It's very important for the Eagles to determine which positions have a strong amount of talent and which do not. It doesn't matter what the Eagles' needs are. If there isn't a player available that is worthy of a draft pick, you would be making a mistake to select the player just for the sake of need. And teams must also be careful when drafting a player at a position in an early round when there is another player at that same position who has a commensurate draft grade and will be available in the later rounds.
General manager Howie Roseman pointed out the Eagles' conundrum along the offensive line entering last year's draft. Sure, the Eagles wanted to find a young player who would help improve the offensive line. But there simply wasn't a player who graded out at the spots the Eagles selected.
"Last year, in an ideal world we would have liked to have drafted an offensive lineman," Roseman said. "We didn't have one with a higher grade. I think this year we talk about the top (of the offensive line prospects) not being as strong as it's been in years past, but maybe the depth is there more so than in years past throughout the draft."
So, which position has a bevy of talented players available? When asked, Roseman quickly pointed out that it's been highly publicized how good the defensive linemen are this year.
"I think the defensive linemen are so enticing and there are so many of them that those are the guys that people are looking for," Roseman said. "Obviously, it's hard to find defensive linemen in this league, guys who can get pressure on the quarterback, and this draft has a lot of them."
Of course, Roseman isn't one to reveal his draft grades with the three-day affair just a week away. But if you check out NFL Network's Mike Mayock and his list of the top 32 overall prospects, you will see 14 of them are defensive linemen. That certainly doesn't mean the Eagles will have first-round grades on those 14 players or all of them will fit the Eagles' 4-3 scheme. But if the best player available at No. 23 is a defensive lineman - and there's a chance that it could be - the Eagles won't refrain just because they used the No. 13 pick on defensive end Brandon Graham last year.
While there's a consensus regarding the strength of the defensive line class, the cornerback class doesn't have as much clarity. Neither of the starting right cornerbacks from last season - Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson - is signed for next season. If the Eagles want a starting-caliber outside corner, the 23rd pick might not offer them a good option.
"There are a couple of guys at the top who are very talented and probably will go early," Roseman said. "Then there's a group that I think if you took 32 teams, you're probably going to have 32 different draft boards of the next five or six guys and when they come off and how they have them ranked. I think people are just going to take who they like with that. I think in years past, there's more consensus top five and right now I think you'd get a lot of different views on the top-five corners."
One of the top cornerbacks available is Colorado's Jimmy Smith. The 6-2, 210-pound Smith is tall, athletic and has a lot of experience playing in press coverage. The reason he could potentially fall to No. 23 is off-the-field character concerns. Roseman said that the Eagles hosted Smith at the NovaCare Complex for a pre-draft visit and the cornerback did well in the interview.
"I think we wanted to make sure that we knew him ... Jimmy's a good guy to talk to," Roseman said. "He's enjoyable to talk to, he's got great energy and he did a great job when he was here."
Other positions that Roseman pointed out specifically included quarterback, where Roseman acknowledged that the "stock there depletes" after the first few rounds. The other was linebacker where there is good "value in the middle rounds."
There will good players available throughout the NFL Draft. It is now Roseman and his personnel crew's job of unearthing that talent.