Just a few hours until the start of the first round, and I’ve got some last-minute thoughts to disseminate. Those of you who visit consistently will know I am firmly in the trade-down camp. However, today I’ll provide some more details and run through a few scenarios.
First, though, I want to make clear that, despite the evidence that the draft is mostly luck, it is DEFINITELY POSSIBLE to “win the draft”. While individual selections show very little evidence of team skill, maneuvering through the draft to maximize value clearly requires talent. That’s why you see so much misinformation close to the draft. You want the rest of the league to believe that you really might take everyone; doing so maximizes your trade leverage. So for the next three days and especially after the first round, it’s not necessarily about “who” the Eagles select; it’s about “how” and “where”. I’ll come back to that after the draft and take a run at evaluating the overall “value” the Eagles came out with.
So what will the Eagles do tonight?
First I want to mention that I think the Eagles will choose TWO players tonight, meaning the team will trade up from #35 to get back into the first round. Between 20-32 there will be some very good Safeties and CB options, and I think Howie makes a play for his favorite somewhere in that area.
As far as the top of the round goes:
The Eagles have been linked by “sources” to close to a dozen players. This is very much a purposeful misinformation campaign by Howie. It means he wants to trade down. I’ve shown pretty clearly the merits of “tiered” drafting, as well as the relative value within the top 15 picks. Basically the top 15 is its own “round” of the draft, with far and away the heaviest concentration of impact players. However, within the top 15, there is surprisingly little difference between picks. The only major note is that QBs and OTs go in the top 5, so you will not find equal value at those positions from 10-15.
In my opinion, the top “tier” this year is around 9 players deep, with Joeckel the only real standout of the group (and even he isn’t a perfect prospect). Judging by what I’ve seen in the media, I thinks it’s a safe bet that Howie is viewing the first round the same way. Consequently, the “correct” thing to do would by to trade down but remain in the top 9 picks, picking up extra compensation while guaranteeing you still get a “top tier” player.
The Trade Scenarios:
1) Eric Fisher is available at 4. This case, while it’ll be tempting for the Eagles to draft Fisher themselves, offers the best potential trade compensation. Fisher is reportedly rated the best tackle in the draft, and some are speculating he may actually go #1 to Andy and the Chiefs. If he falls, it should not be difficult for the Eagles to find 2-3 teams willing to bid up the value of the #4 pick. Potential partners would be Arizona (#7), Miami (#12), San Diego (#11). Of these teams, only Arizona would allow the Eagles to stay in the top 9.
2) Eric Fisher is gone. In this case, while the ultimate value of the #4 spot might be lower, the interest will actually be greater (not a direct supply-demand-value result). With Fisher taken, Lane Johnson remains as the only top OT. In this situation, I believe the same teams as above will be interested, with the Lions (#5) joining the group as well. Sliding down one spot would be particularly attractive for the Eagles, as it really would be “free” compensation, assuming the team didn’t rate Johnson well above every other prospect.
3) The Double Trade. I’m quickly talking myself into this scenario, though admittedly it’s wishful thinking. Start with scenario 2, where the Eagles trade down one pick to #5. The team could then call the Jets, who are in desperate need of an offensive weapon, and ransom Tavon Austin. In a perfect world, they’d acquire the Jets #9 pick. This scenario would bring the Eagles at least a few extra picks and allow the team to take whichever “top tier” player is still available. This is what I’ll be rooting for.
4) The Deep Drop. I did a post a while ago that discussed why perennial contenders should trade up in the draft more often. The curse of being a very good team consistently is that you never get to choose in the top 15, limiting your ability to add impact players at cheap prices. These teams typically resort to free agency, which forces the Winner’s Curse upon them and depletes their cap room. While it’s risky to trade up that far (you have to give up a lot of pick value), I’d argue that it’s worth it, provided you are selecting a “top tier” guy in return. There are rumors that both the Ravens and 49ers are interested in moving way up, and to me that makes a lot of sense. However, I think it’s unlikely they’ll be able to provide enough compensation to come all the way up to the Eagles pick at #4. Don’t be surprised to see one of them picking between 10-15 though.
So who are the Eagles going to take when they actually do pick?
The short answer is: I have no idea. I do think there are some guys to keep in mind though. I’ll run through the potentials with some quick thoughts on each.
Dion Jordan – A very popular “mock pick” for the Eagles. He’d provide an OLB pass rusher for the new defense and played for Chip at Oregon. I don’t think he’s as likely to be the pick as many are suggesting. Despite his athleticism and speed, his production wasn’t great. Additionally, while I do believe the Eagles are drafting “best available”, Dion doesn’t exactly fill a glaring hole.
Star Lotulelei – I’ve been high on him since November, though his stock has certainly dropped since then. The key to him is his versatility, as he can play all 3 positions on the D-line in the 3-4. If the Eagles trade down, I think he’s a likely pick. He’s a bit old for a prospect (he’ll be 24 before the season), but Chip has a clear preference for versatility, making Star a top target.
Ziggy Ansah – Covered him a bit a couple of weeks ago. Not getting much Eagles action in the mock drafts, but I can’t ignore him. Kelly has made it clear he values “athletic freakism” and there is no better example of that in this draft than Ziggy. Additionally he can likely play both the 5-tech on the d-line and the Rush OLB. Howie might get sold on his “upside”, which is among the best in the draft if you listen to all the “experts”. The fact that he HASN’T been strongly linked to the Eagles makes me think they really like him.
Dee Milliner – Health issues may be scaring some teams, but I still see Milliner as one of the better risk/reward prospects available. I’d be surprised if he was the pick at #4, but he’d be worth it in my estimation (at least as far as any of these guys can be “worth it”). Another guy that hasn’t been strongly linked to the Eagles, but would go a long way towards shoring up the secondary (the biggest NEED of the team).
Chance Warmack – Don’t sleep on Warmack, though he won’t be the pick at #4. If the team drops to #9, then Warmack is a clear possibility (if he’s there). The “best” prospect in the draft by consensus rating, Warmack would make a lot of sense for the Eagles. By now, I’m guessing Kelly realizes the strength of his offense is it’s RBs. Adding a potentially dominant run-blocker like Warmack might be more of an offensive weapon then we typically think of when it comes to interior linemen. The read-option requires being able to sell several looks every play, and being able to run it up the guy behind Chance would be a valuable tool. Additionally, Bryce Brown’s power behind Chance should make short-yardage gains relatively easy.
Tavon Austin – I don’t think he’ll be the pick, but he has to be mentioned since he’s the top offensive “playmaker” available. The quick comparison is Percy Harvin, but it should be noted that he’s actually a bit smaller than Harvin. I’m sure Kelly could dream up some creative ways to use him, but I see Austin’s value to the Eagles as mainly trade bait, rather than a target.
I’ll be surprised if the Eagles don’t come out of the draft with one of the players mentioned above.
Some other names to keep in mind towards the end of the 1st round:
Tank Carradine, DE
Jonathan Cyprien, S
Jamar Taylor, CB
Menelik Watson, OT
Xavier Rhodes, CB
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles came up from #35 to grab any of these guys, though as I said before, the S/CBs make the most sense to me.
Lastly, I do not think the Eagles will come away tonight with a QB.