Sometimes you can see the Princeton wheels rolling in Ross Tucker’s head. The highly cerebral former NFL offensive lineman, by way of Wyomissing High School and Princeton University, where he was an all-Ivy League selection, has a way of breaking things down into practicality.
Tucker, the Eagles’ preseason analyst who hosts his daily Ross Tucker football podcast and does national work covering the NFL for Westwood One and is a CBS college football analyst, is also in that rare mold of someone who sees a ton of college football and a wealth of pro football. He can discern a team’s needs and knows what players fit with certain schemes.
He took the time recently to speak with Bleeding Green Nation on his take and what he foresees for the Eagles, a team he knows exceptionally well, in the upcoming NFL Draft tonight with pick No. 10.
One point Tucker makes right off is the Eagles are so much more solid than other teams in the NFL that they are not locked into drafting for a specific position.
“Other teams do that, where they clearly need a corner, or they clearly need a receiver and make up their minds before the draft that they’ll get one in the first round and it puts them in a really bad spot,” Tucker said. “Other teams know that, and they jump them. The Eagles know that isn’t good. They don’t need anyone in any specific position. I also like the fact that, one way or the other, there are going to be good players where the Eagles fall in the draft.
“Even if Will Anderson is off the board, Tyree Wilson is off the board, or Jalen Carter is off the board, there is still going to be a corner or two, whether it’s (Oregon’s Christian) Gonzalez or (Illinois’ Devon) Witherspoon, there will still be an offensive lineman or two that they can take. People still talk about Bijan Robinson, but I don’t see that happening. No matter how the board unfolds, the Eagles are in a good spot.”
Tucker makes the very valid point that the running back who made the most money in free agency was former Eagle Miles Sanders, who signed a reported four-year deal worth $25.4 million with the Carolina Panthers. This was the same player who was out snapped and out played by Kenneth Gainwell in the postseason (95 to 76 snaps and outgained 181 to 148 yards rushing). Gainwell and Boston Scott are the floor of the Eagles’ running back room, and the ceiling is Rashaad Penny, who is on a one-year, show-me contract looking to prove that he can stay healthy throughout an NFL season. Gainwell and Penny fall right into the Eagles’ fiscal planning tree when it comes to how they slot running backs. Last year, the New York Jets took Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick and he signed a $20.6 million contract, which averages out to $5.1 million a season.
If the Eagles weren’t willing to pay Sanders, a proven running back who it seems the Eagles lost faith in, why pay Robinson if it goes against their fiscal way of thinking?
“If the Eagles take Bijan at 10, he automatically becomes one of the highest paid running backs in the league, so it’s really not a good usage of the money, as much as the pick,” Tucker said. “I think it’s possible that the Eagles trade down and hope Bijan is there, but I just can’t see the Eagles taking him at 10 and paying him what the 10th overall pick gets paid. I don’t think the Eagles would do that.”
The Cardinals’ James Conner and Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette were among the top-10 paid running backs last season, each at $7 million, with Sanders now at $6 million. If the Eagles were to take Robinson at 10, he would be in the $5 to $5.5 million slot for what seems to be the going rate for the 10th overall pick.
There are some needs the Eagles may have to address. Cam Jurgens has been penciled in at right guard in place of lost free agent right guard Isaac Seumalo to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seumalo may be more significant than it appears to the fanbase. He had a great season, on a great offensive line, and took on a lot of the bulk from center Jason Kelce.
“I’m not much concerned with Jurgens’ size as I am with the move from center to guard,” Tucker said. “It’s a bigger move than people realize. This is my area of expertise that I can speak to, because as a center, the guy you’re blocking, especially in pass pro, is typically right on your head. He’s right there on top of you, whereas playing guard, you’re off the ball a little bit and there is more space there. One-on-one pass protection between center and guard are two totally different things. At center, you can grab the guy, he’s right there. At guard, there is a lot more one-on-one pass blocking opportunities. You have more space. Jurgens might be a natural at it, he might be awesome at it, but I haven’t seen him do that. They would have to tell me or show me what he did in practice this year in one-on-ones to have a feel for what kind of one-on-one pass protector he’ll be.
“So, I tend to lean towards offensive line with the Eagles’ 10th pick. I really do. I know that surprises people, but to me, the Eagles theoretically have three offensive line positions available: Starting right guard, because Jurgens is not a known commodity there, so the starting right guard’s position is open; they need another swing guard-tackle type, and they have that in Jack Driscoll, who is in the last year of his contract, and he’s the only one in that capacity that they can count on right now; and they also want to get an heir apparent to Lane Johnson at right tackle, so I like Ohio State’s Paris Johnson or potentially Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. They can fill all three roles. They can be their starting guard, they can add tackle depth and they can be the heir apparent to Lane when Lane decides to move on. The Eagles believe greatly in depth up front on both sides of the ball. They would take Wilson, or Carter, or Anderson if any one of them were on the board, and I would count Nolan Smith as an option there, too.
“If Wilson, Carter, and Anderson were off the board, I think the Eagles would take Paris Johnson. At 30, I think they would go with Bryan Bresee out of Clemson and place him in that d-tackle rotation, or Myles Murphy, the other Clemson defensive tackle.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.