The Eagles haven't wasted any time addressing their roster in the wake of Chip Kelly's departure, and they've made some pretty strong moves. There are fewer weak spots on the roster today than there were in December and here's a look at three key spots the Birds must improve on as the offseason continues:
Wide receiver production
Wide receiver is a tricky position to “fix” on the Eagles. There is an absolute need for production at the position. Besides Jordan Matthews’ 997 yards in the slot, good for 27th in the league, the Eagles had only one other player, Zach Ertz, finish in the top 122 receivers in the NFL.
Their third and fourth leading receivers also weren’t receivers: Brent Celek and Darren Sproles. Their fifth leading receiver, Riley Cooper, is no longer on the roster. Josh Huff had 312 yards last year, good for seventh on the team and 148th in the NFL. That, theoretically, is the Eagles number two receiver. They will at least be buoyed by the addition of Reuben Randle, who had 797 yards for the Giants in 2015.
The problem is that the Eagles have spent plenty of high-value draft picks on wide receivers: Matthews, Huff, and last year Nelson Agholor. Matthews’ career is right on track, and while the same can’t be said for Huff and Agholor, it’s much too early to give up on either of them. With Randle now in-house, and Ertz and Celek still around, it is tough to see how any rookie could come in and receive enough time to develop alongside the young players already here without taking away from them.
However, at the eighth pick, the Eagles could have their pick of any receiver in the draft if they’ve fallen in love. Baylor’s Corey Coleman and Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell are the pick of the litter. If they wait until later they’ve also been connected to Tajae Sharpe of UMass and Stanford’s Devon Cajuste at the East-West Shrine Game. Cajuste is a 6-foot-4 tweener, similar to Michigan’s Devin Funchess who had 473 yards as a rookie for the Panthers last season.
A reliable running back
The Eagles leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, who coincidentally also ranked 27th in the league in 2015 is now gone. The team is left with Ryan Mathews, who finished 39th in rushing yards and has missed 23 games during his six years in the league, and Darren Sproles, who, despite often looking like the Eagles best play-maker last season, will be 33-years-old when next season begins and is coming off his least productive season since 2007.
The simplest solution, if he is available, is to spend the Eagles newly acquired eighth overall pick on Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. It’s happening right now in mock drafts all over the country.
Opinion is split on whether any running back warrants a top-10 draft slot, as the position has been devalued around the league. Murray himself is evidence of this, as Dallas let him walk – to a division rival, no less – immediately after he won the rushing title. His replacement in Dallas, Darren McFadden, had 384 more yards than Murray last season.
Yet 2015 provided evidence for the other argument as well: Todd Gurley, after being selected 10th overall by the Rams, finished third in the league in rushing despite playing just 13 games. He had at least 128 yards in the first four starts of his career.
If the Eagles don’t take Elliot, they could (and hopefully will) look at running backs later in the draft. Keep an eye on UCLA’s Paul Perkins and Illinois State’s Marshaun Coprich. You can question the competition Coprich has rolled up 5,000+ rushing yards against, but the Eagles had pretty great success with an FCS running back when they selected Brian Westbrook from Villanova.
Offensive line depth and Jason Peters’ successor
The first half of this received a big boost when the Eagles signed former Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski Monday. The last time he was playing regularly in Pennsylvania, Wisniewski was an All-American. Since the Raiders drafted him, he’s started 77 games at guard and center in the NFL.
Wisniewski, who signed a one-year deal, becomes the prohibitive favorite to slot in the remaining guard spot on the line across from fellow new signee Brandon Brooks. His history at center is also invaluable for a team that has seen huge downturns in performance when Jason Kelce suffers an injury.
Wisniewski’s signing doesn’t necessarily prohibit the Eagles from looking at an offensive lineman with their first round pick. Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame, one of the favorite projections at the spot alongside Elliot, is the consensus second-ranked tackle in the draft and would seem a natural fit to cast at right tackle when Lane Johnson is ultimately shifted to Jason Peters’ side of the line.
The Eagles haven’t had to worry about filling Jason Peters spot on the line since he arrived in 2009. He has played in at least 13 games every season since, including 14 in 2015. He did not however, finish that many. Durability was increasingly a concern for the team’s left tackle in 2015, and they need to be prepared in the event the 34-year-old struggles to stay on the field in 2016.
If you’re interested in later picks than Stanley, keep an eye on South Carolina’s Brandon Shell, a four-year starter who could develop behind Peters and Johnson. He’s also the great nephew of Art Shell, who was a pretty okay lineman in his day.