The Time is Nigh for the Philadelphia Eagles
We’re almost there. As the hours dwindle down to the 2021 NFL Draft, any aspirations for a quick rebuilding process in Philadelphia lie solely in the drafting aptitude of Howie Roseman, Jeffrey Lurie, and company in the coming two draft classes. Yikes. There was not a small amount of consternation among the Philadelphia Eagles fanbase when the team opted to trade down from the #6 overall pick, yielding the easiest path to a game changing offensive playmaker in either LSU product Ja’Marr Chase or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
On the plus side, trading back signals that Howie Roseman most likely won’t give in to his darkest urges and draft another quarterback to upstage presumed starter Jalen Hurts in 2021 (unless you’re willing to buy into Nick Sirianni’s open competition nonsense). Quality picks are aplenty at #12 (on both ends of the football) and it’s this that brings me to my point: the Philadelphia Eagles would be wise to opt for a defensive playmaker at the top end of their draft board if they truly want to set themselves up for future success.
Perhaps the greatest impediment standing between the Philadelphia Eagles and drafting the likes of Patrick Surtain or Micah Parsons is someone who isn’t even in the Eagle’s organization, a wide receiver who the Eagles passed on and has emerged as one of the game’s premier talents. Believe it or not, I’m actually not talking about D.K. Metcalf. Passing on the superlatively gifted wide receiver in favor of the simply awful JJ Arcega-Whiteside has haunted Eagles fans’ dreams for years now. Sure, Metcalf’s overall game was a bit of a question mark coming out of Ole Miss (he possessed unprecedented physical gifts, but his route tree was severely underdeveloped and he had an injury history coming out of college) and we weren’t the only team to whiff on this evaluation (Andy Isabella to the Cardinals, anyone?). Still, this one stings.
No, the receiver that will really have Jeffrey Lurie and company fearful of missing out on the next big thing is Justin Jefferson, the man who the Philadelphia Eagles should’ve picked in last year’s draft.
Imagine how different things could’ve gone if the Eagles had gone for Jefferson at #21 last year. Having this pick backfire so spectacularly in our faces has me worried that the Eagle’s leadership is planning on spending up on a wide receiver…again. Can the Philadelphia Eagles go three drafts in a row devoting a top-end pick to a wide receiver? Sure, at this point, JJAW is a bust and Jalen Reagor looked severely overmatched in the 2020 season (he seemed to take more interest in the social media game than the one on the field). The Eagles are desperate for help out wideout and both Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith were fantastic at Alabama. Playmakers are aplenty in this year’s draft and, face it, who doesn’t love offense? Why shouldn’t we opt for one of the Tide’s offensive weapons?
The Eagles might have to ask themselves a big question on draft night: Are they scared by DeVonta Smith’s size?https://t.co/VK3jl6rI6g
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 20, 2021
Well, the issue here boils down to scheme and size. Neither Jaylen Waddle nor Devonta Smith truly fit the bill for what the Philadelphia Eagles need. We need an alpha, a go-to wide receiver, one who can consistently challenge on 50-50 balls and go up to make the contested catch a la Alshon Jeffery in 2017. We’ve been missing such a player for years now. JJAW was supposed to be that guy, but he clearly isn’t the answer. At this point, he’s going to struggle to make the team out of preseason. However, both Waddle and Smith are small (Smith historically so). I wouldn’t call them gadget players, but how well would they fit into this wide receiving core?
Not well. Both Waddle or Smith would instantly become our best receiver if added to the team, but their presence wouldn’t transform the Eagles offense in a way that a big bodied receiver could nor are they necessarily what a Nick Sirianni-led offense needs. A successful Eagles season hinges Sirianni’s ability to replicate what he helped build in Indianapolis last season, a strong running game buoyed by a tough defense. Neither Waddle nor Smith fit into how we need to build our team. So, where does that leave us?
Now Starring On the Philadelphia Eagles Defense
We had our chance to pick a go-to wideout (cough, cough, Ja’Marr Chase, cough, cough) and we passed on that. Whoever we draft at #12 needs to step in and be an immediate difference maker, wherever they line up. This team is bereft of talent and, if we are to field a competitive team over the next few seasons, we have to hit on our top-of-the-line draft picks. So, where can we find “sure things” in this draft class?
That brings me to this point: imagine how much of a difference a player of Patrick Surtain’s or Micah Parsons’ caliber would make for this Philadelphia defense? The Eagles are in the unenviable position of lacking playmakers at all three levels of their defense. Howie Roseman came out with praise of Penn State edge rusher Kwity Paye, but, of all three levels, d-line is the one where we have the most depth still (even as Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox get another year older). We need to build up the second and third levels of our defense with legitimate talent. Linebacker has been a sieve for us for years. Ditto at cornerback (we’ve started the likes of Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby, and Craig James since 2018). We desperately need to invest some resources on this side of the ball.
Here’s the thing: one of either Surtain or Parsons should be available at #12. They are both the type of playmaker that could fast-track the Eagle’s back to competitiveness. Just take a look at the top end of this year’s draft along with their most likely draft options:
#1, Jacksonville Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence, QB)
#2, New York Jets (Zach Wilson, QB)
#3, San Francisco 49ers (Trey Lance, QB)
#4, Atlanta Falcons (Kyle Pitts, TE)
#5, Cincinnati Bengals (Penei Sewell, OT)
#6, Miami Dolphins (Ja’Marr Chase, WR)
#7, Detroit Lions (Jaylen Waddle, WR)
#8, Carolina Panthers (Justin Fields, QB)
#9, Denver Broncos (Rashawn Slater, OT)
#10, Dallas Cowboys (?)
#11, New York Giants (?)
The top nine picks or so seem to be fairly locked in. Perhaps not in this particular order, but there are teams with clear needs for a quarterback (Jaguars, Jets, 49ers, Panthers) and teams with clear needs for help on the offensive side of the ball (Miami, Atlanta, Detroit). Could the 49ers go with Mac Jones over Trey Lance? Possibly. That would shake things up a bit, possibly causing Atlanta to opt for Lance as the future after Matt Ryan. Detroit could opt for defense, but they need offensive weapons even more desperately than the Eagles (though, what does it really matter when you have a stiff like Jared Goff behind center). The Bengals and Broncos will most likely take the top two offensive linemen off the draft board in Penny Sewell and Rashawn Slater. That leaves two questions: the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.
Could our draft plans be foiled by our two divisional rivals? Possibly. There’s been a growing amount of chatter of Devonta Smith landing in New York, but I’m not sure that entirely makes sense, given the Giant’s offseason acquisition of Kenny Golladay. The Giants need help on their defense. Do they go for a cornerback at #11? What about the Dallas Cowboys? Defense would make sense. After all, they fielded a historically inept defense in 2020 and their secondary was…terrible. However, the most glaring need for Dallas lies on the defensive line; they were gashed for 2,541 yards on the ground last year (158.8 per game). Christian Barmore (Alabama) is the top-ranked defensive tackle in this year’s draft class. He profiles as a backend of the first-round type talent, though. Hopefully, Dallas reaches for him as a reflection of their need rather than drafting the best player available.
Where does that leave us? Hopefully with options at linebacker and cornerback at #12. I get it: the Philadelphia Eagles just don’t invest in the linebacker position. They haven’t done so in years. The need has never been quite so clear, though, even with the addition of free agent Eric Wilson. At cornerback, we’ve missed over the past few years (to put it lightly). That being said, we’ve never been in a position to take a player of Surtain’s caliber before. Even if it isn’t Surtain or Parsons, other options on the defensive side are there. Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) or Caleb Fairley (Virginia Tech.) both would instantly improve the Eagles secondary (regardless of the health questions surrounding Fairley). I’m not in on Kwity Paye (NFL.com’s pre-draft overview really sums up some of the issues with his play), but other edge rushers are there to be had as well.
Perhaps we can flip the script and walk away with one of the game’s elite collegiate athletes in 2021. Having a strong defense, anchored by a premier young talent in Parsons or Surtain, could go a long way in fast-tracking us back to challenging for the divisional crown. So, what do you think? Should the Eagles go defense in Round 1 or should we spend on an offensive playmaker for the third year in a row?
— Daniel Primiani (@DanPrimiani15) April 28, 2021