Jason Kelce. Trent Cole. Brent Celek. All have been centerpieces of the Eagles over the last decade, and all were drafted in the fifth round or later. Tom Brady is pretty everlasting proof that the third and final day of the draft can alter the course of a franchise as much as the first, but those examples might hit a little closer to home. Today we’re profiling five players who could give the Eagles a boost if the Birds call their name on April 29.
Corn Elder, CB, Miami
Elder is probably the only player on this list with a good chance to hear his name called before the third day, but the depth of the cornerback class could see him hang around until the fourth or fifth round and provide tremendous value. His size (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) might remind fans of Brandon Boykin and could have kept him off Chip Kelly’s draft board, but the new regime doesn’t seem inclined to limit the pool of available talent.
He hits running backs and receivers with a fierceness Jim Schwartz should love, driving through tackles and targeting the football. He sacked the quarterback six times and forced five fumbles over his final three seasons at Miami. He’s shown the capability to track the ball in the air like a punt returner and had three interceptions to show for it. In 2016 he was named First Team All-ACC.
He could provide an immediate solution at nickel cornerback for the Eagles, where Ron Brooks’ role with the team was stopped by injury in 2016.
K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
Cannon ran an extremely limited route tree in Baylor’s Air Raid offense, but excelled at what was asked of him: go routes. In three seasons in college, he scored 27 times and twice averaged over 17 yards per catch. His speed showed up at the combine (4.41 in the 40-yard dash) and despite his lack of impressive size (5-foot-11, 182 pounds) he has shown the ability (albeit inconsistently) to go up and over defensive backs to take away a contested ball, as his 37-inch vertical would suggest he can.
If Torrey Smith isn’t able to recapture the form that would take the top off of defenses in Philadelphia, Cannon could step into the role of downfield threat for the Eagles from day one while the team attempts to develop him into a complete NFL receiver. Baylor featured him on screen passes as well, and he showed an impressive willingness to run through tacklers after the catch.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner is a great story, recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 to beat cancer and earn First Team All-ACC honors in 2016. After running for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore, he returned to the field for 1,092 and 16 his senior year. He also developed as a receiver out of the backfield: In 2016 he caught 21 passes, four of which went for scores. In the 26 games he played prior he caught just nine.
With just a 4.65 forty, Conner won’t be running away from defensive backs in the second level in the NFL, but his work as a 6-foot-1, 233 pound battering ram should continue without hesitation. He show great ability to direct defenders away from his body with his arm, and tackles that aren’t perfect don’t often bring him down. In Philadelphia, he’d serve as a perfect complementary back to Darren Sproles or even a hypothetical first round selection of Christian McCaffrey.
JoJo Mathis, EDGE, Washington
Mathis started 2016 well, with five sacks in six games for the eventual playoff Huskies before foot surgery ended his season. It had been a breakout for the pass rusher, who had just four sacks in limited playing time early in his career while struggling through a coaching change.
Most think Mathis (6-foot-2, 266 pounds) will be a better fit coming off the edge in a 3-4 defense, but he spent time lining up both on his feet and with a hand in the dirt at Washington, and showed off a burst that could bolster the Eagles defensive end rotation where he wouldn’t be asked to take a starting role from Vinny Curry or Brandon Graham any time soon. He had recovered enough to do 24 reps in the bench press at the combine, and post another 32 at his pro day a week later. That strength could hold up in a 4-3.
Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
The quarterback of Clemson’s defense had the same knack for big moments as his counterpart on offense, Deshaun Watson. Against Louisville in 2016, he had 18 tackles and a sack. In the playoffs against Oklahoma in 2015, he recorded a sack and an interception. Boulware’s instincts have led to making the most out of a 6-foot, 238 pound frame and 4.85 speed.
He has a knack for finding his way to the tipped pass — five career interceptions — and finished his college career with 261 tackles, eight sacks and seven fumble recoveries. A college captain, Boulware feels like a natural continuation of the DeMeco Ryans and Jordan Hicks mold of inside linebackers for the Eagles. He’d be needed depth for the Birds at linebacker and a contributor on special teams.