As the Eagles fly to Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL combine, they'll do so with two needs that seem to outweigh all others.
The Eagles need big-play makers and big-play stoppers. Receivers and cornerbacks.
Still well over a week away from the start of free agency, this could change some. The Eagles could hit the market and try to sign a player or two to shore up those positions. But even if they do, it's likely receiver and corner will still need to be upgraded when they're on the clock at 14 or 15 in late April.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock held his annual marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday afternoon, about two months from the start of the 2017 draft. The highly-respected draft analyst said this year's draft is "one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen."
That's high praise from someone who has been doing this a long time. And he didn't stop there. Mayock continued to praise both edge rusher and, wait for it, cornerbacks.
"I can get through four rounds of quality corners and I've never been able to say that before," he said.
That seems like awful good news for the Eagles (see storylines).
While this draft is really deep at corner, Mayock said it's not so deep at receiver. So when asked about what his plan would be, given that the Eagles are in desperate need of both positions, Mayock said the Eagles should seriously consider a top receiver for their first round pick.
"I think the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want," Mayock said. "But they've got to be looking hard at all three of those guys and know up front if one or two or all three of them are available, who they're going to take. And then I think they can drop back in a later round and it wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners. I think they could."
This seems like a pretty solid plan. Snag one of the top receivers, then pick up value in the second round (and later rounds) by adding cornerbacks who would have gone much higher in a more ordinary year for that position.
But last month in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman brought up a thought-provoking point about the depth of cornerbacks in this year's draft.
"It's interesting, because last year we sat there and said defensive tackles in this draft are unreal," Roseman said in January. "You're going to get an opportunity to be there in the fourth or fifth round and there's going to be a second- or- third-round guy. And what happened was they all went. And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."
So maybe the Eagles won't get cute. Perhaps when they pick at 14 or 15, they'll have a corner ranked high enough to say, "To heck with value, let's take our guy." Now, maybe that wouldn't create the best value overall, but if it gets the best player, it's unlikely Eagles fans will care. And they shouldn't.
But what if one of the top three receivers is on the board and is their highest ranked player? Mayock seems to think they should pull the trigger. The top three, according to him, are Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Clemson's Mike Williams and Washington's John Ross. Mayock said he could see all three going from picks 10-20.
While Ross has some medical concerns, Mayock seemed really intrigued about the idea of the Eagles' taking him. He compared Ross to Will Fuller, whom the Texans took at No. 21 out of Notre Dame last year. In fact, he said he expects Ross to run just as fast as Fuller (4.32), but is quicker and a better natural catcher.
"He's probably the best vertical threat in the draft and I think that would help the rest of the Eagles underneath," he said. "They desperately need speed. So if you're talking about a guy that's going to run a 4.35, which I think he will."
Or how about Williams from Clemson? On his way to a national title, Williams impressed on the biggest stage and could become a huge target for Carson Wentz and the Eagles.
"He's a big, physical dude," Mayock said. "I think he welcomes press coverage. He uses his physicality, he catches back shoulder. And again, if you're looking from an Eagles perspective, scoring and red-zone opportunities, he's probably the best guy at the wide receiver position in this draft in the red zone because of his catching radius and his physicality."
And then there's still Davis, whom Mayock ranks as the best receiver in the draft. Davis won’t be able to compete at the combine with an ankle injury, but is still a first-rounder.
Based on the evaluations given by Mayock on Monday, it seems like any three of these receivers could come in and make an immediate impact with the Eagles on Day 1. That isn’t always the case with receivers.
In January, Roseman talked about how the great receiver draft of 2014 had really altered expectations for rookies, saying in the past receiver hasn't been a "plug and play" position. Some ran with those comments and took them to mean that the Eagles would try to fill the receiver hole through free agency.
And, besides, the Eagles were burnt by a first-round receiver not too long ago, when they took Nelson Agholor with the 20th pick in the 2015 draft. In his two seasons, Agholor has largely been a disappointment in the NFL.
Still, that miss wouldn't make Mayock hesitate this year. If Davis, Williams or Ross are there, one of them could be the Eagles' pick.
"I struggle thinking that the three of them (top receivers) will struggle like Nelson Agholor did, who was also a first-round pick," he said. "I think they're going to be fine."