S and G Sports have taken a close look at the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into the 2009 NFL Draft in April. A recap of the '08 season, free agency analysis and our take on the draft is included.
A suspect 3-3 start through seven weeks left fans wondering if their beloved Eagles were primed for the postseason. Two separate three game win streaks and a season sweep of the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants hurtled the Birds into serious postseason talk. Capped off with a 44-6 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale and some good fortune, Philadelphia punched the final ticket to the playoffs at 8-7-1.
Philadelphia’s Super Bowl quest was to be achieved on the road, beating NFC North Champ Minnesota. A second defeat of the Giants in the Meadowlands and third in the season was enough to push the #6 seed Eagles into their fifth title game in 10 years. The Sons of the Cheese Steak City came up a few plays short, losing a 32-25 heartbreaker to the Cinderella Story Arizona Cardinals.
The Eagles impressed their fans by turning around what was thought to be a lost season only to see their Super Bowl hopes dashed again in the NFC Title for a fourth time. Are the Eagles primed for another deep 2009 run?
Talk around Philly is a youth movement within the organization. Fans quickly turned hostile after stalwart S Brian Dawkins and RB Correll Buckhalter signed free-agent deals with Denver. Former starting CB Lito Sheppard got his trade demand, now he plays for the Jets. O-Line concerns have intensified as OT Tra Thomas and S Sean Considine signed with the Jaguars and OT Jon Runyan is not expected to get a new contract.
Contract talks with QB Donovan McNabb have stalled as McNabb awaits what the offseason will yield in terms of offensive playmakers. The nervous tension that once seemed nonexistent has now clouded the belief of the Eagle Faithful.
On the other hand, Philly has signed what is expected to be Dawkins’ replacement, former Cleveland S Sean Jones. Also added to the mix are OT Stacy Andrews and Raiders’ S Rashad Baker, whose INT against Tampa Bay secured Philly a spot in the playoffs. Sheppard will not be missed long in PHI as CB Joselio Hanson’s performance earned him a five-year contract.
With all the chaos in ’09 Free Agency, one big question belies the Eagles: What are they gearing up for? After the off-loading of many of their centerpieces, the Eagles are sitting about $40 million under the salary cap and now hold 12 draft picks heading into April’s NFL Draft.
Many expected Philly to make a run at a big-name wide receiver (Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh) but such talks have not materialized to date. Another big question is how the Eagles will now proceed with RB Brian Westbrook. His injury-riddled ’08 campaign has legitimized doubts that he is not an every down back. The safest assumption right now is that GM Tom Heckert and Co. will keep their moves tight to the chest and out of the public eye.
Draft Expectations and Projections
After consulting many draft boards and conversations, S and G Sports has laid out what we believe is how the Eagles will attack the 2009 NFL Draft. Below we have listed the selection Philly has and who we believe might make sense at each pick.
1st Round, Pick #21
Expect the Eagles to spend a 1st round draft choice on a tackle to fill either of the voids by Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Combining another offensive tackle here with newcomer Stacy Andrews will give McNabb and Westbrook some additional assurance up-front.
S and G Sports Recommends: OT Eben Britton, Arizona
1st Round, Pick #28(from CAR)
Philadelphia earns this selection after trading out of the first round last year, allowing the Panthers to draft OT Jeff Otah from Pittsburgh. That being said, we expect the pick to remain on the offensive side of the ball. It is clear that the Eagles cannot go far with just Westbrook in the backfield. RB Lorenzo Booker was a nice pick-up, but HC Andy Reid is not convinced that he is any better than a situational back.
S and G Sports Recommends: RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
2nd Round, Pick #53
Now onto the defense. Coaches and analysts alike are enamored with the brilliant blitzing packages put together by DC Jim Johnson. That being said, the Eagles have lacked a solid starter opposite DE Trent Cole for some time now. Don’t expect Philly to wait long before pulling the trigger on another pass rusher.
S and G Sports Recommends: DE Robert Ayers, Tennessee
3rd Round, Pick #85
The depth at safety for the Eagles is not enough to sustain injuries and the like. With a deep safety class, we believe Philly will dip their hand into the mix and add another young playmaker to the secondary. This rookie will certainly have some huge shoes to fill as fans are still torn up over the loss of Brian Dawkins.
S and G Sports Recommends: S Nic Harris, Oklahoma
4th Round, Pick 117
Head Coach Andy Reid has heard the flak for running a pass happy offense with only an adequate wide receiving crew. Year after year, he remains committed to his system. The same thing goes for how he drafts wide receivers (exception: 2nd round DeSean Jackon, last year). Reid will use a mid-round choice here to add a threat now voided by new Patriot Greg Lewis.
S and G Sports Recommends: WR Mike Wallace, Mississippi
5th Round, Pick 133(from CLE)
TE L.J. Smith is not expected to come back to Philly. Brent Celek has certainly impressed in his short time with the Eagles, especially in the red zone. However, Philly would be wise to add another tight end to the staff, preferably one that can run block and give McNabb a big target down the seams.
S and G Sports Recommends: TE Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
5th Round, Pick 145(from NYJ)
Security is the choice here in the late rounds. Expect Coach Reid to hear Johnson’s call-outs for more linebackers that can drop in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage. While he may not start right away, expect this draft pick to be a contributor on special teams and be a solid back-up to Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, and Akeem Jordan.
S and G Sports Recommends: LB Zack Follett, California
5th Round, Pick 151(from NE)
The Eagles will continue to stockpile their corners with those that can turn and run with the elites of the NFL. While starters out of late round selections are not widely expected early on, such thoughts will not enter the mind of the Eagles here.
S and G Sports Recommends: CB Jerraud Powers, Auburn
6th Round, Pick 181
The Eagles will look here for another offensive tackle they can groom into a starter down the road. With all the uncertainty about the Eagles perimeter blockers, having solid depth here will help convert such thoughts into optimism.
S and G Sports Recommends: OT Phil Trautwein, Florida
6th Round, Pick 182 (from MIN)
The uncertainty with the Eagles running game (ahem, the Brian Westbrook show) warrants enough doubts to continue adding insurance to the backfield. While we doubt expect Reid to deviate from his pass-first philosophy, the Eagles kissed off some victories in failing to convert short yardage situations.
S and G Sports Recommends: RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
7th Round, Pick 213
McNabb is not getting any younger, however, the Eagles have drafted their future, at least who they think is their future QB in Kevin Kolb. No indictment against Donovan here. A strong armed, smart signal caller would be a wise choice here, one that can humble himself to a veteran that has established himself among the elite QBs of the NFL.
S and G Sports Recommends: QB Cullen Harper, Clemson
An Early Look at the 2009 Campaign
The Eagles are taking a very conservative approach to the offseason and preseason preparations. Many teams, like the Redskins and Broncos have gone out and spent big money in free agency to throttle their teams to the postseason. Philadelphia does not have a lot of changes to make, but the big voids at safety, o-line, and running back ought not to go unnoticed.
That being said, expect the Eagles to make a concerted run for the NFC East Title, falling just short to a Giants squad that has reloaded on the defensive side. A playoff appearance is in the cards for Philly, but their veteran leadership will leave Eagles fans grasping, but falling just short again.
S and G Sports Predicts: Eagles 10-7, Advance to NFC Divisional Round