The NFL Draft is four weeks away and in whatever way, shape, or form the league presents it, the draft is on schedule to happen April 23-25. And the Eagles have to be ready. There are, as Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman says, "no excuses." Every team is in the same situation. At-facility visits are prohibited. Teams can conduct conference calls with prospects and continue to learn as much as they can about the players, but this is uncharted territory and the final few yards of work are being done before the Eagles reach the end zone and the draft is upon us.
"Overall, we're happy with where we are right now knowing that we still have other areas to improve," Roseman said.
The Eagles have done an admirable job managing the salary cap and creating opportunities to add big-time talent – led by cornerback Darius Slay and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave – in the new League Year without sacrificing the future. As a result, the roster – particularly on the defensive side of the ball – has taken a significant, and needed, jump.
That said, the roster is not yet complete. The draft preparation – remember, the Eagles have eight picks – is taking a final lap. Here is a look at the team, position by position.
This position is stable, and the Eagles could still add to the group at some point down the line either in the draft or in the days leading into Training Camp. Carson Wentz is the Franchise Player and he's healthy and ready for his fifth NFL season. The Eagles signed Nate Sudfeld prior to the start of the league year and Sudfeld feels he has "unfinished business" in Philadelphia after a rough 2019 season that started with him as the No. 2 option behind Wentz and then devolved into a preseason wrist injury, the addition of Josh McCown that bumped Sudfeld to No. 3, and inactive status for the playoff game against Seattle. Kyle Lauletta is a young player the Eagles want to take a long look at in the spring (we hope!) and summer months (no guarantees there, either!).
Bottom Line: The Eagles aren't likely to have a Training Camp with only three arms, so they're probably going to add someone. Whether that's a young, developmental player they draft or a veteran to compete for a backup position remains to be seen.
With only three backs on the roster – Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Elijah Holyfield – Roseman acknowledges that the Eagles are going to add to this position. But they also feel they're in excellent shape at running back with Sanders leading the way and with Scott providing a nice complement. Holyfield needs some work, but the Eagles think he can develop into a power back, similar to Jordan Howard in that regard. More is coming at running back, a position that can be replenished after the draft if need be as the Eagles showed in the past.
Bottom line: Yes, the Eagles will add a running back or three to provide competition, but they feel good about their first and second options with Sanders and Scott, and they think they can work with Holyfield.
In a 52-minute conference call with reporters on Thursday – one day after Roseman and I had an exclusive one-on-one interview that covered the entire roster – Roseman was asked a few times about the wide receiver position in the vein of, "Why didn't you address wide receiver in free agency?"
The first part of the answer is that Roseman and the Eagles directed their resources in free agency, for the most part, toward the defense. The second part of that answer is that, in the minds of the Eagles, the cupboard isn't exactly bare at wide receiver. The Eagles plan to get Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson healthy and they know that those two have plenty of high-level football in them. They understand that second-year man J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has to take a sizeable leap for 2020. They know that Greg Ward showed some good things out of the slot last year and that there are young receivers here to work with and that, yes, they have to improve the position.
Bottom line: The previews for the draft suggest the wide receiver class is loaded. The Eagles are going to have options up and down the draft should they choose to address the position there.
Nothing to worry about here as the Eagles have an enviable 1-2 situation with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Those two are going to be featured a lot in 2020, as they were in 2019. There isn't a better two-deep picture in the league. The Eagles also have Joshua Perkins, who played a valuable role as a hybrid tight end/receiver last season, and they want to see more from Alex Ellis, a developmental player who took big strides quickly last summer before suffering an injury.
Bottom line: This looks like a post-draft position to add to. The Eagles are in good shape, but it's always smart to have developmental players in the pipeline.
There is a lot to like about the makings of the offensive line as it stands now with four of the five starting positions returning in left guard Isaac Seumalo, center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Lane Johnson. Being healthy all season is the key. The Eagles allowed Jason Peters to test free agency and he remains out there. Roseman has always kept the door open for players, so you never really know with Peters. In the meantime, the Eagles have a lot of confidence that Andre Dillard will make the transition to the starting role at left tackle. There is a need for depth and young players like Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta and Matt Pryor and, yes, Jordan Mailata are ready to provide quality, trustworthy depth, and versatility.
Bottom line: There is some age among the starters, so that's a concern, and the recent injury past is certainly something the Eagles want to avoid in 2020, but the Eagles are in a better position than most offensive line-starved teams. The Eagles will add numbers as they continue to develop young, talented players for depth and competition, but it's not likely to be a super-high priority in the draft.
By adding Javon Hargrave in free agency, the Eagles made the tackle position the deepest and most dynamic in the NFL. Hargrave joins Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, and Anthony Rush and there just isn't a team in the league that can match that five-deep quality. Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are the starters at defensive end with a handful of young players the Eagles know need to develop. Plus, Jackson can move to the edge and create favorable matchups in certain instances. The Eagles have numbers on the edge and they need some of the young players to take the next step.
Bottom line: The Eagles value the line of scrimmage tremendously, so it wouldn't shock anyone if they used a high draft pick on an edge pass rusher. Are there any out there who can make a difference and upgrade this depth chart where the Eagles draft?
This is an area that needs to make more plays than it did a season ago and the changes made – allowing Nigel Bradham to become a free agent and seeing Kamu Grugier-Hill leave for Miami in free agency while adding Jatavis Brown from the Chargers in free agency – reflect that. There is some versatility here, understanding that the Eagles play a high percentage of defensive snaps with two linebackers on the field. Nate Gerry made plays last year in the first extended playing time in his career. Duke Riley is down with the system as he looks to become a starter, as he was early in his career in Atlanta. Second-year man T.J. Edwards hopes to build on his rookie season and Alex Singleton wants to earn playing time.
There are no "headline" names here, but the Eagles think they've got an athletic group that is assignment-sound and that plays well within the system. Jalen Mills and even Will Parks could at times line up as quasi-linebackers – safeties in the box, essentially – and be counted with this group.
Bottom line: How much do the Eagles value linebackers? They haven't thrown a ton of resources here, but they certainly will have a chance to use a second-day draft pick on the position.
A position of emphasis to improve in the offseason, the Eagles have certainly done that by trading for Darius Slay, a true No. 1 cornerback. They also added nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman on a one-year deal. Now, the Eagles have some options. Slay will be a starter on one side, likely the left side of the defense, and Robey-Coleman immediately challenges Cre'Von LeBlanc at the nickel position. Who plays at the other cornerback spot? Good question. Avonte Maddox can play inside and outside. Rasul Douglas has taken a lot of valuable snaps in his three seasons here. Sidney Jones faces a crossroads summer in his fourth Eagles season. Craig James wants to build on some of the good things he did in 2019. Some new faces – Tremon Smith and Trevor Williams – need all the reps they can get to learn this system. And Mills is still going to play in coverage, likely in a variety of roles.
Bottom line: Slay and Robey-Coleman upgrade cornerback. Still, if the Eagles see someone they like at corner in the draft, they will be very, very tempted. You just can't have enough quality depth at this position.
Position coach Tim Hauck has his work cut out for him integrating some new pieces here after years of stability with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod working together. McLeod is back, and that's important, but who plays the other safety position? Who are the third and fourth safeties? Mills is in the mix. So is free agent signee Will Parks. The Eagles love his speed and versatility. Marcus Epps did some good things when he came over from Minnesota. Rudy Ford is very fast and now he's got the defensive scheme down after basically learning it on the go last year.
Bottom line: It may not be at the top of the list as a priority, but safety is still an area to watch in the draft. You never know as the Eagles have a lot of moving pieces here at the moment.
All set with Pro Bowl long snapper Rick Lovato, placekicker Jake Elliott, and punter Cameron Johnston already on board.
Bottom line: Once again, the Eagles head into the NFL Draft with stability and excellence at the specialist positions. It's been a long, long time since the Eagles needed help here.