Looking ahead to the draft

As discussed last week, at the end of the season, it’s likely that the Eagles will find themselves with their highest 1st round draft pick since choosing Donovan McNabb #2 overall in 1999.  So let’s take a look at the current prospect rankings and talk about the potential directions the Eagles could take.

First caveat: We do not know how much input the next coach will have when it comes to the draft.  My guess is that Howie Roseman is calling the shots, and will have final say on each pick.  It’s safe to assume that the top coaching candidates will want some personnel control, though, so that could change once the Eagles enter the hiring season (I think it’s unlikely Roseman cedes any control.)

Looking at this year’s projected class (underclassmen may choose to return to school), we can see that the Eagles’ timing is pretty bad.  Regardless of the Eagles’ particular needs, the absence of one or two franchise QB prospects definitely diminishes the value of a top 5 pick.  Additionally, Scouts Inc. typically has at least 2-3 prospects with a grade of 97-98, of which there are none this year.  While Scouts Inc is far from perfect in its grading, its board typically closely resembles the consensus “big board” at draft time.  However, given the current landscape, the team is in pretty good position to get a major piece (as they should be with a likely top 5 pick).

Here are the top prospects according to Scouts Inc. along with their rating:

Star Lotulelei – DT – 96

Jarvis Jones – OLB – 96

Damontre Moore – DE – 96

Chance Warmack – G – 96

Manti Te’o – LB – 96

Luke Joeckel – OT – 96

Right off the bat, I think we can eliminate Warmack and Damontre Moore from consideration.  I feel pretty confident in saying the Eagles will recognize that selecting a G (even if he projects as potentially the best in the league) is a terrible value that high in the draft.  Guys like Todd McShay are saying Warmack is the “best guard I’ve evaluated in the past decade, Warmack is the rare interior lineman worthy of a top-10 overall pick”, but I’m not buying it.  The position doesn’t have a great enough impact on the game, and average guard play is much easier to account for than either a porous D-Line or mediocre OTs.  Top 5 picks are rare, and team’s must maximize the impact from them (though for teams that don’t perhaps top 5 picks are not as rare).

Dismissing a DE is riskier, especially given what appears to be a strong fetish for them among NFL GMs.  However, I think (hope?) the play of Brandon Graham and the existence of Vinny Curry will push them to look elsewhere.

From there, the big name to watch is STAR, as in Star Lotulelei, the DT from Utah.  Roseman has said pretty strongly that he will be sticking with a “best-available” strategy rather than picking for need, and at this point it looks like Lotulelei has the inside track on the consensus “highest rated prospect” designation.  While DT isn’t a glaring hole for the Eagles, the opportunity to pair Lotulelei with Cox for the next 5 years would intrigue any coach.  The current scouting report on Star mentions some work needed on his pass-rush skills, but given Cox’s talent for getting pressure, that would seem like a strong match.

If Star is taken, then the obvious (for me at least) pick is an OT.  Some may argue that OT isn’t a need, because Peters and Herremans will be back next year.  I look at it a little differently.  Assuming the Peters/Herremans/Kelce trio comes back next year at 100% of their former skill (a big assumption that most are making quite easily), the O-line would look like this:

Peters – Mathis – Kelce – Scott? – Herremans

The RG position is up in the air (really wish that Watkins kid could play), but whoever they plug in, I feel comfortable in saying that the OL wouldn’t be a weakness and my guess is that it would be above-average.  The left side of the line is among the best in the league, but the Herremans/Scott combo leaves much to be desired.  Though most fans like Herremans, I don’t consider him any better than average at OT.  He won’t get the QB killed, but he isn’t going to set the edge in the run game or completely shut down top pass-rushers.

Now lets look at the line with Joeckel (or whichever OT is deemed best at draft time).

Peters- Mathis – Kelce – Herremans – Joeckel

The left side of the line remains the same and has the potential to be among the best in the league.  Herremans moves back inside to Guard, where he has been very strong in the past.  Joeckel at RT gives the Eagles the best set of tackles they’ve had since Runyan/Thomas (wait…isn’t that the last time they contended?  coincidence?).  Additionally, it has to be said that, not only is Peters coming off an injury, but he isn’t getting any younger (he turns 31 in January).  While OTs can play at a high level well into their 30’s, it would be prudent for the Eagles to start looking for someone on the right side that could replace Peters when the time comes.  We can also look at this as risk-mitigation, in case Peters does not return to his former ability or suffers a new injury.

The remaining players listed above (Te’o and Jones) are both wild cards.  I think Te’o is a very unlikely pick for the Eagles, as I assume Roseman hasn’t completely abandoned what he sees as the relatively low value of LBs (he’s not entirely wrong).  Jones, however, seems to be all over the place when it comes to evaluation.  He projects as a OLB in a 3-4 defense, so its conceivable that if a new coach brings a 3-4 with him, then he would pound the table for a guy like Jones.  However, I think the more likely role for both Jones and Te’o in the Eagles draft analysis is as trade fodder.

I think it’s likely that there are several teams will be willing to pay up for Jones (less-so for Te’o but possible), meaning the Eagles may have the chance to slide down a few picks.  Provided they could do-so and remain near the top of the draft (getting their OT), this would appear the be the best-case scenario.

To summarize:  OT is the current favorite in my estimation, though DT is a significant possibility.

In any case, root for a high draft position.

As an aside, here is a link to National Football Post’s top 200 prospects.  I mention this because they appears to disregard the consensus analysis and rely solely on tape and their own research, which obviously appeals to me and, at the very least, provides a different perspective.