2012 NFL Draft: 5 Players Who Would Instantly Help the Philadelphia Eagles
With the exception of marginal contributors like linebacker Jamar Chaney and safety Kurt Coleman in 2010 (seventh round) and linebacker Stewart Bradley in 2007 (third round), Andy Reid hasn't drafted an impact defensive player since defensive end Trent Cole in 2005 (fifth round).
In every other aspect of the game, there's no questioning Big Red's drafting acumen. From Brent Celek in 2007 to DeSean Jackson in 2008, to Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy in 2009, to even Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins in 2011, he has selected immediate-impact offensive players in four of the last five drafts. In 2011, he even nabbed the team's kicker of the future in Alex Henery.
But beginning with choosing Jerome McDougle over Troy Polamalu back in 2003, Reid's defensive selections have been mind-numbingly poor. To put it simply, the 13-year head-coaching veteran outthinks himself.
In 2010, he chose a plodding defensive end (Brandon Graham) from one of the slowest conferences (Big Ten) and worst defenses (Michigan under Rich-Rod) in college football over current Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul.
The reason? Graham was a small defensive end who fit the Eagles' prototypical Hugh Douglas mold. Plus, the Michigan stalwart's experience as a three-year starter clearly outweighed Pierre-Paul's mere eight collegiate starts—because the draft has nothing to do with potential or anything.
Sarcasm aside, the Eagles still have a few glaring defensive holes that need to be patched up. As the team found out the hard way a season ago, free agency and deer-in-the-headlights rookies (looking at you, Casey Matthews) can only answer so many questions.
For now, Jason Babin (19 sacks last year) and Nnamdi Asomugha have solidified the outer edges of Juan Castillo's defense.
In order to patch the interior holes, Reid and his staff will need to need to find a capable stable of immediate-impact newcomers. Given Reid's notorious history of allowing the quirks of his system to steer him away from glowing potential (ahem, Pierre-Paul, Polamalu), free agency may be the more pragmatic course of action.
But if Big Red somehow finds a way to clear his bullishly stubborn head, here are five players, offensively and defensively (but mostly defensively), who could make an immediate impact on Reid's sink-or-swim 2012 season.
Dont'a Hightower: MLB, Alabama
If there's a common denominator amongst the Eagles' linebacking corps, it's size. None of the team's regular 2011 starters stands taller than 6'1" or weighs more than 240 pounds.
At 6'4" and a muscular 260, Hightower has the strength and bulk of former Eagles stalwart Jeremiah Trotter, with the height and vision of a Brian Urlacher-type. Not to mention, he runs a 4.6 40, faster than any other linebacking prospect in this draft.
After two years as a starter in the AFC, or SEC—excuse me—the 2011 BCS champion looks like a future perennial Pro Bowler. Andy Reid would be foolish not to overcome his linebacker chicken pox in this case.
Luke Kuechly: LB, Boston College
Unless Hightower drops, it would be virtually impossible for the Birds to land him and Kuechly, the nation's leading tackler in 2011.
But many recent scouting and mock draft reports have Hightower slipping into the early stages of the modern Day 2 (second round as of a few years ago), so nothing is out of the question. While it would be nice to land the two best linebackers in college football, Kuechly would be the better fit if the Eagles still have their pick of the litter at No. 15.
Juan Castillo's defense is in dire need of an outside tackling machine to complement the speedy Jamar Chaney on the interior. Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews started a majority of the games at those slots in 2011. They also combined for just 91 tackles, the fewest of any outside linebacker tandem in the NFL.
While Kuechly played his final two years at BC in the middle, his more natural position, at 6'2", 237, is the outside, a spot he thrived in as a freshman (2009 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year).
Mark Barron: Safety, Alabama
A knock-your-lights-out ballhawk in the Brian Dawkins mold, Barron is just as productive around the line of scrimmage as he is in center field. The three-year starter at Alabama had at least 40 solo tackles in every season he started, a ridiculous number for a safety.
With 12 interceptions, he wasn't too shabby in the playmaking department either.
With no clear-cut starter next to Kurt Coleman in the Eagles secondary, Barron could easily step in and solidify a position that's been a glaring weakness since Dawkins' departure following the 2008 season.
Jerel Worthy: DT, Michigan State
The Eagles' undersized defensive tackles (none taller than 6'0" or weighing more than 305 pounds) came on strong at the end of 2011, as no opposing rushers gained over 100 yards during the final three games of the season.
But as well as Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri played, they simply aren't big enough (6'0", 305 for Jenkins and 6'2", 290 for Landri) to withstand a full 60-minute pounding. The best Jim Johnson defenses employed about a four- to six-man rotation in the interior.
The selection of Worthy, a consensus All-American in 2011 who anchored a Spartans defense that led the Big Ten in rushing defense (100.5 yards per game), total defense (277.4 yards per game) and sacks (45), would allow Juan Castillo to employ the same tactic with Worthy, Jenkins, Landri and Mike Patterson.
Joe Adams: WR, Arkansas
Outside of maybe J.R. Reed in 2004, the Eagles haven't had a solid kick-return man since Brian Mitchell left after the 2002 season.
While Adams was known more as a punt returner at Arkansas (four touchdowns in 2011), he could easily play both roles in the pros, especially on a team that goes about four deep at wide receiver already.
The Razorbacks' leading receiver in 2011 may be the fastest player in the draft with a low 40 time of 4.3.