Pick Sixth: Five Options For Birds In NFL Draft
A 2020 season brimming with promise and optimism quickly derailed for the Eagles, and critical decisions loom.
Finishing with a demoralizing 4-11-1 record, the team catapulted to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Though the team should have its choice between several plug-and-play options with the sixth pick, the direction it chooses to go will ultimately come down to the philosophy of the pending head-coaching hire.
I looked at five prospects who could be potential fits when the Eagles are on the clock.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The apple of many Eagles’ fan’s eye, selecting Chase would instantly invigorate an uninspiring passing attack and give the team a bonafide top receiver.
When we last saw Chase, he was coming off a 2019 season in which he amassed 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, playing alongside Justin Jefferson on an LSU team that won the National Championship. Still, even after opting out of the 2020 college football season, Chase is in contention with Alabama’s DeVonta Smith to become the first receiver selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Chase, 6-0, 208 pounds, is compactly built and a terror in the open field due to his physicality. The former Tigers wideout is outstanding in contested-catch situations. His extremely large catch radius and body control create large windows. Chase is more quick than fast, however, so it’s fair to question whether he can separate downfield with regularity. His route-running could also use refinement.
Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, though, as Chase would be a fantastic addition on offense while adding a physicality and attitude noticeably absent from the Eagles’ current group of skill players.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
There’s a chance the electrifying Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t make it past the Miami Dolphins at No. 3 – reuniting the Alabama product with his college quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. But if he does, the Eagles should absolutely be in play for him at No. 6.
Sure, Smith doesn’t sport the prototypical size that teams typically covet in first-round wide receivers, but there are few blemishes in his game. While Smith has an innate football intellect and his route-running is remarkably refined, he’s also fearless in traffic, works all three levels of the field, and can double as a punt returner.
When I asked former Alabama defensive back Shyheim Carter at last year’s East-West Shrine Bowl which Crimson Tide receiver was the toughest to cover, Carter said, “They’re all hard, but I’ll say DeVonta Smith.” That list included Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs.
Obviously, his slight build is a legitimate concern – especially for an Eagles receiving corps lacking size – and could potentially hinder his usage at the next level, but Smith has the explosive skill-set to uplift an offense in dire need of repair.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Whoever lined up at the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay for the Eagles last season often played with a bullseye on his chest. The team parted with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones before the season and didn’t do much to bolster the position, thrusting Avonte Maddox into a role for which he was hardly suited.
The remaining candidates who rounded out the depth chart were even less appealing.
This year, I’d argue the team can ill afford to wait when identifying a viable second option to play opposite Slay.
I’ve been enamored with South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn’s pro prospects and believe he could emerge as the top cornerback with a strong pre-draft cycle – but right now, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II deserves serious consideration when the Eagles are on the clock.
At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, Surtain II has the frame, length, and fluid hips to defend receivers of all shapes and sizes. He rarely panics – his patience and instincts at the line of scrimmage are remarkable – and is extremely physical at the catch point. He also offers the versatility to play in man- or zone-based schemes. However, Surtain’s lack of long speed will be questioned as teams begin to view prospects under a microscope.
The Eagles lack a true building block on defense and Slay just turned 30. It won’t excite many fans, but it behooves the Eagles to emerge with a potential cornerstone in the secondary. Given the seemingly never-ending struggles there, why not start at cornerback?
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Jordan Mailata was perhaps the team’s most prominent feel-good story last season. The mammoth-sized tackle showed enough promise in 10 starts to challenge former first-round pick Andre Dillard for a starting job this summer. But on the other side, Lane Johnson will be 31 before training camp and is coming off an injury plagued 2020 campaign.
As it is, each of the players listed above carries question marks – at one of the NFL’s most critical positions – entering the offseason.
While it’s tough to fathom the Cincinnati Bengals passing on the chance to add a franchise left tackle in Oregon’s Penei Sewell to rebuild a perpetually putrid offensive line, and to protect Joe Burrow, the allure of adding another pass-catcher could steer them in another direction.
Should the Bengals prioritize another area of need, Sewell could conceivably fall right into the Eagles’ lap at No. 6.
Sewell, 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, is tremendously athletic and smart, and combined with his refined footwork he can contend with any edge rusher at the next level. Sewell’s lateral quickness and change of direction is exceptional for his size and he is a fluid mover in space. The 20-year-old would be a plug-and-play option who, if paired with Mailata, would give the Eagles perhaps the most athletic set of tackles in football.
Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
I don’t particularly view Rousseau as a top-10 talent, but the Eagles have demonstrated an affinity for drafting defensive linemen under Howie Roseman. While I prefer Michigan’s Kwity Paye, who can be acquired later in the first round, Rousseau possesses unique traits often found in blue-chip talent.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound edge rusher played in just 15 games for the Miami Hurricanes – he missed all but two games in 2018 with an ankle injury – accumulating 59 tackles, 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. As eye-popping as the numbers are, the sample size is incredibly small, so whoever selects Rousseau is banking on upside and development.
Since opting out prior to the 2020 season, the 20-year-old has reportedly added weight to his slender frame and must improve his play strength to become an every-down player at the next level. However, his hulking frame, freakish athleticism, and body control should entice a team enough to identify him as the top pass rusher in this class.
Brandon Graham will be 33 by the time training camp commences, Vinny Curry probably won’t return, and the Genard Avery experiment hasn’t panned out. Aside from Josh Sweat, and possibly Derek Barnett, the cupboard is relatively bare in terms of pass rushers.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.