Eagles expect to catch a receiver in draft

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Third in a series

PHILADELPHIA -- Nobody can say with any certainty who the Eagles will take when their turn on the NFL Draft clock begins Thursday night with the 22nd overall selection.

That, however, hasn’t stopped the rumors from flying. The latest, from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, has the Eagles trying to trade up a couple of places to nab LSU receiver Odell Beckham. King reported last week that the Eagles would take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel if Manziel slides to them at No. 22.

All rumor and innuendo.

What can safely be stated heading into the draft is that the Eagles will emerge with a wide receiver at some point over the course of seven rounds. Team general manager Howie Roseman has said as much. Exactly which round he will arrive remains to be seen, but it will be seen soon enough because the draft is about 48 hours away, beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday and running through Saturday. The Eagles have six picks -- Nos. 22, 54, 86, 122, 162 and 237.

This is the third of four installments leading up to the draft examining who the Eagles may take in the first round and beyond. And it deals with the most popular pick most mock drafts have the Eagles taking with their first selection -- wide receiver.

“You look at the talent at this draft, and when we look at our board about how good the receivers are in this draft, I think there will be a point in this draft, and that could be in the seventh round when we have a guy (rated to go) in the fourth round, that there’s going to be a really talented receiver,” Roseman said. “When you look back at the history of the draft, the wide receiver position always goes later to begin with. And now with the influx of the underclassmen of the wide receiver position, I think that’s how it’s going to turn out. Now, it may not (but) it’s likely we’ll come out with one.”

The last receiver the team took in the first round was in 2009 when they moved up two spots -- a move that cost them a sixth-round pick -- to grab Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin. Maclin was re-signed in the offseason despite missing last year with a torn ACL.

Roseman expects Maclin to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

“We saw (Vikings running back) Adrian Peterson come back after six months, and did he win the MVP award after that?” Roseman said. “So I think it depends on the genetics. And all I know is what our doctors are telling us, and he’s doing a great job in his rehab. We fully expect him to be ready to go once the season starts.”

The GM touted the likelihood that tight end Zach Ertz will step up bigger than he did last year when he caught 36 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns.

“The encouraging thing for Zach is when you see him in the building you can see how much broader he’s gotten, how much he’s worked on his body,” Roseman said. “We talk about all the time, missing that month (of camp) based on his school schedule, and that’s hard. I think you saw him continue to grow throughout the season. He’s got the ability to be a flexed out guy. He can play with his hand down, he can play in the slot, he can line up outside, he’s a hard guy to cover because he’s got really good feet, obviously he’s big, he’s 6-5, (and) he’s got a great feel in the passing game.”

There could be as many as 10 receivers picked in the first round, which would break the record of seven set in 2004. For the record, the Eagles were not one of those teams. They went with offensive tackle Shawn Andrews with their 16th pick that year.

With the talent available at wideout and the fact that the Birds must replace DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, it makes sense that they could spend their first pick on a receiver. With so many available, it’s difficult to narrow in one.

Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks appears to be a Jackson clone, similar in size and blazing speed. Younger, though.

Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin has size at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds.

One to watch, though, is Southern California’s Marqise Lee. Despite a down year that can be attributed to a nagging knee injury and poor quarterback play, Lee came up big in games against Oregon when Chip Kelly was the head coach there.

In two games against Kelly, the 6-foot, 192-pound Lee made 20 catches for 344 and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard strike.

Numbers were a big reason Kelly gave for trading up in the fourth round last year to draft USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who torched Kelly’s Ducks.

If the best player isn’t a receiver when it comes time for the Birds to make their first pick, there are plenty of other targets as the draft grows older.

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews could be around in the second round as could Davante Adams of Fresno State. LSU’s Jarvis Landry has been touted as a solid slot receiver and may still be around in the third round. Penn State’s Allen Robinson may be sitting there, too.

In the fourth round, it is possible Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis could be had. Abbrederis caught 12 passes against Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby during a regular-season game and Roby is expected to be picked late in the first round or sometime in the second round.

Even beyond that, there is Oklahoma State’s Jalen Saunders, who is slight at 5-9, 165, but possesses 4.44 speed in the 40.

As for evaluating them all, Roseman said: “I think it is harder, because you look back at the history of receivers drafted high, the success rate at that position is lower than other positions. The primary reason is, one, you even see now with the advent of spread offense, most of the time, your third receiver is going to be better than their third cornerback. So there’s not enough defensive backs to cover these guys.

“So what defensive coordinators in college football are doing is, they’re playing softer. You don’t see a lot of press coverage, you don’t see a lot of the challenge they get in the National Football League. That’s the hardest thing to project is how a guy is going to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage. When he’s going against a 5-8, 180-pound guy, now he’s got to go against a 6-1, 200-pound guy with 34-inch arms.”

Coming Wednesday: Defensive linemen/linebackers