“With the 32nd pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Defending Champion, Philadelphia Eagles select…”
If the magnitude of this Super Bowl win hasn’t fully hit you yet then it will when Roger Goodell utters these words on April 26th. Drafting with the 32nd pick of the draft is something I could get used to. Beyond that, I have to say it’s pretty nice not having a glaring hole or weakness that needs to be filled. Granted, the cap situation isn’t pretty, but it beats the hell out of scrutinizing our roster to find out which of our weaknesses is ‘the weakest’.
With that being said, I don’t think the Eagles have the luxury of simply going with the ‘best player available’ as most fans and pundits are suggesting. The way I see it, there are three position groups that – as of now – could benefit from an immediate influx of depth and talent: Cornerback, Linebacker, Offensive Tackle. While I have a hard time deciphering which to prioritize, that will sort itself in free agency with big decisions on Bradham, Robinson, and Peters looming.
It’s early – 9 weeks until draft day – but here are 5 potential prospects that the Eagles may target with the 32nd overall pick:
1. Jaire Alexander Cornerback, Louisville
While I argued that the Birds should do whatever they can to retain Patrick Robinson after his breakout season, it looks like he’ll demand more on the open market than we can afford. Howie was likely planning on investing in another corner as it was. Robinson’s potential departure makes that more urgent, and I’m not confident that the trio of Mills, Jones, and Douglas can fill his role. The Eagles would be wise to add another corner, and Louisville’s Jaire Alexander is a strong fit.
Alexander will undoubtedly hear complaints about his height and length leading up to the draft, but I don’t think that will affect his stock too much. This dude plays physical, fast, and aggressive – despite his small stature, Alexander packs a punch and is a willing participant in the run game. When I watch him in coverage, I see excellent mirroring and a cat quick reaction when driving on the ball. His ability to change direction and accelerate are clear signs of his world class athleticism. If you’re a fan of Jalen Mills for his physicality and swagger then you would love Alexander — who possesses the physical tools that make Mills look JV.
If Robinson leaves in free agency, Alexander has the skillset to fill his shoes at the nickel spot from day one; plus the potential to lock down an outside spot in the future. Short corners in the first round typically give me cause for pause, but Alexander makes sense for the Birds immediate and long-term needs in the secondary.
2. Leighton Vander Esch Linebacker, Boise State
In the event that Howie is unable or unwilling to re-sign Nigel Bradham, linebacker becomes a glaring hole in this defense. Even with Bradham in the fold, Jordan Hicks’ injury history is well documented, and Mychal Kendricks has been in trade discussions for the better part of three years. All that makes linebacker a need for this team, and if they decide to look for one with their first round pick then Vander Esch is a prospect to watch.
With good speed he fits the light and athletic mold that NFL defenses increasingly want for linebackers. He’s rangy, fluid, and plays with good instincts. Vander Esch is solid in coverage which makes him a viable option as a nickel linebacker from day one (in the event of a Kendricks trade). Additionally, in his limited time he showed some serious potential blitzing the passer – which, while not essential for Schwartz defense, speaks to his overall athleticism for a linebacker.
The main concern for him is his strength; at times he looks small, and he’ll need time to add muscle in the NFL. The good news for the Birds is they aren’t in a position where they’ll need a rookie linebacker to contribute heavily in 2018 – he’ll have time to develop. If we’re unable to re-sign Bradham or decide to move on from Kendricks then Vander Esch makes sense at 32.
3. Ronnie Harrison Safety, Alabama
I know I didn’t mention safety as an early round need but we know at some point we’ll have to address our depth at the position with Corey Graham presumably leaving. The reason I like Harrison in the first round instead of a LB, CB, or OT is because I think he plays a brand of safety that can help cover up the holes created by the potential departures of Robinson or a linebacker. Not only would he take Graham’s reps, but he would allow Schwartz to play Jenkins at nickel and linebacker more often where he excels.
Beyond what he allows the rest of the defense to do, Harrison brings a lot of skill to the table. For starters, he seems to check every box a safety would need to; these are the “strengths” section of NFL.com:
- Outstanding combination of size and speed.
- Comfortable and experienced playing high or low safety
- Has good makeup speed
- Capable of quality man coverage
- Plays with route anticipation, ability to transition quickly to match
- Uses length to knock passes away
- Physical hitter with punishment as his default setting
- Takes rapid downhill approach as high safety in run support
- Quick to punch and discard blockers
- Handles work near the line of scrimmage with aggression
- Has blitz talent
Sounds like an Alabama product to me. When I decided the four prospects to highlight in this piece I figured Harrison was the least likely to last until the end of the first. The same NFL.com profile cites an ‘NFC scout’ saying he’s “not that dude” as a slight to his leadership, but when you can ball like he can I don’t see that mattering much come April. If he’s still on the board when the Eagles pick at 32 he’s a prospect to seriously consider.
4. Kolton Miller UCLA, Offensive Tackle
Another move I endorsed recently was the release of Jason Peters because of Vaitai’s performance in his absence. While Peters is a future HOF’er who obviously gives our line a higher ceiling than Vaitai, there’s a fat chance that he can stay healthy for a full season (if you watch every Sunday, that would be clear). In the event of his release, tackle becomes a slight need. Beyond depth purposes, while I trust Vaitai for now I don’t feel comfortable with him as a long term solution on Wentz blindside. If circumstances force the Eagles to draft a tackle, Kolton Miller is a prospect to watch.
Miller spent last season protecting Josh Rosen’s blindside and spent the previous two on the right side. He has a lot of experience blocking the edge and figures to do so in the NFL. Most other tackle prospects project better on the right side or inside at guard, and I think it’s important the Birds look for someone who has real potential to anchor down that LT spot — especially since they seem hell bent on keeping Lane Johnson at RT. The offensive line position typically fluctuates the most between now and draft day, so it’s hard to gauge whether Miller makes sense at 32. But with a long, tall frame to complement his impressive athleticism, it’s easy to see him developing into a starting tackle in the NFL.
5. Trade Back
As of now this is my favorite option. With no picks in round two and three it’s not a bad idea to flip this pick into a mid-second rounder in order to add another pick in the later rounds.
Beyond that, drafting last in the first round means the possibility that whatever player they’re targeting is a safe bet to be on the board later than 32; therefore they can afford to trade back without sacrificing value in their eyes — we see examples of this every year. It’s even possible that one of the players I mentioned slips into the mid-second round.
Regardless of what Howie, Joe, and Doug decide to do with the pick, it’s nice knowing that there isn’t pressure to fill a glaring need or to land a guy who will make an immediate impact. Like I’ve said before, it’s something I could get used to.