NFL Draft: Eagles have made DL a priority since start of the century

Eight times since 2000 they took a DL with first pick; only 3 drafts have passed since when they didn't take any

Howie Roseman grew up in an Eagles organization that always valued defensive linemen.

Now the team’s executive vice president of football operations, Roseman has seen or been the decision maker in the franchise’s penchant for taking defensive linemen in the first round or taking at least one in most drafts.

Eight times since 2000 the Eagles have spent their first-round draft pick on a defensive lineman. That includes Trevor Laws in 2008, but the Eagles traded out of the first round that year, when they were supposed to pick 19th overall. Instead they took Notre Dame’s Laws in the second round, the 47th selection overall.

The seven first-round defensive line selections the last 18 years were:

Corey Simon (2000), Jerome McDougle (2003), Mike Patterson (2005), Broderick Bunkley (2006), Brandon Graham (2010), Fletcher Cox (2012), and Derek Barnett (2017). There are some heavy hitters on that list, with only McDougle being the notable exception.

Only three times this century has the team failed to draft a defensive lineman at some point. Those were the drafts in 2004, 2009, and 2011.

Now comes 2019 and, with the 25th overall pick when the NFL Draft begins Thursday, the Eagles may be ready to find someone to pair next to Cox or groom to replace Graham at some point over the next year or two.

This draft is steeped in defensive line talent, and given the Eagles’ history of taking D linemen, you know at least one of their seven picks will be used there.

The Eagles could certainly stand to get younger on the end, with Graham being on the north side of 30 and Vinny Curry returning on only a one-year contract.

Maybe Josh Sweat will be that player they can plug opposite Barnett, or even Joe Ostman, who the team praised for his practice squad work last year as a rookie.

Or maybe they look for an edge rusher at No. 25, somebody like Clelin Ferrell or Montez Sweat if they are they are still on the board.

Based on the 30-player visits the Eagles are allowed prior to the draft, it seems more likely they will target an edge rusher later in the draft. Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximines and TCU’s L.J. Collier are players the team liked enough to bring to town for a visit. Clemson’s Austin Bryant, Texas A&M’s Ben Banogu and Miami’s Joe Jackson are also players the Eagles spent time with during the draft process.

What the Eagles do in this draft at defensive end will likely dictate what Chris Long decides to do with his future. Long is waiting until after the draft to see if he will return to the Eagles, begin to look elsewhere for employment if it suddenly gets crowded at D end, or simply retire.

Perhaps the temptation to add an impact player at defensive tackle could prove too great to ignore when the Eagles hit the clock on Thursday night.

Malik Jackson was brought in as a free agent, signing a three-year deal in March. Jackson’s numbers dipped slightly last year with the Jaguars and he was benched during the season. It is important that he regain the ability he showed while helping the Broncos win a Super Bowl earlier this decade.

Either way, the Eagles could use some help up front, especially given the rotation defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to use.

There are holdovers Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector, both of whom showed some promise last year and could develop into helpful reserves, but the Birds have had some misses through the years at trying to build depth, though they hit a home run with the selection of Beau Allen in the seventh round of 2014.

Still, they haven’t taken a defensive lineman earlier than the third round except for Barnett in 2017. They did well in choosing Bennie Logan in the third round of 2013, but not so well in selecting Joe Kruger and David King in the seventh round that same year.

Other seventh-rounders since then included Brian Mihalik (2015) and Alex McCalister (2016). Elijah Qualls gave them nothing after taking him in the sixth round of 2017 and Taylor Hart hung around a while – mostly as a game-day inactive - after arriving in the fifth round of 2014, but never did much to warrant a roster spot.

Jeffery Simmons, who probably wouldn’t make an impact in 2019 due to a torn ACL suffered earlier this year, could be a second-round option. Maybe even a first.

Certainly there are plenty of first-round choices, including Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins and Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery (pictured above), who could be a possibility if the Eagles move down in the first round or earlier into the second.

South Florida’s Trysten Hill is somebody the Birds liked enough to bring in for a visit - as was Tillery, Lawrence and Wilkins - and could be a later-round option.

Coming next: Making a case for a safety or linebacker

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