2022 NFL Draft: Can Eagles find a safety after the first round?

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In Roob's draft observations; Can Eagles find a safety after first round? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

After months of speculation, hundreds of rumors, dozens of mock drafts, after the Senior Bowl, Combine and pro days, after guesses, evaluations, projections and predictions, the 2022 draft has finally arrived.

All the speculation becomes reality starting at 8 p.m. Thursday at the NFL’s 87th annual draft.

The first player the Eagles ever drafted was Jay Berwanger, the 1935 Heisman Trophy winner for the University of Chicago. He was the first pick in the 1936 draft, which made him the first player ever drafted by an NFL team. When the Eagles realized they couldn’t afford Berwanger’s asking price, they traded his rights to the Bears. But he didn’t sign there, either, opting instead to train for the 1936 Olympic decathlon. He never did play in the NFL.

I guess he was the Eagles’ first 1st-round bust.

Here’s my 10 Random Eagles Draft Observations to help you pass the time until the draft finally gets underway.

1. I think we can all agree that if Kyle Hamilton starts to drift down toward a spot where the Eagles can move up, you go grab him. Got to. A truly elite player who would instantly transform the Eagles’ secondary into legit unit. But that’s a longshot, and there are no other safeties that would make sense in the first round. But you can find safeties in the second round (Wes Hopkins, Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis), and there should be good value where the Eagles pick at No. 51 or in the dozen or so previous picks. Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker is a smart, versatile safety who can blitz and cover. Michigan’s Daxton Hill is a corner-safety hybrid who can really play anywhere in the secondary. Georgia’s Lewis Cine is a tough, physical run stopper and has great size at 6-2, 200. Baylor’s Jalen Pitre is just a big-time playmaker who’s always around the ball. Now, there will likely be an early second-round run on safeties, and the Eagles would likely have to move up in the second round to land Brister or Hill. But there is really good value in that second tier of safeties, and it would make sense for the Eagles to go up and get one of them.

READ: Understanding the complicated legacy of Howie Roseman

2. It’s been interesting watching how various draft experts rank the top WRs because if you ask 100 people you’re going to get 100 different opinions. Most years, you have a pretty good sense what order the top WRs are going to go. This year, at various points during the lead-up to the draft, Drake London, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have all taken turns as the projected top receiver in the draft. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Jahan Dotson works his way into that mix on Thursday night. Williams had insane production. London has tremendous size and explosion. Wilson is fast and smooth. Olave is the best route runner in the group and the most experienced. Burks is big and versatile. Dotson is just solid all around. The depth at the position combined with the fact that it’s possible no receiver is picked in the top 10 means if the Eagles can’t move up and get stuck at 15 there will be some good WR options sitting there for them.

3. Kayvon Thibodeaux seems to be a hot name in national Insider Eagles rumor circles the last few days, and while the Oregon edge was seen at one point as a potential No. 1 overall pick, the sense is that he’s drifting down in the first round and could even fall to trade-up territory for the Eagles. I still think that that’s unlikely, but it’s an intriguing thought. Thibodeaux is a monster pass rusher, and while edge might not be the Eagles’ biggest need, it’s not far off. The Eagles added double-digit sacker Haason Reddick, and they have Josh Sweat back after a Pro Bowl season (but remember he only had 3 ½ sacks the first 12 weeks of the season), and that’s a start. But it’s not enough, and you certainly can’t count on Derek Barnett to provide much help. Quarterbacks had way too easy a time in the pocket last year and a guy like Thibodeaux would change that in a heartbeat.

4. The Eagles have never drafted a defensive end in the first three rounds who ever had 10 sacks in any season. (And, no, Reggie White doesn’t count. He was a supplemental pick who had played two years in the USFL.)

5. If you were building a team, would you rather have the Eagles’ 10-best 1st-round picks since 1980 or their 10-best 2nd-round picks?

TOP 10 1ST-ROUND PICKS: Donovan McNabb, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Mike Quick, Lito Sheppard, Corey Simon, Tra Thomas, Jerome Brown, Keith Jackson and Brandon Graham

TOP 10 2nd -ROUND PICKS: Brian Dawkins, Eric Allen, Randall Cunningham, DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, LeSean McCoy, Sheldon Brown, Bobby Taylor, Wes Hopkins and Dallas Goedert

You can really make a pretty darn good case for the second round.

6. I like the idea of a 3rd- or 4th-round tight end, and one interesting name is Virginia Tech’s James Mitchell, who lost almost his entire 2021 season when he tore his ACL in Week 2 in a game against Middle Tennessee State in Blacksburg. Mitchell could drop into Day 3 because he barely played this year, but in 2019 and 2020 he was a solid receiver (47-for-796, 6 TDs) and a decent-enough blocker. The Eagles don’t need a superstar, just a decent TE2 behind Dallas Goedert, and Mitchell could wind up being a steal in the fourth round.

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7. There have been 64 wide receivers drafted in the first round since 2001. Only 14 of them had fewer than 700 receiving yards in their first two seasons. Three of those 14 were Eagles picks – Freddie Mitchell, Nelson Agholor and Jalen Reagor.

8. Isn’t it crazy that the Eagles drafted more Alabama players in the first four rounds last year than they did in their first 85 drafts combined? And that doesn’t even include Hurts. Smith was the first Alabama player the Eagles ever drafted in the first round, and Landon Dickerson was the second 2nd-round pick. From 1936 – the first draft in NFL history – through 2020, the Eagles only drafted one Alabama player in the first two rounds, and that was running back Siran Stacy in 1992. Stacy, who rushed for over 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in two full seasons in Tuscaloosa, played in all 16 games as a rookie but didn’t have any carries. He never played in the NFL again. The Eagles have never drafted a player out of Alabama in the third or fourth rounds. After Smith, Dickerson and Stacy, the next-highest Alabama player the Eagles have drafted is wide receiver Freddie Milons in the fifth round in 2002.

9. Maybe my favorite draft-day quote ever came from Tra Thomas after the Eagles made him the 11th pick overall in 1998. The Eagles had drafted Antone Davis in the first round in 1991, Lester Holmes and Leonard Renfro in 1993, Bernard Williams in 1994, Mike Mamula in 1995, Jermane Mayberry in 1996 and Jon Harris in 1997, and while Mayberry eventually became a Pro Bowl guard, he was benched as an offensive tackle, and that whole run from 1991 through 1997 was just disastrous. So when the Eagles drafted yet another 1st-round offensive lineman – their fifth in eight years – Eagles fans were understandably skeptical. Tra knew all about the Eagles’ recent draft history, and when he got on the phone with the Philly media soon after the pick he said this: “I’m not going to be another Eagles 1st-round bust.” And he wasn’t. Thomas was an 11-year starter for the Eagles and made three Pro Bowls – the first Eagles offensive lineman to make a Pro Bowl in over 20 years.

10. OK, the picks. I’m going with Jameson Williams with the first pick after a short trade up, Washington corner Trent McDuffie at 18 and then Baylor safety Jalen Pitre at No. 51. If the Eagles can get out of the second round with a receiver, corner and safety that’ll be a terrific start to the draft.