The Philadelphia Eagles will make their first selection of the 2014 NFL Draft at number 22 and replacing departed vertical threat DeSean Jackson will likely take top priority. A whole host of talented wideouts should be available at the point and while other glaring needs do exist for the Birds, dissecting possible Jackson replacements in quite possibly the deepest wide receiver draft class ever is just more fun. That said, here is a look at some possibilities.
Jackson’s release was certainly a stunner, despite reports of gang ties and attitude problems. Management has dismissed his removal as nothing more than a football decision, but Jackson’s $10.25 million contract must have played a part. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Copper are now the meat of the Eagles’ receiving corps, so a real premium should be placed on securing a sub 4.4 40 guy. Maclin has good speed at 4.45, which he probably can no longer even run after five years in the league and an ACL tear, and Cooper, at 4.53, does not. Which probably explains why the Eagles are in love with LSU’s Odell Beckham and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, who ran 4.43 (an unofficial 4.31) and 4.33, respectively at February’s Scouting Combine.
For a guy considered to have first-round talent, Beckham’s production at LSU is questionable. His 2013 season was by far his best in three years with the program. He caught 59 balls for 1,152 yards and 8 touchdowns, eclipsing the 43 catches, 713 yards and 2 touchdowns of his sophomore season, and dwarfing his 41 catch 475 yard 2011 season. However, Beckham’s 19.5 yards per catch average in 2013 was among the best in the nation and his status as dangerous kick returner, he totaled 806 kickoff return yards in 2013 for a 26.9 yard per return average, will only up his draft stock. Beckham measures 5-11, 198 pounds, a good amount sturdier than Jackson’s 5-10, 175, as well. He is projected by scouts to be a big play receiver in the pros with an ability to stretch the field and run after the catch that puts him at or near the top of a draft class stacked with home-run talent.
Cooks is also projected to be a big play guy in the NFL, but in stark contrast to Beckham, his collegiate production was prolific, to say the least. The 2013 Biletnikoff Award Winner, Cooks led the FBS last season with 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns, a strong follow-up effort to the 67 catches for 1,151 yards and 5 touchdowns he put up in 2012. Cooks matches Jackson’s 4.3 speed, but at 5-10, 185 pounds he also comes close to matching slight frame. Needless to say, Cooks has impressed scouts across the board and many say he possesses natural explosiveness, a fluid route running style and speed to burn. And although he does not have much experience returning kicks, he returned 8 kickoffs in 2013 for 179 yards and a 22.4 yards per return average.
Both Beckham and Cooks could easily be gone when the Eagles make their first round selection, which would still leave a plethora of wide receiver talent on the board. Others worth a mention that might still be available include Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, USC’s Marquise Lee, Allen Robinson of Penn State, and Cody Latimer of Indiana.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat