2012 NFL Draft: Ranking Philadelphia's Biggest Needs and Possible Solutions

Manav Khandelwal@@KhandymanSportsAnalyst IIApril 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking Philadelphia's Biggest Needs and Possible Solutions

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    The 2012 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and the Philadelphia Eagles have some needs that could be filled with careful selections. However, the truth remains that they only have three Day 1 picks, which means they have to prioritize.

    When Andy Reid looks around the rest of the NFC East, he sees nothing but optimism. The Giants are reigning champs, the Cowboys look energized with the prospect of another season with Miles Austin, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware leading the way, and Baylor prospect Robert Griffin III should energize the fanbase in Washington quickly in 2012.

    He sees the same thing in his own fanbase, however, because of this year's offseason. The addition of DeMeco Ryans, the trading of Asante Samuel and the re-signings of so many key pieces clearly overshadow the loss of left tackle Jason Peters. They even signed former Bill Demetress Bell to fill the void.

    So, what are the Eagles' remaining needs and whom can they fill them with? Let's explore!

5. Franchise Quarterback

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    Michael Vick is injury prone. Whoop dee doo! Everyone knew that already. What they might not know, however, is that the Eagles have the ability to cut Vick after 2012 with only a minimal cap hit.

    Many have called the upcoming year the "Year of Reckoning" for head coach Andy Reid. However, I think Reid and Vick are a packaged deal. If the Eagles flop, they're both heading out of town.

    The Eagles don't have a long-term solution at QB outside of Vick. If he fails, gets injured, or even wants to leave, they could have a problem on their hands. Now, that might mean waiting until 2013 to grab Matt Barkley out of USC, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, or even Michigan's high-flying Denard Robinson—but it is a need.


    Possible 2012 Solutions: Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)

    Tannehill is the least likely option, seeing that teams as high up as Cleveland (No. 4) and Miami (No. 9) are interested in the mobile signal-caller.

    His mobility and ability to make plays are his best traits, as well as his size and arm. He has the athleticism to be a good NFL quarterback, but his throwing mechanics, footwork and accuracy could all use some work.

    Tannehill threw for more than 3,700 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his senior season with the Aggies. The interceptions are pretty high, but his other numbers are very good in contrast.

    The Eagles would have to give up two picks, most likely their No. 15 and No. 51. Tannehill's stock has risen quickly, which is why Philadelphia should be wary of a bust. His "potential" certainly isn't worth two Day 1 picks.

    Weeden, an Oklahoma State product, has good accuracy, footwork and pocket presence. His ability to lead an offense surpasses that of Tannehill. In short, he's NFL-ready and would fit well in the Eagles scheme.

    However, he doesn't have Tannehill's athleticism. He has ideal height, but he needs to work a little bit on his arm strength and his mobility. That being said, he had a much better senior season than Tannehill. He threw for 4,727 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions at Oklahoma State.

    Weeden is my favorite option out of the three, but again, the Eagles might have to trade up to get him. In this case, they'd have to give up their No. 46 and No. 51 in exchange for the No. 33 or No. 34 with which they could select the 28-year-old. Yeah, he's 28. 

    Finally, there's Michigan State's Kirk Cousins.

    Cousins throws a very accurate ball in a clean pocket, possesses good velocity and is very polished off the field. He makes really good decisions, rarely turns the ball over and runs an offense well. He also brings leadership qualities that are required of a quarterback.

    However, he struggles to escape pressure and throw in a congested pocket. He can become flustered by blitzing defenses and struggle to regain his rhythm.  

    He'd be the easiest to pick up, with either of their second-round picks or even the third-round picks. They wouldn't have to invest their entire future to get him, and if he pans he could be a franchise QB.

4. Strong Safety

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    Unlike many others, I'm not of the belief that the Eagles need to draft a strong safety early in this year's draft.

    They already have young depth at that position in the form of Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Coleman had a better-than-expected 2011 campaign, grabbing four interceptions and recording an impressive 78 tackles. Jarrett didn't receive much playing time as a result, but from what we've seen at Temple, he has the ability to be a good starting safety.

    Even so, there is the contingency that doesn't believe in either, and they have some basis in fact. Coleman is mistake-prone in the run game, and Jarrett struggles in the zone. However, there's a reason I have them fourth on the list, and I don't think the Eagles should take a chance by reaching for anyone at the position.


    Possible Solutions: Mark Barron (Alabama), Janzen Jackson (McNeese State), Harrison Smith (Notre Dame)

    Barron, a product of Nick Saban's defense, has been the hot candidate for the last couple weeks.

    His biggest strengths are his form tackling, his consistent, downhill run defense, his really good ball skills and his smarts. He called an extremely complex defense as the leader of the defense down in Tuscaloosa, which means he is ready to be a student of the NFL as he makes what should be a smooth transition.

    His only real weakness is his overall speed, but he really makes up for it because of how well he takes angles and how well he reads plays right off the snap.

    Barron would be a nice addition, but the Eagles would have to trade down a couple spots (the Cowboys want him at No. 14) to get him, which might include dealing either Coleman or Jarrett to get him. It's really a judgment call on how much the Eagles believe he'll improve the position, and in my mind they should give Coleman and Jarrett time to develop.

    However, while safety isn't the biggest need, Barron is the type of playmaker the Eagles would be looking for out of their first-round pick.

    Jackson would be a low-risk option at the position, seeing as his character concerns might mean he drops to the fifth or sixth rounds. After an All-SEC season in 2010 as a sophomore, Jackson was let go by Tennessee for unspecified reasons, most likely involving substance abuse. He then transferred to McNeese State where he played pretty well.

    Jackson's draft value shouldn't fool you: He's a rare talent. His unique blend of strength, speed and ball skills means he plays the position extremely well and can hang with most receivers and running backs. He's good in coverage and isn't afraid to come up and help stuff the run.

    His biggest challenge will be to try and curb his "big hit-or-miss" strategy, which has gotten him into trouble on several occasions. If he's available in later rounds, he'd be an excellent low-risk, high-reward option for the Eagles at the position.

    Finally, we have Harrison Smith of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

    After seven interceptions as a junior in 2010, Smith rebounded with a different type of year as a senior. He recorded 90 tackles, broke up 11 passes and got 3.5 tackles for a loss, but didn't record a single interception.

    Smith has natural ball-hawking instincts, following the ball everyone and forcing plenty of turnovers (has the ability to reach out for picks and separate runners from the ball). He is also a tackling machine, willing to deliver big hits on players and has deceptive speed and agility for someone at 6'1". In short, he's a playmaker.

    His biggest flaw is his tendency to overrun plays and lose track of players in coverage. He has the ability to start as a rookie for the Eagles but will take some time to refine his game and limit mistakes.

    Many scouts have him going in the early second round to either the Rams at No. 39 or the Dolphins at No. 42. Since the Eagles hold the No. 46 pick, they'd have to trade up to get him, but if he falls in their lap, he'd be a good addition to perhaps compete with Coleman, Nate Allen and Jarrett.

3. Red-Zone Threat

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    The Eagles have one of the most explosive offenses, but they've always struggled to throw the ball in the red zone. Even with the addition of LeSean McCoy, who scored 14 red-zone touchdowns last season, Philadelphia ranked 14th in the NFL in terms of red-zone touchdown percentage (51.2).

    DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are explosive, big-play threats, but neither is very consistent when it comes to moving the chains or scoring inside the red zone. In fact, those two only combined for nine touchdowns in 2011, less than or equal to 10 different individuals.


    Possible Solutions: Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina)

    Let's start with Floyd, the most talented of the three. In his senior season with the Fighting Irish, he caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and three touchdowns. He finished eighth in receptions among all D-I receivers.

    The scouting report on Floyd is pretty clear: He will be an elite possession receiver in the NFL. He has the hands and size to catch balls in traffic, as well as a knack for making plays at the point of attack. Floyd also knows how to bust a zone, settling down in open areas and making key plays.

    He isn't blessed with elite speed like  Jackson or Maclin, which means he isn't much of a deep threat. Then again, the Eagles don't need another big-play guy; Floyd fits exactly what they're looking for.

    The reports on where Floyd could land are mixed. Some have him going to Jacksonville at No. 7, but others have him falling to Cleveland at No 18. He would definitely require the Eagles No. 15 selection if he were to drop that far, which is why the Eagles would be cautious about selecting him.

    Sanu, a former Scarlet Knight, has been one of the fastest-rising offensive players on everyone's big board. His reliability in tight spaces make him a viable short-yardage passing threat, and he has the athleticism to be a quality No. 2 or even high-end No. 3 option for the Eagles.

    Sanu had 115 receptions for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, ranking in the top five in terms of receptions among Division-1 receivers.

    Earlier, he might have dropped to No. 88 where the Eagles would've been happy to pick him up, but it seems more likely now that the Eagles will have to use their No. 51 instead. This leaves question marks surrounding the pick, but he'd be an excellent pickup if they went for him.

    Finally we have the Gamecocks' Alshon Jeffery, whose draft stock has risen and fallen as much as anyone else.

    Following an incredible sophomore campaign, Jeffery came back down to earth as a junior, compiling 762 yards and eight touchdowns on 49 catches.

    His biggest asset is his ability to react and make athletic plays at the point of attack. However, his route running and ability to get separation are negatives, and he'll need to improve because he won't be able to dominate the point of the catch against bigger NFL corners.

    The Eagles will most likely have to be involved in a trade-down scenario to grab Jeffery, so he's the least likely option of the three.

2. Defensive Tackle

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    With the imminent losses of Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri next season, the Eagles should be looking for a long-term solution at the defensive tackle position.

    If those two were to leave, the Eagles would be left with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, two tackles who are above average but not stars.


    Possible Solutions: Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State), Dontari Poe (Memphis), Quinton Coples (North Carolina)

    I don't want to delve too deeply into either Cox or Poe, because I've already discussed them in a recent article, but here are the quick low-downs into both.

    In his junior year at Mississippi State, Cox recorded 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.

    Cox has the ability to engage with offensive linemen, disengage quickly and use his speed and athleticism to pursue runners and quarterbacks in the backfield before the rest of the offense has time to even register his movements. He is the most like current Eagle Cullen Jenkins, who is known for his pass rushing and deep penetrations.

    Unfortunately, these strengths also come with corresponding weaknesses. Cox isn't the biggest kid on the block—at least for defensive tackle prospects—which means his ability to clog up holes and bring down runners easily is severely limited. He is one of the players in this draft who will benefit the most from an NFL workout schedule so he can bulk up and play the position well.

    Currently, many analysts have Cox going in the early to mid-first round, and that seems plausible. He could go as early as No. 9, but if he's there at No. 15, I'd be fine with the Eagles taking him.

    Poe, a workout warrior, didn't have a great career at Memphis; let's just say he wasn't as statistically impressive as any of the other guys I've talked about.

    He has elite size and athleticism, meaning he demands attention from one to two linemen on every play. His biggest strength is his ability to clog up rushing lanes, fight off blockers and bring down runners very easily.

    His biggest weakness is his ability to recognize plays as they develop. He often gets sealed out of plays because he either over- or undercompensates in one direction, something he really needs to work on.

    A couple of teams might go for Poe very early in the first round because of his athleticism and potential, which means he might not even be a possibility for Philadelphia at all. He's not worth trading up for, but if he's there at No. 15, the Eagles have few enough holes to where they can take a chance on the massive prospect.

    Finally, we come to Tar Heels senior prospect Quinton Coples.

    Coples is coming off a very good season in Chapel Hill, rotating between playing tackle and end. He had 55 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2011.

    Coples is a very grounded player, moving with agility and a purpose. He can shed blocks well, can overpower nearly everyone in his way, is a reliable tackler and can anchor down and hold his position in the run game. He'll do well at either DE or DT for the Eagles because of his versatility and could make an impact in a rotation with Dixon or Patterson.

    Coples is really a boom-or-bust guy at this point, seeing that his lack of game awareness is near that of Poe's. If he can't start to learn how to understand and read plays, his future in the NFL could be bleak. With that said, all it takes is good NFL coaching and we have a surefire round-one talent on our hands.

    In his latest mock draft, Matt Miller had the Eagles taking Coples with their No. 15 pick, which means he's certainly a distinct possibility. I'd put him in almost the same boat as Poe, a semi-large risk, but, again, the Eagles have the roster flexibility to take a chance on him. 

1. Outside Linebacker

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    The Eagles fixed their middle linebacker problem by trading for Houston's DeMeco Ryans, but they're still a little shaky on the outside.

    Their young corps is comprised of Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle. There are many believers that Chaney and Rolle have potential, including myself, but the addition of another linebacker wouldn't hurt considering the Eagles could deal Fokou and make Matthews the backup MLB.


    Possible Solutions: Luke Kuechly (Boston College), Dont'a Hightower (Alabama), Zach Brown (North Carolina)

    Kuechly is the top-ranked linebacker according to many sites, including nj.com, because of his pro-level ability and collegiate career.

    Kuechly led all of Division-I by 41 tackles in 2011, recording 191 of them. It was a record for a Boston College player and simply a feat that may not be repeated for years to come.

    Kuechly also ranked somewhat high among linebacker for tackles for loss, recording 12.0 of them.

    He has the innate ability to always be around the ball, whether it is diverting the runner one way or bringing him down. He is also a natural linebacker, dissecting plays quickly and running downhill towards the ball-carrier.

    He will struggle at time due to his average speed and agility, which he was able to make up for using smarts at the college level. Kuechly isn't a good pass-rusher, either, but then again, the Eagles feature two of the best defensive ends in the league.

    However, his consistent tackling would be a welcome addition alongside the inconsistent Rolle.

    Kuechly would definitely require the Eagles No. 15 pick, and might not even be there. So, if there are strong reports that he won't be, they'd have to trade up and make things work.

    Hightower, anchoring a Division-I-best defense at MLB, would be another possible solution at outside linebacker. He recorded 85 tackles with 4.0 sacks and 11.0 tackles for a loss as a senior, playing inside.

    Hightower is a good run-stuffer, getting off of blocks quickly and pursuing plays well. He's good at staying in holes and not being forced out of position, meaning he won't be very mistake-prone in the NFL.

    Like Kuechly, his size is ideal, but his speed isn't. He's a decent blitzer off the edge, but has never been much of a pass-coverage guy and will struggle to make game-changing plays as a pro.

    Plenty of analysts, including Matt Miller, have Hightower going in the late first round to either the Patriots or the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles were hoping earlier on that he might fall to the mid-second round, but now it seems they'd either have to give up their two second-round picks or trade down in the first round to make this move equitable.

    Zach Brown of the North Carolina Tar Heels is the third and final solution I'll be discussing at outside linebacker.

    Brown had a very good senior season with UNC in 2011. He recorded 105 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions as their strong-side linebacker.

    He has elite athleticism, even more than Jamar Chaney. He can cover most TEs and FBs, as well as staying in front of the outside runs. He was also a team captain at college, meaning he could develop into a defensive leader for the Eagles.

    Brown, unfortunately, lacks ideal size and build for an NFL 'backer. He struggles to get off blockers that are bigger than him, meaning he completely disappears for stretches at a time. If he bulks up a little and combines strength with speed, he could be a very good option for Philly at OLB.

    Plenty of mocks have him going in the late second round, even to the Eagles at No. 51, so he seems like the most likely option among the three.



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