Eagles: 5 first-round prospects to keep an eye on

We’re not even half way through the NFL season, but it’s pretty clear the Philadelphia Eagles are going nowhere fast. This week’s game against Detroit could very well be the inflection point for this team. If they win, perhaps they can take advantage of an easy second-half schedule and rack up some wins. But if they lose, it’s probably time to pack it in and look to next year.

Nevertheless, Philly will likely hold three first round picks in next year’s NFL Draft, the most they’ve ever possessed. Two of those picks will very likely end up in the top-10, giving the Eagles an invaluable opportunity to turn the tides of their franchise.

The team has a few obvious needs that will need to be addressed this offseason. Defensive line, cornerback, safety, and quarterback are the most glaring needs right now. The quarterback situation with Jalen Hurts may still be up in the air for some, but if you’re paying attention, it’s pretty clear that this organization doesn’t truly believe in him as the long-term answer.

Let’s get into some of the most alluring prospects entering this year’s draft and why the Eagles should already have their eyes on them.

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EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

Kayvon Thibodeaux seems to be the consensus No. 1 EDGE player entering this year’s draft. He’s arguably the best overall prospect in this year’s class, and the Eagles may be in a position to take him with the Miami pick looking more and more like it’ll be in top-2.

Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 250 pounds, Thibodeaux has the profile to dominate at the NFL level. His speed and power are second to none and he’s able to effortlessly translate that speed into power when rushing the passer. His length and athleticism makes it easy to fall in love with his pass rushing potential, but he’s also just as stout defending the run.

Through five games this season, Thibodeaux has posted a pass-rush win rate of 24.5% and run-stop rate of 12.2%. Per Pro Football Focus, the Oregon product has a pass-rush grade of 92.6 with a run-defense grade of 75.1.

Thibodeaux will likely remain one of the top prospects throughout the entire college football season. Given the Eagles possibly having two of the top-6 picks this year, he’s someone fans should certainly watch out for.

S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

Standing at 6’4”, 220 pounds, Kyle Hamilton is the type of lengthy, versatile player that every team would love to have in their defense. His presence on Notre Dame’s defense is not only felt in the passing game either. He’s spent time at safety, outside corner, nickel corner, in the box, and even along the defensive line.

On the year, Hamilton has posted three interceptions, three forced incompletions, and he’s allowed a passer rating of 42.3 and a completion percentage of 50% when targeted.

Hamilton could very well be the first safety to be selected in the top-10 since 2017 with the way his year is going. He’s athletic as hell, possessing the speed and length to cover the entire field. His versatility is invaluable in the NFL, he can play in a two-high or one deep safety looks. Put all of that together and you have yourself a highly touted prospect who will only climb up draft boards this offseason.

The Eagles have yet to replace Malcolm Jenkins and his versatility since his departure two years ago. Drafting Hamilton would provide the Eagles with the best safety they’ve had since then, by far.

DL DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M

DeMarvin Leal is probably the most versatile defensive lineman in this draft class. His skill set has been utilized all over the Aggies defensive line this season. He’s seen time in the A gap, B gap, over the tackle, and outside the tackle. Standing at 6’4”, 290 pounds, it’s not hard to see why he’s capable of playing anywhere along the line.

This season, Leal has posted a pass-rush win rate of 13.1% and a run-stop rate of 9.6%, which is among the best in the country. His PFF pass-rush grade for the year comes out to a respectable 75.4. He’s recorded five sacks, four quarterback hits, 15 hurries, and two batted balls in eight games this season.

His active hands and strong point of attack makes Leal a lethal pass rusher from any alignment along the defensive line. He has enough strength to push offensive lineman back with regularity and he’s agile enough to unleash swift pass rushing moves to get around blockers.

Finding a defined role for Leal may be a bit of a challenge at the next level, but he does everything at a proficient to excellent standard. The Eagles will need to draft multiple defensive lineman in this year’s draft and Leal will certainly be on their wishlist early on in the first round.

EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

A four year starter for the Wolverines, Aidan Hutchinson has honed his craft over the years and has had a 2021 to remember thus far. He’s recorded 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks on the year. His 28.7 pass-rush win rate is almost unbelievable — until you put on the tape.

He’s a high motor guy with the strength required to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. The comparisons to the Bosa brothers is understandable. His get off is unmatched, his hand placement is right where you want it to be, and his ability to push 300 pound lineman around is almost unfair. He and Thibodeux, the Oregon pass rusher I mentioned earlier, will likely battle it out of the top defensive end prospect in this year’s draft once the scouting combine rolls around.

His PFF overall grade on the year sits at 93.3, his pass-rush grade comes out to 92.6, and his run-defense grades out to 87.8, all in the 90th percentile or better among all defensive ends in the country.

Hutchinson will only continue to climb draft boards throughout the year and into the draft season. He’d undoubtedly be a great addition to the Eagles aging defensive line. And hey, he also grew up an Eagles fan, so that’s always cool.

QB Malik Willis, Liberty

There’s not much of a consensus on who the top quarterback prospect is just yet, but it’s safe to say Liberty’s Malik Willis is the fastest rising signal caller in the country.

The inaccuracy and happy feet that plagued his game in 2020 have been ironed out this year and Willis is having a Heisman-esque season, regardless of the fact that he plays for Liberty. He possesses legitimate arm strength and can easily make any throw you ask him too. His big-time throw percentage on PFF sits at 10.9%, the highest of any quarterback in the country. Willis has also been smart with the football in 2021, posting a turnover worthy play percentage of just 3.1%.

Willis is also a very effective runner with the football, which only adds to his draft profile. He’s totaled 647 rushing yards on the year and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry, not to mention nine rushing touchdowns.

His 77 PFF passing grade isn’t outstanding by any means, but his deep throw grade of 95.9 is the best in the country. And his adjusted completion percentage of 74.6% goes to show how much his accuracy has developed over the years.

Playing at a school like Liberty will undoubtedly turn some fans off, but his skill is undeniable when you put on the tape. He has all the tools to succeed in the NFL, he may just need some time to develop in an NFL offense. Liberty does run a lot of RPOs, similarly to the Eagles, but whose to say this current coaching staff will even be around next year. Facing NFL defenses will be a learning curve, but Willis is more than capable of developing into a franchise quarterback at the next level. Something the Eagles haven’t had in what feels like forever.

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