The Eagles have plenty of needs heading into this year’s NFL Draft. Cornerback, wide receiver, and linebacker are the three positions discussed most frequently among fans. But based on the Eagles draft history, we can’t rule out the scenario where Howie Roseman takes a defensive lineman with his 12th overall pick.
Over the past three decades, the Eagles have had 13 draft picks inside the top half of the first round. Each of those picks was used on either a quarterback, offensive lineman, or defensive lineman. Since 1999, the Eagles have selected eight defensive lineman in the first round: Corey Simon (2000), Jerome McDougle (2003), Mike Patterson (2005), Brodrick Bunkley (2006), Brandon Graham (2010), Fletcher Cox (2012), Marcus Smith (2014), and Derek Barnett (2017).
If the Eagles don’t select a defensive lineman in the first round of this year’s draft, it’ll be the longest gap since 2000 in which they haven’t.
While corner, wideout, and linebacker are all bigger needs for this team, one could argue defensive line is the fourth biggest need for this team entering 2021. The starting alignment of Graham, Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Derek Barnett/Josh Sweat, seems set, but there’s little to no depth behind them. And as we know, one of Roseman’s fundamental team building philosophies is building from the offensive/defensive line out.
Not to mention, the Eagles’ defensive line isn’t the young, feisty group it used to be. Graham will be 33 years old heading into next year, and Cox will be 30. Hargrave is still in the prime of his career at 28, and while Barnett will only be 25 entering the 2021 season, he’s on the final year of his contract and he hasn’t truly lived up to his first round selection.
Aside from re-signing Hassan Ridgeway, Roseman didn’t bring in any new faces to place along his defensive front. Maybe that’s because he plans on adding to it with his 12th overall pick? It may not excite fans, but it’s certainly a possibility.
There are a few names that would make sense for the Eagles at 12 from the defensive lineman group. As far as edge rushers are concerned, Michigan’s Kwity Paye is the consensus No. 1 pass rusher in this year’s draft and he’ll more than likely be available at 12. Penn State’s Jayson Oweh is another physical freak who should be available, as well as Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, who may be the best pure pass rusher in this year’s class. We can’t forget Miami’s Jaelan Phillips either, who had a dominant second half of his 2020 campaign.
But aside from Paye and Phillips, who’s only real drawback is his injury history, Oweh and Ojulari would probably be available in the latter half of the first round, and the last thing the Eagles should do at 12 is reach.
The one name from the interior defensive line to keep an eye is Christian Barmore from Alabama. He’s above and beyond the best defensive tackle prospect in this class and wouldn’t be a reach at 12 — he’s been projected to go anywhere from 10 to 20.
I’m not pulling for the Eagles to stick to their tried and true team building formula in this draft. We’ve seen what an elite defensive line can do for a defense in Philly, but it’s a lot easier to get after the passer when you have a competent secondary behind you. Pass rushing helps the coverage and vice versa, it goes both ways.
Simply put, the team doesn’t have a starting cornerback opposite of Darius Slay on the roster and they’ll be in prime position to snag one of the best CB prospects in this draft at 12. It’s very rare to have a pick in the 12-20 range and to be in a position where you can fill an area of need without reaching for a player. All of the best CB prospects in this year’s draft would make sense at 12. I just hope Roseman sees it the same way.