This weekend saw the NFL combine, the biggest landmark before the draft, come and go. With only one pick through the first two days in their pocket, the Eagles are fortunate not to need a ton of help. Their openness to taking the best player available might be best evidenced by their interview of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Still, there are spots (linebacker, tight end) they’re thinner at than others, and we previewed them a week ago. Here are five of the players who excelled this weekend at positions where the Eagles are looking to restock.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Gesicki managed to outshine even his superstar teammate Saquon Barkley’s performance from a day earlier. He led tight ends in every measurable workout except the bench press, which he placed second in with 22 repetitions. His 41-and-a-half inch vertical was higher than any receiver or cornerback. And at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds he ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.54 seconds) than Deandre Hopkins turned in (4.57.)
The outstanding performance doesn’t do much to wipe away the biggest concern with Gesicki: his ability as a blocker. But it does reinforce the impression that he is a dynamic mismatch as a receiver for linebackers, safeties, and nickel corners. His tests at least indicate it isn’t any lack of strength or athleticism holding Gesicki back, which means some coach is sure to believe they can instill the proper technique and get a young star in return.
Gesicki’s name is just one in the conversation for best tight end in the draft, but he stood alone at the combine. His performance might push him up towards the realm of the Eagles 32nd overall selection, or he could become a target if the Birds trade back into the second day.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
We wrote about Vander Esch as a player to watch entering the combine, and if you followed through, he didn’t disappoint. He ranked second among linebackers in vertical jump (39.5 inches,) the 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles, and fifth in the broad jump and three-cone drill. He rounded all that off with a 4.65 second 40 and 20 repetitions on the bench press.
How he’d stack up athletically was the question for Vander Esch after a season of outstanding production that made him the Mountain West defensive player of the year. He was at his best in big games as well: he was the MVP of his conference championship game and starred against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl, so questions about the talent he faced aren’t so daunting. At the end of the day, how he stacked up athletically was very well, and his resume is filled out nicely.
The Eagles are reported to rate Vander Esch quite highly, which is a rarity among this team and linebackers. His combine performance might just continue his rise above the Eagles, and he’s now being mentioned as high as a possibility for the Packers at 14. That would seem to put him squarely out of reach, but if he’s a prospect still around in the final third of the first round, he could be a target the Eagles would move up for.
Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
The man in charge of protecting Josh Rosen’s blindside showed athleticism to match his 6-foot-9, 310 pound frame at the combine. He was third among all offensive linemen with a 4.95 second 40-yard dash, and second among tackles in the vertical leap, three cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. His broad jump mark of ten feet and one inch beat every other offensive lineman by over half a foot.
An offensive tackle class that lacks true standouts at the top of the first round leaves a lot of room for rising and falling on the draft board and after his combine performance Miller is definitely among the former group. Given his height he had to display the footwork and agility to handle rushers that should expect to gain leverage on the taller tackle. That’s exactly what he went out and did. You’d like to see a higher bench press number than 20, however.
The Eagles can be counted on to emphasize the offensive and defensive lines, even if Jason Peters is ready to go for 2018. More than once they’ve spent a first round pick on a player who you can’t pencil in as an immediate starter, and it’s often been along the lines: Derek Barnett, Shawn Andrews, and Brandon Graham are among the more successful examples. Marcus Smith II is among the less successful ones.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
When a 6-foot-4, 291 pound defensive tackle runs a 4.98 40, jumps 35 inches into the air, and leads his position in the broad jump, three-cone drill, and shuttle, people tend to sit up and take notice. Bryan served notice to the league Sunday, displaying a ton of athleticism for an interior lineman while benching 30 reps as well.
Bryan is a rising prospect, and his combine may have pushed him into the first round, but his draft stock has always been built around his talent and athleticism, with limited production (just five-and-a-half sacks in his three years at Florida) providing the question marks. The combine can’t answer for that, but freed from the problems of the Gators, Bryan’s future seems set.
Remember everything we just said about the Eagles emphasizing the lines? Expect that to continue, especially if Beau Allen and potentially even Vinny Curry part ways with the club. The feared rotation will be missing a depth defensive tackle if Allen can’t be resigned, and Bryan would fill that role nicely.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, Central Florida
Griffin shocked everyone during the linebacker drills, running a 4.38 40 that matched his twin brother’s time from 2017. It was the fastest time posted by a linebacker since the 2003 combine. He benched 20 reps with the use of a prosthetic, ranking 11th among linebackers in that and the broad jump.
The one-handed UCF linebacker is one of the more familiar stories of the college football season. The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year returned to lead the Golden Knights to an undefeated season and bowl victory over Auburn. He excelled as a pass rusher, but at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, the NFL is going to ask him to stand up and cover the middle of the field. Projections for Griffin are all over the board, but all it takes is one team to fall in love.
Linebacker is looking like the biggest need the Eagles might have to address this draft, with the future of Nigel Bradham and possibly Mychal Kendricks up in the air. Griffin should be available quite a bit later than Vander Esch.