Ask ITB: WR Sleeper; Will Slay Travel?
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
We've received your #AskITB questions from InsideTheBirds.com, Twitter and other forms of social media. Let's get right to them... Question from InsideTheBirds.com: "Would (former University of Texas WR) Devin Duvernay be a reach in the 3rd round? What is your take on his play?"
Adam Caplan: Actually, not at all, as I'm told that's the round where he's expected to go off the board. And with the season he had in 2019, I wouldn't rule out the 2nd round. He's a really intriguing prospect: Compact build (5-10 1/2, 200), very physical, coming off a huge senior season (106-1386, 9 TDs), 40-time at the NFL Combine was better than expected (4.39), high character.
(Former University of Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay should hear his name called on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.)
Duvernay got moved to the slot last season and his production went way up (+65 more receptions from 2018 to 2019--41 to 106). Also, he's a former Texas State 100-meter champion from high school. So the speed is there, even if he's in the slot. I first became aware of him from a few coaches, so we're digging for more on him as we speak.
From talking to some coaches around NFL from the offensive side of the ball, he fits in best in the slot or he'll be on the move to get open. Another good trait: some of the best hands for any WR for this draft.
We'll have a lot more on him leading up to the draft on our position breakdowns on Inside the Birds https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/inside-the-birds/id1468542488
Question from InsideTheBirds.com: "How do you think (GM Howie) Roseman intends to meaningfully improve the Eagles’ wide receivers before game one? Are there any sensible trade options?"
Adam Caplan: We're still expecting the Eagles to select at least 2 WRs in this draft, and I wouldn't rule out 3.
As of now, it would be hard for them to line up with 2 starters and quality depth at the position. Way too many unknowns at this position, but we're also 5 months away (we think) from the start of the regular season.
As nice of a story as Greg Ward was last season (especially after being cut 4 times by the team since 2017), he'll need some competition this season and he's not a given to handle the slot role. Plus, they could use more speed there. One of my favorite NFL sayings: "Is he part of the solution or part of the problem?"
He's definitely part of the solution, but how much so remains to be seen. He has only played in 7 games over 3 years, so depending on him at this point would be a stretch, but what a great story he was last season after finally getting a chance to play. Quite frankly, it was a mistake for him not to be on the original 53-man roster.
And, other than DeSean Jackson, who essentially missed 15 games last season (DNP 13, barely played in 2 others), who can they really count on the outside?
As for trade options and free agency, they decided not to pursue any of them (as we noted would happen during our NFL Combine shows) though they considered some of the options. The feeling is that if a team was going to give away a player who could help them for very little in return, maybe they would have pursued, but they're sticking with the plan to draft and develop WRs who will work with with Carson Wentz for years to come. Their thinking is not short-term, nor should it be.
The way we see it: They'll add 2 impact WRs; they'll have to play right away. Add them with Jackson, and 1-2 veterans signed after the draft (could be released from another team). And I know they're optimistic that J.J. Arceca-Whiteside will at least make at least a small jump in year 2 with this revamped offensive coaching staff.
One other thing to add here: The WR coaching should be upgraded significantly with Aaron Moorehead. I have talked to a coach who worked with him at Vanderbilt and another from another team along the way and the feedback I got was very positive (very good command, has a strong presence).
We'll look into trade options, but the sense I get is that they want to have at least 8 picks in this draft. They have a lot of needs still left (#2 RB, 2-3 WRs, potentially swing OL, CB, S, LBs).
Question from InsideTheBirds.com: "Will the (probable) lack of OTAs and the offseason program hurt (OT) Andre Dillard's chances to get stronger? Everyone talked about how he would need a full offseason in an NFL weight room - will he get that now? What about remote coaching etc? Jason Peters back?"
Adam Caplan: Good question and we'll look into this for Dillard and other players. This has to be an issue with every NFL team. Younger players need practice reps and also it's better that they're in your building with your strength and conditioning coaches.
It seems rather obvious that Dillard will start even if Peters is re-signed based on Roseman's comments recently.
We know Peters said he wasn't going to re-sign to be a backup, but being that he hasn't signed a deal yet with another team, he may not have a choice but to accept a backup role with the Eagles. The other question that needs to be answered is this: Do they think he can play RT? Because they could use an experienced RT/LT although they remain very high on Jordan Mailata. This is yet another situation that will be interesting to watch.
Mailata, as we reported recently on Inside the Birds, did not require back (disc) surgery. The rehab went well and he was ready to go by December.
Question from Twitter: @twicker36: "Do you think we will let (Darius) Slay travel with opponents #1 receiver or will that depends on CB2"
Adam Caplan: We've gotten a lot of questions on this subject.
Here's what I was told was this from a personnel source on tape study of DC Jim Schwartz's use of CBs since he became the DC in 2016:
The CBs (other than slot) have not traveled from side to side, but expect that to change (as it would have had they traded for Jalen Ramsey).
The sense here is that they weren't good enough on the outside, so he tried to camouflage the weakness by not giving them more responsibility though they did play a lot more man coverage (sides) than expected last season.
With Slay on one side and with what they're paying him to be true #1 CB), you can expect that Slay will travel with opponents #1 WR. While Maddox would be the default #2 CB (as now), you can write that in pencil. There is no certainty on who will line up opposite Slay. They still are really high on Maddox, but there's a lot still left to happen (they may draft a CB as high as 2nd round+Sidney Jones will be given another shot to win #2 job).
My money would be on Maddox (he's clearly one of their top-4 DBs and you want him on the field because of all that he brings to the table), but jobs aren't won in early April. This is a huge season for Jones. BTW, he'll be a restricted free agent in 2021 (not a UFA) because he spent a portion of this rookie season on the reserve/NFI list.
Question from Twitter, @ndrewThaxton: "With JJAW (J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) spending most of his time last season as the backup 'X' WR, are the Eagles intent to keep him there or will they prefer to draft a new X with their 1st pick? You've stated previously that Justin Jefferson doesn't play as fast as his 40, so his Z status seems dire."
Adam Caplan: They'll decide where Arecega-Whiteside lines up after the draft though I'm sure they have a good idea as of now where he projects up lining up.
His long-range forecast was to eventually replace Alshon Jeffery. That may still be the case, but he has to show that he deserves to be on the field.
The hope here is that their new WRs coach will get him to the level where they need him at. It's just a shame that the coaches won't have the players for their off-season program. The biggest jump that WRs tend to make is from year 1 to 2 in terms of learning, etc.
Everything I've heard about JJaw is good in terms of character and work ethic, but need needs a lot of development in a lot of areas, and it doesn't help him that he's not going to get badly needed on field coaching likely until July or August (barring a very nice surprise).
As one team told me on Jefferson: "Love the player, but if you draft him, you have speed on the outside."
So if the Eagles were to draft him, he doesn't solve the speed element that they so desperately need on the perimeter.
Question from Twitter, @Cbrice131: "Please ask your sources if this threat of a shortened offseason also changed their views on veteran WRs. My other theory in the Eagles may be thinking of triple dipping at WR in the draft harder times miss when you pick in bulk and most of them are talented right?"
Adam Caplan: Well, because of the expected absence of an off-season, I don't see how they have a choice but to add 1-2 veterans at some point. Your point is well taken. It matters way more sense now than it did say in February when we had no idea how COVID-19 would impact our every day lives and also the NFL world.
They can wait to sign a few after the draft or closer to the start of training camp (whenever that will be). And if a WR who gets cut can help them, I'm sure they'll look into it. Free agency isn't over in early April; it goes for several more weeks and months.
Question from Twitter: @SeanWoolford: "A lot has been said about the eagles having a step up on the rest of the division as they are the only team with a returning hc. Are they at a disadvantage with all the new position coaches though?
Adam Caplan: Well, the Eagles have 6 new coaches (3 new position coaches-WR, DL, DB), but some holdovers also have new roles or change in title(s). You would like to have continuity, but the reality is that some things needed to change for them on both sides of the ball.
Now, with change and the situation with the expected absence of an off-season due to concerns with COVID-19 (unlikely we'll see players practicing until July or August), there's a disadvantage for any team making coaching changes because they simply are not getting the necessary on the field time with the players.
"Time on task" is a saying that coaches and personnel execs use a lot and there's a lot of truth to it.
Every team is going through this situation with no expected off-season (even the ones with no changes on staff); the Eagles will have a plan to get work done remotely with the players once they are allowed to do so (in mid-April).
At WR, there's a new coach, and there will be a lot of new players, so this is going to be a big challenge for Aaron Moorehead (new WRs coach).
He's a former NFL player, so that will help him in terms of knowing what it will take to prepare the young WRs that he'll be coaching this season and beyond.