Correctly predicting how the first round of the NFL draft will transpire is a fool’s mission. Even coming close to divining the inner thoughts of 32 scouting departments – each with a different set of perspectives and priorities for their respective organizations – is a complicated game of 3D chess that tends to be stalemated by the middle of the round.
But we play the game, because it is the only game available before Thursday’s opening bell of the 2019 draft.
The early spin tells us two things that can be taken as certainties: according to the accepted expertise of draft students, including those inside and outside the NFL, this is a historically strong draft for defensive tackles; and, just by looking at the depth chart, the Eagles could probably use one of those.
In this case, and with valid reasoning, many believe two plus two equals Dexter Lawrence of Clemson for the Eagles with the 25th pick. He’s likely to be available, fits the need, and has the talent compatible with that slot.
Fine, it may turn out that way, and I suspect the Eagles are indeed considering a tackle, but not on that side of the line.
If we have learned nothing else in the last few years, and particularly in the previous six months, it is that everything the team has invested for its near-term competitive future revolves around Carson Wentz.
The quarterback is coming back from a second straight season cut short by injury. I don’t think he’s injury-prone – the things that have sidelined him during his college and professional careers don’t present a clear pattern – but he does seem to be bad-luck-prone. Doing everything the organization can to improve the odds of reversing that unlucky streak is paramount.
As the clock ticks toward Thursday night, the Eagles have Lane Johnson at one starting tackle position and a 37-year-old Jason Peters on the blind side. Johnson is among the better tackles in the league. No problem there. Peters is still a warrior when healthy, but he missed 224 snaps in the regular season, the equivalent of between three and four games. There is nothing to suggest he will be less brittle in the coming season.
Behind them are Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jordan Mailata. Vaitai is an acceptable substitute in an emergency, and Mailata is an intriguing project who has never played a serious snap at the most technical position on the football field.
That is what stands between the franchise quarterback and the edge-rushing demons of the NFL.
It is what the front office and coaching staff must contemplate for what is probably Wentz’s most pivotal season. If he can remain on the field, and performs to the level of the talent he has shown, the strategy of selling out to get him is confirmed. If not, then the bad luck belongs to the whole organization and not just Wentz.
» READ MORE: Domowitch’s top 50 prospects
“We want to have a team led by a franchise-type quarterback,” executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman told the team’s website. “We know that we have that in Carson, and so now what are we going to do around him to make sure that we can continue to try to compete for championships?"
Keeping him off his back would be a good place to start. In 2016, Wentz was sacked once every 34 snaps. In 2017, it was once every 31 snaps. Last season, he was sacked once every 23 snaps. This is not a good trend, and the total number of times he has been hit has kept pace.
Some of it is on him, but extending plays is part of his dynamic skill-set. Some of it is because the additional pass protection offered by tight ends and running backs has been spotty. But some is because the offensive line hasn’t done a good enough job. The NFL draft can help address that.
Figuring out whether that will happen would require a peek at the Eagles’ draft board, and that’s not something we usually get.
Is there an offensive tackle rated somewhere around the 25th pick they can maneuver to land? Is he better or equal to the sixth- or seventh-best defensive tackle in the first round? Is that even part of their potential strategy for the top pick, depending on what happens before them?
All of those answers could be “yes,” but they could also be “no.” The scouting department, chaired by Joe Douglas, has been working on its big board for a year. They have more information than we do.
But everyone in the organization, from owner Jeffrey Lurie to the guy who hands out socks, also knows that nothing will matter with the Philadelphia Eagles for a very long time if Carson Wentz himself ceases to matter.