MOBILE, Ala. -- This year’s NFL draft is probably the most significant for the Eagles since they selected Carson Wentz second overall in 2016, and the NFL collectively starts turning its attention to the draft during Senior Bowl week, which begins at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday with the South team weigh-in at the Mobile Convention Center.
Ever since Howie Roseman returned to power and engineered the draft trade-ups that made Wentz an Eagle, the Eagles have been in a scramble for picks, especially high picks. Last year’s haul of five players, with no first-rounder, was the franchise’s sparsest since 1989.
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This year, compensatory picks have yet to be determined, but the Eagles are expected to have nine selections, five in the first four rounds, a bounty they’ve enjoyed only once in the last six years.
If you followed the 2018 season, you know the problems that age and injury visited upon a Super Bowl roster that had lost at least nine significant players by the time the divisional round playoff loss at New Orleans was complete.
So, what will Roseman and player personnel chief Joe Douglas be looking at this week? Defensive linemen for sure, both because the Eagles are expected to make some changes there (Brandon Graham can be a free agent, Chris Long turns 34 in March, the D-tackle spot opposite Fletcher Cox is a question mark) and because Roseman and other NFL people have described the D-line as the strength of this draft.
NFL network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s first 2019 mock draft included four defensive linemen in his first five selections, three edge rushers plus a defensive tackle.
However, the Senior Bowl is not the NFL scouting combine. Most of the record 135 underclassmen who have declared for the draft won’t be here, because underclassmen aren’t eligible for the Senior Bowl unless they have graduated. (Because of redshirting, etc., there always are some who have their degrees.)
Sometimes, top prospects who don’t feel they need to burnish their credentials skip Mobile, and the risk of injury from a week of practice. Last week, Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen, a projected top-five pick, declined his invitation, meaning none of those four guys Jeremiah projected in his top five will be here, since Nick Bosa, Rashan Gary, and Quinnen Williams are all underclassmen. But the Eagles don’t choose until 25th overall in the first round, so they aren’t likely to be getting any of those guys anyway.
Montez Sweat, an edge rusher from Mississippi State, is here, and Sweat right now is projected to go in the 20s in several mock drafts. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s first mock draft has the Eagles taking Sweat at 25.
The Eagles also are expected to be looking at offensive linemen, running backs, linebackers, wideouts and maybe defensive backs, depending on what they thought of the development of Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc in 2018 -- and what they thought of the continuing injury problems of Sidney Jones.
Left tackle Andre Dillard from Washington State is probably the best OL prospect in Mobile. Delaware’s Nasir Adderley has first-round potential at safety. The wide receiver group doesn’t look that exciting, depending on how you see Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow. The running back group includes Temple’s Ryquell Armstead.
One prominent aspect of the Senior Bowl practices is that NFL evaluators get to see small-school prospects compete against the guys from the big schools. This is one of the most valuable things the week provides. This year, binoculars are sure to be trained on Oli Udoh, a tackle that Elon listed at 6-foot-6, 365, who performed well last week in the lead-up to the East-West Shrine game, and defensive lineman Khalen Saunders from Western Illinois. Saunders, listed at 6-2, 310, created an online stir with a video of him performing backflips.