PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – DeSean Jackson was released by the Eagles on March 28th. Once the angry mob subsided, conventional wisdom dictated that the Eagles will draft a receiver with the 22nd overall pick to replace the 27 year-old Pro Bowler.
The Eagles have a hole at wide receiver—a 1,332 yard hole. Wide receiver is considered the deepest position in a highly rated draft. That hole isn’t going to be filled on Thursday night.
That’s not because Jackson’s production is irreplaceable with a first round pick, but because Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman won’t even try.
It comes down to Kelly and the offensive system. The Eagles ran an almost perfectly symmetrical season under Chip with 500 running plays and 508 passing plays. Considering the pass-happy trends of the modern NFL, this firmly establishes the Eagles as a run-based squad. It’s how they score points (NSFW). Consequently, wide receiver isn’t as valuable a position in Philly as it is in other cities because the usage rate is lower.
The proof is in Kelly’s track record. There are currently three Oregon receivers in the NFL. They are Drew Davis (Falcons), Jeff Maehl (Eagles), and Will Murphy (Eagles). Not exactly #1 wide receiver material.
Speaking of Oregon, let’s go back to before the 2013 season when Jackson said that Chip intended to use him in a similar way that he used De’Anthony Thomas with the Ducks. Thomas, who put up over 1,100 total yards in his each of his two years with Chip, was used heavily in the running game and passing game. DeSean, however, is far too small to take snaps out of the backfied.
Therefore, it’s fair to reason that if the Eagles are going to take a receiver, he needs to be versatile in one of two ways. One, he’s a bigger receiver that outsizes corners and can contribute as a blocker in the screen game. Think of our current tight ends, but with more of a lean towards receiving ability. Two, the receiver needs to be a player that can reasonably touch the ball in the backfield or return game as well. Percy Harvin is a perfect example of that type of player.
So what position does make sense in the first round?
This is a pretty easy one: cornerback. As always, it starts with Chip. He wants a physical defense and cornerback has been a position that the team obviously values. The Eagles have already added three veteran corners in Chip’s short time here (Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll) and with good reason. The birds were the seventh highest blitzing team in the league last year, which means you need corners that can jam at the line and play man coverage.
When the Eagles pick at #22 there will be two options at cornerback likely on the board: Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech and Bradley Roby of Ohio state. Both players have decent size, length, and physicality and could be special teams contributors while they develop (bonus points for Chip). In addition, the Eagles would have a cheaper replacement option if they choose not to re-sign Bradley Fletcher following this season.
It may not be the sexy pick, but it’s the type of move that leads to long-term stability.