The Eagles are in a better place than most teams.
They are a team without extensive positional weaknesses. While the holes they have are easy to spot, that fact probably just makes them more easily addressed.
The clear weaknesses are at linebacker and safety—with needs along the defensive front obviously less pressing—and depth issues at quarterback, running back and on the offensive line.
Ideally, the first two rounds of the draft will temper the most immediate positional scarcity, and the later rounds can be used to fill the spots that round out the roster. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Eagles’ draft would look like if everything fell in their favor.
This selection is based mostly on two things.
First, depth at each position in the draft class has to be taken into account. While taking a defensive tackle might be more of an impact pick in the short term, the difference between Fletcher Cox, the top tackle on the board, and Devon Still, the fifth tackle on the board, really isn’t that great. In between, similar value could be found with Dontari Poe, Michael Brockers and Jerel Worthy, and up to four of them could go in round one.
Conversely, the only two safeties worthy of selection in the first two rounds are Barron and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith, who is a good notch worse in terms of both immediate difference making and long-term potential.
You could also think of it like this: Would you rather have Barron and Still/Worthy, or Cox and Smith? I think it’s the first choice, and I frankly don’t think it’s very close.
Secondly, the thinking behind this pick is that the current defensive front is far stronger in Philadelphia than the current safety group, with Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson all capable of playing 50 snaps a game.
Still would have an immediate impact as a rotational player on the front four. After watching one of the two most disruptive forces in the Big Ten (with Whitney Mercilus) dominate quality offensive lineman all season, I’m convinced he is as NFL ready as they come at the position.
At 6’5” and 305 pounds, he has ideal size to fit in a 4-3, where down lineman are expected to be more athletic than a 3-4, where they are, more or less, space eaters. His ability to penetrate would make him a great fit next to Patterson on running downs, and set up a lot of third and longs when the pass-rushing ends and Jenkins could really attack the quarterback.
Zach Brown, the super-athletic North Carolina prospect, will probably be off the board in the late thirties or early forties, but Lewis might actually be a better fit on the outside.
The signing of DeMeco Ryans tempered the need for a middle linebacker, and outside ‘backer immediately became the teams’ biggest area of concern.
No prospect worthy of a first-round selection fits what the Eagles are trying to do on defense, as the Will and Sam in a Jim Washburn defense need a bit more athleticism than Courtney Upshaw—a borderline defensive end—provides.
Lewis could be the steal of the draft. He is a powerful tackler, and always keeps a solid base, which allows him to take on blocks as well as any linebacker at the collegiate level. His 4.67 40-yard dash gives even more optimism that he can be an impact player at this level.
Another very good option for this need/pick would be Lavonte David, the Nebraska prospect, who has a very similar skill-set.
This selection isn’t really an insurance move for the brittle Mick Vick, as some combination of Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka will probably have to shoulder that load in the short term. It is, however, a move for the future of the position.
Vick, 32, will not last forever, a fact Philadelphia fans are all too sure of. Between age and injury, the tail-end of his career is coming up pretty fast, and finding a suitable heir now will deter from any drop-off in play when the transition must be made.
Cousins had a terrific career as a Spartan (3,316 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior in the rugged Big Ten), but talent isn’t necessarily the number-one factor behind his potential.
His intangibles are phenomenal, as evidenced in every interview he has taken. His leadership, too, is something special—he was MSU’s team captain for three seasons, even though he was only a starter for two. That’s a rare kind of leader.
His size, accuracy and decision making make him an optimal fit in Andy Reid’s offense.
2011 rookie Dion Lewis’ impact in the running game was minimal, and even with improvement, he offers very little that LeSean McCoy doesn’t provide bounties of.
Pierce could be the answer to the ongoing search for a short yardage back, and finally convert without fail those third-and-ones and fourth-and-ones that have eluded this offense since the dawn of time, seemingly.
At 6’0” and 218 pounds, he possesses ideal size as a short yardage-back. Furthermore, his one-cut style is so different from the elusive aspect that McCoy brings, he could add a whole new dimension to the already potent Eagles offense.
From day one, while the Hurricane prospect doesn’t come in as a star in terms of ball skills or route running, he can be another game-breaker in the offense.
At nearly 6’5” with 34.6” arms, with a 4.40 40 time, he possesses a rare combination of size and speed that could make him a big-time home run threat at the next level. He averaged 17.6 yards a catch in 2011, and scored eight touchdowns, so it’s not as if he hasn’t been productive.
With counsel from experienced NFL wideouts like Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, he could blossom into the big threat the offense has been craving.
For a line-backing corps with this many issues in 2011, one prospect isn’t enough. Carder will bring something to the group that they lack.
The Horned Frog stands at 6’2 ½” and 236 pounds, which is ideal size for the position. He could be a running-down specialist from day one, as his range against the rush and tackling abilities are both above average for an NFL player.
He is also another great character guy, and you can never have too many of those. He has been recognized as the defensive leader for a very productive unit for two seasons; a sign of his maturity and the respect he warrants
The reason he will be available in the sixth round is his lack of prototypical athleticism. In the Eagles defense, he can be easily replaced on passing downs by Brian Rolle, whose skills as a coverage linebacker compliment Carder’s very well.
Another guy who will fall because of a specific area of weakness, Smith has deficiencies against the run and in taking on blockers.
Well, in the wide nine, that isn’t really asked of defensive ends. Smith is a pass-rushing specialist who could evolve into a suitable rotational player on passing downs. We all know how much Reid loves those pass rushers.
He is another former collegiate team captain, and again, those kinds of guys are just really good to have around.
With Jason Peters on the shelf for the duration of 2012, little depth lies behind Demetrius Bell and Todd Herremans, so drafting a tackle who could start in a pinch sounds like a good idea. Finding that player in the seventh round sounds too good to be true.
If not for a few shoulder surgeries, Darko would be a much more sought-after prospect. He was a four-year starter at FSU, and his size and technique make him a possible steal in the late rounds.
He won his team’s Unselfish Leadership Award in 2011 (there’s a definite trend here) and was a perennial Academic All-ACC player.