The NFL Draft is still a ways away, and the Eagles have a playoff game in just two weeks, but since the team appears to be resting their starters for their upcoming Week 18 matchup, why not take a look ahead to April?
As we all know by now, the Eagles have three selections in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. With the Miami Dolphins officially eliminated from playoff contention, their pick has solidified in the No. 14 spot. The Eagles own pick and the pick they own from the Colts could change by draft night, but as of right now, they’re slotted in at 19 and 23 respectively.
In this first-round mock draft, I decided to go all defense. There are a ton of alluring prospects on that side of the ball and the Eagles will have a handful of holes to fill defensively this offseason.
Let’s just jump right into it, starting with the 14th overall pick…
14th overall, LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
In any other draft, selecting a linebacker in the first round would be out of the question for Howie Roseman. But considering the team has three selections, making an exception this year would be understandable. And if we’re talking about a prospect like Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, Howie would be foolish to not at least consider selecting him.
The Eagles’ need at linebacker isn’t as great as it once was. With the emergence of T.J. Edwards and the flashes shown by Davion Taylor when he’s been healthy, prioritizing this position isn’t a necessity this offseason. But, adding the 2021 Butkus Award winner to the Birds’ linebacking room would obviously bolster this group. Dare I say, it could make the linebacker position a strength of Jonathan Gannon’s defense?
Dean is a stout linebacker prospect across the board. He’s very instinctive and great at diagnosing plays. He flows well to ball carriers, showing a knack for tracking runners down from the back side. Dean is also very effective filling gaps in the running game. His team leading tackles for loss illustrates that ability.
Dean has solid pass coverage ability as well, an obvious plus for any linebacker prospect. He’s demonstrated the ability to cover backs out of the backfield with ease, as well as getting good depth in his zone.
There aren’t any glaring weaknesses in Dean’s game. The one knock on him is that he doesn’t present much versatility at the linebacker position. He’s a prototypical 4-3 backer. But at the end of the day, if he’s good enough as a pure linebacker, the versatility to play along the line isn’t as warranted.
If there was a year for Howie to finally take a linebacker in the first round, 2022 would be that year. And hopefully, Nakobe Dean is the prospect.
19th overall, DE/DT DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
While taking linebacker in the first round isn’t guaranteed, selecting a defensive lineman is. Roseman will bolster his lines whenever the opportunity presents itself, and this offseason, it’s going to be a need for this team.
DeMarvin Leal out Texas A&M is probably the most versatile defensive lineman in this year’s draft class. In 2021, he spent time all across the Aggies defensive line, lining up in the A gap, B gap, over the tackle, and outside of the tackle. Standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 290 pounds, Leal has the athletic build to be effective at every alignment across the defensive line.
His impressive change of direction ability, along with his speed, makes him a stout outside pass rusher. But Leal also possesses the strength to be a menace along the interior. He stops the run just as well as he gets after the passer. For comparison’s sake, Leal is a more refined version of Milton Williams essentially. Leal is good enough to start from day one along the interior, and he’ll probably need to if the Eagles decide to part ways with Fletcher Cox this offseason. But he also looks just as good playing along the edge, case and point:
If Leal fell to 19, he has future Eagle written all over him.
23rd overall, S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
Safety will probably be the biggest need facing the Eagles this offseason. Both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are projected to hit free agency, leaving Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace as the only viable options to replace them.
Gannon has used a lot of three safety looks this season, so adding a third guy to the mix is a foregone conclusion. If they don’t address the need through free agency, adding a safety in the first-round is a no-brainer. Jaquan Brisker out of Penn State isn’t the best safety in this draft class, but he still presents a lot of upside and has the ability to start from day one.
Brisker has a long frame, standing at 6’1” and weighing in at 204 pounds. And within that frame he has a lot of desirable traits. He’s a twitchy athlete, he’s smooth in his hips and is able to flip them with relative ease in coverage. He covers ground quickly and runs sideline to sideline. Brisker checks a lot of boxes, and he brings the football IQ desired in any high profiled safety prospect.
He played all over PSU’s secondary in 2021. Brisker spent time in a two-deep look, single-high, and in the slot. That type of versatility will fit well in Gannon’s defense, where he asks his safeties to do a lot of different things.
He’s not quite on the level of a Kyle Hamilton, but Brisker is certainly good enough to go in the latter half of the first round, and he has the athletic profile to transition to the NFL and make an impact from day one.
Three picks, three projected day one starters. Going all defense is a very likely outcome for the Eagles in this year’s draft. They need an injection of youth all across the board defensively, and this haul certainly does that.
It wouldn’t shock me if Howie decided to trade up to get one of the premiere edge rushers, but if he stays put with his picks, I’d be ecstatic with these prospects.