Receiver-heavy 2014 draft perfect for Eagles

Receiver-heavy 2014 draft perfect for Eagles

February 24, 2014, 9:00 am
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Jeremy Maclin (right) was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Eagles. Riley Cooper (left) was taken by the Eagles in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. (USA Today Images)

The Eagles picked the perfect year for two of their prominent wide receivers to reach free agency.

Because experts believe this is the deepest and strongest wide receiver draft in years. Maybe ever.

So if you’re going to lose one or two of your top three wideouts, you might as well do it in a year when the draft should allow you to replenish the position.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman conceded that the strength of the wide receivers in the forthcoming draft is part of the equation when it comes to determining the value of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin and deciding how much to offer them to return to the Eagles.

And the bottom line is that, really, there is no reason to overpay a veteran when you may be able to draft somebody you like just as much.

Maybe even more.

“I think it’s a piece of the puzzle when you look at the wide receiver group, not only Jeremy [Maclin] and Riley [Cooper],” Roseman said at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“When you look at this class and you compare it to classes in the last few years, we’re going to be sitting there in every round and there’s going to be a receiver we like.”

It would be surprising if the Eagles don’t sign Maclin to a one-year deal, giving him the chance to prove he’s healthy after last year’s ACL injury. Despite various reports indicating several other teams are interested in Maclin, it’s hard to imagine anybody guaranteeing him money in a multi-year deal while he’s coming off a severe knee injury.

The Eagles wouldn’t mind bringing Cooper back as well, but they’re certainly not going to overpay for somebody who’s had five career games with more than 75 receiving yards.

Jason Avant turns 31 in April, and his future is uncertain. Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl, B.J. Cunningham, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and Joe Anderson are also under contract.

But let’s face it. The only lock for the Eagles is that DeSean Jackson will be back.

Whatever happens, this is a tremendous opportunity for the Eagles to get younger, faster and bigger at receiver.

“It's the best wide receiver draft I've seen in years,” NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said.

Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is the consensus No. 1 receiver, and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans is the consensus No. 2 guy, but there could be as many as seven taken in the first round and perhaps 12 or 13 in the first two rounds.

The Eagles have picks No. 22, 54 and 86 in the first three rounds. It’s hard to imagine one of them won’t be a receiver.

“I think that group, as a whole, the thing that stands out -- it's deep,” Rams GM Les Snead said at the combine. “A lot of good players. Heck, the 15th receiver could be a starter in this league.

“From that group, you get a lot of different flavors, too. You get the large people and you get the smaller, faster. They're competitive. And the other thing you notice, there are a lot of underclassmen that are coming out. It’ll be a fun group.”

Roseman indicated that the Eagles, with more of a pressing need at wideout than many teams, could stockpile receivers in this draft and could get guys they like later than usual.

“You look around the league and there are going to be teams that are already three or four deep at wide receiver and probably aren’t going to want to take one early, and that’s going to push guys back,” he said.

“And once teams take one, it’s not usual that they’ll come back and take another one. So guys will be pushed back because of the quality and the depth of the class.”

The Eagles haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first four rounds since Maclin in the first in 2009.

They’ve taken only three in the first three rounds in the last decade -- Reggie Brown in the second in 2005, Jackson in 2008 and Maclin in 2009.

The last time they drafted more than one receiver in the same draft was 2000, with Todd Pinkston in the second and Gari Scott in the fourth.

The only time in the last 50 years they took two in the first three rounds was 1990, with Mike Bellamy in the second round and Fred Barnett in the third. Calvin Williams followed in the fifth.

But this is a unique year, with a unique group of receivers and potentially a unique need for the Eagles.

Roseman said whether or not the Eagles bring back Maclin or Cooper, both, or neither, their overall approach to drafting receivers won’t change.

“We look at the draft as a long-term option for our football team, so we’re not going to go into it forcing anything,” he said.

“It’s not going to affect how we rank players on our draft board. If we bring guys back at a particular position or don’t bring them back, we’re not going to force things.”