After failing to defend their Super Bowl title last season, the Birds front office has been busy at work trying to ensure next season doesn’t end in similar disappointing fashion.
They’ve been able to bolster their defensive front-seven by signing interior lineman Malik Jackson as well as bringing Vinny Curry back home after one season in Tampa Bay. Along with those signees, Howie also added Andrew Sendejo and L.J. Fort to add some depth at safety and linebacker.
As always, Howie’s also been busy wheeling and dealing with other teams around the league; pulling off trades for wideout DeSean Jackson and halfback Jordan Howard.
Howie’s always done great during the free agency period since re-taking over GM duties. But he hasn’t seen the same level of success in the draft, something that’s going to need to change if the Birds want to be serious contenders for the forseeable future.
With Carson Wentz’s contract negotiations on the horizon, hitting on early round draft picks will be imperative. Once Wentz is signed long-term (which is a foregone conclusion at this point, barring a major set-back), Howie won’t have the luxury of building his team through free agency and trades, at least not at the same rate he’s done for the past few offseasons.
He simply won’t have the cap space to do it once Wentz is locked up.
In saying that, this year’s draft is the most important one in recent memory for the Eagles. The roster turnover next season could end up being devastating if the Birds don’t draft well this year. They’re likely to lose a handful of veteran players due to cap limitations.
Here are three first round prospects that Howie should have on his radar as we approach the NFL Draft.
Clemson, Defensive Tackle, Christian Wilkins
The Clemson product has been linked to the Eagles all offseason, and the speculation will only intensify as we get closer to draft night.
Although the Birds brought in Malik Jackson to help mitigate the loss of Timmy Jernigan, taking another interior d-lineman in the first round isn’t out of the question.
If you know anything about Howie, you know how much he loves his defensive lineman. And if you know anything about how Howie approaches the draft, you’ll know he prefers taking the best player available over an immediate need. Make no mistake, if Wilkins is still available when the Eagles pick at 25, he’ll be the best player available.
The Eagles hosted Wilkins on a pre-draft visit over the weekend, so he’s on their radar for sure.
He has everything you could want in a first-round pick; versatility, durability, talent and leadership, you name it and Wilkins has it.
During his four-year collegiate career, Wilkins amassed 192 total tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, 15 passes deflected, and two forced fumbles.
Pairing this kind of production with one of the best D-tackles in the NFL in Fletcher Cox would almost be unfair. Especially when you consider Malik Jackson being rotated in on passing situations, the addition of Wilkins would make the Eagles defensive line scary good.
Oklahoma, Offensive Lineman, Cody Ford
The most overlooked need facing the Eagles this offseason has been their offensive line. With Brandon Brooks scheduled to miss significant time next season due to the torn achilles he suffered in the playoffs, and both Jason Peters and Jason Kelce possibly entering his final season in the NFL, the Eagles could use an injection of new blood along their offensive line.
Oklahoma’s Cody Ford could end up being a steal for the Eagles if they take him with the 25th pick.
He’s a versatile lineman who’s played multiple positions along the line during his career at OU, which should be appealing to the Birds front office. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches and 329 pounds, he’s also surprisingly athletic for his size. He gets down the field and makes open field blocks with ease.
His only draw back is his foot work, but once an NFL offensive line coach gets their hands on him, I’m sure that’ll be the first area of focus.
If we’re just counting the starters, the average age along the Eagles offensive line is 30. It’s by far the oldest group of players on the team. Howie is most likely going to add at least one or two offensive lineman in this draft, and if Ford is available at 25 there’s no doubt he’ll be in consideration.
LSU, Cornerback, Greedy Williams
After re-signing Ronald Darby to a one-year deal, Howie is counting on him to have a bounce back season in 2019. As for the other cornerback spot, the jury is still out on who will man that vacancy.
Jalen Mills has been the starter there for the past few seasons, and he’ll be back this year after his 2018 campaign got cut short due to injury, but he’s not a lock to get his old job back by any means. Avonte Maddox played well in Mills’ absence last season, so he could be given a chance to start. And let’s not forget about Rasul Douglas, who played significant time and showed flashes while Darby was sidelined. Sidney Jones should also see some time this upcoming season, but with injuries leading to an underwhelming 2018 campaign, who knows the level of contribution he’ll have.
Cre’Von LeBlanc is also in the mix, but with his stellar play at the nickel position during the second half of 2018, he’ll likely remain there for this upcoming season.
All of these guys could potentially start. But none of them have staked their claim to the position.
If the Eagles don’t have faith that one of these guys will work out, Greedy Williams out of LSU could be in play for them at 25.
Standing at 6 feet 1 inch and 187 pounds, he has great size for an NFL corner. At the combine he proved he has the speed to run with elite receivers, posting a 4.37 40-yard-dash time.
If there’s anything the Eagles sorely lack in their cornerback room, it’s speed. Darby has good speed and so does Maddox, both ran sub 4.4 40s at their combines. But as for Mills and Douglas, they both lack elite speed and that weakness is glaring at times.
How many times have we seen Mills get beat deep? Enough to know the guy just isn’t that fast.
Douglas’ size somewhat makes up for his lack of speed, but he still has trouble running with quicker receivers.
Williams’ strength is in pass coverage and his ability to prevent separation. His combination of size and speed allows him to play press-man effortlessly. And while the Eagles don’t really run a press-man scheme, Williams still has the mental makeup to read pass plays and react in a zone set.
There are a lot of question marks regarding the corners, but Williams seems like a sure thing coming out of DBU. Drafting him could help stabilize a position that’s been a point of concern for the Eagles for years.