The Eagles will have a brand-new look for 2013 under new head coach Chip Kelly. One of those new looks could be the team's defensive alignment.
Kelly is considering the possibility of switching the defense from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base. If he does, nose tackle becomes of utmost importance for this team. Look at this roster, and you do not see a defensive tackle who can play nose tackle. Last year’s first-round selection, Fletcher Cox, only comes in at 298 pounds, ideal for a 4-3 defensive tackle but not a 3-4 nose tackle. The heaviest listed defensive tackle is 322-lb. Antonio Dixon, whom the Eagles had just resigned late in the season after cutting him before the season.
The ideal 3-4 nose tackle comes in at about 350 pounds. There are plenty of potential draft prospects around that size who could be there for the Eagles at pick No. 35 (the third pick of Round 2) or at pick No. 67 (the fifth pick of Round 3). Here are three nose tackle prospects the Eagles should strongly consider in Rounds 2 or 3.
First is Georgia DT John Jenkins. Per Sheil Kapadia of phillymag.com, the Eagles took an interest in Jenkins this week at the Senior Bowl. It brings up a good question: Should the Eagles take Jenkins if he’s available at No. 35?
Jenkins is a 6’3”, 359-pound senior who made 50 tackles this season. However, he was ruled academically ineligible for the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska.
There have also been questions about whether Jenkins can control his weight. From Kapadia's post:
“The biggest question will be… they heard the rumor about me being 370, and I came in at 359,” [Jenkins] said. “Now the question is going to be, ‘What are you going to weigh at the combine?’ That’s going to be the biggest question. And then when I bring it down, they’re going to be like ‘OK, this man is serious.’”
I asked Bleacher Report's own draft expert Matt Miller for his thoughts on Jenkins. He also likes the way the big man can move: "He was the biggest guy here but moved well off the ball."
Miller, however, also echoed the sentiments of the weight issue, noting that Jenkins has to get in better shape: "Got gassed easily."
If Jenkins can control his weight, he could wind up a nice fit as the Eagles nose tackle. Jenkins played all over the defensive line at Georgia. He played some 5-tech as well, meaning he was lined up on the guard—and can command double teams, which is a must for a 3-4 nose to allow the inside linebackers to roam around freely. For the Eagles, those inside linebackers could potentially be guys such as DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Casey Matthews or someone not yet on the roster. We know these guys are pretty good tacklers—especially Ryans—so having someone with the size of Jenkins would be beneficial to those players. Can Ryans play in a 3-4? That was pretty much the reason Houston traded him. Who knows, maybe Philadelphia can make it work for him.
But back to Jenkins. If he is brought in to Philadelphia, a front line could be Jenkins, Cox and possibly Derek Landri (if re-signed) or Cedric Thornton rotating at defensive end.
If the Eagles pass on Jenkins, two other names become possibilities in Round 3.
One tackle scouts seem to be high on is Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern. Williams is 6'2" and 341 pounds. Williams made 27 sacks in four seasons at Missouri Southern (he sat out 2009 with a medical redshirt), including 8.5 sacks in 2012. He also compiled at least half a sack in all but three games this season and at least one tackle for a loss in all but one.
Here's Miller's take on Williams:
D2 kid, was a violent, nasty one-tech at MSSU. Played very well against top competition last two weeks. Second-rounder.
A one-tech tackle usually lines up on the inside eye of the guard.
Love his leg drive and lower body strength. He is built and powerful. Still needs to not get as high when he is really pressing. Sometimes can misread the play and not get his assignment correct. That being said, his flaws are very small in my opinion.
Lower body strength is a great trait for a tackle. It is much better to be able to stand your ground than get blown 20 yards off the ball. If nose tackles have their way with the offensive linemen they're lined up against, those offensive linemen can't get to the linebackers, which gives the advantage to the defense.
Finally, there is Tennessee-Martin defensive tackle Montori Hughes. Hughes comes in at 6-4, 327. He started his college career at Tennessee but was kicked out after the 2010 season, eventually resurrecting his career at Tennessee-Martin.
You certainly have to like the toughness of Hughes, as he played the Senior Bowl with an injured ankle, and in some eyes, still dominated in the game.
Hallam points to his hands and athleticism as potential weaknesses. Can a coach like Jerry Azzinaro, the new Eagles defensive line coach, work with Hughes to improve those areas?
Miller addressed the hands problem, saying that Hughes has an "impressive burst, but needs to learn to use his hands."
Of course, all of this depends on free agency, and what the Eagles do with the fourth pick (and if they even make the switch to 3-4 at all). They could draft Utah’s Star Lotulelei with the fourth pick, but who's to say Lotulelei will still be on the board? Or they could go with a player such as Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones.
Nose tackle will obviously be a big need for the Eagles if they make the switch to a 3-4. But it doesn't have to be their immediate option in the draft. As we've seen here, there are plenty of quality options on Day 2 for the Eagles to consider.