NFL free agency isn’t officially over yet, but we’ve seen nearly every big name free agent get signed at this point.
The Eagles have made several moves in free agency thus far. They resigned their entire 2018 draft class, along with a handful of key contributors on both sides of the ball. Howie Roseman also brought in a handful of new faces to the organization. Haason Reddick, Zach Pascal, and Kyzir White will all fill areas of need for this team in 2022.
Looking ahead to April’s NFL Draft, it’s safe to assume the team’s draft strategy has shifted a bit based on the players they were able to retain and the newcomers they now have in house. Let’s take a look at each need still facing this team and assess which one if the most pressing heading into April.
The Eagles have never been one to invest in the linebacker position. Contrary to that long held stance, Howie went out and acquired two linebackers during free agency.
Haason Reddick is more of a pass rusher by trade and doesn’t exactly fit the criteria of an off-ball backer, but he’ll play a linebacker position nonetheless. Kyzir White has been a solid starter for the Chargers over the past few years and fits the mold of a coverage backer in today’s NFL — something the Eagles have been desperately trying to find for years now.
There was an outside chance that the Eagles were going to look at adding a linebacker in the first-round of the upcoming draft prior to these moves, but now, the chances are slim to none. The team has other pressing needs and Howie doesn’t value linebacker enough to prioritize it over any of the other positions we’re about to talk about.
4. Wide Receiver
There are some fans who will have receiver higher on their needs list, and I can kinda sorta see why. There’s been a ton of receiver movement around the league this offseason and their market value has never been higher. Yet, the Eagles have settled for Zach Pascal, a fringe starter who was brought here as more of a glue guy than anything else.
When assessing the receiver position in regards to the Eagles, it’s important to remember that they already have a No. 1 guy in DeVonta Smith. He’s already underutilized because of the run heavy approach of Nick Sirianni, along with Jalen Hurts’ inability to consistently get him the ball.
Then you have Quez Watkins, who deserves a lot more recognition for how much he developed last season. He went from playing 119 snaps as a rookie to over 700 in his second season, boosting his receptions total from 7 to 43 and his yards total from 106 to 647. Watkins is the fastest receiver on the roster and has real potential to be a game-breaking deep threat with the right quarterback play.
And I know the majority of Eagles fans don’t want to hear this, but Jalen Reagor still has potential to be a solid piece to this wide receiver room. There are plenty of examples where receivers don’t pop until year three or four (i.e. Nelson Agholor). He’s only 23, folks. Be patient.
At the end of they day, the Eagles have the offensive pieces to produce a more than acceptable passing attack. They just don’t have the quarterback to captain the ship. That’s the reality of the situation.
If Hurts develops into a solid passer this season, Eagles fans will look back and wonder why receiver was ever considered a need in the first place.
After resigning Anthony Harris, the need to add a safety during free agency isn’t as paramount. It’s still a need, but I imagine Howie will end up opting to bring back Rodney McLeod, while drafting a guy in the second or third round to develop behind the pair of starters.
The team also has some developmental pieces in the pipeline that could get an opportunity to earn a starting spot. Marcus Epps has continually developed into a fine box safety over the past few years. He played in 48 percent of the Eagles defensive snaps in 2021, a career-high for the 26-year-old. He was also one of the highest graded safeties in the entire league last season, earning the second-highest run defense grade (88.9) among safeties, per Pro Football Focus.
With one reliable safety in Harris, another veteran probably coming back in Mcleod, along with a budding starter in Epps, Jonathan Gannon should feel content with what he has at the moment. Drafting a developmental guy, rather than handing out a big contract, seems like the best course of action for the safety position right now.
The Eagles already have two solid starters at cornerback with Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox at the nickel. The No. 2 corner from last season, Steven Nelson, is still an option, but he’s not a long-term solution.
It’s been a long time since the Birds have drafted a corner in the first-round. You’d have to go back all the way to 2002, when the Eagles selected Lito Sheppard at 26th overall. This year, it should be a top priority.
While Slay has been a great addition, he’s getting older and his Pro Bowl caliber of play will diminish in the near future. Maddox is a fine nickel, but as we saw under Jim Schwartz, he’s just not physically capable of starting on the outside. The team acquired a handful of young corners in 2021, including Zech McPhearson and Tay Gowan, but it would be surprising if any of them are ready to start in 2022.
There should be a handful of solid cornerback prospects available when the Eagles are on the clock in April. Corner has become one of the most valuable positions in football and it’s about time Howie addresses it in a meaningful way through the draft.
1. Defensive Line
Despite making a handful of moves to sure up the defensive line, it’s still the biggest need for the Eagles at this juncture. They have plenty of names across the board. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will be back, along with budding stars in Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat. On paper, this defensive line looks fine, but the importance of generating pressure with the front-four has never been higher.
Adding a first-round prospect, either along the interior or on the edge, should still be priority No. 1 come draft night. There are just too many stout defensive line prospects for the Eagles to resist.
Haason Reddick will have a major impact on the Eagles pass rush, but that’s just not enough. We don’t know what BG will look like coming off a torn Achilles, and it’s hard to imagine Cox recapturing his Pro Bowl form at age 31. The team needs long-term solutions for those guys and they’ll be in a prime position to do so during the draft.
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