Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

The NFL world will take over Indianapolis again this week for the annual scouting combine. 

This year, the combine is taking place a little later than normal. Instead of late February, this year the combine is happening in early March, very close to free agency. 

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are scheduled to speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon (Roseman at 2:30, Pederson at 2:45) while player interviews with the media begin on Thursday. Player workouts will begin on Friday and run through Monday. 

Flip, flip, hooray?
A very important coin flip will happen in Indy this week. The Eagles will end up with either the 14th or 15th pick in April's draft based on the outcome. The Colts will get the other. According to the Eagles' website, the coin flip will happen at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. 

This year the Eagles don't own their own first-round pick. The Browns have it at No. 12 thanks to the trade up to get Carson Wentz last year. The Eagles, instead, own the Vikings' first-rounder thanks to the Sam Bradford trade. The Vikings and Colts finished with identical records and strength of schedules, so a coin flip will decide who gets the higher pick -- in this case, the Eagles are the Vikings. 

Either way, the Eagles should have a really good chance to draft a difference-maker. They've had luck before higher than 20 and the recent history at 14/15 bodes well (see story)

In total, the Eagles will have eight draft picks -- the Vikings' first-rounder, their own picks in Rounds 2 through 7 and a fourth-round compensatory pick from the Browns. That pick from the Browns was part of the return from the trade up to No. 2 last year. It would have been a fifth-rounder if the Browns didn't get a compensatory pick, but they got two. The Eagles take the higher one at No. 139 overall. 

Here's a list of their picks so far by round: 

1 - 14 or 15
2 - 43
3 - 74
4 - 119, 139 (from Browns)
5 - 155
6 - 194
7 - 230 

Coach talk
On Wednesday, we'll hear from Pederson for the first time since just after the final game of the 2016 season. Pederson didn't have a year-end press conference and didn't speak at the Senior Bowl in Alabama in January. 

There are plenty of questions for Pederson, starting with his coaching staff. Since the season ended, the Eagles fired receivers coach Greg Lewis and hired Mike Groh, who held the same position with the Rams in 2016 and with the Bears from 2013-15. In Mobile, Roseman said any decisions with the coaching staff were all Pederson's, so this will be a chance to find out why the switch was made. 

Another question for Pederson is about quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The Eagles blocked the Jets from interviewing DeFilippo for their offensive coordinator position. While a report surfaced that this decision was Jeff Lurie's, Roseman repeated the line about Pederson making coaching decisions. 

Finally, Pederson is entering his second year as the Eagles' head coach. Last year, he was trying to put together a coaching staff and install his scheme, but this year that's already done. Has he taken a more active role in personnel and to what extent? 

Roseman in his element
The Eagles don't have a ton of guys who will become unrestricted free agents on March 9, but the biggest name of the bunch is clearly Bennie Logan. The Eagles will have a chance to meet with Logan's agent, Todd France, face to face during the week. They saw France last year too, as he represents Fletcher Cox. 

This situation is a little different, though. Cox wasn't scheduled to become a free agent last year, while Logan is this year. Logan is the Eagles' most significant pending free agent. 

While Roseman can use this week to try to work on deals for his own players, he can also float some trades. Guys like Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and even Jason Kelce could be discussed. 

Weird timing
This year, the NFL schedule has the combine finishing just as the legal tampering window (March 7) is set to begin. So basically, the league is putting front office members and agents in the same city days before free agency kicks off and expects them to not talk about players from other teams. Yeah, OK. In any case, it'll be interesting to see what the new schedule changes in terms of to-be free agent talks.  

Cornering the market
Ahh, yes, the real reason everyone is heading to Indy: the actual players on the field. This year, the prized position in the draft looks like cornerback, which should be good news for the Eagles. You might have noticed they're lacking in that area. 

How deep is the draft for corners and rushers? Well, a former NFL GM tweeted this: 

There are as many as eight cornerbacks who could possibly go in the first round and over a dozen who might go in the first two rounds. Some incredible talent. It's just up to the Eagles to find the right one. 

It might make sense for the Birds take a different position at 14 or 15 and then come back in the second round to draft a corner. After all, with how deep the position is, they're bound to get great value in the second, right? Roseman's answer about this scenario was interesting. He pointed to last year's draft, which was supposed to be very deep at defensive tackle. Roseman thought they could get a second- or third-rounder in the fourth or fifth. 

"And what happened was they all went," Roseman said during Senior Bowl week. "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."

Helping Carson 
It's not a great year for receivers in the draft, but it's not a bad year either. The top two appear to be Mike Williams and Corey Davis, but there are plenty of good players who will be available throughout the draft. And like at corner, the Eagles need plenty of help. 

Receivers will speak to reporters on Friday and will be on the field working out on Saturday. You'd better believe the Eagles will be watching closely. 

Just a year ago
While the Eagles this year will be focusing on building around Wentz, last year they were just worried about getting him. For a team that still had the 13th pick while in Indy last year, the Eagles sure spent a lot of time with a quarterback who was going to be a very high pick. 

Really, last year in Indy is where picking Wentz started to become a reality. The Eagles spent a ton of time interviewing Wentz and everyone was involved, including Roseman, advisor Tom Donahoe, Jeff Lurie and a renowned sports psychologist. Wentz, for his part, blew them away. 

As the Eagles were falling in love with Wentz, Roseman was working on a way to make it happen. The first step was moving up from 13. The Eagles eventually traded with the Dolphins from 13 to 8. Those trade talks started in the hotel in Indy, where the Eagles were two doors down from the Dolphins. That, plus Roseman's relationship with Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum helped get the deal done. It was the first in a two-step process to secure Wentz as the next franchise quarterback.  

Roseman is more active than most NFL GMs when it comes to making player trades, so don't be surprised if he's back to work this week. 

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

It doesn't take long in any conversation about Zach Ertz in Philadelphia before the words "breakout season" are tossed around.
 
Again.
 
But while a good portion of Eagles fans have been impatiently waiting for Ertz to "break out," the 2013 draft pick has quietly put together an extremely impressive start to his career.
 
In four seasons, Ertz has caught 247 passes for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's one of just seven tight ends in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first four seasons of a career. The other six: Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Mike Ditka.
 
Not bad company.
 
But for whatever reason, Ertz hasn't become a real fan favorite. Fans have questioned his talent, his play-making ability and even his toughness.
 
Why the indifference?
 
"I don't know," tight ends coach Justin Peele said. "I love coaching him. I think he's good for this team. Every day he comes to work with the right attitude, trying to get better. He's had some success. I don't know. He's a pleasure to coach and I know he's very highly respected in this organization."
 
Ertz, 26, admitted this spring that the constant criticism from fans used to bother him when he was younger. But now entering his fifth season with the Eagles, he's gotten used to it.
 
Does Ertz think he's underrated or overrated?
 
"Whatever people think, people think," Ertz said earlier this spring on Quick Slants on CSN. "I'm not going to get caught up in people's opinions. It's the guys in this building, their opinions of me. I'm really happy with how I progressed this spring and I think I'm setting the stage for a good season."
 
The one thing Ertz admitted he needs to improve is his production in the end zone. He has just 13 touchdown catches in four years and has never had more than four in a season.
 
To put that in perspective, only two players over the last four years — Matt Forte and Jarvis Landry — have had more catches with 13 or fewer touchdowns. 
 
"That falls on me to go out there every Sunday to make plays," Ertz said. "Show I can do it in the spring and in the summer leading into the season and I'm working really hard at it."
 
The height of Ertz criticism came during a 32-14 Week 13 loss at Cincinnati last season. There was an infamous play where Carson Wentz went scrambling and Ertz failed to block a charging Vontaze Burfict, who was in pursuit. The play actually looked like Ertz got out of the way.
 
It was a bad look.
 
And Ertz knew it. He heard the criticism loudly and went out the next week and had a tough, physical game. But the damage was done. A lot of the fanbase turned on him.
 
"One play is not going to define him," Peele said. "The kid played through injury, he came back quick off of surgery a few years ago. He practices every day. This team is important to him. The game of football is important to him."
 
One way Ertz can win back Eagles fans this year is by having a big season. And that isn't out of the realm of possibility for one big reason. He's entering Year 2 with Wentz.
 
Since he entered the league in 2013, he's played with a new quarterback every season. So for this upcoming year, he's worked hard to build a rapport with Wentz and hopes the two of them can build something (see story).
 
How big of a season can Ertz have in 2017?
 
"It just really depends on the health," Peele said. "He's really talented. He can do a lot of things. He can help this offense in a lot of ways. I'm looking forward to it. He's doing well right now."

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Had everything gone to plan in 2016, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie seasons watching from the sideline. 

Everything didn't go to plan. 

Allen Barbre had a hamstring injury, Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games and Brandon Brooks lost two games as he dealt with anxiety issues. 

As a result, Seumalo and Vaitai, third- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, aren't just one year into their NFL careers. They've also played significant NFL snaps. 

And this year, they'll arrive at training camp as seasoned veterans, not green rookies. So which has had the greater impact: the year or playing time? 

"It’s both," head coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a combination of both. But the biggest thing is the actual playing time last year has really put them in good position this year."

Vaitai ended up playing in seven games with six starts. He played a total of 423 snaps as a rookie and filled in for Johnson until he went down with a knee injury. After a rough start — really rough — Vaitai settled in and showed signs that he could possibly be the Eagles' right tackle of the future. 

When asked about the difference in Vaitai from last year to this year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland laughed before answering. 

"Night and day, apples and oranges," Stoutland said. "Just his understanding of the position, his balance, his body control, the way he uses his hands. This is a lot faster game than college."

Vaitai found out about the speed of the game first-hand in Week 6 last year. Thanks to Johnson's suspension, Vaitai started at right tackle and didn't have a bad game. He had a horrible game. 

He didn't need to think very long when he was asked what his "welcome to the NFL" moment was. 

"It was that game," he said. "Because in camp I'm going with the threes and twos. I was still a rookie, but when I got thrown into the fire, I learned real quick that if you're not doing great, then you're out. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and be that guy who gets drafted and then is out the next year."

Seumalo ended up playing in nine games with four starts and a total of 335 snaps. He played four positions along the offensive line; the only one he didn't play was his most natural spot at center. 

"It's not just the year, it's the playing experience," Stoutland said. "He's played in nine games I think he started four of those games. ... He played a lot of football in his first year. Just that experience in playing those positions and understanding the angles we need to take. He's a very intelligent player. I love coaching players of his magnitude. They have talent, they're smart. Really all you do is coach him one time on something and he pretty much has it."

Seumalo didn't get to play at center last year because veteran Jason Kelce didn't miss any of the 1,133 snaps in 2016. Kelce is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are grooming Seumalo to eventually take over. Even this spring, the second-year lineman has been taking some first-team reps at center. 

That's actually how Seumalo thinks he got better. By learning the center position, he gained a better grasp of the offense. That, combined with a year under his belt and significant playing time, have him feeling much more confident heading into Year 2.

"Training camp was tough and a grind and the season is just long," Seumalo said. "Now, I know what to expect a little bit more."