Last year during the NFL draft, all eyes were on Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles both traded up to take what they hoped would be their new franchise quarterback. Wentz, the No. 2 pick, started every game for the Eagles. Top overall pick Goff eventually started for the Rams, but not until Week 11. Both teams ended the season with losing records.
This year, the plan for both teams is to find help for their young quarterbacks to reach their full potential. They got a head start in free agency, and now the Rams and Eagles can further work to fix their weaknesses in the draft.
Both teams came into the new league year with obvious needs. The Rams had offensive line problems last season that hindered Goff’s growth. For the Eagles, Wentz’s best receiver dropped too many passes, and his No. 2 receiver simply wasn’t good.
On the first day of free agency, both teams addressed those areas. This week, those steps can turn into to greater strides with the right moves in the NFL draft.
What the Eagles have done so far
The biggest move the Eagles made was turning their No. 1 receiver into their No. 3 receiver. The team went out and picked up Alshon Jeffery, the best wide receiver on the free agent market. A shortened season due to suspension, along with lackluster quarterback play in Chicago, limited his production in 2016. Despite this, Jeffery has shown that he can be one of the best receivers in the NFL, going well over 1,000 yards in both 2013 and 2014 when he played full 16-game seasons.
The Eagles also signed Torrey Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. Smith, much like Jeffery, wasn’t in a great situation last season. The 49ers had the worst passing offense in the league, thanks to a lack of playmakers, as well as Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick under center. In 12 games, Smith had just 20 receptions for 267 yards and three scores. Smith is going to be 28 next season, and playing on the opposite side of a receiver like Jeffery should open things up for him.
With the new receiving duo in Philadelphia, Jordan Matthews is likely the No. 3 option in the offense now. Despite solid overall numbers in 2016, Matthews was tied for eighth in the NFL with six drops . He’s also been involved in trade rumors, which doesn’t bode well for his future with the team.
Even if Matthews is ahead of Smith on the depth chart, he would be an upgrade at No. 2. Wentz’s No. 2 receiver last year was Nelson Agholor, who didn’t much value to the offense. Per Bleeding Green Nation, only Corey Brown of the Carolina Panthers has started at least eight games a year and caught fewer passes than Agholor.
Jeffery and Smith are talented wide receivers, but they also bring veteran leadership to what was a young offense last season. It’s something that Wentz has taken notice of.
“Any time you can add players like that that you think can really help the team, that creates a lot of buzz, a lot of interest,” Wentz said. “There’s a lot of excitement in that locker room.”
The excitement is mutual, as Jeffery says he sees Wentz becoming the NFL’s MVP one day. The addition of Chance Warmack to protect Wentz will help in that effort, as well.
Where the Eagles can still improve in the draft
The Eagles got stronger at wide receiver in free agency, but they likely aren’t finished.
In Dan Kadar’s mock draft for SB Nation, he has the Eagles going with Clemson wideout Mike Williams, assuming he falls to them. Williams is arguably the best receiver in the draft and would really give Wentz a complete arsenal of weapons on the outside.
Yet running back is also a big need for the Eagles. In the mock drafts we’ve seen since the offseason started, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey has been the most popular selection for the Eagles at No. 14.
Brandon Lee Gowton of BGN believes the Eagles won’t got running back at No. 14 but could at No. 43, with Alvin Kamara of Tennessee. Even if they didn’t draft a running back that early, ESPN suggests that they target Jeremy McNichols out of Boise State. The team also has the permission of owner Jeffrey Lurie to draft Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon. In 2014, Mixon punched a woman in the face, a video of which was released to the public.
Mel Kiper has also mocked Curtis Samuel, Ohio State’s H-back and biggest playmaker from 2016 to the Eagles. Samuel can play in many formations on offense, and is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Expect the Eagles to find a cornerback during the draft, but surrounding Wentz with talent on offense will be a priority.
What the Rams have done so far
The Rams were a mess in every which way last season: They finished 4-12, ended the season on a seven-game losing streak, and fired Jeff Fisher after a strange feud with Eric Dickerson.
On the field, it all started with the offensive line. Goff was sacked a whopping 26 times in seven starts, which isn’t a recipe for success. Todd Gurley, the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, went through a sophomore slump, averaging 3.2 yards per carry, down from his 4.8 in 2015. Greg Robinson, No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, proved once and for all that he’s not cut out to be a left tackle. The Rams decided that they will try him on the right side next season.
The team addressed the left tackle problem by signing veteran Andrew Whitworth, who was considered to be the best offensive lineman on the free agent market. Whitworth is 35 and by no means a long-term fix, but at the least it will allow Goff to have some more time in the pocket and not have to worry about NFL pass rushers every second on every snap.
Rodger Saffold, the team’s one bright spot on the offensive line, was re-signed. With the addition of Whitworth and moving Robinson, protection should be better for No. 16 next season.
L.A. also had a weak receiving corps in 2016. To combat that, the Rams started by bringing in wide receiver Robert Woods from the Buffalo Bills. The team lost Kenny Britt in free agency to the Cleveland Browns, and adding a wide receiver was already a need for the team. Woods, who was the No. 2 wideout in Buffalo behind Sammy Watkins, isn’t a No. 1 receiver, but he should have a greater role in Los Angeles.
After the Rams’ first day of offseason conditioning in April, Goff sounded confident in where the team is.
“I think I speak for the whole team, I think we’re a lot closer to where we want to be than people may think,” Goff said at the Rams’ media availability. “We’ve got the players, we’ve got the talent, we’ve got all the pieces we need, really. It’s just about putting it together now.”
Where the Rams can still improve in the draft
The Rams can still use help at wide receiver, offensive line, and in their defensive backfield. Bringing in Woods was a good move, but they need somebody who can develop into a true No. 1 receiver.
The Rams don’t have a first-round draft selection this year, so their highest pick will come at No. 37 in the second round. In his latest two-round mock draft, SB Nation’s Dan Kadar has them taking a wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster out of USC. Adam Stites, also of SB Nation, has the Rams going with East Carolina WR Zay Jones over Smith-Schuster.
Todd McShay thinks the Rams will wait a little longer to get some help at wideout, with Western Kentucky receiver Taywan Taylor in the third round. On the offensive line, the return of Saffold is huge, but in order to help Goff grow, they need to further solidify the offensive line.
In Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft, he has them addressing their offensive line woes first, going with Antonio Garcia out of Troy with their first pick. With their next pick in the third round, Kiper has them taking Alabama wideout ArDarius Stewart. In the past few years, Alabama wide receivers Julio Jones and Amari Cooper quickly became stars in the NFL, and Goff could benefit from having a receiver who could make an impact right away.
In a recent seven-round mock, Turf Show Times predicts the Rams will add more pieces to the offense through rounds two through seven, with two wide receivers and a running back. Overall, it’s pretty obvious that the offense is going to be a main focus of the team moving forward, in hopes of making sure Goff doesn’t have to wait too much longer to get his first NFL win.