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Is taking a wide receiver in the first round the best move for the Eagles?

The Eagles have a lot of holes to fill. Is taking a wideout at 21 the best move? BGN’s Ben Natan weighed in.

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The Eagles could use help at the wide receiver position.

I know, it’s a shocking take. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Last season, the Eagles’ offense had one of the most unusual seasons in modern NFL history. Quarterback Carson Wentz became the first passer in history to throw for more than 4,000 yards without any wide receiver notching more than 500 yards (Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders each eclipsed that number).

Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor finished the season as the team’s leading receivers, but combined they only amassed 853 yards. Neither player was particularly impressive, and with Agholor now in Sin City and Jeffery likely on his way out, the Eagles are starting at a possible future starting corps that includes a 33-year old DeSean Jackson (who turns 34 in December) and some combination of JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations and an elite quarterback entering his prime, that can’t happen.

So it’s no surprise that the Eagles’ fanbase has their eyes squarely trained on the wide receiver position in April’s NFL Draft. This rookie class features plenty of top-end talent, and some of those guys may be within Philadelphia’s range.

But becoming laser-focused on one player or one position is how bad teams stay on the bottom. The draft is unpredictable, and an unprepared team’s best-case scenario can quickly devolve into, well, drafting Marcus Smith. That’s why it’s important to go into the draft with an open mind and a detailed plan.

“This is a very deep class, so I expect starter quality players to be available through the first half of the second round,” BGN draft guru Ben Natan told me. “Receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback are particular strengths this year, not counting quarterback, so it’s hard to imagine a player falling to 21 who wouldn’t be a year-one contributor.”

The Eagles are looking to make it back to the Super Bowl, but even the most generous appraisal of the roster would show that they’re still a few pieces away. Howie Roseman is on record saying that he wants the team to get younger, and we’ve seen signs of that plan since the start of free agency.

Malcolm Jenkins, 33, is now back with the Saints. The 38-year-old Jason Peters is still looking for work. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is “only” 30 and already off the team. In short: the Eagles have plenty of room for young talent.

Free agency has filled a few of those holes. During the first week of free agency, the Eagles bolstered the defensive line with Javon Hargrave and solidified one cornerback spot by trading for Darius Slay. The front office has also made moves around the fringes of the defensive depth chart with short-term, lottery ticket signings.

But questions remain, especially in the secondary. Will a player like Sidney Jones be able to step into the starting role? Will the Eagles get something in return for Rasul Douglas, who is reportedly on the trade block? And we haven’t even started talking about linebackers yet.

“The cornerback situation is still a question mark, even with Slay here,” Natan said. “The Eagles still need to completely overhaul their pass catching corps. The Eagles still could benefit from another pass rusher in the mix. And Jalen Mills should not keep the Eagles from considering one of the many talented safeties in this draft.”

Obviously, the Eagles can only fill one position with their first pick. There is no such thing as a perfect NFL roster. And the salary cap presents team-building challenges for all 32 teams. If it’s not a receiver, Natan still sees plenty of room for the Eagles to improve.

“I don’t think the receiver pick should be forced anyway given how deep this class is,” he said. “There are at least six or seven receivers who could make a day-one impact, and some could be available at the top of the second round.

“If a guy like Grant Delpit or AJ Epenesa—or maybe one of the class’ top linebackers—is there at 21, it would be hard validating not picking them over the fifth-or-sixth-best receiver in the class.”

What the Eagles do here will be telling. On Thursday, Roseman painted a rosy picture of the team’s receiving group. And even if the front office picks a receiver at 21, he won’t exactly start the press conference by saying, “we needed a receiver, any receiver, so we got the next one on our draft board.”

But if the Eagles take safety? Yep, we’ll all have flashbacks to Jaiquawn Jarrett. Linebacker? Looking at you, Marcus Smith. But it’s important to remember that it doesn’t also mean it was a bad pick. So if you’re already losing sleep over what happens if Wentz doesn’t get a new receiver on night one of the draft, Natan has some advice for you: relax.

“I think there are four surefire first round receivers this year, and a few more borderline talents,” he said. “If Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III or Tee Higgins are there? I’d sprint to the podium. But if they aren’t, and you’re deciding between a top linebacker/cornerback/safety/edge prospect and Laviska Shenault? Maybe go with the former.”

The Eagles will have a chance to get better on draft night. How much better could depend on how patient the front office is willing to be.

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