If Dalvin Cook is available, Eagles should take him and draft CB later

If Dalvin Cook is available, Eagles should take him and draft CB later

When Howie Roseman landed two receivers -- Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith -- on the first day of free agency, most folks assumed the Eagles would turn their full attention to defense in next month's NFL draft. It makes sense given their obvious needs at cornerback. They also could use another pass rusher.

But what about the Eagles using their first-round pick on a running back? I'd certainly consider it, especially if Florida State's Dalvin Cook is still on the board.

The Eagles have made it clear their No. 1 priority this offseason is to build around their young quarterback Carson Wentz. It is absolutely the right strategy. More than any other player, he represents the future of the franchise so it is incumbent upon the organization to surround him with the kind of talent that will allow him to flourish. It is great to draft a blue-chip quarterback but if you don't put good players around him you wind up like the Indianapolis Colts. They have Andrew Luck but they were 8-8 each of the last two years.

The Eagles feel they have the quarterback, now they need the other pieces. They upgraded the wide receivers with Jeffery and Smith and they added depth to the line by signing Chance Warmack. Why stop there? Why not add another weapon to the backfield? Cook would be a very good fit.

I know the argument: You don't draft running backs in the first round. The NFL is a passing league. You can find serviceable running backs later in the draft. Sometimes you can find really good ones. LeSean McCoy was a second-round pick. Brian Westbrook was a third. Wilbert Montgomery was still there in the sixth round. It is a mistake to draft one high.

That is the conventional wisdom but I think it is about to change.

Last year Jerry Jones was widely criticized for using the fourth overall pick to select Zeke Elliott, a running back from Ohio State. Of course, all Elliott did was lead the league in rushing (1,631 yards) and dramatically reshape the Dallas offense. The Cowboys went 13-3 with a first-year quarterback, Dak Prescott, and the rest of the league took notice. Elliott was the only running back chosen in the first round last year.

This year I think at least three running backs will be selected in the first round -- Cook, Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford -- and if so it would be the first time that happened since the 2012 draft (Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson). Richardson, of course, is the ultimate cautionary tale. He was a total bust who lasted just four years and now is out of football.

Fournette is a 6-foot-1 power back (he weighed 240 at the combine) who is built to be a heavy-duty, between-the-tackles runner. He will likely go somewhere in the top 10. Cook and McCaffrey are smaller, quicker backs who are equally effective in the passing game. Cook, in particular, has a skill set that would work nicely in the Eagles' offense.

Cook is 5-10 and weighed 210 at the combine. He ran a 4.49 40, which ranked seventh among running backs, but he isn't defined by his straight line speed. What sets him apart is his instinct and vision. He has a natural feel for running the football. He is patient -- much like Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh -- and he lets the blocking develop before accelerating through the hole. Those are things that can't be taught or coached. Cook does it effortlessly.

He is the all-time leading rusher at Florida State with 4,464 yards. He also caught 79 passes. He is a thicker, stronger version of Warrick Dunn, another Seminole star who played 12 seasons in the NFL. Cook doesn't have push-the-pile power, but that's OK because in the NFL, he will do most of his damage running on the edges and in the passing game, especially screens.

Try to envision the Eagles' offense with three wide receivers -- Jeffery, Smith and Jordan Matthews -- spreading the field, Zach Ertz working the middle and a slippery runner like Cook coming out of the backfield. Wentz can drop the ball off to Cook and watch as he weaves through the open field. If the idea is to put playmakers around the young quarterback, a back like Cook will complete the set.

The Eagles are expected to part ways with Ryan Mathews, which means they have Darren Sproles, a valuable but aging role player, and Wendell Smallwood, who saw limited duty last season, left in the backfield. They have to add at least one more back either through the draft or free agency. They could draft one late and hope they find another Wilbert Montgomery or Correll Buckhalter. Or they could use the No. 1 on a blue chip prospect like Dalvin Cook.

He has undergone three shoulder surgeries dating back to high school, but there weren't any medical red flags at the combine. He knocked out 22 reps on the bench press (225 pounds), which ranked fourth among all running backs. Every team will check him out thoroughly, but I have no doubt he will be a first-round pick. His explosiveness is undeniable.

The Eagles have needs in the secondary, that's for sure, but this draft is uncommonly deep in cornerbacks. There will be good ones on the board in rounds two and three and even four. The Eagles could take a running back in the first and still fill the defensive needs on Day 2 and 3.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."