It’s that season, baby! Seven-round mocks are alive and well here at The Draft Network.
With The Draft Network’s handy new Mock Draft Machine, I ran through a full simulation of the 224 picks we know we have in the 2019 NFL Draft. (Comp picks will be awarded later this month.) Drafting for the Eagles a tricky bet, as they have the tightest cap in the NFL right now, and accordingly a lot of decisions facing them. The futures of free agents like Jordan Hicks, Ronald Darby, Brandon Graham, and Jay Ajayi/Darren Sproles all hang in an uncertain balance, while aging players like Chris Long, Jason Peters, and Jason Kelce could throw a monkey wrench in things.
But for the needs as we understand them now, this is the best look I got at a strong rookie class for a team in desperate need of some cheap, impact players:
Round 1, Pick 25: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
A dominant player — Top-10 on my board — falls to the Eagles late in the first, and with DT Timmy Jernigan unlikely to return at his cap figure, the Eagles have a gaping hole next to Fletcher Cox.
In a season in which he was running next to the likes of TY McGill and Bruce Hector, Cox was able to put up career numbers in sacks, pressures, and QB hits. He simply has never dominated the way he did this past season, and the arrow is only pointing up as he approaches his 30s. But the Eagles are currently pouring over $100M into the position in Fletch’s contract alone, so they need to take cheaper recourse next to him to stay balanced against the cap.
Enter Simmons, a player who comes out of Starkville with some similarities to Cox back when he was a Bulldog. Simmons did not receive an NFL Combine invite due to a violent incident in 2015, but remained on scholarship at Mississippi State through that time and has been vouched for by many within the program for how he has managed himself since that time. Teams, accordingly, will do their due diligence and more on Simmons’ background and demeanor — but Philadelphia has the benefit of one of the strongest locker rooms in the country, and a coach that players really rally around. It’s a good infrastructure to bring a player like Simmons into.
Round 2, Pick 53: Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia
Philly has generally prioritized the trenches in the Howie Roseman/Doug Pederson era, and nothing about this draft should change that. With Jason Peters entering the last year of his deal as a player regrettably hampered by injury, Philadelphia needs to present an actionable solution at left tackle now more urgently than ever.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been the stopgap, but you want a higher impact starter. Jordan Mailata might be that guy, but you’re putting far too many eggs in far too unknown a basket, if you’re banking on him. Cajuste needs some technical refinement, but he’s miles beyond Vaitai and Mailata in terms of hand placement, framing rushers, and re-anchoring against power. He’d be ready to start in Year 1, but an extra year to sit and learn behind Peters would help him tremendously in 2020.
And don’t sleep on the Philly/West Virginia connection. It’s real.
Round 2, Pick 57: Christian Miller, EDGE, Alabama
Philly’s got two second-rounders as a result of the Lamar Jackson trade from last season, and they use it here to — wait for it — build up the trenches.
With Chris Long in the last year of his deal/mulling retirement, Brandon Graham on the free agent market, and Michael Bennett on a non-guaranteed salary that can always be cut, Philadelphia needs to continuing building the next guard at EDGE — a position that Jim Schwartz wants to be deep and rich with rushers. They began this effort by snagging Josh Sweat, the Florida State rusher, at a discount given his injury history — same goes with Miller this year.
An unbelievably bendy rusher who can take a corner like almost nobody else in this class, Miller has struggled to stay healthy for the Crimson Tide, and even missed out on the Senior Bowl this year because of injury. In Philly, Miller would slide in as the fourth/fifth rusher in Year 1, taking only reserve reps while he built up his body for a much bigger role in Year 2.
Round 4, Pick 121: Evan Worthington, S, Colorado
One of Colorado’s many successful JUCO stories in the secondary, Worthington followed a promising junior season in 2017 with a more up-and-down 2018 endeavor. With great length and size for the deep safety position, Worthington has some fantastic reps of reading the quarterback, closing down the angles, and attacking the ball in the air like a true wide receiver.
But he also has some perplexingly poor reps, which illustrates his lack of experience. Given his height/weight/speed profile, his ball skills, and his lack of experience, Worthington is well worth the Day 3 pick that could potentially develop into a starting player. With Rodney McLeod still on the team for another season, Worthington won’t have to start until Year 2, which has well been the theme for this 7-round draft.
Round 5, Pick 153: Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
Another Combine snub — but this time as an oversight — the Eagles snag Ozigbo at a wonderful discount here in the fifth. It’s unlikely that Philadelphia will go for a running back much earlier than this, given the committee approach that RB coach Duce Staley seems to favor, and given the strength of the class on Day 3. Lotta role players here.
Ozigbo, at his size and with his instincts, can be your main ball-carrier worthy of 15 touches per game. He excels on zone concepts, winning with a wide base and quick feet, as well as great vision to find upfield cutback lanes. A fluid athlete in a stocky frame (225 pounds!), Ozigbo could test his way into a Round 3 grade from me
Ozigbo takes over as the primary ball-carrier for the Eagles, which lets Corey Clement/Darren Sproles remain as pass-catching/change-of-pace backs. But Ozigbo can catch in his own right as well, which makes him even more so an attractive fit with the Eagles.
Round 6, Pick 184: Ryan Connelly, LB, Wisconsin
One of my sleepers as we come into the Combine, Ryan Connelly represent a safe depth option at linebacker. For a couple of seasons now, Philadelphia has been trying to see what they have with Joe Walker and Nate Gerry — and it just doesn’t seem to be clicking for those young players. Gerry deserves more time, but Philadelphia’s carousel of veteran LBs on one-year contracts as stop-gap pieces needs to stop.
Connelly is a smart player for the Badgers, and a good athlete in his own right. His best reps come with good anticipation as a SAM defender, as he has the explosiveness and body control to beat blockers to their landmarks and turn runs back towards the help. He guesses at times and gets lost at others, and needs to learn how to play with better physicality when he isn’t coming downhill, but he profiles as a backup SAM/WILL at the NFL level.