The Eagles haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round since 2002, but they can sure use one now with Darius Slay as the only outside cornerback with starting experience.
The Eagles have never drafted a safety in the first round, but they can sure use one with Anthony Harris returning on a one-year deal and Marcus Epps hardly established as a starter.
The Eagles can certainly use a defense tackle in the first round with both Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave entering the final year of their contracts, and Cox noticeably declining from the player who was selected to six straight Pro Bowls from 2015-20.
They can also use a defensive end even after signing free agent Haason Reddick because Brandon Graham is 34 and coming off a torn Achilles, and Derek Barnett is back on a one-year deal.
It’s well known that the Eagles haven’t drafted a true linebacker in the first round since 1979. That likely won’t change after the Eagles signed free agent Kyzir White last month.
Then again, White is on a one-year deal, and Davion Taylor, the third-round pick in 2020, has yet to live up to expectations.
The point is, the Eagles could use a star player at every unit on defense. So even in a year where they have two first-round draft picks, at Nos. 15 and 18, it doesn’t seem like enough to address all of their defensive needs.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman might not see it that way, as he explained when asked about the safety position. Roseman mentioned Harris and Epps and the players behind them in K’Von Wallace, their fourth-round pick in 2020, and a few deep reserves.
“We like those guys,” Roseman said. “And so, I don’t know that necessarily we perceive it the same way maybe that you described.”
The Eagles did try to sign Marcus Williams, the top free agent at safety who ended up with the Baltimore Ravens on a five-year deal worth as much as $70 million, an amount the Eagles apparently weren’t willing to top.
Free agent Tyrann Mathieu, who turns 30 next month, is still available, but it’s possible that he won’t sign with anyone until just before training camp in late July.
In the meantime, if the Eagles wanted to use a first-round pick on a safety, they might have to trade up for someone like Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, or they might trade back for someone like Michigan’s Daxton Hill or Georgia’s Lewis Cine.
It’s the same at cornerback. They might have to trade up for someone like Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner or Derek Stingley Jr. If they stay where they are, they could get someone like Washington’s Trent McDuffie, or they could trade back for someone like Clemson’s Andrew Booth.
At linebacker, do the Eagles use one of their first-round picks on Utah’s Devin Lloyd or Georgia’s Nakobe Dean? Or do they want until the second or third round for someone like Wyoming’s Chad Muma?
Keep in mind that the Eagles have always prioritized building on the defensive line first in the draft before filling in the other units.
The Eagles have drafted a defensive player in the first round seven times since 2002, when they took cornerback Lito Sheppard. The Eagles chose a defensive lineman or edge rusher all seven times.
“For us, we want to get pressure on the quarterback,” Roseman said in March. “The bottom line is we didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback … It’s a priority to us.”
Reddick, who has 23.5 sacks in the last two seasons, is a good start. But among defensive ends in the rotation, only Reddick and Josh Sweat, who tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks last season, are signed beyond this season.
So someone like Purdue’s George Karlaftis, or even taking a chance on Michigan’s David Ojabo, who tore his Achilles at his Pro Day, could be an option.
Among defensive tackles in the rotation, only Milton Williams, drafted in the third round last year, is signed beyond this season. Here, the Eagles could look at a pair of Georgia defensive tackles in Jordan Davis or Devonte Wyatt.
Then again, there’s another consideration: the style of play under defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
We saw last season that Gannon prefers players who can play an amoeba-like scheme, or adjusting to any kind of offense. At defensive tackle, that means a read-and-react mindsight rather than simply go after the quarterback.
Cox bristled at that midway through last season, saying, “I don’t get paid to play screens.” He eventually adjusted.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said both Davis and Wyatt can excel in a read-and-react scheme.
“(If) you want them to stack blocks and play at the line of scrimmage, they can do it,” Jeremiah said about the Georgia duo. “(If) you want to let them get on an edge and get upfield, they can do that as well.”
At linebacker, that means someone who can rush the passer, stop the run and cover a wide receiver or tight end. Lloyd and Dean both fit that description.
At safety, that means someone who can cover deep, come up and stop the run and handle receivers underneath. That fits what both Hamilton and Hill can do.
“I do think for the Eagles, you could certainly take a linebacker in Round 1 and feel pretty good about who might fall there,” said Mark Dominik, a longtime NFL scout and former general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now an NFL analyst for Sirius XM.
“Safety feels like, unless Kyle Hamilton has a tremendous fall … it’s going to be harder for me to see them take a safety in Round 1. I think they’ll find positions (other than safety) that will fit their football team in terms of their needs.”
Or, as far as the Eagles are concerned: so many needs, so many choices.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.