Hard to screw this up: 5 good options for Eagles at 14

Hard to screw this up: 5 good options for Eagles at 14

It would be hard to screw this up too bad. 

Sure, the pessimist in you thinks "well, the Eagles will find a way." And maybe they will. Nothing is a guarantee in the NFL draft. 

But here's what we know: the No. 14 spot is a good place to be. 

Looking back at the last 10 picks at No. 14, four have made a Pro Bowl and three have been All-Pros. Furthermore, all of them have been starters. The only guy who could be considered a bust is Chris Williams, whom the Bears took at 14 in 2008. He's the only No. 14 pick of the last 10 years who was out of the league in 2016. 

It's still a little too early to judge the players taken in the last couple of drafts, but that's a pretty good track record. 

Because of that past success in the middle of the first round -- Howie Roseman has talked repeatedly about the success the Eagles have had inside the top 20 -- trading down, even in a deep draft, is a bigger gamble. And there's a chance there won't be many teams eager to jump up if the class is as deep as we've heard it is. 

This is a draft class with good depth and there will be plenty of viable choices at No. 14. 

We tried to be somewhat realistic with which players will be available. So here are five solid options, in alphabetical order, for the Eagles at 14: 

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee, 6-3, 259 pounds
There's a really good shot Barnett will be the second edge rusher off the board and the Eagles could certainly use him. The thing that stands out about Barnett is his hand work. His hands are violent and his moves with them are lethal. 

CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State, 6-0, 195 pounds
For a long time, he was overshadowed by his teammate and fellow corner Marshon Lattimore, who will likely be long gone at 14. But recently, Conley's name has been coming up more and more and for good reason. He's not as good as Lattimore, but he's a solid player without the hamstring injuries. 

LB Reuben Foster, Alabama, 6-0, 229 pounds
Linebacker is an underrated need for the Eagles. The team has Jordan Hicks, but Mychal Kendricks is on the trading block and Nigel Bradham has one year left on his deal and is still facing a felony assault trial. Meanwhile, Foster is the best linebacker in this draft, often compared to Panthers star Luke Kuechly. He and Hicks have the ability to play inside and outside. Foster is probably gone by 14, but if he isn't, he'd be hard to pass up. 

WR John Ross, Washington, 5-11, 188 pounds
By 14, Mike Williams from Clemson is probably off the board. Ross would fit really well with the Eagles, offering them the type of speed they haven't had at receiver since DeSean Jackson was in the building. Ross ran a 4.22 at the combine, but he's more than just straight-line speed. He can play. He's a good receiver and is a dynamic threat in the return game. 

CB Tre'Davious White, LSU, 5-11, 192 pounds 
Definitely not the sexiest name on the list. For some reason, he's a player who keeps getting overlooked. Forget all the mocks that say this would be too early. White was a great corner at a program known for churning out great corners. He played in a system that will translate to what the Eagles do and he's the type of confident and aggressive corner Jim Schwartz loves. He would be a fine fit. 

You'll probably notice the lack of a running back on this list. I think there's a good chance Christian McCaffrey is already off the board and even if he isn't, I'm not convinced he would be the right pick at 14. 

But if you do believe McCaffrey -- or any of these running backs -- is worthy of the 14th pick, that just furthers the point. There are plenty of good options in the middle of the first round. It's not impossible to completely screw this up, but it would be awfully hard.

'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."