They need another rhino. Plain and simple. This season, the Eagles will face a long list of decisions that will determine whether they can complete the job they started last season. Only one of them is do or die. It will arrive on April 27th.
They need another Fletcher Cox or another Lynn Johnson. It would be nice if he lined up at the corner back.
This year’s draft will be defining for the Eagles. Howie Roseman deserves all the credit in the world for working his way up to 10th place. Now, he needs to hit it. And he needs to hit hard.
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This is more of a theoretical argument than an argument for any one player. I’m not going to sit here and put gel in my hair and pretend I’ve seen enough tape of Devon Witherspoon or Christian Gonzalez or Joey Porter Jr. to decide which one fits the bill, or if either of them fits him. Besides, we are now entering two of the most important months on the survey calendar. My view is more inherently macro: With a large number of major contributors on the brink of free agency and quarterbacks heading for contract extensions that will greatly limit their ability to compete in this market, the Eagles are at a juncture where they will need to rely on their scouting acumen to find players. Distinguished. And right now, they are in dire need of one of the most unique positions in the game.
It’s been a long time since the Eagles drafted and/or developed a cornerback fixture. Since the Sheldon Brown / Leto Shepherd era, they’ve mostly relied on short-term solutions, and most of them don’t solve anything. Darius Slay has shown that he can succeed, as has Asante Samuel. But Sly will be three years older than Samuel in his final Pro Bowl season, and two years older than he was in his final season with the Eagles. Their position is one of advancing in a hurry. Once the lateral velocity starts to go, the effectiveness goes completely.
With Slay entering his 32-year-old season and hitting James Bradbury in free agency as he neared 30, the Eagles have a cornerback situation that could easily become their sinker. The tango takes two corners in the modern NFL.
Sure, you can make up for it elsewhere. Both the Eagles and Giants did just that with their rushing passes the last time they won Super Bowls. The Seahawks did this by building a coverage scheme around a couple of worldwide safeties. But aside from quarterback and tackle, no place on the football field offers more value than an elite cornerback. And again, the Eagles have reached a point where they need to maximize value.
The most recent example came last season. Robert Salih and Joe Douglas may have saved both their jobs last May when they drafted Sauce Gardner’s fourth-place finisher at Cincinnati. Their bench was bound to get hot with Zach Wilson at quarterback and with a defensive coach whose defense finished last in his first year at the helm. Last year, with Gardner closing out half the court and earning All-Pro honors as a junior, the Jets finished fourth in points allowed. Somehow, they won seven matches.
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You can certainly find a higher linebacker outside of the top 20. The Patriots did just that last year with Marcus Jones in the third round. The Bills’ Tre’Davious White remains one of the best draft picks of the decade as he ranked 27th overall in 2017. For the most part, though, elite talent is found early on. Two years ago, the Broncos got a potentially generational coverage corner on Patrick Sartain in the ninth. In 2018, the Packers acquired Jair Alexander at No. 18. The year before that, the Saints faced Marshon Lattimore at No. 11. That same year, the Ravens acquired Marlon Humphrey at No. 16. Two years earlier, the Chiefs had landed Marcus Peters at No. 16. Ranked 18. Jalen Ramsey (No. 5 in 2016), Denzel Ward (No. 4 in 2018) – these are the caliber of player I’m talking about.
The problem is that the Eagles are at the mercy of the talent available. There’s a reason everyone in the league is looking for another corner. You can’t turn Witherspoon or Gonzales into Gardner simply by recruiting him to the #10. In a draft that’s supposed to be loaded with rushing talent, that might end up being the best way to build your pass defense receiver.
Whatever the case, the Eagles find themselves in a place where they need to find a key component in an excellent center. If all goes according to plan, they won’t draft anywhere near No. 10 in the coming years. They need to find a game changer. They have two months to find out who it is.
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