In light of last week’s free agent feast, it is finally possible to discuss the Eagles' needs without early mention of wide receiver. That is fantastic news, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it removes receiver from positions of interest in the draft, even in the first round.
We’ve already committed coverage to the top of the class: John Ross, Corey Davis and Mike Williams, and this article will be focused on delving for deeper finds at the position. But first: the argument for still spending a top pick on a receiver.
For all the promise in the signings of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, there are concerns. Jeffery hasn’t gotten on the field enough to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark since 2014, and Miles Austin and Rueben Randle were both twice as productive in the seasons before they joined the Eagles as Smith was last season in San Francisco.
That doesn’t make these bad deals — but one of the best features of both is that if either player is a bust, the Eagles aren’t committed to them beyond 2016. At least for Jeffery though, that works both ways. Jordan Matthews being in the final year of his rookie contract (making just $1.6 million) and trade rumors make it appear the Eagles are at least entertaining the idea of a 2018 without him. There’s a hypothetical 2018 receiving group that looks all too familiar. So receiver remains a need.
And while cornerback may be the biggest need, it’s looking more and more like — despite a glut of talent being graded around the first-second round border — one will not be the best player available at pick 14. Marshon Lattimore should be gone. Sidney Jones tore his Achilles at Washington’s pro day. Teez Tabor had a disappointing combine.
Lastly, the Eagles have been scouting these top receiver prospects all season. If they fell in love with any of them, the Brandin Cooks saga is proof enough how loathe Howie Roseman and crew will be to let go of a player they’ve set their minds on.
Among players likely to hear their names called early on the second day of the draft, we touched last week on Penn State’s Chris Godwin’s excellent combine. Now ranked fifth among receivers in the draft by CBS Sports, Godwin was watched at Penn State’s pro day Thursday by the Eagles. Staying in the Big Ten, Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) had 771 yards rushing and 865 receiving in 2016. His versatility may be his downfall and it’s slightly disturbing to see NFL.com list his NFL comparison as Josh Huff.
On the back of that comparison, probably the last receiver you need to hear about is another one from Southern Cal, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is one to watch. He played alongside Nelson Agholor as a freshman in 2014 (and maybe that could help both players) before establishing himself as USC’s No. 1 receiving option with 1,454 yards as a sophomore. He’s been banged up from time to time but at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, knows how to snatch the ball away from corners.
A little further down the draft, keep an eye on Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook (6-feet, 178 pounds). The Eagles interviewed Westbrook at the combine, where he chose not to run the 40-yard dash. Less than a week later however, he turned in a 4.34 time at his pro day. Speed is Westbrook’s game; after transferring from junior college he finished 2016 with 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns. There were domestic violence charges leveled against Westbrook in the past, and though he was never convicted, sharing his college team with running back Joe Mixon may increase some teams’ scrutiny.
Another receiver the Eagles have been checking out is Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds (6-foot-3, 194 pounds). Reynolds was Second-Team All-SEC after a senior season with 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns. Two of those scores came from 90-plus yards away from the end zone, which is not too shabby. While the Eagles hope Torrey Smith will stretch the field vertically, it can’t hurt to add receivers late in the draft who can do the same, and Reynolds is one.
Another who could be available late on the third and final day is Baylor’s K.D. Cannon, who hung around after Baylor’s turbulent offseason to finish his career with 87 catches for 1,215 yards and 13 touchdowns. Like it is for Westbrook, competition in the Big 12 is a bit of a concern for receivers. His 4.41 40-yard at the combine shows Cannon’s speed lives up to his name, however.