft process, but he has heard it can sometimes be the team you least expect that ends up picking you.

6) The Eagles need to find cornerbacks who can potentially start or at least contribute in nickel or dime, and they might find one late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. Some names to watch? Two first-round talents who’ve slipped because of injury – Washington’s Sidney Jones and UCLA’s Fabian Moreau – would present enormous value after the first round if the medical staff is confident in their returns. And because of the PUP list, the Eagles wouldn’t need to put them on injured reserve because the injuries occurred before training camp.

Other names to pay attention to are Colorado’s Ahkello Withersoon, West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton, Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin, and San Diego State’s Damontae Kazee.

7) Douglas said that there’s talent in this offensive-line class, but I don’t see the Eagles adding one unless a player whom they like a lot drops. There aren’t many roster spots available on the offensive line unless they trade Jason Kelce or give up on Dillon Gordon after investing a year of keeping him on the active roster. The Eagles used 11 roster spots on offensive linemen, which is a high number considering they dress only seven on game days. If that number is 10 this year and Chase Warmack makes the team, then Josh Andrews or Matt Tobin don’t make the team. Maybe the Eagles cut both and carry a rookie as an 11th, or Warmack doesn’t make it. But my guess is they kept the offensive linemen from last year and added Warmack because it’s not an especially deep offensive-line class.

>> Click here for more coverage of the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia. Follow along with our live blog for updates from the draft and Draft Experience.