If Eagles draft a receiver, they'll want size and speed
Even before they released DeSean Jackson, it was clear the Eagles were likely to select a wide receiver in the draft in May.
Now it is a necessity, although the Eagles won't have to stray from their promise to select the best available player. That's because - as general manager Howie Roseman said in February at the NFL combine - every round will have a receiver the team covets.
The Jackson jettison just made it more probable the Eagles will expend an early-round selection on the position. The draft has as many as a dozen receivers they could take in the first two rounds, but with so much depth, a few could drop into the middle rounds and the patient Eagles' laps.
But in which of those prospects will Chip Kelly take a keen interest? At last month's owners meetings, the Eagles coach revealed the No. 1 characteristic he'll be looking for.
" 'What's your ability to get open in one-on-one coverage, because we see a ton of it,' " Kelly said.
There are many ways to create separation, but when Kelly spoke about the NFL's elite receivers, he said they have a combination of speed and size. A handful of prospects meet those requirements.
The Eagles have seemingly done their due diligence on the top talents. Texas A&M's Mike Evans, Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, and Southern California's Marqise Lee have reportedly been to the NovaCare Complex for three of the team's 30 permitted predraft visits.
Evans has size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) and speed (4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash), but the Eagles may need to trade up from the No. 22 pick in the first round if they want him. With only six choices in the draft, and more than a handful of holes to address, they appear unlikely to move up.
Benjamin isn't as quick (4.61), but he's as big (6-5, 240) and should be around at 22. Lee (6-0, 192), Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5-10, 189), and Louisiana State's Odell Beckham (5-11, 198) are smaller but have first-round skills. Kelly saw all three up close in college games against Oregon.
Several receivers in the second round could have the size-speed paradigm, and perhaps greater upside, but those qualities didn't transfer as much on the collegiate field as they did for others.
The Eagles used up one of their 60 allotted combine meetings on Clemson's Martavis Bryant (6-4, 211; 4.42), according to a source. And receivers coach Bob Bicknell was on hand to watch Donte Moncrief (6-2, 221; 4.40) at Ole Miss' pro day last month.
Penn State's Allen Robinson (6-2, 220) was more productive in college than the aforementioned two, but doesn't have either's top-end speed (4.60). Still, he could be a steal if the Eagles can get him in the second round with the 54th overall pick.
Passing on pass rusher?
The Eagles may not be as desperate to get an edge pass rusher as many assume.
The market may have something to do with that, but Kelly said he saw improvement as last season progressed, and rushing the passer is only one of three main jobs at outside linebacker in the Eagles defense.
"We talk about rushing the passer, setting the edge, and dropping [into coverage] as three of the key components to playing outside linebacker," Kelly said last month. "A lot of times in a 3-4 [scheme], there's a lot of dirty work that's done that kind of goes unnoticed."
Connor Barwin excelled at setting the edge against the run and remains the team's lone prototypical outside linebacker. Trent Cole may be best suited to play defensive end in a 4-3, and he's turning 32 in October, but he still led the team in sacks (eight), tackles for loss (12), and forced fumbles (three).
The Eagles need to add youth at the spot, though. Kelly said free agency had no option that made him go, "Wow, I wish this happened," and he may face the same prospect in the draft.
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo's Khalil Mack, and UCLA's Anthony Barr are the top-rated edge rushers, but many analysts expect them to go well before the Eagles pick.
That leaves them with edge rushers many consider better suited to play 4-3 end (Auburn's Dee Ford, Missouri's Kony Ealy) later in the first or versatile linebackers who may fit Kelly's definition (Brigham Young's Kyle Van Noy, Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu) in the second.
A late-round project may make more sense. But the position is thin in the draft, which may explain why the Eagles, if a Delaware County Times report is true, offered linebacker Brandon Graham and a second-round pick to the Dolphins for Dion Jordan.
Miami selected the former Oregon linebacker with the No. 3 overall pick last year and have given little indication it plans to give up on Jordan so fast. And who is to say the Dolphins even want Graham?
"Brandon gave us valuable snaps last year," Kelly said. "But I think the question with everybody is they all have an opportunity to start. That's what we preached about ever since the day I got here. It's a competition.
"So you're going to merit how much playing time you get. . . . I still think we need a little bit more of a rush. We're always looking for that."
This just may not be the offseason to make significant upgrades at outside linebacker.