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Who will the Eagles take in the 1st round — A Tier-by-Tier Breakdown

Holding the 22nd pick in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a great position to add a top-flight player to an already fearsome roster. However, trying to figure out who that player will be is pretty much impossible. There are a myriad of ways in which the first 21 picks will unfold, which renders guessing who the Eagles will select a fruitless endeavor. Simply projecting one pick incorrectly sets off a chain reaction that greatly alters who will be available by the time the Eagles are on the clock. For this reason, I have decided to break down the first round of this draft into four tiers, as respect to the Eagles, to more accurately project who will be wearing midnight green against Jacksonville in week 1.

Tier 1- The Untouchables (note: no relation to the 1987 crime drama starring Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro… good movie though)

Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Jake Matthews, Blake Bortles

Assuming the Eagles, who only have six picks in this year’s draft, aren’t trying to mortgage the future to land one star a la the Falcons and Julio Jones, these six players are all out of play. The furthest any of these players will fall is Bortles, not that they would take him anyway, who may drop to Minnesota at 8. There’s a better chance of Chip Kelly retiring to work on a Latin American album entitled Chips and Salsa then the Eagles dealing the requisite picks (this year’s first and second, next year’s first, and more) to move into the top 8. These players will not be Eagles, but will go before the Eagles pick, helping to push talented players into the Philly’s lap.

Tier 2- Players who aren’t scheme fits, trade-up candidates, or at positions of need that will go before 22 (sorry, no catchy name)

Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, Aaron Donald, Eric Ebron, Odell Beckham Jr., Johnny Manziel

Taylor Lewan will go as high as pick 6 and won’t fall past the early teens. Zack Martin won’t go as high as Lewan but he will definitely be gone by 22. The Eagles will not be moving up for an OT. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Aaron Donald is a fantastic player and would have been a perfect fit in the 1-gap system that Andy Reid used to run in Philly, but Donald is small and wasn’t born to 2-gap. “Big people beat up little people” as Chipper likes to say… Donald’s ain’t happening.

Ebron is a player that I think the Eagles would look hard at if he fell to 22, but he will probably be snatched up by the Bills at 9 or the Giants at 12.

Beckham is a great wideout who stands out in a draft class full of great wideouts. But, I can’t see Beckham falling to 22 with so many teams hungry for a playmaker picking before the Eagles. Plus, Beckham isn’t transcendent enough for the Eagles to move up for him.

Johnny Manziel is obviously a sexy name who many Eagles fans think would thrive in the “Chip Kelly Offense”. Well, I think Nick Foles is doing just fine, thank you. If Manziel somehow is there at pick 22, maybe – although a trade down with some QB needy team would be more likely – but moving up for a QB when you just had one make the Pro Bowl and he’s still on his rookie deal is unheard of and psychotic. Not happening.

Tier 3- Movin’ On Up

Mike Evans, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Anthony Barr

These three players are the guys who I think Chip covets the most of anybody in the draft (after a few of The Untouchables). If there is one chip-ism that looms larger than all the other chip-isms, it is the aforementioned “big people beat up little people” and Mike Evans is definitely “big people”. Chip probably wouldn’t be able to contain his excitement at Evans’ introductory press conference and would just start mumbling nervous gibberish like when the biggest nerd in high school asks that super hot chick to prom. Evans’ draft range peaks at #5 to the desolate, talent-depraved, black-hole that is the Oakland Raiders, but he could slide down to pick 10 or 11. If that happens, the Eagles will definitely place a phone call.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is more than just the perfect name for an aspiring stand-up comedian; he is also a darn good safety. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Chippah and defensive coordinator Billy Davis want two interchangeable safeties who can do a little bit of everything on the football field. Thus, reducing their defense’s predictability and confusing opposing quarterbacks (Note: this is why I don’t see Calvin Pryor as a target). Ha Ha is the one safety in this draft who can do everything (help in run support, blitz, play man, play centerfield, etc.) and is also – say it with me! – big. Dix will probably be drafted in the early teens (I’d guess pick 13 to the Rams) and may be the target of a trade up. Guys like Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois or Lamarcus Joyner who may be there in round 2 for the Eagles at pick 54 seem like a much more logical investment. But, they’re small, so… OFF THE DRAFT BOARD WITH YA! GO NOW! AARRGGHHH!

Anthony Barr is the most realistic trade up target in my opinion. The Eagles dearth at outside linebacker is worrisome. Trent Cole is 32, is not a true OLB, can’t cover, and is expensive. Plus, there is no young guy who seems to be the heir to this spot. Considering how important outside linebackers are to the 3-4, it would seem like acquiring the future at this position would be at the top of the Eagles wish list. Barr is big, athletic, has tons of upside, and probably won’t get picked in the top 10. If the Eagles can find a team who will take pick 22 and 54 and allow Philly to move up and take Barr, I think the Eagles will do it.

Tier 4- Stayin’ Put

C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier, Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Marquise Lee, Cody Latimer

The Eagles need for an inside linebacker is quietly one of the most pressing on the roster. Mychal Kendricks, while very young and very talented, is a streaky performer, shaky tackler, and small. DeMeco Ryans is an unbelievable leader whose best qualities are intangible. That being said, he is old, losing a step, and is far too expensive. There is a very good chance he will not be an Eagle in 2015. Mosley would be the logical replacement for Ryans, the vocal leader of the Alabama defense (just like Ryans was back in the day) who appears to be destined to fill the “middle linebacker as the voice of your team’s defense” stereotype. Not to mention, he’s also really good.

Shazier probably has more upside than Mosley when you consider his freakish 40 yard dash time (4.36). The idea of him and Kendricks in the inside of your defense is a scary one. Paired together, you’re talking about 2 inside linebackers who can blitz, stunt, run with TE’s, and fly to the football. Shazier is an under-the-radar target for the Eagles.

On the cornerback front, Dennard, Gilbert, and Fuller seem to be the most logical names. I don’t see Gilbert falling to the Eagles and I was tempted to put him in tier 2, but crazier things than Gilbert falling have happened on draft day. Gilbert would bolster the Eagles secondary and return game from day 1. Dennard is an NFL ready CB from Michigan State, who can jam receivers, tackle, and is great with the ball in the air. That being said, he isn’t very big, long, or fast. Since the Eagles put such an emphasis on measurables I have a hard time believing Dennard will be the pick at 22.

Fuller on the other hand is the guy who I want the Eagles to take at 22. Fuller is bigger, longer, and faster than Dennard and more versatile than Gilbert. With a team that presses their corners as much as the Eagles, Fuller seems like a great fit.

Brandin Cooks is explosive, tougher than he looks, and a threat to take it to the house on any given play. That being said, it seems that Chip is trending toward bigger and more physical receivers. And while Cooks is not DeSean 2.0 (he’s thicker and stronger), I don’t think Chip will invest pick 22 on a receiver who is 5-10, even though Cooks comes from his beloved Pac-12.

Just one year ago it seemed that Marquise Lee would be at least a top 10 pick. Some injuries, bad QB play, and a few drops later, and Lee might not go until late in round 1. Lee tore up Oregon while playing for USC and Chip Kelly surely took note. Lee’s a bit bigger than Cooks and seems to have more of a defined role as an outside receiver. I still feel that Lee, 6-foot frame, might be a bit small for Chip, but he may overlook that. I mean, Kelly did say that Lee was, “maybe the best receiver I’ve had the opportunity to coach against” after Lee lit up Oregon like a Christmas tree to the tune of 12 catches for 157 yards and 2 TDs.

Cody Latimer, who is probably the least polished receiver of the bunch, may be the pick on May 8th. Why? Well, for starters, he’s 6-2 and runs a 4.4 40 yard dash. And second, Howie Roseman said the Eagles look at what kind of receiver prospects will be in 3-4 years down the line. Latimer, under the right tutelage, could be better than Cooks or Lee by 2017.

Conclusion:

I just listed 23 players who will be either taken by other teams or will be available at pick 22. Meaning, the Eagles will have a choice of at least two of these players come time to hand their card to Commissioner Goodell. Ultimately, I think the Eagles will either trade up for one of the players in tier 3 or select Mosley, Shazier, Fuller, Lee, or Latimer. However, if the Eagles are sitting at pick 22, with a large cluster at the top of their draft board, they may trade back into the late 1st or early 2nd round and acquire more picks. The historic amount of underclassmen who declared for this draft have made it insanely deep and fruitful. If the Eagles aren’t thrilled with a particular player at 22, they would be wise to fall back and acquire more picks. Players like Shazier and Latimer could even be available after a trade down. But if not, there are still players with huge upsides to be had like Jeremiah Attaochu or Martavis Bryant.

The draft as a whole is an unpredictable entity. The only thing that I am confident in is that the Eagles will take an athletic marvel who fits the future the Eagles are building towards. In Chip’s dream world, the Eagles will be filled with physical specimens that strike fear in their opponents’ hearts by simply walking onto the field. Expect the Eagles, in all rounds, to target people whose height/weight/speed totals suggest a potential that dwarfs their immediate expected production.

[Photo: David J. Phillip/AP]