The NFL Draft offers teams the opportunity to infuse their rosters with young talent. For the Philadelphia Eagles, the team’s current roster is aging, expensive, and quite frankly, underwhelming. Armed with the lion’s share of picks (11) in the 2021 draft, the organization is primed to replenish and upgrade their roster.
In the: ‘Fitting the Birds Bill’ series, draft prospects that fit the team’s identity from a schematic and drafting philosophy standpoint will be outlined. The first edition is concentrated on the Eagles options with the 12th overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Before trading back to twelve the Eagles were universally tied to two players during the pre-draft process: Ja’Mar Chase and Kyle Pitts. But, with trading back to twelve, the options have now increased. The names that have been linked to the Eagles are as follows:
- WR – Alabama – Devonta Smith
- WR – Alabama – Jaylen Waddle
- CB – South Carolina – Jaycee Horn
- OT – Northwestern – Rashawn Slater
- DE – Kwity Payne – Michigan
Each player would offer the team something different, but those aren’t the only options at the Eagles disposal. The team could opt to trade back (again) or trade up if a player they deem worth it falls down the draft board (and they have the ammunition to trade up).
Of the players listed above, each gives you something different but they all have one thing in common: they’d be the first big domino to fall in terms of infusing the Eagles roster with talent.
Paye is an explosive and powerful pass rusher. His speed-power combination as a pass rusher is absolutely lethal. Paye mainly played special teams in his freshman year and began to settle into form in his sophomore season. Paye played in 10 games and notched 5.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks, earning an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Paye’s true ascension to stardom began in his junior year. Specifically, against Iowa where Paye finished the matchup with 4 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Paye is explosive and violent. He wins with strength and speed as a pass rusher. The effort and drive he plays with is among the best in this draft class. My comp for Paye is Brandon Graham. Both are relentless in their attack and hand usage. In fact, Paye racked up 25 pressures over the course of the first 3 games of the 2020 season. He’s a player who hasn’t reached his true ceiling yet and in the right situation can develop into a very good pass rusher at the next level. In terms of his fit with the Eagles, the team needs bodies on the defensive line. Currently the defensive line boasts Josh Sweat, who isn’t an every down pass rusher, Derek Barnett, who is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2021 season, and Brandon Graham, who is 33 years old. There has to be a renovation of sorts at the position.
Waddle is a playmaker. That’s his M.O. He is the best separation creator in this draft and has a second gear that isn’t seen that often. In Waddle’s case, his base statistics (receptions, yards, and TDs) don’t do him justice. He’s a twitchy route runner, who becomes a serrated knife in the open field. Waddle knifes through defenses, operating with his head on a swivel after the catch. Simply put, the guy is a game breaker.
He reminds me of a Damian Lillard type of athlete. Waddle is a threat to score whenever he gets the ball in his hands. He plays bigger than his 5’9-180 pound frame. I think Waddle is the closest thing to Tyreek Hill we are going to see in terms of explosiveness, ability in the vertical passing game and sheer physicality for his size. Waddle’s second gear is unmatched in this draft class.
With the Eagles, Waddle would align with the premise of adding talent to a roster that is devoid of it. Picturing he and Jalen Reagor in an offense that places a high regard on getting it’s playmakers the ball in space is a dream-like scenario. The unpredictability and playmaking ability of an offense like that would give defenses nightmares.
Jaycee Horn is a physical and aggressive outside corner. Horn’s best trait is undoubtedly his ability as a press coverage corner. Horn talks the talk and walks the walk, as he racked up 2 interceptions and 23 passes defended in 3 years of play at South Carolina. Horn is loose and fluid with his hips. He has good click and close ability and has established himself as a corner who can flat out blanket opposing receivers.
Horn is the son of former 4-Time NFL Pro-Bowler, Joe Horn. The bloodlines are there and it’s evident when watching him play. He’s a fiery and physical (sometimes too physical) competitor. Horn is a very efficient player who doesn’t waste many movements. As stated, Horn can be a bit too physical at times, which can lead to penalties. At the next level, coaching will have to hammer this out of him for Horn to be a complete player.
The Eagles will likely be running a more cover 2 zone based defense under Jonathan Gannon. In this defense, corners will be allowed to be more physical at the line of scrimmage and force the receiver into a more inside release because they have help over the top on the outside. Horn would thrive in this system. Jonathan Gannon likes his corners physical and athletic, two boxes that Horn undoubtedly checks.
As almost every fan, media member, executive, and coach knows, the Eagles offensive line endured a rash of injuries last season. The team actually fielded 14(!) different starting offensive line combinations last season. Lane Johnson isn’t getting any younger, Jordan Mailata showed A TON of promise last season at left tackle but things are far from set in stone, Brandon Brooks injury woes have continued to pop up year after year, and Issac Seumalo appears in line to take over at the center spot once Jason Kelce retires, which appears to be on the horizon. A man who could possibly help alleviate not one or two but ALL of those potential obstacles is Rashawn Slater.
Slater is versatility personified. He can move up and down the offensive line and play all 5 positions. He was the 32nd ranked guard coming out of high school and played left tackle and right tackle at Northwestern. Along with that versatility, also comes elite level athleticism. Slater stands 6’4 and weighs 304 pounds. He ran an impressive 4.88 40-yard dash, benched pressed 225 pounds 33 times, and recorded a 7.48 3-cone time. Slater graded out with a elite Relative Athletic Score of 9.7 (on a 10.00 scale). Slater’s hand placement and footwork are near elite. He surrendered only 5 sacks in his career at Northwestern. His ability as a pass blocker is his best attribute. Slater displayed this ability in 2019 against Ohio State, the game that likely cemented him as a legitimate 1st round pick in this draft. Slater held Chase Young to 0 sacks when the two were matched up.
The flexibility and athleticism Slater possesses will give him a leg up on a lot of offensive line prospects in this draft and will likely push him up many team’s draft boards. As stated, the Eagles offensive line is facing a ton of questions down the line and it’s widely know how much emphasis the organization places on protecting the quarterback. Slater being selected would align with the DNA of the franchise.
Devonta Smith would give the Eagles a bonafide number one receiver moving forward. He is a player who, although possessing an extremely slight build at 6’1 – 170 pounds, wins simply by being better than all of his competition. Smith eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in his junior and senior seasons. He’s a smooth and fluid route runner who has great understanding of position and spacing as a wide receiver.
Smith’s size is something that may cause teams to second guess him when evaluating him, and that’s not to diminish his talents in any way, shape, or form, but the saving grace with Smith is 1) he lit up the tough and rugged SEC for 2 straight years and 2) his play-style sort of overshadows any concerns about his frame. As stated, Smith is an incredibly smooth route runner, but with that smoothness is also a detailedness about his game. He can change direction at the drop of a hat, he understands leverage and body control, he’s a bit deceptive in his movements, and he has extremely sure hands (Smith had a 2.9% drop rate in college).
Smith’s frame may scare others away from him, and it’s understandable. There hasn’t been a receiver that has had success at or around his size in the NFL in almost 15 years.
But the thing with Smith is, every time a challenge has presented itself, he’s stood in the batters box and knocked it out of the park. From being the first wide receiver to win the Heisman trophy in 29 years, to playing alongside Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs and establishing himself as the outlier of that group by leading Alabama in receiving yards (1256) and touchdowns (14) in 2019, to stepping up after Jaylen Waddle’s mid-season injury and absolutely wrecking opposing defenses to the tune of 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020, to leaving Amite High School in Amite, Louisiana, at 157 pounds and arriving on the University of Alabama’s campus as a skinny 6’1 recruit to leaving Alabama as SEC leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Smith has shown the risk may be worth the gamble that some view him as and it may pay off and pay off in a huge way.
In addition to the players listed above, as stated they aren’t the only options. There is always the avenue of trading back or trading up, if a player the organization likes falls within 3-4 picks of the 12th pick and trading up would likely only cost an additional 3rd rounder according to the NFL’s draft pick value chart. And trading back and accumulating more draft capital is also a feasible move due to the lack of talent and youth on the roster. The organization will likely have a lot of optionality in the upcoming draft. There are a ton of avenues they can elect to go down.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images