Philadelphia Eagles: Is Hunter Bryant too talented to pass up on Day 3?

Despite already having Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert under contract, would the Philadelphia Eagles draft a player like Hunter Bryant if he falls to Day 3?

If there is one position the Philadelphia Eagles don’t need to target in the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s tight end.

With arguably two of the top 10-15 tight ends in the NFL locked in through the 2020 season, and an intriguing third option in Josh Perkins all but surely set to return on his now-annual one-year deal, investing a high-value pick on the position would be a woefully misguided use of assets.

But what if one of the year’s better tight ends were to fall? What if arguably the best tight end in the 2020 class, Washington‘s Hunter Bryant, were to fall all the way to the fourth round, where the team has three picks at 127,145, and 146? Would Howie Roseman seriously consider selecting a late-fourth round project at a position of need over a player who could start as a rookie on about half a dozen teams right out of the gate?

This is the question I asked myself while simulating my own mock draft. Things were going well, and predictably enough, through the first three rounds. I addressed cornerback in the first round with my favorite player in the draft, TCU‘s Jeff Gladney, and followed it up with speedy Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler, and do-it-all Baylor rusher James Lynch in the third.

And then, the fourth round rolled around.

I noticed that despite – I assumed – his status as a Round 2 prospect, Bryant was still available at the 127th overall pick. Okay, I thought, that’s a bit weird, but this is an artificially generated Fanspeak mock draft, what are you going to do. I selected Wisconsin guard Tyler Biadasz and went along with my drafting. Picks continued to roll and Bryant’s name confusingly remained on the board, into the 130s, then the 140s, all the way to 145, the second of the Eagles’ three fourth-round selections.

At what point do you – a real or internet general manager – put needs aside and draft the best position available?

Once upon a time, teams would exclusively draft the best player available and would do so like it was a badge of honor. It was the commonly held belief that ‘reaching’ for a player at a position of need was a foolish way to build a team and that the single-minded pursuit of filling out a roster with the best possible talent at every position raises the talent level across the board.

In a perfect world, that strategy makes sense, but it rarely holds true in practice.

Because some positions in football are inherently more or less valuable than others, there is simply more value to be found adding, say, a wide receiver in the first round than a running back, even if the running back is slightly better right away. Tight end isn’t quite as valueless as, say a punter, but it’s easily the least essential position on the offensive side of the ball.

Need proof? In 2019, only three tight ends finished out the season with 1,000 or more receiving yards, versus 25 receivers who accomplished the same feat. Maybe that’s because there really aren’t that many elite tight ends in the NFL, or because the advent of ar raid concepts has made utilizing bigger bodies across the middle of the field less necessary, but that disparity appears to be growing, not getting smaller.

Just for context, there haven’t been four 1,000 yard tight ends since 2015, back when Gary Barnidge, Eric Decker, and current Wrestlemania host Rob Gronkowski were still professional football players.

With that being said, there is still value to be had at the tight end position if a team is willing to adapt their system to fit their players’ strengths. Heck, the Eagles did it last season

In 2019, the Eagles’ top-two receivers were tight ends. In 2019, 40 percent of the Eagles’ receiving yards came from their tight ends. Do you sense a pattern here? Call it an unfortunate byproduct of having seemingly every wide receiver on the roster take a turn on the injury report, but Doug Pederson had to build the meat and potatoes of their offense around Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert almost exclusively.

While it may not be ideal to add another high-volume tight end into the fray when presumably the rest of the receiving corp will be back to full strength, it’s clear Pederson isn’t as married to the purity of his scheme as, say his predecessor, Chip Kelly.

Factor in Ertz’s impending free agency in 2020, and Goedert’s the following spring, and the Eagles may actually have a need at tight end sooner rather than later.

So should the Eagles draft a tight end in the middle rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft if a good one happens to fall lower than expected? My vote is yes, especially if it’s Bryant.

A 6-foot-2, 239-pound four-star recruit out of Bellevue, Washington, Bryant exploded onto the national stage in 2019 as the focal point of his hometown Huskies’ ground ‘n pound offense. Paired up with Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, Byrant lead the team in receiving yards at 825 while wearing a ton of hats as Washington’s do-it-all h-back/tight end/slot receiver. While his 4.7x 40 yard dash left a bit to be desired in the eyes of some talent evaluators – almost as much as his lack of in-line blocking ability – Bryant should still have an instant impact as a pass-catching tight end with some movement flexibility.

In a lot of ways, Bryant could fill the role left vacant by Trey Burton when he signed with the Chicago Bears in 2018. Throw Bryant in Burton’s vacant 80 jersey – which could fittingly also serve as a minor homage to the late Kobe Bryant – and it’s not hard to envision a role for the 21-year-old Pacific Northwesterner in the Eagles’ offense.

Next: Mark Barron is an intriguing reclamation linebacker

In summation, the Philadelphia Eagles need to amass as much talent as possible in the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether that means drafting a cornerback who needs a year to develop, or a Day 1 starter at middle linebacker, avoiding a position or player simply because the cupboard is theoretically already stocked is not a winning formula. Oh, and for anyone who was wondering, I drafted Bryant, and troubled Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the fourth, Oregon guard/tackle Calvin Throckmorton in the fifth, and took a flyer on supersized Clemson safety Tanner Muse, who was somehow still there in the sixth. Like I said, mock draft simulators are weird.

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