When you're just a few months removed from winning a Super Bowl, it's a lot easier -- at least in theory -- to approach the NFL Draft as a tool for long-term building as opposed to plugging immediate holes.
For the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles, that's exactly what seems to be the case.
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Beyond the football field, where the Eagles rewrote history by accomplishing the impossible, this is a team that boasted so much depth entering the offseason (remember who quarterbacked the Eagles to their championship?) that even the threat of losing 13 veteran free agents wasn't overwhelmingly scary. And that was before the club added Michael Bennett to its defensive line and gave Carson Wentz an upgraded deep threat.
Everyone who's joined the 2018 #Eagles (or landed elsewhere): pic.twitter.com/cH9wkccr7p— Cody Benjamin (@CodyJBenjamin) April 5, 2018
Still, the Eagles aren't without at least a couple of question marks entering April's draft, most of which stem from the fact that the team owns only six picks -- and only one in the first three rounds. A last-minute trade involving speculated bargain chips like Mychal Kendricks or Ronald Darby could net Howie Roseman and Co. some added mid-round ammunition, but regardless, the team is a prime candidate to move back from the 32nd and final pick in the first round, especially since Philly has acquired someone else's first-rounder in five of the seven drafts Roseman has overseen as personnel chief:
2017: Acquired the 14th overall pick from the Minnesota Vikings (Derek Barnett)
2016: Acquired the second overall pick from the Cleveland Browns (Carson Wentz)
2015: Chip Kelly oversaw personnel (Nelson Agholor)
2014: Acquired the 26th overall pick from the Cleveland Browns (Marcus Smith)
2013: Used their own fourth overall pick (Lane Johnson)
2012: Acquired the 12th overall pick from the Seattle Seahawks (Fletcher Cox)
2011: Used their own 21st overall pick (Danny Watkins)
2010: Acquired the 13th overall pick from the Denver Broncos (Brandon Graham)
As far as needs go, we've already established that it's not hyperbole to say the Eagles are pretty well set considering they're on track to return 20 of 22 starters, with only Torrey Smith and Vinny Curry swapped out for Bennett and Mike Wallace. But that should simply -- and, again, in theory -- allow them to practice what so many general managers preach: Taking the best player available.
Depth-wise, however, there are a number of positions that could use more farm talent:
- Offensive tackle: With Jason Peters entering his age-36 season, the OT spot could use a starting-caliber bookend, even if only as Halapoulivaati Vaitai insurance.
- Linebacker: Nigel Bradham is a rock, but with Kendricks seemingly annually on the market and Jordan Hicks on a contract year with a checkered medical history, fresh talent would be welcomed.
- Safety: Behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles have only rehabbing special-teamer Chris Maragos.
- Defensive end: No one touts pass rushers like the 2018 Eagles, but neither Bennett, Chris Long nor Brandon Graham are particularly young.
- Running back: Jay Ajayi will be a free agent in 2019, so pairing someone with Corey Clement might be smart.
- Tight end: Richard Rodgers could be a serviceable No. 2 behind Zach Ertz, but with both Trey Burton and Brent Celek gone, the team could use both more blocking and versatility.
Now, as we look toward which prospects could pique the Eagles' interest, given the likelihood of a trade, and given the likelihood that a trade would move the team back rather than up in the draft, it's probably fair to rule out some of those positions' top names right off the bat. Guys like Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds, Georgia LB Roquan Smith and Boston College DE Harold Landry would make for especially obvious prizes, but as we assemble an Eagles big board, we'll assume they're out of Philly's league.
Whether at No. 32 or further back thanks to a trade, however, here's how we think the targets will stack up in Philly's war room:
1. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
In reality, Roseman probably prioritizes the aforementioned positions in an order something like this: DE, OT, S, LB, TE, RB. With the likely luxury of sticking to the best-player-available format and the tantalizing upside of Vander Esch, though, a new cog for the middle of the defense might be too good to pass up -- if the Boise State product even makes it to 32.
Vander Esch, who's reportedly drawn "a ton of interest" from the Eagles and already visited the team, is instinctive and athletic, and you can argue that his shorter resume simply means he has low mileage. He'd instantly improve an already capable LB corps, matching Hicks' play-making potential.
2. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The connection is there, from McGlinchey's Philadelphia roots and William Penn Charter background to his scouting combine film session with Eagles O-line coach Jeff Stoutland. If anything, this is the one that sounds almost too good to be true, and that's partially because the Fighting Irish tackle has been linked to the Birds for so long. Still, if he's on the board at 32, the decision should pretty much be made. He's neither huge nor overly athletic, but as a technician under Stoutland, he'd at least give the Eagles a long-term option at right tackle, allowing Lane Johnson to replace Peters at LT whenever that becomes necessary.
3. Justin Reid, S, Stanford
The Eagles have often relied on undrafted free agency to fill offseason depth at the back end of the secondary, but that's both because 1.) Jenkins and McLeod haven't needed any competition and 2.) Roseman hasn't exactly struck gold while drafting safeties since 2010 -- Ed Reynolds, Earl Wolff, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are his most notable picks. Reid, however, is as close to a sure, versatile thing as you're going to find in this safety class. Said to be more versatile than his brother, former 49ers Pro Bowler Eric Reid, he's visited the Eagles and could immediately see time as the No. 3 "center fielder."
4. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Wide receiver isn't a pressing need with a group starring Wallace, Alshon Jeffery and slot breakout Nelson Agholor. But the latter will be a free agent after 2018 and Wallace figures to be a one- or two-year rental at most, so the Eagles could conceivably enter 2019 with just Jeffery from that top three. Mack Hollins is waiting in the wings, but even if he emerges, it's not like Philly couldn't use an extra set of hands, let alone an explosive punt returner. Moore is a local kid, has caught the Eagles' eye, and he's built for the city -- a rock-solid tackle-shedder who could be a target machine down the road.
5. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
It's like pulling teeth to slot a running back so high in a world where Roseman rarely prioritizes ball-carriers as high picks and even teams who take stars (see: Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette) are lambasted for being impatient at a position where snaps are shared more than ever. But with Guice, there could be an exception.
This is a guy who's already visited the Eagles, whose violent style would replace -- and upgrade -- the LeGarrette Blount power Philly lost in the backfield, and whose big-stage production makes him safer than a late-round flyer as a year-one toy for a team hungry to repeat. There are also reports that Roseman straight-up has a first-round grade on Guice.
Other prospects to watch:
- Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: A sturdy all-purpose back who's visited the team and could one-up his former college teammate, Donnell Pumphrey, as a change-of-pace option.
- Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Another multi-use package who, like Moore, could take up return duties and flesh out WR depth.
- Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State: One of several pass catchers said to be in the mold of Ertz who'd give the Eagles another weapon in the middle.
- James Daniels, C/OG, Iowa: A versatile and supremely athletic interior piece who could supplant Isaac Seumalo as a project at guard and challenge Jason Kelce down the road.
- Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Another linebacker who visited the Eagles and could make for OLB competition as early as his rookie season.
- Donte Jackson, CB, LSU: A speedster with the athleticism to challenge for slot and punt return duties -- two jobs up for grabs entering 2018.
- Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida: Another punt-returning option whose experience on the outside could necessitate a future trade at the position.
- Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: An alternative at safety whose athleticism would be a consolation prize for missing out on Reid.