10 Players the Philadelphia Eagles Are Most Likely to Take in the First Round

Cody SwartzSenior Writer IApril 1, 2012

10 Players the Philadelphia Eagles Are Most Likely to Take in the First Round

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    The 2012 NFL draft is less than one month away, and most mock drafts have the Philadelphia Eagles picking a defensive lineman or a wide receiver in the first round, although there has also been speculation about the team taking a quarterback or cornerback. Andy Reid doesn’t stray too far from the norm in his drafts; in 11 first rounds, he’s picked an offensive or defensive linemen seven times.

    The Eagles have the 15th overall pick in the draft, sandwiched between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets. Reid has never been hesitant to trade away his first round pick, doing so in both the 2007 and 2008 drafts. On two other occasions, he has traded up to draft a defensive player, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for that to happen again.

    The 2011 Eagles ultimately missed the postseason because of their problems at both the linebacker and safety positions, although the team addressed the linebacker issue with the trade for two-time Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans and the safety position is lacking in this year’s class. That’s why it is likely Reid will go defensive line, and I have six such players out of my top 10 who play either end or tackle.

Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

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    Looking strictly at the scouting report and the NFL Scouting Combine results, Fletcher Cox may be gone by the time the Philadelphia Eagles pick at No. 15 in the draft. Cox has been linked to both the St. Louis Rams at number six overall and the Carolina Panthers at number nine overall; he is a highly-versatile defensive lineman that can play both end and tackle.

    Cox ran a 4.79 40-yard dash, which would put him among the fastest defensive tackles in the game. He is an overall outstanding athlete with the ability to disrupt the offensive line and the versatility to play in many different schemes and techniques. Cox was a two-year starter at Mississippi State and would be used heavily in the Eagles’ defensive line rotation.

    Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins are under contract for five and four more years, respectively. After that though, the Eagles lack depth. Derek Landri, Antonio Dixon, and Trevor Laws are all free agents. Dixon was re-signed to a one-year deal, Landri is likely to be back, and Laws is unlikely to be back. Cox would provide the versatility to fill in at tackle behind Patterson and Jenkins, but also at end under Trent Cole, Jason Babin, and 2010 first round pick Brandon Graham.

    If the Eagles pick Cox and he turns into the player the team thinks he is, the Eagles will have one of the more formidable defensive lines in the league, one that can pressure division quarterbacks Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and the soon-to-be Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III.

Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

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    In terms of pure athletic ability, Dontari Poe is one of a kind—most 6’3”, 346 pound men don’t run 4.87 40 yard dashes and bench press 225 pounds 44 times. Poe’s combination of outstanding size and strength and speed should make him a top-10 overall draft pick, although there have been concerns from scouts that he didn’t really do anything his senior year.

    That would make Poe the next Mike Mamula—a very good player that should have gone in the second or third round but found himself picked in the first half of the first round because of an overly impressive NFL Scouting Combine. If Poe grades out to be everything he can be, he will be the next Haloti Ngata—he’s an enormous body that can just plug the hole and require double teams constantly.

    Poe is surprisingly quick, he’s a great tackler, and he has rare athleticism. He’s not a good pass rusher, and it’s been said that he could play with more of a mean streak. But Andy Reid will love a player like him. The Philadelphia Eagles need more depth on their defensive line, and Poe would instill some run-stopping ability into a defensive front that struggled immensely in that aspect last year.

Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

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    Quinton Coples probably won’t be around by the 15th pick, but Andy Reid has never been shy about trading up to draft a player—especially a top-quality defensive end.

    Pass rushers are always coveted highly in the draft, and Coples is one of the best in this year’s draft class. He’s a top-10 talent that can play tackle or end, and he has exceptional athleticism. Coples is said to play when he feels like it, which could just take a good coach to get the most out of him. Coples registered 7.5 sacks his senior year after 10 his junior year, although the drop-off in sack production isn’t expected to hurt his stock too much.

    Coples would be a tremendous addition to the Eagles. A pass-rushing rotation that includes Trent Cole, Jason Babin, and Brandon Graham (assuming Graham pans out), plus Coples would be a fearsome unit.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

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    Cornerback might make the most sense out of any position for the Philadelphia Eagles’ first round need. Asante Samuel will likely be traded this offseason, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is entering the final year of his contract. DRC plays much better outside than in the slot, so if he plays well, the team will re-sign him, but either way, the Eagles need a solid nickel back, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL.

    Stephon Gilmore has excellent size and good speed, and he’s a physical player who tackles well and blitzes well. Simply put, he’s a very good all-around corner, and that will likely make him go somewhere in the first round. Gilmore is big enough that he could probably play safety as well, although the Eagles won’t be picking him to play any position but cornerback.

Michael Brockers, NT, LSU

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    Michael Brockers is said to be one of the biggest boom-or-bust players of any college football player entering the NFL draft. Brockers is a redshirt sophomore and he really only had one season of success at the collegiate level.

    Brockers has excellent size, strength, and he just collapses the pocket. Brockers is versatile and he is a tremendous tackler. He needs proper coaching to be molded into the elite talent, and Andy Reid loves his defensive linemen. He picked Corey Simon, Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley in the first round for the tackle position, and Jerome McDougle and Brandon Graham as ends.

    Brockers could easily be a one-year wonder, which is probably his biggest risk. He might have been wise to stay at college for his junior year, and if he had done as well, he probably would be viewed as a top-five overall pick in the 2013 draft. But either way, Brockers will be highly coveted in this year’s draft.

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

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    With the recent Achilles tendon injury to Jason Peters, Andy Reid may find it best to target an offensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Riley Reiff is probably the best fit with the 15th overall pick. Both Jonathan Martin and Mike Adams would be a stretch with this selection, and Matt Kalil won't last that long.

    Reiff is strong and dependable, and he played well his junior year at Iowa. Reiff could step in and start for Peters at left tackle as a rookie, and with Michael Vick being a left-handed quarterback, Reiff won't have to face as much pressure by blocking Vick's blind side. The only problem is what the Philadelphia Eagles would do with Reiff when Peters returns in 2013; there is no room for Reiff to start with the entire offensive line signed through 2014, which is why I don't think picking an OT in the first round is the best bet.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

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    It seems that the closer it gets to the NFL draft, the higher Ryan Tannehill’s draft stock gets. He is now seen as a definite top 10 pick, and there have been reports that the Cleveland Browns could take him with the fourth overall pick. There are even rumors that the Minnesota Vikings will receive trade offers for the third pick, so that a team can be waiting to select Tannehill.

    It’s always risky when a quarterback’s draft value rises simply because of a shortage of quarterbacks in the draft. Tannehill is a former wide receiver at the collegiate level who only had one full season as a starting quarterback for Texas A&M. Tannehill has a lot going for him—he’s incredibly smart, he’s accurate and has a strong arm, and he’s very mobile. Tannehill could also be a one-year wonder, and if a team trades up to get him, there will be a lot of pressure on Tannehill to succeed.

    Tannehill is the kind of quarterback Andy Reid would love. He’s mobile, and Reid has always wanted mobile quarterbacks—Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Vince Young, even Mike McMahon. Tannehill could give Reid job security. If Reid drafts Tannehill, it could make the front office want to keep Reid around for the long haul to help develop Tannehill; after all, Reid has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks.

    Tannehill also ran an NFL offense in college, and he wants to be an orthopedic surgeon after college, so there should be no problems with Tannehill picking up the West Coast offense. Realistically, the only way the Eagles would take Tannehill would be if he fell past the Miami Dolphins at the eighth overall pick. If that happened, though, I could see Reid trading up several slots and getting his quarterback of the future to groom for several years behind Michael Vick.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama

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    This is one of the worst classes for safeties in recent years, so a borderline first round talent like Alabama’s Mark Barron could find himself going in the middle of the first round to a safety-needy team like the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles.

    Barron has the skills to be a starter in the NFL from day one. He is a big and fast safety, matches well with tight ends, and can keep up with most wide receivers. Barron is a sound tackler, he’s very instinctive, and he’s a playmaker for a team that was a national champion in college.

    Andy Reid has tried his hand at getting the replacement to Brian Dawkins in each of the last three drafts—Macho Harris in 2009, Nate Allen in 2010, and Jaiquawn Jarrett in 2011. The fact that Reid also let Quintin Mikell walk in free agency doesn’t help matters, and the Eagles are desperately lacking a playmaker at the safety position. Harris was a colossal bust as a rookie starter, Allen has struggled to regain his form following a patellar tendon injury, and Jarrett showed very little promise as a rookie in ’11.

    Barron would solidify a unit that was one of the major factors in keeping the Eagles back from not only a championship last year but even a playoff spot.

Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

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    Until the Philadelphia Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans, Luke Kuechly was the number-one player most mock drafts had the team picking with their first round selection. Kuechly is an absolute tackling machine, and he set the NCAA record for tackles in just three years of college football. Kuechly racked up an unbelievable 191 tackles his junior year—in just 12 games—and he turned in a fabulous pro day that will only elevate his stock even more.

    Kuechly is always around the ball, and he has the quickness to be all over the field. He was a two-time team captain, he has outstanding intangibles, he’s extremely smart and well-grounded, and he is intensely competitive and dedicated to succeeding. There’s really nothing about Kuechly not to like, except that he’s not particularly explosive; then again, Patrick Willis really wouldn’t be describe as explosive—he’s just immensely consistent and productive, and that has worked fine for the San Francisco 49ers.

    If Kuechly can play strongside linebacker, the Eagles will definitely consider him. He’s said to be one of the safest picks of the draft. But I really don’t think the Eagles would have picked Kuechly even if they hadn’t traded for Ryans (and the Seattle Seahawks at the 12th pick have to be seen as favorites for Kuechly, especially with David Hawthorne hitting free agency).

    Andy Reid just doesn’t pick linebackers in the first round. He doesn’t value the position, and he hasn’t had much success with the players he has picked in the second round during his tenure (think Matt McCoy or Barry Gardner). I think Reid will spend his pick on a defensive lineman because that’s what Reid does. Kuechly still makes the top 10 players the team is most likely to take simply because he’s such a perfect fit. But I don’t think it will happen.

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

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    Whitney Mercilus led the entire NCAA with 16 sacks last season, and that’s production that will have Mercilus going in the first round of the NFL draft. He is an outstanding athlete, and also led the nation in forced fumbles (9) in ’11.

    Mercilus is versatile, as he can rush from the inside and the outside, and he is just a relentless straight-line speed rusher, much like Jason Babin. He doesn’t play very well against the run and seems to be made in a similar mold to that of Babin, a player that defensive line coach Jim Washburn squeezed 18 sacks out of last year.

    Mercilus may be a one-year wonder, as he registered just two total sacks in his first two seasons before breaking out with his 16-sack campaign, and that could be cause for concern for a team thinking about taking him in the first round. But he’s exactly the kind of player Andy Reid would want to take with his 15th overall pick.