As expected, Howie Roseman and Andy Weidl were inundated with questions about the wide receiver class in this year's draft during their pre-draft press conference with the media Thursday.
Outside of more serious matters going on across the world, wide receiver has been the main topic of discussion among Eagles fans, as it is seen as the top position for the team to address by the experts heading into next week's NFL Draft.
Because of COVID-19, Roseman and Weidl spoke to the media via a Zoom conference call to give their thoughts on this year's crop of pass catchers, which has been lauded as being one of the best in recent memory by analysts.
"Time will tell with this draft class, as with each class," said Weidl, who enters his first draft as the team's vice president of player personnel. "It's an exciting class. There's different flavors, obviously, different types of receivers, and there's plenty of them in the draft and at every level, we feel."
"We're excited about the strength, the depth, the level of players that are in this draft at the receiver position," he added.
But what goes into evaluating a wide receiver? Route running, pass catching, ability to win one-on-one are a few, but the first thing that usually jumps off the page is his flat-out speed. However, something as simple as how fast a player runs can be misleading. Roseman and Weidl made sure to note that the key is marrying the data to what a player actually puts on film.
"I think it's time speed and play speed," Weidl said. "I think you talk about when you're watching a guy play, sometimes the 40 times don't match up with the play speed, but a lot of times you have to come back to what you see on tape. Are they running by people consistently? Do they create gaps of separation? I think those are all things."
"It's evident we do tape study on players and you see sometimes the quality of defensive backs that players go up against. But there are a lot of fast receivers in this draft. The play speed, I remember my time with the Steelers, Chuck Noll always talked about play speed and play strength is different than time speed and measured strength sometimes," he added.
"(Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey (Lurie), I think last year or the year before, talked about all this data that we have and that's what we are trying to also merge," Roseman said. "You have this RIF data that gives you the speed of guys, so we try to balance what they are running at the Combine, and also speeds that we have collected."
With more and more receivers having success during their rookie seasons, fans are expecting big things immediately from a class this talented. Roseman attributes the success of young receivers to how much their development has accelerated over the last decade due to the proliferation of passing camps, and high school and college offenses evolving their passing concepts.
All of that means that teams have a greater chance of selecting a more polished pass catcher that can contribute at a high level from Day 1, as oppose to said player taking a season or two to develop into a top-flight player like in years past.
"Coverages are different in the National Football League, the quality of the corner play is different, you got these college coaches who are able to scheme up opportunities and moving guys around because in college football there's obviously not the same level of play in the secondary that you have in the National Football League," Roseman said. "I think sometimes that's been part the of the evaluation that in the past you don't take for granted."
"In terms of us and what we have done, we've got to look at that," he added. "We've got to look at the guys we have brought in and the reasons that they were brought in, and the guys who had success, who haven't. We talked about it at some point this offseason about the fact that it was surprising to us, just going back and how much we value production, about the success that some of the guys had last year coming into the NFL and being productive right away. We've got to look at that stuff and we have got to learn from it and make sure we do whatever we can to add talent to our team."
"It's become a space game," Weidl said. "It's become a game of matchups, spreading people out, and receivers that can win on all three levels early, top of the route, and guys that can stretch the field. It's become a one-on-one league and a space game and guys that can win and guys that can go above the rim and win the football."
Although discussing this year's crop of wide receivers took up the bulk of the conference call, Roseman made it clear that the Eagles are not selecting players based off a perceived need at any position.
Roseman and Weidl shared the sentiment that next week's draft was merely one opportunity to improve the team, but it is not the only, as free agency, the trade deadline, and even the acquisition of undrafted free agents also present themselves as chances to bolster the roster.
"You just don't want to get into a situation where then you force things," Roseman said. "Obviously, it's human nature to you see a hole on your roster or see a position that you want to upgrade and feel like you just are going to use this opportunity to do just that, but you don't want to compound the problem by making a pick that doesn't really help."