The 2021 NFL Draft is ONE DAY AWAY. Here’s a look at what Bleeding Green Nation staff writers think the Philadelphia Eagles SHOULD and WILL do with their first pick.
BRANDON LEE GOWTON
For once, the Eagles shouldn’t overthink it. Instead of trying to outsmart themselves, they should do the right thing and draft DeVonta Smith. The Eagles should be aiming to build an elite passing offense and adding Smith to their roster helps towards achieving that goal. Unlike some previous Eagles draft picks, he’s a stone-cold baller with Big Winner Energy in spades. He’s also just a really good football player, which is important. The concerns about his weight are overblown. If Smith isn’t on the board, Jaylen Waddle or Jaycee Horn could be reasonable consolation prizes.
With the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select ... Kwity Paye, defensive end, Michigan. (Cynicism aside, I wonder if the Eagles might feel pressured to do the popular thing instead of trying to outsmart everyone again.)
As for what the Birds should do with the 12th pick, it’s rather simple. Take the guy who won the Heisman Trophy. Put the concerns about DeVonta Smith’s frame and weight aside. After several years of early draft misfires, sometimes you just have to throw your galaxy brain mindset out the window and take the guy who balls the hell out.
Smith represents the best profile of a prospect: he’s both a high-floor and high-ceiling player who plays a premium position. He will immediately help Jalen Hurts blossom in 2021 with the potential to be among the best wideouts in the league by the end of his rookie contract. Avoid adding 2021 to the history of Eagles blunders. Don’t overthink it. Get Smith in midnight green rocking a #6 jersey.
The Eagles have made 18 first-round picks since 2000. 12 of them have been used on offensive and defensive linemen. This is an organization that has adhered to the philosophy of building through the trenches for two decades.
If it’s a situation where Rashawn Slater falls to 12, I’d bet my net worth (approximately 87 cents) that the Eagles call it in immediately to select the Northwestern offensive lineman. Honestly, in a scenario where Penei Sewell or Slater falls to the end of the top 10, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Eagles made a short trade up, ending up with surplus value after adding a guy they may have taken at 6 anyway. Hey, we didn’t expect a trade to grab Andre Dillard in 2019, right?
If those two dudes are gone, the Eagles would jump on Kwity Paye and compare him to Brandon Graham for the entirety of their post-draft press conference.
The Eagles should draft Jaylen Waddle if he’s available. He’s the best wide receiver in the draft and the Eagles sorely lack good players. The argument has been tossed around that he’s too similar to Jalen Reagor, and that doesn’t matter. That line of thinking assumes that Reagor will be good. Have the Chiefs passed on fast players because they have Tyreek Hill? After last season, what skill player do you look at and feel good about? Dallas Goedert is likely it. Go get a player that makes a difference on offense and special teams.
They’ll draft an edge in a year where they probably shouldn’t. Brandon Graham isn’t getting any younger, Derek Barnett hasn’t proven to be worth a big extension and Josh Sweat hasn’t been on the field enough to garner trust.
If I were building the Eagles’ board, with positional needs considered, it would go:
1) Jaylen Waddle
2) Patrick Surtain II
3) Jaycee Horn
4) Penei Sewell
5) Alijah Vera-Tucker
6) Rashawn Slater
7) DeVonta Smith
While I respect and acknowledge the “he’s just good at football” reality of DeVonta Smith, I’d be willing to let another team make that bet. The Eagles drafted a couple of players with clear size issues over the last few years, like San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey (historically light) and Pitt CB Avonte Maddox (historically stubby) — but they did that in Round 4, and neither pick worked too well for them. I don’t think they want to take a size outlier in Round 1, and I endorse that decision. At pick 12 and with a decimated roster, it’s important to get a high-floor player rather than a high-ceiling, but risky WR option — especially in a talented class.
I think Waddle and Surtain are homerun, Top-10 players, and view Sewell and Alijah Vera-Tucker similarly, just at positions the Eagles don’t need as desperately. Jaycee Horn also works for me, though the scheme fit and value is a bit trickier to figure out.
If Waddle, Surtain, Horn, and Sewell are all not available, I’m trying to trade back. I’d listen to offers no matter who’s on the board....unless it’s Justin Fields, in which case that pick should be made above all others.
I think they take Jaycee Horn, either in a small trade up or at 12 if they can get him. The defensive coaching staff will love his energy, it’s a premium position for Howie Roseman, and for as worrisome as EDGE and WR are, at least they have some intriguing youth at both spots. There’s no such player at corner.
There are two things the Eagles SHOULD do. They should either trade up to jump in front of the Cowboys and Giants to grab Patrick Surtain to shore up their cornerback spot (or to snag a premium offensive player that may fall further than expected) or do the sane thing and draft DeVonta Smith if he’s available, Jaylen Waddle if he’s on the board and Smith is not, or trade down if both are off the table and take Jaycee Horn or one of the offensive linemen expected to go in the middle of the first round, Christian Darrisaw or Alijah Vera-Tucker, are still there. There should be a number of good players left at 12 that, if there are a few they like but no one jumps off the page, they should pick up some extra draft capital and move down a bit further.
That being said, if DeVonta Smith is still there at 12, Howie Roseman has to resist the urge to galaxy brain the pick and go with some knucklehead defensive end prospect (Hi Kwity Paye!!!). He has to come out of this draft with a playmaking wide receiver or a starting cornerback in the first round.
Based on some of Roseman’s comments in their pre-draft interview with the media, it sounded like he was laying the groundwork to go after DeVonta Smith if he’s still available. Roseman went out of his way to talk about not making a determination on a player’s role because of their size, and one would have to think they were thinking of Smith when they said that. Roseman has taken a lot of heat these past couple of years and rightfully so. If he screws this one up, it could be the last one he gets, so I don’t think he’s going to get cute this time. I think he’ll go with the obvious choice, DeVonta Smith. I’m, like, 51% sure this will happen. Maybe.
If DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle are on the board, take him. If both somehow are, I don’t even care which one it is. Okay I kind of care, I prefer Waddle for a variety of reasons. But I’m not complaining if they draft Smith. If these guys can’t play in the NFL, a whole lot of people besides whoever drafts them are going to be wrong. Don’t overthink this, get an actual blue-chip WR to put a terrible group of WRs.
I think whatever it is they wind up doing, it’s going to feel like a disappointment to many. My expectation is that Waddle is gone, Smith is on the board and they draft a cornerback or pass rusher, and take a WR in the 2nd. I can live with a corner, but you can’t sell me on a pass rusher in the first round this year. Drafting an offensive tackle in the first round this year is overthinking it. I can also see them trading back again if the board doesn’t go their way, which will be both deflating and a wise move.
The Eagles’ offense has been putrid and the team needs to continue to address it until something changes. Losing Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson certainly counts as addressing it, but it’s yet to be seen how effective Nick Sirianni will be in turning the offense around. It’s also unknown what Jalen Hurts is and what future the NFL has in store for him. The Eagles should either take Justin Fields or one of DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Ja’Marr Chase if they can get their hands on them. At this point, it seems like a dart throw with Howie’s inability to draft talent anyways.
The team will almost certainly draft a player at a (rare) position of strength so I almost certainly expect the team to overreach and take a defensive lineman such as Jaelan Phillips or Kwity Paye. I also could see the team going with an offensive lineman as that positional group has been quite shaken up over the last few years with injuries and roster changes. The Eagles will find a way to disappoint us all, I’m sure.
Five simple words: Don’t fuck this up, Howie. Just three of the Eagles’ 36 draft picks over the last five years since he returned to power have started a full season for the team (I’m including Jalen Mills’ 2017 season here since he was rested in Week 17), a figure which includes NONE of the 28 (!!) selections from the last four drafts. That is incomprehensibly bad and cannot simply be due to the fickleness of luck; it speaks to monumental failures at every level of the organization. Whether it’s primarily the fault of the personnel department‘s evaluation abilities or the previous coaching staff’s player development abilities is irrelevant. Parsing and assigning blame is part and parcel of the Eagles’ brand, and personnel very much wants you to believe the disastrous results of recent drafts are coaching-related. Well, we are about to find out for real since there’s a new staff.
All of the above leads me back to this: The Eagles can’t afford to think they’re smarter than everyone else with the pick they make in the first round. The 2017 Super Bowl proved they could catch lightning in a bottle, everything else since then has proved the true chops of the organization. They were unable to complement and sustain that level of success - which is fine since that’s the case for 80% of the league, and most are never able to complete the ultimate goal during their unicorn season. The question is whether the Eagles have been able to pull their heads out of their asses at all over the last year to not only understand but also be comfortable with the fact that they aren’t the smartest people in the room and, more importantly, don’t NEED to be. It’s time to go with the consensus, both for the purposes of drafting the best possible player AND leaning into the PR facet that’ll juice up the fan base and gives them an out in case the player fails to meet expectations.
So what should the Eagles do? Draft DeVonta Smith, if he’s there. He will not fail in the NFL, and they NEED a game-breaking talent to be the face of this rebuild and new era (because right now it doesn’t feel like that’s Jalen Hurts). This is even more of a no-brainer than Justin Jefferson was last year. What WILL they do? Probably pass on DeVonta to select Patrick Surtain II or Jaycee Horn - and if that’s the scenario, I’ve long had my flag planted that Horn is the better prospect and projection profile. If the Eagles instead go galaxy brain and draft Kwity Paye because he reminds them of Brandon Graham, as has been reported, it’ll just show they’ve learned nothing and also, oh yeah, that their selection of Derek Barnett in the first round of 2017 was yet another evaluation failure. Just remember that it took Graham years to develop into even a solid NFL player - and yes, he’s now an all-time Eagle, but he’s still never hit double-digit sacks and in no way classifies as a legit franchise changer. The goal of this first-round pick shouldn’t be to find the next Brandon Graham, it should be to find the next DeSean Jackson - and that’s DeVonta Smith.