The Philadelphia Eagles have many needs coming into the 2021 NFL Draft, which is probably why they traded back for more total assets. However, some spots are more needy than others. Here are the Eagles draft needs and some players they can target in the upcoming draft.
The focus is more on the top three rounds, as those high picks are going to have the best chance to produce NFL starters.
Eagles Draft Needs and 2021 NFL Draft Targets
Cornerback | Eagles Draft Needs
The number one cornerback spot is secure for now, with Darius Slay, but he’s not getting any younger. Slay performed well as the Eagles’ top corner. Besides games where he was left alone on an island against Davante Adams and D.K. Metcalf, Slay did an admirable job locking up the opponent’s best receiver. That includes names like Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper.
The issue is the No. 2 cornerback spot. It was already a problem in 2019, and it was only made worse with injuries. Coming into this year, the Eagles will be down two guys that saw solid time — Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre’von Leblanc. They weren’t amazing, but anyone is better than Michael Jacquet. That Dallas Cowboys game was the stuff of nightmares. Anyways, the Eagles haven’t added anyone yet, and that spot is by default going to Avonte Maddox. He’s much more suited to the slot and has struggled a lot going outside. Not only that, but as implied above, the depth behind them really needs work.
First-Round Cornerback Draft Targets
Pick 12 is an ideal spot to solve the cornerback problem. Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn are slated to be available and are the top two cornerbacks in the draft. Surtain especially is mocked by most to fall to the Eagles at that pick, and he would solve at least the top end problems the Eagles have. He is considered the most pro-ready, with the highest floor. Surtain is physically gifted enough to not struggle on that end, and has great technique and instincts. Horn, on the other hand, is an athletic monster, but not quite as polished.
Day Two Cornerback Options
Caleb Farley was seen by many as the top corner in the 2021 NFL Draft before his injuries, especially the back surgery. It’s not impossible that it scares enough teams for Farley to fall to the second round. At the same time, the Eagles could be scared off as well. The last time they picked a first-round talent with a pre-draft injury, it didn’t go well. Looking at you, Sidney Jones.
Asante Samuel Jr. is also an option. While he’s on the small side for outside corners, his ball-skills are no joke. His father had a good career and a few solid years for the Birds at around the same size. Kelvin Joseph is another athletic, but raw type, with a six-foot frame and 4.34 speed. There’s many other names that could fall anywhere between the late 20’s and the 70’s, like Elijah Molden, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes.
This is a fairly deep draft for corner, and they could grab guys in round two and three that are really good. Surtain and Horn are nice, but they aren’t can’t-miss guys, while there are quite a few solid options late.
Wide Receiver | Eagles Draft Needs
Despite spending a first and a second-round pick on this position in the last two drafts, this is still a really weak position group and one of the Eagles’ major needs. The jury is still out on Jalen Reagor. Wide receivers tend to struggle year one before making a leap years two and three, 2020 notwithstanding. Reagor rarely showed the burst he was promised to have, but at the same time, he also contended with terrible QB play. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is a bust, unless some sort of miraculous turn-around happens for him in year three. The Eagles aren’t banking on it, and you shouldn’t either. That leaves us with Travis Fulgham, who was M.I.A. after a hot midseason stretch, and a couple more young guys like John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Not a scary group by any means.
Who Can They Get in the First Round?
This is a famously great wide receiver draft. While the Eagles took themselves out of the Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts sweepstakes by moving down from six, there are still a ton of great options out there. The two Alabama guys immediately spring to mind. DeVonta Smith put together one of the greatest wide receiver seasons ever last year in college, and may fall to 12. His size is a concern, but let’s not forget that right after the college football season it was a real discussion between Chase and Smith as the top receiver in the draft. Two months ago getting Smith at 12 would be a steal, right now it’s a very real possibility.
Jaylen Waddle might’ve been the Heisman, if he didn’t get hurt last year. He’s absurdly fast and the Kansas City Chiefs have shown you can’t have too much speed. Additionally, if Reagor ends up being a bust, his potential role clash won’t matter much. Henry Ruggs may be a cautionary tale, but most opinions are that Ruggs was used poorly and, again, receivers need at least another year before the bust label can come out. For his part, Waddle is the shiftier of the two, which helps him get separation despite being a touch slower than Ruggs.
While the class has some real stars, there are also a lot of great prospects later on. Rondale Moore is a sub 4.3-second 40 guy and has a 42.5-inch vertical, making him one of the very best athletes in the class. However, he is very small, measuring at 5-7 at his Pro Day. There are a lot of athletic speed freaks, even in the second round and beyond. Elijah Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. both ran in the 4.3’s (4.35 and 4.38, respectively) and Marshall Jr. also has the size, measuring 6-2. Kadarius Toney and Rashod Bateman are a step slower, running high 4.3’s or low 4.4s, but are also weapons, with Bateman possessing good height (6-3) and polished route running.
This is a deep draft for CB and WR which fits the Eagles quite well. While it wouldn’t be very on brand for the Eagles to go WR/CB in their first three picks, if they do so, they’ll have gotten good value whilst filling dire needs.
There are a couple positions that could be in the top three needs but are more depth or future concerns than immediate problems. Safeties Rodney McLeod and newly added Anthony Harris are a solid duo, but neither will be here when the Eagles are ready to compete again, and you would be hard-pressed to call them stars. Still, safety isn’t a need for this season.
Defensive end has three good or better players in Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, but Graham is 33 while Sweat and Barnett are on the last year of their deals. After that though the talent falls off big time. This seems like a Day 3 need though. Defensive tackle is identical, with a stud in Fletcher Cox and two good pieces in Hassan Ridgeway and Javon Hargrave. Then the talent drops off a cliff, and Ridgeway is both injury-prone and on a contract year.
Even the offensive line suffers from a similar problem. On paper they are great, and for this season they should be. They just don’t fit the time table for the Eagles competitive window, with the three best lineman Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks either old, injury-prone or both. Still, not the highest on the list of needs.
Finally, QB could arguably be the number one need, but Jalen Hurts deserves a prove-it year in what is most likely a dead season anyways.
Linebacker | Eagles Draft Needs
The Eagles did just invest in this position by signing Eric Wilson, but it’s not like that was some blockbuster deal for a star. It was a one-year deal for around three million, hardly a huge investment. To be clear, I think the Wilson signing was a good one, but it doesn’t change the fact that this group is average at best. Wilson is good in coverage but one of the worst backers against the run. That suits the current Eagles fine, but is hardly the long-term solution you want.
Alex Singleton was a pleasant surprise, but he may have just been the best of a bad group. He passed the eye-test for the most part, but had a rather average PFF grade of 58.9. Three linebackers are more and more rare, but if the Eagles go to that base formation their other options are Genard Avery and T.J. Edwards, more solid-at-best guys. Is it a horrible group? No, but every single one is far from irreplaceable and really needs an ejection of elite talent.
Who Won’t They Get in the First Round?
Micah Parsons is expected to go near 12, and he is considered by many to be the best linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechly. Parsons is an athletic monster, running a 4.39-second 40 at 6-3, 246. That freak athleticism lets him do the many things a linebacker needs to do at a high level. He’s not going to get beat for speed by running backs or tight ends (or even some receivers), he can get sideline to sideline in a flash to stop the run and he can rush the passer at an elite level due to his background as a defensive end.
Parsons has some question marks regarding character and lack of experience as a linebacker in coverage, but his gifts outstrip those. The reason that the Eagles won’t draft him is that the Eagles and GM Howie Roseman do not traditionally value the linebacker position very much. The Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1979 when they selected Jerry Robinson with the 21st pick.
Day 2 Linebacker Targets
Luckily, there are a couple other solid names that might be available later on. Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah and Zaven Collins are very different players, but both are good. Owusu-Koramoah is a smaller, faster linebacker that will excel in coverage which is perfect for the NFL of today. Zaven Collins is your traditional run stuffer. He’s huge at 6-4, 260 and his 4.67 40 is good for his size. He may not be the quickest, but when you’re that big it might not matter, and no tight end is going to outsize him in coverage. Both those guys have first round grades, but with how stacked this class is at other positions, it wouldn’t shock me to see one fall.
Besides those two, we have Nick Bolton, a classic run-stuffing middle linebacker. Smart, hits hard and works harder with average athleticism. That’s similar to what they said about Luke Keuchly, just saying. Jamin Davis on the other hand is an athletic freak that needs some polishing. Dylan Moses has dropped since his sophomore year, but without the health concerns he would most likely be much higher as his athletic potential is very high.
Overall this is a fairly deep and solid draft for the Eagles’ needs, which is a good place to be. Any combination of these three in the first three rounds would be great, and let’s not rule out further trade ups or downs. The Eagles do have 11 picks in the upcoming draft, and using them to move up and snag a better prospect would be a good move.