2012 NFL Draft: 7 Candidates for the Philadelphia Eagles' First-Round Pick

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IMarch 3, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 7 Candidates for the Philadelphia Eagles' First-Round Pick

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have the 15th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and most mock drafts have the Eagles picking a wide receiver, linebacker or safety. There have also been reports linking the Eagles to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, but that would require the team to trade up a ransom’s supply to get the second overall pick and the rights to RGIII.

    Andy Reid needs to win now, and the following seven players are prospects that the Eagles should definitely keep an eye on to see if they’re still around when the Eagles make their pick.

Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College

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    This is probably the likely candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles, as the team struggled vastly with both Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney at the middle linebacker position.

    Luke Kuechly turned in an incredible NFL scouting combine, running a 4.50 40-yard dash and recording a 38-inch vertical leap. He was a tackling machine in college, notching an NCAA-record 532 tackles in just three seasons. Kuechly was a first-team All-American as a sophomore, and has an impressive nose for the ball.

    If he’s still around when the Eagles pick in the middle of the first round, he needs to be their guy. Kuechly would start from day one for an Eagles team that is a few players short of a Super Bowl run.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

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    The Philadelphia Eagles franchised DeSean Jackson, but that’s not going to make their disgruntled wide receiver too happy. If the Eagles don’t suspect Jackson will be back in 2013, Michael Floyd is a top pick to replace him.

    Justin Blackmon is likely seen as the top receiver in the draft, but he should be gone within the first 10 picks. Floyd is fundamentally sound, an all-around receiver who has great height, speed and hands. He ran a 4.42 in the 40 at the combine, and while that’s not Jackson speed, no one really has Jackson’s speed.

    Floyd would pair well with Jeremy Maclin (and Jackson if the Eagles don’t trade him before the season)—and with Jason Avant in the slot, LeSean McCoy in the backfield and Brent Celek at tight end, the Eagles would maintain one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

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    Kendall Wright is seen as a future slot receiver in the NFL, but that shouldn’t mean he won’t be a good player. Wright ran just a 4.61 in the 40, but his game speed is much faster than that.

    Wright’s numbers were definitely helped by Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, but Wright excels at separating from the defenders and gaining yards after the catch.

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have an extremely solid offensive line, so the only reason I foresee the team picking a lineman would be if management doesn’t re-sign free-agent guard Evan Mathis.

    Mathis was rated as the top guard in the league in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus. If the team decides Mathis’ season was too much of a fluke to expect a repeat, David DeCastro may be a logical pick. He is seen as a mid-first-round prospect, and this would allow Todd Herremans to stay at right tackle; a role in which he excelled during last season.

Stephen Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

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    It’s interesting to think that a team with three terrific cornerbacks may draft a cornerback in the first round, but that’s exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles may do.

    Asante Samuel is trade bait, and it’s unlikely that he will return to Philly for the 2012 season. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent after next year, and if he doesn’t turn in a better performance, the team may look to move on.

    Stephen Gilmore isn’t the best corner in terms of purely coverage, but he is a good all-around player who plays physical defense. He would complement Nnamdi Asomugha well, as Asomugha is a phenomenal cover corner when he’s used properly.

Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

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    Dont’a Hightower played inside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4 formation, and he has the physical tools and pass-rushing ability to probably play outside linebacker as well. Hightower has been compared to Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots, a current 4-3 middle linebacker who is one of the better defenders in the league.

    Hightower would add talent to a Philadelphia Eagles’ linebacker corps that was among the worst in the business in 2011. Brian Rolle is solid enough as an outside linebacker, and adding Hightower as the middle LB and signing a veteran would greatly improve the team’s defense.

Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

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    Whitney Mercilus is a player who simply gets to the quarterback, and a team can never have too many of those. The Philadelphia Eagles have a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber defensive ends in Trent Cole and Jason Babin, but Mercilus would be another pass-rusher who can wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback.

    Mercilus can play either 4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker, but unless the Eagles suddenly switch to the 3-4, he will be playing end if the team takes him. Mercilus led all of college football with 16 sacks in 2011, turning an incredible season while playing some strong offensive lines.

    Simply because the Eagles have Cole and Babin, doesn’t mean the team can’t take Mercilus: The New York Giants took Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010 even though they had Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, and that worked out just fine for them.