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Draft Theme: Defense, Defense, Defense

Posted Apr 28, 2017

Free agency was a time to upgrade the offense. The draft, through three rounds, is all about the D ...

Free agency was a time to upgrade the offense. The draft, through three rounds, is all about the D.

The Eagles added two cornerbacks on Friday night, one with the long-range picture in mind, and the other with the expectation of competing for a starting position immediately. At No. 43 overall, the Eagles used their second-round selection on University of Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, a top-rated player who went down in March with a torn Achilles tendon. At No. 99 overall, in the third round, the Eagles picked West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas, a long, rangy player who is being counted on to make an immediate contribution.

“We had a chance to help our secondary and we did it with these two picks,” vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “I feel really good about what we’ve done so far in the draft.”

All three picks – first-round defensive end Derek Barnett, Jones, and Douglas – are aid for the defense. In free agency, the concentration was on surrounding quarterback Carson Wentz with more weapons, and the Eagles brought in wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to headline the class.

“It’s about making this roster better in all three phases,” Howie Roseman said.

Before the heartbreaking March day when Jones crumbled to the ground with a torn Achilles tendon, he displayed every characteristic of a top-shelf cornerback. He covered every level of the field, played with pride and effort in the running game, and had the high football IQ and character that led the Eagles to believe that he could be a star at the NFL level.

That track to the top is slowed by the Achilles injury, one the Eagles want to see fully healed before they even consider playing Jones, but the track is there nonetheless. With the 43rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected their prototype cornerback of the future.

And they are more than willing to wait until Jones return to full health to see him in this defense.

“He’s a No. 1 corner. We feel he’s a guy who can cover all levels of the field. Excellent ball skills, doesn’t panic when the ball is in the air, a lot of production, a real student of the game, and a guy we feel is going to fit our program here,” director of player personnel Andy Weidl said.

Had he not been injured at his Pro Day at the University of Washington, Weidl said, the Eagles thought of Jones as a “top 15 talent, no question about it.

“Sometimes you catch a falling star in the draft, and we feel we caught one here.”

Continuing to let the draft come to them, the Eagles stayed at No. 43 overall in an eventful second round, knowing they had a list of players on their board who they felt would upgrade the roster. Jones, whom the Eagles would have considered very, very strongly at No. 14 overall had he remained healthy, is a huge upgrade in a cornerback room that still has question marks.

The Eagles are in the process of building a roster with a view that extends far beyond 2017. Adding end Derek Barnett in the first round and Jones in the second round gives the Eagles two more young cornerstone pieces around whom to build. The team said the same thing about Jones that it said about Barnett: An potential impact player has just been added.

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“Sidney Jones, when we started this process, was one of the guys that we were talking about with the 14th pick in the draft in our first stack of players,” Roseman said. “As we looked at it, great character, great player. Obviously, the injury is a factor here. That's the reason that he was available. We spent a lot of time with our doctors - Dr. DeLuca (Eagles head team physician Dr. Peter DeLuca) and Chris Peduzzi, our head trainer - talking about this situation. For us, it's about what we believe this kid brings to our football team going forward.

“We anticipate a full recovery for him. We don't know that timetable, and to be fair, we're going to just make sure that he's healthy and he's ready to go, because we believe he can be an impact player for us for a long time going forward when he gets back out on the field.”

Maybe that’s the case with Douglas, too, who has to show that he has the top-end speed to run with the fastest NFL wide receivers. The Eagles love that he’s 6-2, physical at the line of scrimmage, and that he showed his production last season at West Virginia with eight interceptions. At this point, and it is very early and only speculation, Douglas, Jalen Mills and nickel corner Ron Brooks are the three leading candidates at the corner spots.

The Eagles have five selections on Saturday, and they will likely add to the offensive side of the football. There are still questions in the offensive backfield, at linebacker, and, perhaps, at defensive tackle. Maybe the Eagles will add a prospect at wide receiver, too.

That’s for Saturday and rounds 4-7. For now, the theme of this 2017 draft is defense, defense, defense.

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