Those 30 pre-draft visits teams are allowed in the weeks leading up to an NFL Draft aren’t always an indicator of exactly which direction the Eagles will go.
Take last year, for example. The Eagles drafted only one of their 30 visits - offensive lineman Jordan Mailata. They signed another, safety Jeremy Reaves, as an undrafted free agent.
Stanford safety Justin Reid, Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe, and Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch were brought in for visits and had three additional meetings with team officials, some of those meetings taking place at the NFL Scouting Combine, pro days, and various all-star games. None, of course, became Eagles.
The Birds ended up taking tight end Dallas Goedert, who they had only met with at the combine and his pro day, with their first pick last year, though the selection came in the second round after the Eagles traded out of the first round.
So read into what you will the fact that the Eagles have brought in five receivers for closer inspection as they prepared for this draft, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday. The Birds have the 25th overall pick and own two second-round choices – Nos. 53 and 57 – on Friday, but, as of now, are without a third-round pick.
The receivers who have visited the Eagles are Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, Mississippi’s A.J. Brown, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, Baylor’s Jalen Hurd, and Georgia’s Mecole Hardman. Last year, two receivers came in, SMU’s Courtland Sutton and Northern Iowa’s Daurice Fountain, but the Eagles didn’t draft either one.
Maybe this year one of the five receivers who visited will be an Eagle before the end of the weekend.
Taking a receiver with one of the first three picks makes sense on some levels, one of which is that executive vice present of football operations Howie Roseman believes it takes at least a year to fully develop a college receiver into an NFL-caliber pass catcher. Another level is the current roster.
Alshon Jeffery, who turned 29 in February, has a monster contract with a salary cap hit of $14.725 this season and $15.975 in 2020 then again in 2021.
DeSean Jackson will turn 33 in December and will have a cap hit of $8.9 in 2020 and $10.9 in 2021.
That is a lot of long-term cash invested at the receiver position, and that doesn’t factor in the $9.3 million Nelson Agholor will count against the cap this season, the final year of his rookie contract. Chances are Agholor will walk as a free agent.
Furthermore, the two receivers who were drafted in 2017, Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson, are still mostly unknown. Hollins missed all of 2018 with an injury while Gibson has never seemed to be consistent enough to warrant anything more than rare spot duty.
Interestingly, when head coach Doug Pederson was asked about the position during the NFL owners’ meetings last month, the first name he brought up was Braxton Miller, who spent most of last year on the team’s practice squad.
“I’m really looking forward to watching (Miller) and seeing some of youth we have, getting Shelton Gibson back out there and Mack Hollins back there at some point,” said Pederson. “I’m really looking forward to these guys. These guys have been with us, taking another step, showing their progression and being in position to help us.”
Still, this feels like year the Eagles add another receiver. Maybe even in the first round.
Some mock drafts have given them Oklahoma’s Marquis Brown (pictured above) at No. 25.
Harry is also a possibility at that spot. He is 6-2, 228 pounds and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine, putting up 27 reps on the bench press with a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 122-inch broad jump. He had back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons at Arizona State, with a sophomore year that saw him make 82 catches for 1,142 and eight touchdowns followed by a junior season with 73 receptions for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns last.
Campbell, who could be there in the second round, was a combine star, running 4.31 in the 40. Projected as a slot receiver in the NFL, he set an Ohio State single-season record with 90 receptions last season with 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns. Seventy-nine of his catches came in the slot for 939 yards.
Brown is also considered a slot receiver. He had 1,320 yards last year to break his own single-season school record of 1,252. He's the only player in Ole Miss history with two 1,000-yard seasons, and he set a school record for most catches in a year with 85.
Later in the draft, say in the fourth round, the Eagles could take Hurd, who began his college career as a running back at Tennessee before transferring to Baylor and becoming a receiver. He is still a work in progress at his new position, but he still had 65 catches for 946 yards last year, including a sixth-best-in-the-nation 16 receptions for 20-plus yards.
Other who could come in the fourth round, or later, are Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow and, maybe, Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin, though Boykin is more likely to be taken in the third round.
Then there’s Hardman, who is an inconsistent pass catcher but a threat at returning punts. He led the nation in punt returns of 20-plus yards with seven as a sophomore then did it again last year with eight, including one for a touchdown. Hardman blazed to a 4.33 in the 40 at the combine. Last year, he had 35 catches for 543 yards and seven touchdowns.
There are plenty of other options, and I expect the Eagles to exercise one of them early in the draft.
Coming next: Making a case for a running back