The 2012 NFL draft is so close you can taste it. A new mock draft comes from somewhere every five minutes at this point. Every prospect has been dissected and broken down. By now every team has their big board settled and at this point teams are just looking over their notes and discussing possible trade routes.
The Eagles draft board will be based on two key elements. The overall talent of the player, and if he is a good fit for the scheme. A player like Dont'a Hightower will be high on a lot of 3-4 teams' boards because he is a great fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker, but in a 4-3 scheme he is only a two-down linebacker.
I have compiled a list of the best player at each position for the Eagles heading into the draft. The Eagles have specific expectations out of each position they may or may not draft. They won't be looking for an elite middle linebacker in the draft in the first round with DeMeco Ryans on the roster. They will be looking for a similar player at the position who could be a serviceable backup and a future starter down the road.
Here are the best fits in the draft at each position.
My favorite quarterback in the 2012 draft class. He isn't as talented as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but he has just as good of a chance to be a really good pro.
Cousins has everything you would want in a quarterback. He has the accuracy to lead his receivers on deeper throws, he has a much stronger arm than most scouts give him credit for, and he is outstanding at completing passes on the run. That's not to mention he has outstanding intangibles and leadership skills.
In the right situation, Cousins could be the second best quarterback to come out of this class. He needs a little time to get comfortable in his offense and the speed of the game, but he has all the tools to be a really good quarterback in the NFL.
The Eagles don't need a franchise quarterback, as they have Michael Vick. A few more shots to the head and that could change. Vick has a very fragile frame and takes way too many unnecessary shots to last well into his 30s and still be a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. By 2014 or 2015, the Eagles will have a new starting quarterback.
Cousins is the only quarterback in this class worth developing. Brandon Weeden has the ability to be really good as well, but he has to start right away. He can't ride the bench for two or three years. He would be 31 or 32 by then. The other prospects at quarterback have far too many flaws to succeed at the next level.
Andy Reid doesn't have to bring in a quarterback in 2012. The 2013 quarterback class is really special. The Eagles could get a really good prospect next April. If Cousins falls outside of the first two rounds, he is worth taking now.
The Eagles will be looking for either a fast, change-of-pace back or a solid backup who can shoulder the load if McCoy goes down. It's unclear as to which one. They might sign a free agent back instead of drafting a running back altogether. It all depends on how much they believe in Dion Lewis.
If they believe Dion Lewis can handle 15-20 carries, then they would go after a Chris Rainey-type prospect who can get five or six touches a game on the ground and in the passing game. If not, they will look for the type of running back that can do it all. Someone who can run up the middle and bounce it to the outside. Someone who is a good receiver out of the backfield and someone who can play pass protection on third down.
Someone like Cyrus Gray.
Gray was a do-it-all back at Texas A&M. Gray had over 4,000 total yards in his Aggie career. He was solid in pass protection and a dangerous return man on kickoffs as well. The thing that stands out to me when watching Gray on tape are his quick feet, which is the most important thing to consider with running backs, and his ability to always manage to fall forward.
With Gray, the Eagles get an ideal backup to LeSean McCoy. He still would have to beat out Dion Lewis for the backup spot, however. At the very least, the Eagles get a good return man who can develop into a good complement for McCoy down the road.
Mohamed Sanu isn't going to wow anybody with his speed. He doesn't possess that every down dangerous deep speed that a DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin do. That's okay if you're Andy Reid. You have plenty speed. What you don't have is a reliable wide receiver for the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Sanu caught just about every pass in college while being surrounded by defenders. He set a Big East record with 210 career receptions in just three seasons. Nobody in this draft is better at making catches in traffic. He is stronger than most defenders and has the hands and body positioning to haul in any pass in his vicinity.
He won't have as much of a physical advantage as he did at college, but he also won't be the focus of defenses either. He will most likely start out as a slot receiver with the ability to become a team's No. 2 receiver very quickly.
The Eagles will spend at least one draft pick on a red zone target. This has been an offense that has struggled in the red zone in the past. A lack of a true power running game and smaller receivers have plagued the Eagles inside the 20 for years. Adding a proven red zone weapon would be wise.
Coby Fleener had 10 touchdown receptions in 2011. Four of those were in the red zone. He also had two touchdown receptions over 50 yards. He is a balanced receiver who can line up anywhere on the offense and did in 2011.
Having two athletic tight ends that can work the middle of the field and make plays in the red zone are vital to the Eagles' success in 2012. Fleener gives the Eagles more than just a jump ball receiver, as he can do it all.
The Eagles offensive line is pretty set with their starting five, even with Jason Peters out for the season. Demetress Bell will take over at left tackle this season. All five starters are relatively young with Evan Mathis being the oldest starter at age 30. The Eagles won't be looking for a starting-caliber lineman in the draft.
They will be looking for a valuable reserve, one who can play multiple positions. Ryan Miller of Colorado fits that profile perfectly. At 6'7'', 320 pounds, he can play both guard and tackle at the next level. He is strong enough to handle defensive tackles as a guard but athletic and long enough to handle edge rushers and defensive ends at the next level as well.
Having a player on your bench who can play multiple line positions is huge. It creates an extra roster spot if you only have to carry eight roster spots for offensive linemen.
The Philadelphia Eagles don't need a defensive end in this year's draft. They have two Pro Bowl-caliber starters in Trent Cole and Jason Babin. They also have two young up and comers in Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt, along with solid veteran Darryl Tapp. The only way the Eagles draft a defensive end is if a really special player falls to them sometime in the third round or after.
Bruce Irvin is that type of player. He has had to work for everything he has accomplished getting his G.E.D. after dropping out of high school. He walked on to junior college before transferring to West Virginia, where he had 21.5 career sacks in just two seasons.
He isn't an every down defensive end. He is undersized at 245 pounds, but keep in mind that Trent Cole was 236 pounds when he came out of Cincinnati.
Even though he is undersized, he is an outstanding pass rusher. He is incredibly quick coming off the edge, which make him an ideal fit as either a 3-4 edge rusher or a defensive end in the Wide-9. His quickness and lining up wide of the right tackle would give him a huge advantage in the Wide-9 scheme.
He could be had by the Eagles in the third round. Some 3-4 defensive team might take him earlier than that, but if not the Eagles should pull the trigger.
There is two defensive tackles worth mentioning as great fits for the Eagles. Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox both would be perfect fits in Jim Washburn's Wide-9 scheme. They both bring something different to the line, but they both could be stars under Jim Washburn.
Dontari Poe's ceiling might be the highest in the draft. He is a 346-pound monster of a defensive tackle with incredible agility and speed. His technique needs a lot of work and his production in college was very disappointing. He didn't have a lot of help while at lowly Memphis, but neither did Vinny Curry—and he racked up 20-plus sacks in his final two seasons at Marshall.
Poe is an Albert Haynesworth-type of defensive tackle. The Wide-9 scheme needs a player like that. A player who commands double teams to free up the rest of the line and the middle linebacker. If you don't have a player like that in the Wide-9, the interior linemen are going to eat up linebackers in the run game. You saw that in 2011 with the Eagles, especially when Antonio Dixon went down.
Poe works in the Wide-9 because he has the ability to be a dominant pass rusher as well. This isn't a scheme that utilizes the type of linemen that just clog up space. You have to be able to get into the backfield and create havoc. That is the mentality of the Wide-9 scheme.
Poe can both get into the backfield in a hurry and attract multiple blockers. If Washburn sees Haynesworth in Poe, the Eagles will draft him. If not, they won't touch him, even if he is there in the fourth or fifth round.
Cox's versatility, athleticism and power make him perfect in the Wide-9. Think of a better, faster version of Cullen Jenkins. Cox lined up at all four spots on Mississippi State's line. He had a faster 40 time (4.79) than a lot of defensive ends and some linebackers. He had more bench press reps (30) than most 300-pound tackles. He really is the complete package at defensive tackle.
I would imagine that these two players would be the Eagles' top two targets in the draft, depending on how the draft shakes out and how Jim Washburn feels about both players. Both Washburn and Howard Mudd, the offensive line coach, will have a major say on who is drafted at their positions.
Luke Kuechly is the best 4-3 linebacker in the draft, whether you are looking for a middle or outside linebacker. He will cost an early-round draft pick, and that may not be worth it for a lot of teams. Linebacker isn't a position that most teams value enough to spend a first-round draft pick on.
After Luke Kuechly in the first round, there isn't many solid strong-side linebacker prospects out there. Lavonte David will have a bright future in the NFL, but he is a weak-side linebacker and the Eagles are already set there with Brian Rolle.
There are a couple good strong-side linebacker prospects like Bobby Wagner and Nigel Bradham in the second round. Bradham isn't physical enough to make enough plays against the run and Wagner struggles at times in pass coverage. Both players will need time to develop before they can become starting outside linebackers at the next level. The Eagles need to bring in someone who can compete with Jamar Chaney for the strong-side linebacker spot.
Miles Burris is the type of player who could earn a starting spot. He is projected as a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick, but I could see the Eagles targeting him in the fourth round.
Burris is one of the better, if not the best linebacker in the draft at fighting through blocks and making plays in the run game. He is incredibly disciplined in play action and misdirection plays, he always maintains his lane.
His game tape at San Diego State is very impressive, especially against Michigan. On one play he was blocked out of the play momentarily but was able to chase down Denard Robinson after he was 15 yards behind on the play, and he still made the tackle. That is recovery speed that you don't find in linebackers very often.
Burris might be the most athletic linebacker in the draft. He ran a 4.67 40 and a 6.80 three-cone drill at his pro day. He has the skill set to be a very good starting outside linebacker. In the fourth or fifth round, he is an absolute steal.
If the Eagles decide to draft a middle linebacker in this year's draft, they will be looking at a backup and special teams contributor. Demeco Ryans is the starting middle linebacker. Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews will be outside linebackers next season, starting or reserve, but both have starting experience at middle linebacker.
The Eagles don't need a starting linebacker or an immediate backup. What they might be looking for is a good special teams player who could develop into a solid backup for Ryans. Najee Goode fits that profile.
Goode was a good special teams player at West Virginia because he has really good speed and a never gives up on a play. He is a high-effort player.
Goode needs to learn how to fight through blocks before he can ever see the field on defense. He has the speed and lateral quickness to be a quality linebacker. He is strong enough as well, but he just needs to become a more polished linebacker. He is a good project for the defense at middle linebacker, who will give special teams coach Bobby April plenty on kick coverage.
The Eagles are loaded with quality outside cornerbacks. So loaded, in fact, that they are looking to trade one of the five best cover corners, Asante Samuel, for a draft pick. If the Eagles do decide to trade Samuel, they would still have Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Hughes and Curtis Marsh.
Hughes has some starting experience on the outside from last season when Asomugha was injured. Marsh should see more playing time in his second season with a full offseason to improve his game.
The Eagles need a slot corner for the future, The slot corner position has become so important with the evolution of the passing game. There are far too many dangerous slot receivers like Marques Colston and Wes Welker.
The Eagles have one quality slot corner, Joselio Hanson, but he is in the final year of his current deal and is on the wrong side of 30. Plus, it's never a bad idea to have two good slot corners.
Boykin, unlike Hanson, can be more than just a slot corner. He has all the tools and skills to be a very good outside corner. He has the ability to jams receivers right at the line. He has the speed to stay with anybody down the field. He just doesn't have the size—at barely 5'10''— to stay with every receiver in man coverage.
He also can contribute right away as a kick returner, where he had three returns over 100 yards in his college career.
The Eagles secondary is going to look a little bit different this season. Asante Samuel will be traded eventually, moving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the outside where he belongs. Nate Allen's knee is back to 100 percent and Jaiquawn Jarrett will earn a starting role at strong safety in his second year in the league.
Kurt Coleman will backup both safety positions. He has started at both free safety and strong safety. The Eagles don't really need to draft a safety. They could sign veteran Yeremiah Bell to give the Eagles four safeties.
Janzen Jackson is a player who the Eagles should target with one of their three six round picks. He is a really interesting prospect. He isn't big enough to play safety in some scouts minds at just under 190 pounds. He runs like a corner with his 4.43 speed, but he has shown a lot of success at safety. Maybe he is a hybrid type of player who can line up all over the secondary.
The Eagles have tried this before with Macho Harris and most recently, Nnamdi Asomugha. Jackson has the talent to be a really good player in the NFL. His physical tools aren't the reason he is projected as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick.
It has more to do with his involvement in an armed robbery in 2011. He was released from the Tennessee football program shortly after and transferred to McNeese State. His off-the-field behavior will scare teams away from spending a draft pick on him before the sixth round.