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As with every year, the Eagles offered up some surprises. However, the majority of this year’s intrigue came from the Eagles sticking to their board and not forcing need picks throughout the three-day process.
Here are six observations following the Eagles’ 2021 NFL Draft:
Cornerback depth chart can’t stay static
The Eagles waited until the fourth round to address their biggest need, cornerback, selecting Zech McPhearson to start Day 3. While McPhearson has the upside to develop into a solid No. 2 outside cornerback, the Eagles need urgent help opposite Darius Slay.
Multiple times during the draft, GM Howie Roseman acknowledged the lack of depth at the position and hinted that he will take other avenues (free agency, trades) to solve the problem.
With former Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson hanging out on the open market, he should be Roseman’s first post-draft call. While Casey Heyward and some other “names” are out there, Roseman has to prioritize price and fit. Nelson makes the most sense.
Zach Ertz isn’t getting his trade wish for a while
The draft weekend came and went without Ertz moving a muscle.
The Eagles want value in return for the three-time Pro Bowl tight end and clearly aren’t receiving the trade interest that they think he warrants. With no way of adding draft capital to impact this year’s roster, the Eagles should wait to trade or release Ertz, even if that’s to his detriment.
The Eagles can save $8.5 million — as opposed to $4.95 million — if they trade Ertz in June. At this point, their return is likely to involve a 2022 draft pick, so waiting a month to make a move is an obvious strategy.
Wide receiver handling will be fascinating
First-round pick DeVonta Smith can play all three receiver positions, but his best fit is in space at the Z spot. Last year’s first-round pick Jalen Reagor warrants a similar description. Still, both will be on the field at the same time throughout the majority of the offensive snaps this season. So, Sirianni’s handling of the pair when it comes to play-calling will be an interesting story this year.
Along with the Smith and Reagor pairing, the Eagles need to figure out what they want in their third receiver. Travis Fulgham is probably the first man up, as he can also play all three positions and has a traditional X receiver body type to complement Reagor and Smith. There’s also Quez Watkins, who flashed toward the end of last season.
Greg Ward, John Hightower, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and others will compete for snaps and jobs.
If Landon Dickerson isn’t ready healthwise, OL is more of the same
The Eagles took a major risk by selecting Dickerson in the second round. While the lineman has first-round talent, his lengthy injury history (four major injuries in five seasons) is troubling.
The Eagles’ doctors felt Dickerson’s recent ACL surgery wasn’t a long-term problem, but his overall durability issues are worth being concerned about. The Eagles only used one pick on the offensive line, which has been a turnstile due to injuries over the past two years. If Dickerson doesn’t recover from his injury woes, the Eagles will have spent an offseason without adding talent to their second-most important group.
The Eagles allowed the most sacks (65) in the league last season. That was largely due to the rash of injuries suffered last year, so the Eagles are hoping the talent of the line — center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, right tackle Lane Johnson and former first-round pick Andre Dillard — can stay on the field this season.
Linebacker still isn’t a priority
The Eagles still don’t care about linebackers, even with a new coaching staff in place.
The Eagles spent their final two picks on “linebackers,” choosing to convert LSU safety JaCoby Stevens and Tulane defensive end Patrick Johnson to the position. So, the Eagles will have a pair of late-round projects supplement a position with little proven talent.
Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards are likely to start at linebacker this year. Behind that trio, there’s a bunch of young guys who haven’t played a lot.
Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley need to prove they can play on defense, while Joe Bachie and Rashad Smith are holdovers from last year’s home stretch. Former defensive end Genard Avery is a bit of an intriguing piece, as he could be a fun subpackage player on passing downs.
Kenneth Gainwell might be the steal of Day 3
Following the draft, Sirianni agreed with NJ Advance Media’s comparison of Gainwell to Colts RB Nyheim Hines. While they were together in Indy, Sirianni made the most of Hines’ talent as a receiver out of the backfield. Like Hines, Gainwell is a mismatch weapon to use in the passing game.
Sirianni likes to hand out roles to his running backs, and Gainwell fits an important role for the new head coach. While he fell to the fifth round, Gainwell had Day 2 grades from the majority of draft pundits. If Sirianni can utilize Gainwell as he did with Hines, the Eagles might have gotten one of the biggest steals of the class.
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