Glimpsing the Eagles as Combine Nears

Ed Kracz

The NFL Scouting Combine begins this week and here is an update on where things stand with the Eagles:

Most of the noise the team has made to this point has been on the coaching and front office side of things, with the lone personnel move being the decision to not pick up the option year on linebacker Nigel Bradham’s contract. The move allows Bradham to test free agency sooner rather than having to wait until March 18 when the league’s new year begins.

The Eagles changed the philosophical structure of their coaching staff, choosing not to hire an offensive coordinator to replace Mike Groh, who along with receivers coach Carson Walch, was fired on Jan. 9. Instead, they chose Press Taylor to be the passing game coordinator, Andrew Breiner to be the pass game analyst and Rich Scangarello to be the senior offensive assistant. They will work in conjunction with run game coordinator Matt Burke and assistant run game coordinator T.J. Paganetti.

Several coaches will have dual title. Burke will also coach the defensive line while Taylor will continue to be the quarterbacks coach and Paganetti the assistant running backs coach to Duce Staley. Additionally, the Eagles brought former players into the front office, including Connor Barwin (special assistant to general manager Howie Roseman), Darren Sproles and Brent Celek (personnel consultants).

2019 Season in Review

The Eagles struggled once again with serious injury issues, particularly on offense, where they lost all three of their starting receivers during the season, two running backs, and some key members of the offensive line for stretches, including right tackle Lane Johnson, who missed the final month. The team recently made changes to its medical staff for a third straight year to try to get to the bottom of why it continues to happen. Still, the Eagles rallied from a 5-7 record to win their final four games – all against division rivals – to win the NFC East and make the playoffs for a third straight season.

Draft Position

The Eagles own the 21st pick in April’s NFL Draft and are expected to have a total of 10 selections overall, including at least three compensatory picks. There is a good chance they won’t make all 10, which means they could make a trade or two as the draft unfolds. Roseman is no stranger to draft trades. He moved up three spots last year from 25 to 22 to nab left tackle Andre Dillard, and with several impact receivers available, he may try to move up to grab the one he likes best.

Help Wanted/Help Needed

The Eagles have had just five picks in each of the last two drafts, and as a result they have had to fill some roster holes with aging free agents. Roseman is hoping to get a younger roster, one with speed, and cheaper labor with recently drafted players to offset some of the larger contracts he is paying to players such as quarterback Carson Wentz and defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. The last two years Roseman has taken players who weren’t viewed as immediate needs (Dillard and tight end Dallas Goedert), but this year there are clear needs at receiver and cornerback, and this is a deep class at receiver. The Eagles could go corner in the first round and still find a good receiver in the second or they could go receiver right from the start and find a corner in the second. A lot depends on how free agency shakes out.

Five Players the Eagles Must Watch

The Eagles’ draft philosophy has typically been about building the lines on both sides of the ball, so a defensive tackle, such as TCU’s Ross Blacklock, is a possibility in the first round or someone like Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike in the second round. There are more pressing needs at receiver and cornerback. If the perceived top three pass catchers are gone – CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs – by pick 21, the Eagles could dip into a pool that will likely include Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, and TCU’s Jalen Reagor. Should they push the receiver choice back to the second round, where they have the 53rd overall pick, they could grab a cornerback in the first round, perhaps someone like Florida’s C.J. Henderson or Ohio State’s Damon Arnette.

Who Makes The Call and Recent Draft Hits and Misses

Roseman has final say on draft picks, though he meets with head coach Doug Pederson and the coaching staff to identify what they are looking for in a prospect. Roseman’s right-hand man for the previous four seasons, Joe Douglas, is now the GM of the New York Jets. This is an important draft for a team that missed on last year’s fifth-round pick, quarterback Clayton Thorson, who was released at the end of training camp, while fourth-round selection, defensive end Shareef Miller, was unable to get on the field. Throw in second-round disappointment, receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Roseman must do a better job finding impact players. He landed Goedert in the second round and cornerback Avonte Maddox in the fourth-round of the 2018 draft and both have been steady contributors, with Goedert showing star potential. Roseman’s biggest hit the last four years after resuming control from former coach Chip Kelly, who ran the 2015 draft, has been Wentz, who was taken second overall in 2016.