Football / Sports

Eagles will pick a wide receiver -- just who and when

When the Eagles are on the clock near 11 p.m. Thursday during the first round of the NFL draft, the team's brain trust will look at a board that categorizes prospects by position and how they are projected to develop. Under "wide receiver," they'll likely see an abundance of talent available for the No. 22 overall pick.

And when the Eagles are on the clock for the No. 54 overall pick, on Friday, they will experience a case of deja vu. At No. 86 a few hours later, the Eagles could be in the same situation.

General manager Howie Roseman expects 10 wide receivers to go in the first two rounds -- with more to spare for the draft's third day. Wide receiver is the strength of this year's draft, and there is little precedent for the depth of this class.

"It's because we can drop down in the third round and talk about guys," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "We can talk about the fifth round and drop some names that I think can be some productive NFL players. It's quality at the top and depth throughout."

The Eagles will select at least one receiver. The unknown is who and when. The only two receivers who will certainly be off the board at No. 22 are Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans. The Eagles can choose from different types of receivers in the first round, or they can wait to snag a quality wideout on the second or third day.

There's a perception that coach Chip Kelly desires a bigger receiver, yet his Oregon teams did not always feature top-end size at the position. In fact, he never had a leading receiver taller than 6-foot-1. DeSean Jackson, at 5-10, was Kelly's top threat last season with the Eagles.

"If you asked me to describe what you want in a wide receiver: separate from one-on-one coverage; be where you are when you're supposed to be there, with separation; and catch the football," Kelly said. "And it can come in a lot of ways. It can be the speed element of it. It can be the power and size element of it. There's a lot of different ways to cut it. There's certain guys in this league that have both, and that's why they're elite."

The top speed option is Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, who won the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top collegiate receiver last season and whose 4.33-second 40-yard dash was the fastest of any wide receiver at the scouting combine in February. That speed would remind the Eagles of Jackson -- yet so would Cooks' height (5-10).

The top size option likely to be available at No. 22 is Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, who is 6-5 and 240 pounds with 4 percent body fat. Benjamin had 15 touchdowns last season, including the game-winning score in the national-title game. But with a 4.61-second 40-yard dash and with questionable route-running abilities, there are blemishes on his resume.

Southern California's Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 and totaled 20 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Kelly-coached teams. A down year in 2013 dropped his stock, and he could be appealing for the Eagles at No. 22. Louisiana State's Odell Beckham Jr. is another option.

Indiana's Cody Latimer, Penn State's Allen Robinson, and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews all have attractive size and production and could warrant attention, especially if they fall to the second round.

However, there is a caveat if the Eagles go for a receiver in the first round.

"You look back at the history of receivers drafted high," Roseman said, "and the success rate at that position is lower than other positions."

With the proliferation of spread offenses and a lack of talent at defensive back in the college game, defensive coordinators have been forced to use softer coverages, so pro evaluators often don't see receivers play against press coverage. Scouting becomes even more difficult when a wide receiver plays against a small cornerback; bigger, rangier defenders await in the NFL.

"Best competition is always going to be first and foremost," Roseman said when asked how the Eagles evaluate wide receivers. "Then figuring out if they're getting open based on their ability or scheme."

The Eagles split wide receivers into groups on their draft board. They determine who can play all the positions or who is purely a slot or outside receiver. They're not necessarily looking to replace Jackson, but with so much talent in this draft they are expected to select a receiver for the first time under Kelly.

"What we're looking for from our receivers right now is different from what we would look for in a West Coast offense under (Andy) Reid," Roseman said. "If a guy can step in and play right away, that would be ideal. But we're not looking at who's going to be the best player today. We're looking at who can be the best player two or three years from now."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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