Good morning, Eagles fans. Another milestone of the offseason calendar passed with last week's draft. The Eagles host a rookie minicamp next week and begin organized team activities later this month. There are seven weeks left in the offseason program, so Eagles coverage won't slow down anytime soon.
This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday for the next few months. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
This is a difficult draft to evaluate for the Eagles because they didn't pick until No. 49, and their next pick didn't come until No. 139. That limits their access to difference-makers. But if the Eagles had taken Dallas Goedert at No. 32, it wouldn't have been considered a reach. They came away with Goedert and a 2019 second-round pick from the No. 32 pick. So I'll give them credit there.
I considered tight end a priority going into the draft, and Goedert can contribute from Day 1. He must show he can get open against NFL defenses. I thought there was depth in this tight end class, although the Eagles apparently thought there was a drop-off after Goedert. He has the size and production the Eagles desire. Look for him to fill an offensive role in his first season.
If Avonte Maddox can win the slot cornerback job, then that fourth-round pick will be a success. He obviously lacks height, which is why he was there in the fourth round. I thought the Eagles found good value in Brandon Boykin in 2012, and they'd be fortunate if Maddox produces similar early success. The athletic profile is intriguing, and he should find a Day 1 role on special teams, at the least.
The pick I liked most was Josh Sweat. He's unlikely to contribute in 2018, but he just turned 21 and has a combination of size and athleticism that is hard to find at that position. The health is the question. He projects to be a good fit in the Eagles' defensive scheme, too. With an aging group at defensive end (Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Michael Bennett are all over 30), that's a position that will become a need quickly. I like addressing it now.
As for the last two picks, the Eagles gambled on size. I don't know whether Matt Pryor or Jordan Mailata will make the 53-man roster yet, but the Eagles clearly wanted to make sure they didn't need to compete on the undrafted market for either player.
The lack of picks (and high picks) makes this a tough draft class to evaluate. Then again, the Eagles drafted from a position of strength, considering the depth of their roster. There were running back and safety options the Eagles passed on in the second round, but if Goedert produces like the Eagles expect, that won't matter. The undrafted additions will be a part of this rookie class, too. Either way, it's going to be hard to make big dents on the 2018 depth chart.
Darren Sproles signed a one-year deal to return to the Eagles on the last day of the draft. That was a huge move. If Sproles is healthy and near the player he was before the injury, he gives the Birds a dynamic offensive player to join a running back rotation and the punt return threat they needed.
I thought the Eagles were going to add a running back and returner during that draft, but Sproles turned into that player. This doesn't help them beyond 2018, and Sproles is taking a roster spot away from a running back who can be on the team in 2019 and beyond. That shouldn't be a problem. The Eagles can add a young running back next season — that's a position in which rookies can contribute.
You'll read often during the next few months that the Eagles are gearing up for another run. The Sproles signing was the latest example. And I'm telling you now — there will be a lot of new faces in 2019.
The only areas in which I'd say the Eagles should look for help is safety depth and competition at punter. If those are your issues in May, it's a good sign. As it turns out, safety is probably the deepest position left in the free-agent market. The Eagles are set with their starters, but I think the defense is dangerous with three safeties on the field because of the versatility it allows. That's how they played through most of the playoffs, when Corey Graham took 60 percent of the snaps. Perhaps they re-sign Graham, who is still available. Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston are the top safeties left on the market, and that's a good group. Tre Sullivan, a practice-squad rookie last year, is an internal candidate the Eagles are encouraged about going into OTAs. The Eagles could also try a cornerback in that role considering the depth they have at the position. But if you're looking for areas to upgrade, I'd say safety depth.
This is a fair question. I certainly don't undervalue Jay Ajayi — I expect a big year from him. He's the best running back on the roster. My guess is the Eagles run him often this year. He showed last season he can be a difference-maker with 5.8 yards per carry after coming to the Eagles. But the reason I don't know whether he'll return after 2018 is that a good season from Ajayi means he would be expensive to re-sign, and there are questions about Ajayi's long-term health because of a knee injury. The Eagles managed his practice time in the postseason. The Eagles might be compelled to go with a running back on a rookie salary. This doesn't mean they won't re-sign him — his talent might warrant it — and it should not be interpreted as not valuing him. I'll be writing often about Ajayi's role during the next few months because I expect him to be the Eagles' clear No. 1 running back.
It all depends on health, but my guess is Zach Ertz is the leading receiving again. I think he pushes for 1,000 yards this season. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor will both be in the mix. Ertz's consistency gives him the edge. He's a high-percentage receiver. Ertz caught 67 percent of the passes thrown to him last season, 74 percent of the targets in 2016, and 67 percent in 2015. He's going to get the volume, and he's going to catch a large of majority of what's thrown to him. So he's the safest bet to accumulate catches and yards.