DiCecco Mock Draft 2.0: Birds Replenish Defense Early
Despite entering free agency facing the grim reality of losing several mainstays and emerging talents, Eagles personnel chief Howie Roseman has masterfully navigated some major roster gymnastics to position the Eagles away from reaching in April’s NFL Draft to fill a potential need.
The Eagles, after making some critical decisions in the past week-plus, currently hold six draft picks. The draft projects to be a fascinating study of strategical navigation and keen valuation.
In the second edition of the Inside the Birds 2023 mock draft, I analyzed each selection, identifying the best values and fits. Catch my Mock Draft 1.0 here.
Round 1, No. 10: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Retaining both Darius Slay and James Bradberry for another season – the latter was widely expected to generate a robust market – effectively abolished the notion that the Eagles were all but required to select a cornerback with their first pick. However, if the team stands pat at 10, it would be hard-pressed to land a better odds-on slam-dunk than Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, arguably the draft’s most complete player at the position. Witherspoon, 6-foot, 180 pounds, is a lengthy, athletic, ball-hawking perimeter defender who resembles a throwback cornerback with his physicality, competitiveness for the football and urgent pursuit of ball carriers. Sure, Witherspoon would essentially be red-shirting as a rookie. But similar to how Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown learned under veterans Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor before ultimately assuming the reins, Witherspoon could sharpen the mental aspect of his game as he acclimates to the pro level under Slay’s and Bradberry’s tutelage. Given the overall depth at the position, it would be wise for the Eagles to add a blue-chip talent with an eye toward the future. In four seasons, Witherspoon managed to accumulate 115 tackles (11.5 for loss), 25 passes defended, five interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Witherspoon
Round 1, No. 30: Calijah Kancey, IDL, Pitt
A lucrative payday lured game-wrecking interior pass rusher Javon Hargrave to the west coast, making him an expected free-agent casualty. However, the team did manage to keep veteran mainstay Fletcher Cox in-house, bolstering a depth chart brimming with inexperienced, albeit intriguing, upside. With former first-round pick Jordan Davis presumably entrenched at the nose, it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles the other vacancies. Cox, who has started 167 games throughout his decorated career, has racked up the miles, and at 32 years old likely fits best as a prominent rotational piece. Third-year pro Milton Williams is also in the running, though the 23-year-old has only logged 851 career snaps. Further down the depth chart finds a subset of younger players vying for roster spots.
With Hargrave gone, the Eagles must find a way to replace his pass-rush production. Kancey, 6-foot-1, 281 pounds, is an explosively athletic interior lineman with a lightning-quick get-off. Boasting frame akin to fellow Pitt alum Aaron Donald, Kancey uses his leverage and exceptional agility to defeat linemen. Despite his slight build and lack of length, Kancey offers a translatable skill-set and could thrive as a rotational rusher in passing situations while he develops his play-strength and learns the subtleties and nuances of the position at the next level. For a team that prioritizes interior rushers, Kancey would be a masterful way to close out the first round.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Andre Carter, EDGE, Army
Round 2, No. 62: Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
The C.J. Gardner-Johnson saga finally ran its course, as the 25-year-old defensive back inked a 1-year deal with the Lions. But his departure leaves the cupboard barren in terms of viable starting options, as only second-year pro Reed Blankenship, fourth-year pro K’Von Wallace, and recently signed Justin Evans figure to crack the 53-man roster. Of those three, Blankenship represents the most realistic starting option. While more additions are sure to come, the team will need to modify its long-standing neglect of the position and add a foundational building block in the draft.
Should the team decide to trade back from No. 30, Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson would be an ideal plug-and-play option to align opposite a veteran free agent. But at No. 62, I have the Eagles double-dipping into the Illinois talent pool and selecting Brown, a 5-foot-10, 211-pound prospect who managed to boost his stock coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine. In Indianapolis, he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and posted a 40.5 vertical jump along with a 10-foot-10-inch broad jump. Similar to Witherspoon, Brown is a physical defender who demonstrates above-average anticipatory traits and offers coverage versatility. Brown – who plucked 10 career interceptions for the Illini – is also adept at finding the football.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
Round 3, No. 94: RB Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn
The Eagles seemingly erased the Miles Sanders loss by signing free-agent running back Rashaad Penny and re-signing Boston Scott. While the team has no shortage of backfield options – including third-year pro Kenny Gainwell and last year’s waiver addition, Trey Sermon – it would be wise to have a contingency plan in case the notorious injury bug that’s plagued Penny throughout his career resurfaces. Plus, the Eagles could stand to identify a viable long-term runner to work in tandem with Gainwell.
In this scenario, the team stumbles on terrific value in Bigsby, the former Auburn running back. At 6-foot, 213 pounds, Bigsby was a three-year starter for the Tigers, accumulating 2,903 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in addition to 448 yards on 62 receptions. His rushing total qualifies for seventh-best in Auburn history. Bigsby is a powerfully built, decisive ball-carrier with advanced vision and some shiftiness to his game. Very determined runner in short-yardage situations with a knack for finishing runs. Bigsby wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game at Auburn and lacks breakaway acceleration, but his skill set seemingly complements what they have in Gainwell.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Keannu Benton, DT, Wisconsin
GETTY IMAGES: The well-traveled Matt Landers, a former Arkansas WR, would be a nice slot option in the Eagles’ offense.
Round 7, No. 221: Matt Landers, WR, Arkansas
In light of Monday’s news of Zach Pascal joining Jonathan Gannon in the desert – coupled with an underwhelming third season from Quez Watkins — the Eagles should be looking to supplement their wide receiver depth and create competition. Landers (6-4, 200 pounds) has bounced around quite a bit, spending his first three seasons at Georgia, a year at Toledo, and concluding his collegiate career at Arkansas. Landers turned in his best season as a Razorback, reeling in 47 passes for 901 yards – including four 100-yard games — and eight touchdowns. His 901 receiving yards qualify for eighth all-time in Razorback history. Landers, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash last month in Indianapolis, is a developmental prospect with intriguing intangibles, including big-play ability and build-up speed. With some refinement, Landers has the ability to become a rousing vertical threat.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Michael Jefferson, WR, Louisiana
Round 7, No. 250: Mohamoud Diabate, LB, Utah
The loss of T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White leave the Eagles lean in terms of linebacker depth. Perhaps special teams ace Christian Elliss makes a quantum leap in his third season and factors into the defensive equation. Or maybe it’s fleet-footed Kyron Johnson, a relatively obscure second-year linebacker, who turns heads the next few months and carves out a more substantial role. Nevertheless, the team could always stand to infuse the position with upside, which would be the inspiration behind the Diabate pick. A Shrine Bowl standout, Diabate initially began his career at Florida, where he appeared in 37 games (17 starts) over three seasons. In his lone season at Utah, Diabate contributed 58 tackles (13.5 for loss), 5.0 sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. The 6-foot-4, 222-pound defender is a fluid, rangy, sideline-to-sideline player who thrives in coverage. Diabate could stand to add another 15 pounds to better aid in run defense and block-shedding at the pro level, and there are areas of his game that need refinement, but the Utah product is the quintessential late-round upside pick.
Mock Draft 1.0 pick: Clayton Tune, QB, Houston
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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