What will the Eagles do in the NFL draft? | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s finally the week of the NFL draft. This is the highlight of the NFL offseason and a chance to shape the roster for years to come. It’s less climatic this year with the Eagles picking No. 32 and without a Day 2 pick, although I’d expect some trades in the coming days. But they won the Super Bowl, so a less-climatic draft is a small price to pay.

This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday for the next few months. If your friends haven’t subscribed to Early Birds, it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Howie Roseman
Camera icon YONG KIM / File Photograph
Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman will be active trying to make a trade this week.

No. 1 option? A trade

My guess is the Eagles trade out of the first round. If they don’t, it won’t be for a lack of effort. As Howie Roseman said, the Eagles are “open for business.” I think there’s a better chance the Eagles sit out Day 1 than Day 2, even though they don’t have a pick in the second or third rounds.

It would help the Eagles if there’s a quarterback available in the back end of the first round that a team wants to trade up to acquire, such as Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. There also could be a position in which there’s a significant drop-off after the top players, such as offensive tackle, that might compel a team to trade. Then again, the Eagles might want to select an offensive tackle in that case.

I’d pay attention to teams with extra Day 2 picks as possibilities. Those teams include Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, and Carolina.

It would be challenging to pick up a second- and third-round pick for the Eagles’ No. 32 pick unless the Eagles moved down deep into the second round. However, it’s not impossible — especially if the Eagles included a Day 3 pick as a sweetener. Stay tuned. It will be a late night on Thursday.

Relive the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship season with our limited edition commemorative book

What if they stay at No. 32?

If the Eagles stay at No. 32, I’d watch out for Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and Stanford defensive back Justin Reid, if the Birds go defense. Hurst has a heart condition that kept him out of the combine, so the medical staff must sign off on the pick. But if he’s there at No. 32 and he’s medically cleared, Hurst fits the Eagles’ scheme and plays a priority position. No matter who is on the depth chart, the Eagles will always emphasize the lines with Roseman in charge.

As for Reid, he can help the Eagles in the slot and as a third safety this year while also playing on special teams. Beyond this season, he offers a potential long-term starter at safety, which the Eagles need, given Malcolm Jenkins is 30 and Rodney McLeod’s contract swells the next two years.

The Eagles could go with a skill-position player, such as Georgia’s Sony Michel, but I think they’ll look hard at the offensive line if it’s an offensive player. Offensive line is an organizational priority, and they would rather be a year early finding a lineman than a year late. Texas’ Connor Williams and UCLA’s Kolton Miller are two offensive tackles who could go in that range, and this is a deep class for interior linemen.

Of course, everything depends how the board falls. It’s hard to pinpoint what a team will do at No. 32 because you don’t know who’s on the board at that point, and the Eagles don’t have a glaring need. They’ll obviously look at the best available player, but they should consider two factors:

  1. What are the priority positions in the organization? (Offensive line and defensive line, for example)
  2. What positions will become big needs in 2019 and 2020 based on contracts and age?

Day 3 is important

The Eagles’ scouts, with Joe Douglas leading the way, have heard the importance of Day 3 this year. The Eagles have five picks that day and an opportunity to find players who can become eventual contributors. Don’t tell Douglas and his staff this is an unexciting draft.

“Eighteen starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents,” Douglas said. “So we choose to keep the glass half full on that one.”

Regardless of when it happens, I think the Eagles come out of this draft with a running back and a tight end. They like the depth at both positions and there are roles for players at both positions. At running back, Jay Ajayi is a free agent after the season, and the Eagles can use another running back with Ajayi and Corey Clement in 2018. At tight end, there’s uncertainty behind Zach Ertz — they have Richard Rodgers this season and Billy Brown is an intriguing prospect, but they haven’t addressed the position in the draft since 2013.

Joe Douglas
Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas talks to reporters at the NovaCare Complex.

What you need to know about the Eagles


 From the mailbag

I think the Eagles have more depth at linebacker than safety, so I’d say safety. They return all three starters at linebacker, and even if they trade Mychal Kendricks, they signed Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow and still have Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Joe Walker on the roster. What they don’t have is that surefire long-term starter behind Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks, so that’s something they can look for at linebacker. But I don’t think they need linebacker depth at this point.

Safety is a different story. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod return, giving the Eagles one of the best safety combinations in the NFL. Behind them, there’s more uncertainty. Chris Maragos is back, and Tre Sullivan showed some promise last summer, but they don’t have anyone that compares to Corey Graham last season. So I think the Eagles would be more compelled to find safety depth than linebacker depth.

I believe them when they say “best player available,” so I wouldn’t be shocked by any non-quarterback, non-specialist in the first round. If I had to answer your question, I don’t think they’ll draft a cornerback or tight end in the first round because I think they can find value later on, although if it’s the right player, you can’t rule it out. It’s an enviable position to be in when you can just pick the best player on the board. If all things are equal, I think the Eagles would lean toward picking an offensive lineman or defensive lineman. That’s just an organizational philosophy. It would need to be a special running back for the Eagles to use a first-round pick on one. As I said above, I think the most likely option in the first round is a trade.

I wouldn’t say they’re finished, just finished until after the draft. They’ll see what they add during the draft and then see what’s needed thereafter. Remember, LeGarrette Blount signed in May, and Corey Graham signed in August. If the Eagles don’t find a third safety in the draft, that’s a position they could address in free agency. They could also look for a punt-return option if they don’t find one in the draft. I don’t think the two players you mentioned will be options at this point — they have a veteran defensive tackle in Haloti Ngata, and they already added two depth linebackers. Of course, if they trade Kendricks, that could change. After May 8, the Eagles can sign players without it counting toward the compensatory pick formula.