By Steve Dallen
The NFL draft on Philly’s Ben Franklin Parkway is only four nights away, and here is a look at what the Eagles must do:
Replace both starting cornerbacks, with Leodis McKelvin cut and Nolan Carroll gone in free agency.
Their top corners today are Jalen Mills, a 2016 seventh-rounder who started two games as a rookie; Patrick Robinson, a sometimes-starter who is now on his fourth team in four seasons; Ron Brooks, who has started all of eight games in his five-year career; and Dwayne Gratz, a 27-year-old who played a total of 86 defensive snaps in six games for the Jaguars and Rams in 2016.
Yes, the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith as free agents, but if you think that solves all of the team’s receiving problems, you don’t realize just how inept the Birds’ wideouts were in 2016.
Only two offenses failed to produce a single wideout with value above replacement level last year: the 49ers and Eagles. Smith is moving from the former team to the latter, but he had worse advanced numbers than any Philly receiver in 2016, and finished as San Francisco’s third wideout behind Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Patton. Jeffery is clearly the best receiver on this team, but that was also true in Chicago, and it’s not as if the Bears were setting the league on fire.
Philly suffered some big front seven free-agent losses in Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan, but signing Chris Long (above) and trading for Timmy Jernigan have helped.
Jernigan should be especially effective, teaming with Fletcher Cox to form one of the NFL’s best interior pass-rushing tandems. The Eagles ranked highly last season in run defense, pressure rate and pass coverage against both tight ends and running backs, and there’s little reason to think any of that will change in 2017.