In the newest Lance Zierlein mock draft, the Eagles aim to solve their biggest problem from Super Bowl 57: the secondary. Yes, the unit which played at an elite level throughout the season ended up being one of the biggest factors in the Eagles’ Super Bowl shortcoming, and now, with multiple key starters projected to leave in free agency, the unit needs a revamp. With that comes Zierlein’s mock, predicting two talented defensive backs to land in Philadelphia after night one of the draft.
Lance Zierlein Mock Draft Reaction
10th Overall Pick: Christian Gonzalez (CB/Oregon)
With such a loaded roster, Philadelphia is a challenging team to mock for. That said, cornerback is a need. Gonzalez has the size, speed and athleticism to match up against any flavor of wideout in the league.
To start off Philadelphia’s picks in this Lance Zierlein mock draft, the Eagles select Christian Gonzalez, a freakishly athletic corner from Oregon. A while back, I wrote a reaction to a Daniel Jeremiah mock draft where Philly took Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon at pick 10, a corner with a fairly different profile than Gonzalez. However, like Witherspoon, Gonzalez is a top ten talent in the class, and is neck and neck with Witherspoon in the battle for number one CB.
Two factors separate Gonzalez from the rest of the pack: intangibles and ball skills. He is a tall, lengthy corner and uses all of it to make plays on the ball. He’s also lightning fast having run a 4.38 40-time at the combine, speed which shows up all over his tape. He is twitchy and explosive, allowing him to jump routes and use his instincts to make plays. As far as athletes go, Gonzalez is one of the best in the class.
And then there are his ball skills. Whenever the ball is in the air, Gonzalez turns into a wide receiver, with an elite ability to high point the ball and make tough catches. In a draft class filled with elite man-coverage corners, Gonzalez might be the best of them all just by the way he plays the ball.
However, he is still an incredibly raw prospect–his draft stock is running mostly on projection at this point. He is an explosive and fluid athlete but will need to be developed going into the NFL as he is lacking from a technical standpoint. He also isn’t the most physical corner–he is a willing tackler but doesn’t seek out contact–giving an edge to his draftee counterpart in Witherspoon.
If I had to pick one corner, I would take Witherspoon purely based on him being the cleaner, more physical player right now. However, in Zierlein’s mock, Witherspoon isn’t available at pick 10 as Detroit selects him at 6th overall. In this scenario, Gonzalez is a home run pick, probably being the best corner available to fill one of the biggest needs the Eagles have. While Witherspoon might be cleaner, it’s impossible to deny the upside Gonzalez brings, especially given his rare blend of size and athleticism. Philly can’t go wrong with either player.
30th Overall Pick: Brian Branch (DB/Alabama)
I could easily see explosive RB Jahmyr Gibbs being the pick here, but I’m going with an Alabama product from the other side of the ball. Branch is a very smart, very consistent player with the versatility to man multiple spots in the secondary.
Following the selection of a defensive back at 10, the Eagles dip back in the well taking defensive back Brian Branch out of Alabama. Unlike Philadelphia’s first selection, Branch is a good, not great athlete. However, what he lacks in pure athleticism is made up for in talent and well-roundedness.
Branch is a Swiss army knife in the secondary. One of the great things about scouting an Alabama player is that you know they’re coming from a pro-level system, so what you see in tape is probably what you’re going to get. With Branch, that means high-level impact at every possible position on defense behind the defensive line. He is what you would call a football guy, and the Alabama coaching staff was able to use his talent in multiple different roles with great success.
Despite his lack of elite athletic traits, he is amazingly good in coverage. Whether it’s man or zone, he is proficient, and his instincts and ball skills allow him to make plays at every level of the field. He can truly do it all in coverage, which is the reason his listed position is so unspecific. Based on his coverage skills, he likely fits best as a free safety, but he’d be more than capable of playing a true corner role in a pinch.
However, he isn’t just a Swiss army knife in coverage–his ability to play the run is what truly separates him. At Alabama, he often played in the box and was a frequent blitzer where he found great success. At a size that usually suggests an unwillingness to hit, Branch is anything but, consistently taking on blocks and working to make tackles. He’s a very sound, physical tackler as well, rarely missing when he makes contact. He’s a complete defensive back prospect who could play anywhere a defensive coordinator needs.
For Howie Roseman and co., this is just a really solid pick. He would instantly fill a need as both CJ Gardner-Johnson and James Bradberry are projected to leave in free agency, and his insane toolbelt would give new defensive coordinator Sean Desai a great defensive workhorse. This feels like the kind of guy who becomes a team captain early in his career, and for a team dealing with heavy turnover, that’s just what they need.
Mel Kiper Mock Draft Reaction
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