How the NFL combine effects the Eagles’ draft strategy, draft board

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The 2017 NFL draft combine has ended and the story of the week is Washington wide receiver John Ross’ record-setting 4.22 second 40-yard dash. Already seen as a first-round prospect and placed just a bit below Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams on most draft boards, this time will elevate Ross into the first-receiver-taken conversation.

It should certainly elevate him into the list of possibilities for the Eagles when selection No. 14 rolls around. A 37-inch vertical didn’t do anything to alleviate concerns about his 5-foot-11 height and contesting jump balls, but adding Ross (17 touchdowns in 2016) would give the Eagles the deep threat they’ve been missing since DeSean Jackson was abruptly dismissed. Fans can catch more of Ross and the other Washington prospects at their pro day Saturday.

Another receiver turning heads at the combine further down the draft boards was Penn State’s Chris Godwin, who said he met with the Eagles. Godwin has made a living going up and grabbing deep balls for the Nittany Lions, averaging over 16 yards per catch and scoring 11 touchdowns in 2016, but answered questions about his speed with a 4.42 in the 40. He saved his best for big games in college, with 460 yards spread across three bowl game performances.

Receivers weren’t the only ones showing off their pass-catching abilities, however. After a disappointing 10 reps on the bench press, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey recovered with impressive performances across the rest of the drills and particularly showed the route-running smoothness that has made him a dual (and when you consider his return game, triple) threat in the college game. Not that you needed to look further than his NCAA record 3,864 all-purpose yards in 2015.

McCaffrey and Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara cemented their position right behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, and may have gained some ground on the latter, who had a disappointing week, but did meet with the Eagles. Other prospects vying to move up the running board struggled to showcase speed (Wisconsin’s Corey Clements) or were sidelined due to injury (Texas’ D’Onta Foreman suffered a stress fracture in his foot) or lack of invitation (Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon).

The Eagles’ other biggest positional need, cornerback, was full of newsworthy performances on the NFL’s proving grounds. Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore increased his case to be the first corner off the board in what might be the most talented class the NFL has ever seen. Lattimore ran a 4.36 40-yard, while some of the other top prospects — most notably Florida’s Teez Tabor who ran a 4.62 — struggled.

A pair of Los Angeles prospects, Southern California’s Adoree’ Jackson and UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, were ready for the combine spotlight as well. Moreau’s name isn’t usually connected to the first round and he’s already been highlighted as a player the Eagles focused on at the East-West Shrine game. He ran a 4.35 40 and was among the top corners in vertical and broad jumps. Jackson clocked in at 4.42 and tracked the ball in drills with the ease that has made him a touted ball-hawk (five interceptions in 2016) and return specialist (four return touchdowns in 2016 alone). He should be establishing his spot in the first round.

Safety is hardly the most pressing need on the Eagles, but a quick shout-out to Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu may give fans flashbacks to the draft two years ago. Melifonwu, at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, took the combine apart Sunday. He posted a 4.40 second 40, a 44-inch vertical leap (a result he was visibly disappointed in) and a 141-inch broad jump. The performance was reminiscent of now-Dallas Cowboy but former fellow Huskie defensive back Byron Jones, who many hoped the Birds would take in the first round of the 2015 draft after he set a new world record in the broad jump.

His rise up the charts is making him an unlikely fit for the Eagles — not a lot of people are calling for a linebacker in the first or second round — but Temple’s Haason Reddick is continuing to climb. The linebacker flashed enough speed — 4.52 in the 40 — and athleticism to find himself listed in most of the “winners” columns around the league.

It appears the Eagles have at least one thing going for them in their meetings: Brian Dawkins. More than one young defensive back brought up Dawkins in their interviews this weekend as an inspiration.

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