We just a few weeks before the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s pretty clear the Eagles’ biggest need is at wide receiver.
While Howie Roseman might not think the cupboard is as bare as the rest of us, it would be a pretty wise bet to think the Eagles will use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. In fact, sports books agree with that notion.
But we’ve spent so much time thinking about the Eagles’ taking a receiver that we haven’t really explored other options. There’s no guarantee they will. In fact, Howie Roseman has been GM for nine drafts and they’ve never used a first-round pick on a receiver in those nine. In 2015, Chip Kelly took Nelson Agholor in the first.
So what if they don’t take a receiver? If they don’t, I think it would be because one of two things (or both) happen:
1. The top receivers are off the board and the value wouldn’t be there to take the next-best receiver at No. 21.
2. A player they really like slips to them, a value they didn’t expect to get. Sort of like last year when Andre Dillard began to slip and they pounced, trading up a few spots to get him. Sometimes good players fall for various reasons.
With a scenario like this in mind, here’s my latest Eagles-only mock draft:
Round 1-21: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
While Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah is the consensus top cornerback in this year’s class, many think Henderson is CB2 and I agree. Most mock drafts have Henderson going in the teens but if there are a bunch of offensive linemen and a bunch of quarterbacks that go in the top half of the first round, it could theoretically push Henderson down. And if one team that needs a corner likes Kristian Fulton or Jeff Gladney a little more, all of a sudden, Henderson is available.
Then the Eagles would have a decision: Either take the next best receiver or take a player with more value at a position where there’s still need.
At 6-1, 204, Henderson has the potential to be an elite outside corner. And in an off-season where the Eagles have been focused on getting faster, the idea of adding a 200-pound corner who ran a 4.39 at the combine should be pretty exciting. And Henderson’s speed shows up on the field too – he can close a gap quickly.
In his three years as a Gator, Henderson had 6 INTs, 20 PBUs and 4 sacks. While he’s not known as a great tackler – Jim Schwartz does value that – his skills as a cover corner more than make up for it.
Sure, the Eagles have what I think is a pretty desperate need at receiver heading into this draft but cornerback is a need too. Darius Slay is on the team, but the Eagles are committed to the 29-year-old through just the next two seasons. And if the season started today, they’d likely have 5-foot-9 Avonte Maddox starting opposite him.
Round 2-53: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
If the Eagles do go with a different position in the first round, it would likely be because there’s a group of receivers they feel have a similar-enough value that one of them will be there in the second round. Aiyuk is one of those players who has been talked about as a first-round pick but every year there are about 50ish guys who are so-called “first-round picks” and all 50 won’t go in the first round.
Aiyuk (6-0, 205) had a breakout season for the Sun Devils in 2019, replacing last year’s first-round pick N’Keal Harry. Last season, Aiyuk caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards (18.3) and 10 eight touchdowns. Aiyuk spent just two seasons at ASU after transferring from Sierra College. Because of that, he still has a ton of room for growth.
He ran a 4.5 at the combine but Aiyuk is definitely a burner, showing off his YAC ability at ASU. His play speed seems faster than 4.5.
In addition to his speed, Aiyuk’s jumps were impressive. He had a 40-inch vert and a 128-inch broad. And Aiyuk’s 33 1/2-inch arms (89th percentile among WRs!) give him a giant catch radius even at 6-foot.
The Eagles are in desperate need all types of receivers right now. I think Aiyuk has the versatility to play inside and outside for the Eagles, who would likely use him in both roles and as an option on screens and quick passes.
Round 3-103: Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida
It’s purely coincidence that this mock draft has the Eagles taking two Gators in the top three rounds but Howie Roseman, a Gator himself, probably wouldn’t mind.
The Eagles bring back Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett for 2020 and it’s likely that Malik Jackson will have a role on the edge this season too. But after that, the Eagles have Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Shareef Miller and Joe Ostman. They could use some more depth immediately and some real options long-term.
Zuniga (6-3, 264) had 18 1/2 sacks in four college seasons, so the production isn’t as eye-opening as the physical makeup. It seems possible the Eagles might have overvalued college production in recent years. Here’s a guy with decent college production, but the potential to do a lot more at the next level with good coaching.
An ankle injury in 2019 hurt his final college season. Without it, his production might have been greater and he could have been an earlier Day 2 pick.
Round 4-127: K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
You probably don’t need much of an introduction to Hill, who caught 201 passes for 2,332 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Buckeyes over the last four seasons. He became the all-time reception leader at Ohio State.
But Hill’s production far outweighs his athleticism, which could be a problem. With 4.6 speed, he’s not a fast enough player to excel outside. Unlike the first few guys we’ve looked at, Hill’s athletic profile leaves a lot to be desired.
But after adding a guy with a ton of potential in Aiyuk earlier in the draft, I like the idea of double-dipping with a player who has a low ceiling but a sturdy base. Hill might never be a superstar but he was as reliable as they come for one of the top programs in the country for four years; that doesn’t happen by accident.
In 2020, if the Eagles have DeSean Jackson and an early-round receiver stretching the field, Hill would be a dependable short and intermediate target.
Round 4-145: Justin Herron, OT, Wake Forest
With Halapoulivaati Vaitai gone, the Eagles might have to rely on Jordan Mailata as their swing tackle in 2020. That’s exciting but also a little scary based on his lack of football experience. Drafting another tackle in a mid or late round would help replenish the line.
Herron (6-4, 308) definitely has the size to play tackle in the NFL. During his time at Wake Forrest, Herron started 51 games, playing left and right tackle. He tore his ACL in 2018 but returned to as a captain in 2019 and started all 13 games.
There are also those who think Herron best projects as a guard at the next level. Think about him like Matt Pryor, who played tackle in college but can play guard in the NFL. Some real versatility with a guy like Herron.
In Indy, Herron had a pretty good showing, aside from his really bad 3-cone drill (8.41 seconds). He did have a 33-inch vertical jump, a 105-inch broad and put up 27 reps on the bench.
Round 4-146: Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State
The Eagles probably won’t use a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a linebacker but the second of two fourth-round compensatory picks seems like a plan for them. If the 2020 season started right now, the Eagles would have some combination of Nathan Gerry, Jatavis Brown, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley.
At 6-1, 224 pounds, Davis-Gaither is definitely undersized and would probably need to add some weight to play linebacker at the next level, even in today’s NFL. But he’s athletic enough and fast enough to play in sub packages for the Eagles and would be a nice fit at the weakside LB spot in their 4-3 defense. And he’d also be able to contribute on special teams from Day 1.
Round 5-168: Shyheim Carter, S, Alabama
The Eagles will have a new-look safety group this year. Rodney McLeod returns but will be joined by Jalen Mills and Will Parks. They don’t really have any long-term solutions. While taking a safety in the fifth round wouldn’t solve that, it would give them some other options.
Carter (5-10, 194) was a versatile defender for the Crimson Tide and played their STAR position (basically the extra DB in nickel).
Unfortunately for Carter, he had a minor hamstring injury before the combine and wasn’t able to perform. He was hoping to show off speed at his pro day but the NFL basically canceled pro days. There’s concern about Carter’s speed, but he’s pretty confident in it.
Round 6-190: Michael Warren II, RB, Cincinnati
Warren is a 5-foot-9, 226-pound running back nicknamed “Truck.” I’m all in.
In three years with the Bearcats, Warren had 559 carries for 2,918 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also caught 51 passes. That’s a positive and a negative. It’s great to see that production but that’s a big workload and a lot of miles on an undersized running back.
The Eagles could probably use another running back for the 2020 season. They have Miles Sanders and Boston Scott but they really don’t have a third right now. Elijah Holyfield is on the roster, but we’ll need to see what he can really offer. Adding a late-round draft pick or an undrafted player could be an option.
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NFL mock draft 2020: What if Eagles dont go with a WR in Round 1? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia