As the days wind down before the NFL Draft becomes live, we're going to be inundated with rumors and guesses and everything that makes the pre-draft process so much fun. But when it boils down to the nuts and bolts, the Eagles need to come out of next week's draft with players around whom they can build in 2017 and many years to come.
Everyone wants to know who the Eagles are targeting at No. 14 overall. In the end, the answer is that they're going to have a handful of players to choose from at 14, and they will decide on the best of that list as well as consider all of the trade possibilities that the draft weekend presents.
Which side of the ball, as the Eagles look at "the best players on the board who fit our needs," is primed for the most help?
It seems clear that the defensive side of the line of scrimmage has more areas of need after the Eagles upgraded their wide receivers and furnished their offensive line in free agency, and then re-arranged and fortified the quarterback depth chart in the last month.
This offense appears to be largely set, with the exception of a running back group that lost Kenjon Barner in free agency (he signed with the Chargers) and has a lead back in Ryan Mathews whose history of injuries limited him to 155 carries last season. Running back is a position the Eagles must look at very closely during and after the draft.
Otherwise, the Eagles have three experienced and talented quarterbacks (Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, and Matt McGloin) on the roster. They have a projected foursome at wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Ronald Darby, and Nelson Agholor) that has a chance to be very good. Their three tight ends (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton) are versatile and extremely productive.
So the defense could very well be the focus for the Eagles, who have eight draft picks from Thursday-Saturday in the seven rounds. Where on defense? Pick your position.
By signing Chris Long to play defensive end and by trading for Tim Jernigan to add punch to defensive tackle, the Eagles have put their line in a strong position before next week. But that doesn't mean the Eagles will ignore their board at those positions. If there is an impact player, or a talent who upgrades end or tackle, the Eagles are going to make the right decisions.
At linebacker, the Eagles are very pleased with the progress made by Jordan Hicks in the middle. Nigel Bradham is a solid fit on the strong side. Mychael Kendricks saw his reps decrease last season, but he's still a talented playmaker who wants to find his niche in the defense.
Depth? Major questions. Some young players like Joe Walker and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and an experienced hand in Najee Goode, but the Eagles would like to challenge that group.
and Rodney McLeod. Behind them, the Eagles have Chris Maragos and Jaylen Watkins, both of whom play well on special teams and in spot safety reps. But the Eagles would be foolish to ignore their draft board should they have a player rated highly who is available. The draft, say the experts, is loaded with safeties. Why wouldn't the Eagles consider this position?
Same with cornerback, although the needs are more obvious. In a cornerback-heavy draft, the Eagles will consider their options from rounds one through seven.
So this isn't necessarily a revolutionary thought, but it bears some consideration a week away from the start of the draft: While the Eagles will absolutely look to add to every position, the defense has more front-line needs than the offense. And the thing is, those needs are across the board on that side of the football.
The teams that draft well don't draft for a "need." They take the "best player at a position of need" unless there is someone so significantly better on their draft board that they can't ignore the name.
But for the Eagles, the theme for next weekend could very well be "defense," as the team dips into a deep pool of players on that side of the football.