The Philadelphia Eagles are not entering the offseason as underachieving favorites. They are not a team on the brink of a championship. They are not in search of one missing piece of a personnel puzzle. And they are not a dynasty in the making.
The Philadelphia Eagles are trying to push themselves out of the basement of the NFC East and to the forefront of an evolving league. The team’s first step in this effort was hiring a new head coach in Chip Kelly, an acclaimed college coach with an innovative style and a unique approach to the game.
The team’s second step will come sometime between now and the draft when the front office and their new head coach end any speculation about Michael Vick’s future in Philadelphia.
In the process of trying to change the face of their organization, one of the steps the Eagles will take will be their approach to the draft.
Although no one is expecting the Birds to contend for a Super Bowl next year, there is no doubt that they will be looking to draft players who can have an instant impact on the team’s success.
Though this year’s draft is not as stacked with high-profile collegiate stars as it was in years past, there are many players with the potential to board the Eagles’ ship and instantly contribute to the team in a meaningful way.
The first thing that comes to the mind for many Eagles fans when they think about offensive needs is the Birds’ offensive line. Although they do need depth, they have several starters returning next season. It’s not likely the team’s O-line will be nearly as dreadful as it was in 2012, but there is no guarantee.
There has been speculation that the Birds could trade their fourth overall pick. If that ends up happening, then players like Luke Joeckel, Chance Warmack and Eric Fisher will probably not be available when it’s time for the team to make their first selection.
It wouldn’t be terrible if that happens because the team also needs help at the wide receiver position. To be more specific, the Eagles have been without a legitimate big No. 1 wideout for years. Keenan Allen could be the answer the team is looking for.
Allen is 6’3” and 210 pounds. Allen is long and explosive, and he can catch and get yards.
With an offense like Kelly’s and Allen’s ability to catch short passes and turn them into long gains, this could be an outstanding selection that will have a tremendous impact on the team’s offense for years.
Should the Eagles switch to a 3-4 and they don’t trade their pick, they have to draft Utah’s Star Lotulelei.
Lotulelei can play anywhere on a 3-4 front, and he is a great player to build a defense around. In that case, the Eagles could move Fletcher Cox to the end and platoon the other with Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins (who has a Super Bowl ring as a 3-4 defensive end).
Although he has a tendency to be a bit inconsistent, Lotulelei is great off the snap, strong and has outstanding lateral agility.
However, with the Birds’ current defensive back plight, if Dee Milliner is out there, can they really justify not taking him if Lotulelei and the top offensive linemen are off the board?
Brandon Boykin is good, but he’s not a game-changer. The Eagles can’t keep both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Milliner would be able to start right away.
Milliner is big. He’s 6’1” and a prototypical cornerback. He’s an outstanding tackler, he reads plays and he covers well. What more could a coach want?
Chip Kelly loves tight ends, and Zach Ertz is a 6’6” 252-pounder who managed to lead Stanford in catches, yards and touchdowns in only five starts.
In a league where the tight end is becoming more and more of an integral part of any offense and with Chip Kelly’s affinity for tight ends, Ertz would be a fine second-round pick not only because of his ability to catch and what he can do with the ball in his hands, but also because he is a great blocker.
This is a draft rich in big wide receivers. The Eagles would also do well to draft DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson, Robert Woods out of Southern California or Aaron Dobson out of Marshall.
These three are big receivers who can catch and do great things when they have the ball.
Nonetheless, the best selection in this round would most likely be Ertz.
Though the Eagles should go offense in the second round, the best available philosophy may dictate a defensive selection.
Linebacker Kevin Minter out of LSU would be a great selection because of his uncanny ability to read an offense and know where the ball is going to be.
The Eagles need help at linebacker no matter if they run a 3-4 or a 4-3.
Although he’s not a freak athlete or the world’s strongest man, Minter has one of the only intangible skills a defensive player needs: anticipation. Furthermore, Minter plays hard and aggressive—two things no one on the Eagles defense did last year.
If the Eagles do not pick a wide receiver by the third round, then they have to do so in the third round. Even if they do, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to draft another.
Justin Hunter could conceivably be out there. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Hunter would be a great selection.
Hunter is long, he has a big catching radius and he’s very fast. However, he needs to bulk up and put on muscle. He is too thin as he is right now—but that is something that can definitely be fixed.
Another great selection in the third round would be Da’Rick Rogers out of Tennessee Tech.
Rogers is a lot like Julio Jones, except Rogers drops the ball more often than he should. He is a 6’3’, 206-pound receiver with the kind of strength SEC defenses have not been able to stop with press-coverage.
Rogers complements his speed with a comfort inside the slot and explosiveness with the ball in his hands.
Defensively, the Birds may have Fresno free safety Phillip Thomas fall into their lap.
No one really talks about Thomas, but he is a very tough guy who is also an instinctive, aggressive player.
He’s not as fast as an ideal safety, and he gets burned sometimes. But Thomas is a hard hitter and a great tackler. The Eagles don’t have any hard hitters or great tacklers, so this could be a third-round twofer.
The Eagles’ fourth-round prospects depend largely upon whether or not the team makes any trades that involve draft picks. But there are some great fourth-rounders the Eagles need to consider.
Here is where the Eagles should look to, and likely could, draft EJ Manuel out of Florida or local product Ryan Nassib out of Syracuse.
Nassib might be ‘Cuse’s best quarterback since Donovan McNabb.
Nassib has the athletic prowess to compete in Chip Kelly’s offense, but he’s not the best decision-maker, and he’s not a projected first-rounder for a reason.
Expert draft boards have him ranked all over the place, but Nassib will probably go in the late third or early fourth round.
But forget Nassib, and think about Manuel.
If nothing else, Manuel’s athleticism, speed and arm strength make him an ideal backup in a Chip Kelly offense.
But if Manuel can improve his decision-making and do exactly as Kelly needs him to, the sky could be the limit for him in Kelly’s offense. This is all speculation, of course. Nevertheless, Manuel is worth a shot.
Things get interesting in the fourth round because of the wealth of secondary players that will probably be available. Of them all, the most interesting may be Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo.
Rambo has a nose for the ball. In fact, he has 16 career interceptions during his time in college. No one on the Eagles excels when it comes to taking the ball away. Right off the bat, Bacarri would be the team’s best safety because of that.
Rambo is also very aggressive and he’s a great tackler. However, he’s fast but he’s not the fastest. He also has off-the-field problems, but there’s no reason to think those will continue to persist if he comes to Philadelphia. Why wouldn’t he have learned his lesson by now, right?
EJ Manuel may actually fall to the Eagles in the fifth. If he does, they have to take him. But if they have missed out on him or if they have already drafted him, they could take offensive linemen here.
Kevin Winters is a guard out of Kent State who could be a sleeper.
Winters is outstanding in one-on-one matchups, he’s reasonably athletic and he big and he’s strong.
Kelly will probably look to add offensive linemen with great athletic prowess, but Winters is a good option in any scenario because of the aforementioned attributes and because of his physicality.
Another lineman that would be a good pick is Brian Schwenke. He may not be there, but if he, is the Birds will have to take him.
At 6’3” and 311 pounds, Schwenke was great during his time at Cal. He is the kind of fast, athletic lineman Chip Kelly most likely wants. That might be a good thing, even if Schwenke isn’t the strongest guy out there, because he’s fast and he relies a lot on technique (just like Chip Kelly).
Florida International strong safety Jonathan Cyprien could be available in the fifth round, and the Eagles should select him if he is.
Cyprien may go in the third or fourth round, but if he is available in the fifth, his athleticism, ball skills and aggressive approach could make him a steal.
If he isn’t there, however, the Eagles could select Alabama strong safety Robert Lester.
Lester doesn’t have the athleticism to play close to the line of scrimmage, but he’s great when it comes to reading quarterbacks and disrupting receivers with his hands.
Illinois center Graham Pocic is 6’7”, aggressive, tough and strong. He is an outstanding pick in the sixth round because of this, and because his conference has turned out several defensive linemen that he has had success against.
He’s not the lineman Chip Kelly probably wants, but Kelly is a smart man who can probably see that Pocic is a monster.
Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams is a former wide receiver who can take the ball away from an offense and then do something with it when he does.
He’s not very strong, but he’s an acceptable tackler and he’s athletic enough and intelligent enough to become a starting NFL cornerback.
There are a lot of ifs with Adams, but he’s worth a sixth-round flyer.
Rodney Smith is 6’6” and 220 pounds. That kind of size makes him worth a seventh-round pick.
Smith has all the tools a wide receiver needs, like speed, strength, the ability to get open and the wherewithal to adjust his body to make catches. However, he doesn’t always make the catch. That’s a problem.
An NFL wide receiver coach with the right approach could change all of that for the better.
Smith could be the wideout the Eagles need. However, it’s a long shot.
Cameron Lawrence is a 6’7” outside linebacker out of Mississippi.
He was great behind Fletcher Cox in college, and he’s fast and strong.
Lawrence is very inexperienced and he needs to learn to be patient and see a play develop. His athleticism bailed him out most of the time in college, but it won’t be enough in the pros.
But he could be a late-round steal who will have an immediate impact on the team if his production in college was not a fluke.