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.