Don’t tell anyone, but this is my favorite time of year. As a Draft analyst and scout primarily, we aren’t in the offseason—we’re in the season. I’ve been psyched for this time for a while (though, obviously, the Super Bowl victory was also nice).
As such, I’ll be posting regular columns in the weeks approaching the Draft to help get you ready for the NFL Draft from an Eagles perspective. I’ll comment on some recent Eagles/Draft-related news, post a seven-round mock for y’all, give a quick scouting report on a likely target, answers some of your questions, and touch on anything else that requires a quick note.
No reason to dally: let’s get into it!
In the News Cycle
Michael Bennett comes to Philadelphia
The big’un is certainly the Michael Bennett trade, which was just announced today. Though it won’t become official for a week or so (when the new league year begins on 3/14), Seattle fielded multiple offers for the 32-year-old DE, and ended up with Philly’s. As such, we can imagine they’re sold.
While Philadelphia just brought an older, and still solidly expensive DE into a tight cap situation, things aren’t nearly as dire as they seem. Bennett represents at most a $5.65M cap hit in 2018, with a $1.65M base salary and a $4M roster bonus (likely due on 3/18, when most roster bonuses are). Per Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic, $1M of that roster bonus is a per-game bonus, in that Bennett gets 1/16th of that $1M for every game he’s on the active 46-man roster.
Philadelphia can prorate that $3M roster bonus to lighten the cap load for this year, if they like—but let’s say they add the entire $5.65M cap hit this season. The inevitable cut/trade of Vinny Curry will open up $5M in cap space this season, if designated a pre-June 1st cut. Accordingly, the Eagles maybe added $650K onto the current cap figure (~$11M over) for what I would argue is a significant improvement in EDGE talent. If PHI can restructure the roster bonus, they’ll likely save money on the Bennett acquisition/Curry cut transactions.
Speaking of EDGE improvement, Bennett’s raw stats last season impress: 8.5 sacks, 44 hurries, 16 hits. However, it’s important to note that Bennett played an inordinate number of snaps—933!—for the Seahawks. He will not see such a significant number of snaps this season (Graham led all Eagles DL with 663). As such, I’m far more interested in stats like these:
Michael Bennett ranked 6th in the NFL with 80 disruptions (plays with a run stuff or pressure) per #NextGenStats— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 7, 2018
Now joins the team that led the NFL with a 52.9% disruption rate.
When we turn to the film, we see production that backs up the numbers. Bennett proved that his 270-lb frame translated nicely to both inside and outside rush lanes, which adds a degree of unpredictability and flexibility to Philadelphia’s 2-line rotation on the defensive front.
Bennett’s addition makes sense from a pure fiscal perspective—a 5th round pick and Marcus Johnson is peanuts. Within the context of Philadelphia’s defense, they’ll likely gain a step on the defensive line despite losing Curry, allow for Barnett to grow into playing time with less urgency, and even protect against the inevitable two games Fletcher Cox misses with a calf injury.
Looking further down the road, one would imagine Philadelphia would still like to keep Brandon Graham, but if he’s going to demand a massive contract, Philadelphia may worry about keeping cap room open for Wentz and fail to land Graham when he hits FA in 2019. Bennett’s $8.75M and $10.2M cap hits in ‘19 and ‘20, respectively, will be less than anything Graham demands for his yearly salary.
Browns + 1st Overall = Saquon?
No. No no no. Heck no.
Eagles Coaching Shake-up
Philadelphia formerly announced their offensive coaching staff, after they lost QB coach John DeFilippo and OC Frank Reich at the eleventh hours to Minnesota and Indianapolis. Of course, Mike Groh’s promotion from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator, and RB coach Duce Staley’s subsequent “assistant head coach” moniker, were already known. Beyond that, the lower ranks were filled:
Having done some research, I’m really excited about Carson Walch, the assistant WRs coach who will be working under Gunter Brewer. Previously the offensive coordinator for the Edmonton Eskimos (never change, Canada), Walch’s Eskimos led the CFL in passing yards this season, but also dominated in time of possession and rushing touchdown. You could easily find Air Raid-esque route concepts in Edmonton’s games.
Walch strikes me as a good offensive mind, and his working relationship with Mike Groh/familiarity with Groh’s techniques will only help his work in Philadelphia. Having unapologetically snagged CB talent from the CFL ranks over the past few years, I like how Philly is mining the NFL’s little brother for talent.
Gunter Brewer, the new WR coach? Fun guy. Everyone from UNC raves about him.
Using Fanspeak’s wonderful Mock Draft simulator, I used Philly’s shiny new seventh-round pick (Philly is back to having all the 32s, which is a great feeling!) to bring in some DT depth.
Oh! And I used the earlier picks as well.
I would imagine Philadelphia wants to go LB (assuming Bradham walks) or OT early, as those are their two greatest position of needs. TE could be a sneaky one that early as well.
I went RB because Howie is clearly playing the long game—and while RB isn’t an immediate need, it could become a dire one in 2019, should Philadelphia elect not to re-sign RB Jay Ajayi and his bad knees. Ronald Jones was the pick, and he’ll be the scouting report that I include below as well.
As such, I went hunting for a good developmental OT to fight with Big V for the open spot left by Jason Peters after he retires/leaves the team after 2018. Brett Toth, an Army kid, has very little pass blocking experience, but a great frame, excellent physicality, and what I imagine is stellar character/work ethic. That’s a good start.
We know Philadelphia is interested in Dalton Schultz, and the Stanford TE connection thrives with Zach Ertz. An excellent blocker, Schultz can provide some of the base personnel run/pass flexibility that you don’t necessarily get with Ertz. He needs to beef up that frame, though.
Skai Moore is a talented LB, but a college spine surgery will turn off many teams to his pro longevity. Big for his stock: he started his entire season. Undersized, lacking in physicality, but wicked quick and a good cover man, Moore can play the LB position that SAF Malcolm Jenkins tends to occupy, which allows Jenkins to spend more time in the defensive backfield.
Pringle’s another player with spotty college history—this disciplinary, not medical—but he’ll present excellent value to teams if he’s on the straight and narrow. Given his “last shot” at Kansas State, he was an inconsistent dynamo with great long speed to replace Torrey Smith. His pre-Draft process has been very promising.
Philadelphia loses seventh-round hogmollie Beau Allen, and comes right back around with B.J. Hill, who will fight last year’s sixth rounder Elijah Qualls and 2016’s UDFA Destiny Vaeao for a roster spot. Incumbent starters Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan are penetrators—Hill could prove to be the space-eater needed in Philly’s rotation.
Scouting Report: Ronald Jones, RB, USC
With lightning-quick feet, excellent flexibility, and good decisiveness, Jones (5’11, 205 lbs) projects as a speed back at the next level. He excels in both inside and outside zone, but will likely find more success in outside zone/space concepts at the next level. Jones must prove that he can carry 200+ pounds on his frame without losing his explosion (he was listed at 190 during the season), and also demonstrate his ability as a pass-catcher, as he only hauled in 32 catches in his time with the Trojans.
Jones’ best trait is the marriage of his footwork and vision, as he can use his keen understanding of second-level defenders to maximize his explosiveness and agility. Used as USC’s goal-line and short yardage back despite his frame, the Trojans’ coaching staff understood how good Jones was at creating creases and maximizing yardage:
RONALD DON'T DO THAT RONALD THINK OF THE CHILDREN pic.twitter.com/j3E0zbK56E— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) February 12, 2018
You can see on this rep how Jones sets up the second level defenders, forces them to commit to the hole, before bouncing effortlessly into space. This is nuanced running, and while USC benefitted from asking Jones to do it in tight quarters, Philadelphia would likely investigate Jones’ ability to do this on stretch concepts, in which the defense is flowing hard.
From what we see of Jones’ film, the translation there could be dynamic:
Ronald Jones running outside zone--who woulda thunk it? pic.twitter.com/OnguDmXnBi— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) February 12, 2018
Force the defense to flow, cut back on them. Look at that contact balance and the freedom in the hips.
Ronald Jones receives Jamaal Charles comps for his electricity in space, excellent feel, and dreadlocks (probably). I like those comps, though Charles is likely more elusive, and Jones more explosive. Unfortunately, Jones pulled up during the 40-yard dash with a hammy, so we cannot compare his long speed to Charles’ blazing 4.36.
Jones is a perfect fit in Philadelphia’s multifarious rushing attack, and he gives them the outside zone ability they’d lose if/when Ajayi leaves in 2017. The outside zone, while not run exclusively or even predominately by Philadelphia, is crucial to their offensive philosophy: from it, they can sequence their play-action passes/rollouts and stress the defense horizontally.
My full scouting report on Ronald Jones can be found here!
The Draft Bag
Let’s turn to some Twitter questions, shall we?
What’s your opinion on Malik Jefferson? Strengths/weaknesses/scheme fit/etc. #DraftBag— Ryan K (@Roadkill823) March 7, 2018
Malik Jefferson is a 6’2, 236 pound linebacker out of Texas. In my Top-100 Big Board, he failed to make the cut. While Jefferson’s athleticism is quite exciting, he’s an inconsistent tackler and slow to diagnose. He plays fearful of contact and without much discipline.
You could say much the same of Mychal Kendricks, honestly—at least, the bad version of Kendricks that we haven’t seen of late. As such, Philly would deploy Malik accordingly: blitz often, let him pursue from the weak side, keep him away from blockers. Jefferson is likely to get over-drafted due to his athletic profile, but I can’t imagine spending #32 overall on him. I’ll bite if he drops all the way to the end of Round 4—but he won’t.
Out of every player at any position in this draft who fits the Eagles on the field and in the locker room the best?— Juan Yurpruvitdeel (@MattGrumbrecht) March 7, 2018
Fun question! We know Philadelphia’s been talking to him—and I got another question about the player himself—so I’ll hit it with Stanford S Justin Reid. The brother of Eric Reid—San Francisco S/LB who participated in the NFL anthem protests—Reid is incredibly well-spoken and intelligent. Reid was asked about the NFL protests, and gave an admirable, firm answer for a player so young, and in such a precarious position. You can watch the video here.
His mindset would clearly fit in Philadelphia’s locker room—on the field, Reid provides Jenkins-esque versatility as a cover-man, box safety, and high safety. Putting him and Jenkins on the field together would give Philadelphia a ton of versatility, and help them prepare for a fast-approaching life without Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
if the eagles choose to not resign bradham, does that make LB their top priority in the draft, and if so, why not choose to resign bradham instead?— Reagan (@reayonce) March 7, 2018
Good question! I would say it makes LB their most immediate need on the roster—however! We saw Philadelphia put together a Super Bowl run with Malcolm Jenkins and Dannell Ellerbe as two of their linebackers. It reveals a common truth about NFL defenses: nickel is the new base. LBs are less valuable. Safety-sized players who can cover, but still fill against the run, are en vogue.
Take a look at LB contracts: they’re cheap. It speaks to the devaluation of the position. To me, that would help Philadelphia re-sign Bradham, one of the best coverage ‘backers in the NFL. But if the front office sees the tight cap situation and trusts in Jordan Hicks to stay healthy/Mychal Kendricks to stay productive, they may elect to go thin at the position that impacts NFL games the least.
My schema: I’m in the re-sign Bradham camp—firmly. I think you can get him for $5-$6M per, and backload that contract like crazy. Don’t extend Hicks for a big number with his injury history. Move on from Kendricks if you can land Hicks cheap. But it looks like he won’t be returning.
If Bradham walks, Philly will bring in a LB in the Draft. But I’m not sure it outranks OT as their most dire long-term need.
If RoJo Goedert kolt Miller or LVE we’re all on the board at 32 who’s the pick— Jordan Skversky (@Jorcs617) March 7, 2018
Kolton Miller. An incredibly athletic OT out of UCLA, Miller doesn’t have Round 1 film for me, and his incredibly stature can lead to leverage and balance disadvantages at times. That being said, he’ll sit a year behind one of the great technicians at the position—Jason Peters—and then step beside Lane Johnson to form the most athletic OT tandem the league has ever seen.
After that, I’d go Dallas Goedert (TE, South Dakota State), Ronald Jones II (RB, USC from above), then Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State).
#DraftBag How would you rank the top 5 linebackers in the first for the eagles scheme?— Andrew Phillips (@aphillips0524) March 7, 2018
A good question on which to wrap things up (we got a ton of LB questions this time). My Top-5 LBs according to my board, agnostic of scheme, are:
- Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
- Roquan Smith, Georgia
- Rashaan Evans, Alabama
- Shaun Dion-Hamilton
- Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Philadelphia runs a 4-3 scheme that, so oriented on DL penetration, requires its linebacker to be comfortable taking on contact. Also, Philadelphia does not blitz linebackers to a high degree, so that skill isn’t in high demand--they do, accordingly, cover a good deal.
Tremaine Edmunds would remain ranked above Roquan Smith for his ability to take on contact—though both will be long gone by the time Philly drafts. Rashaan Evans, an ideal 4-3 SAM, is a great target at 32 for Philadelphia, especially if Bradham walks. Vander Esch just may climb over SDH, who excels more so as a WILL linebacker, while Vander Esch can play the SAM and take over the MIKE should Jordan Hicks get injured.
Below them I have Genard Avery from Memphis and Fred Warner from BYU as my 6th and 7th backers, then a big gap. Avery is the better fit again for Philly’s needs at SAM, though Warner’s coverage ability is enticing.