10 NFL Combine Prospects That the Philadelphia Eagles Must Closely Watch
You could make a legitimate case that the 2013 draft is one of the most important the Philadelphia Eagles have had in a long time. After all, new head coach Chip Kelly needs to come out with a number of quality players to help turn around the fortunes of the Eagles' franchise.
It begins with the fourth overall pick in the first round, the highest the team has picked since Andy Reid's career began with the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft. Reid selected a Syracuse quarterback named Donovan McNabb, who became a six-time Pro Bowler and helped turn the franchise from one of the league's worst into an NFC powerhouse.
Kelly needs the same type of success as Reid. Like Reid, he could select a quarterback, although he could also pursue a number of positions on the defensive side of the ball, notably defensive tackle, cornerback and safety.
But if Kelly picks a dud, especially if it's a quarterback, he risks setting the franchise back several years.
The Oakland Raiders still haven't recovered from the JaMarcus Russell pick to lead off the 2009 draft, for example.
And look at the Cleveland Browns. They picked quarterback Tim Couch with the top overall pick in the 1999 draft but Couch turned into a bust (although he did stay in the league for almost a decade).
So the pressure is on for Kelly, and unlike the previous season, there really aren't a lot of can't-miss options in this year's draft class.
The following 10 slides will highlight a number of players the Eagles really need to look into at the NFL Scouting Combine. All are potential first-, second- or third-round draft choices, and each player has a lot to offer an NFL team, even as a rookie in the 2013 season.
Luke Joeckel, Tackle
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If Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel is still available at the fourth overall pick, the Eagles could be foolish to pass up on a player who has been graded by many as the top overall talent in the 2013 draft.
Joeckel is the type of left tackle who could fill in for a team over the next decade. With left tackle Jason Peters 31 years old and returning from a torn Achilles, and right tackle Todd Herremans also past the 30-year mark in age, the Eagles may want to look to the future on the offensive line.
The selection of Joeckel could allow Herremans to move back to his natural position of guard, thus giving the Eagles one of the more complete lines in the game: Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans and Joeckel.
Joeckel possesses the prototypical build for a left tackle, with excellent fundamentals and impressive strength. He has been compared to Joe Thomas, the star left tackle for the Cleveland Browns.
Joeckel will only improve his reputation with a strong performance at the scouting combine. I wouldn't be stunned to see the Eagles trade up in the draft to select Joeckel.
Chance Warmack, Guard
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Although the Eagles have a tremendous amount of holes on the defensive side of the ball, new head coach Chip Kelly is ultimately an offensive guy. What coach wouldn't love to have a tremendous offensive lineman helping to protect his quarterback?
Warmack is considered by many to be the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 17th pick of the 2001 draft. Warmack will likely be drafted even higher, as NFLdraftscout rates him as the third-best prospect in the draft.
The Alabama guard is efficient at blocking both defensive linemen and linebackers and would become an immediate starter on the Eagles' offense. He would undoubtedly play right guard, filling in for first-round bust Danny Watkins.
The addition of Warmack to the team's offense would give the Eagles the following offensive line: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Warmack and Todd Herremans. There's no weak link on that line, assuming Peters fully recovers from his torn Achilles tendon.
Dee Milliner, Cornerback
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Two years ago, the Eagles thought they had the cornerback position set for the next few years. Veteran free agent Nnamdi Asomugha was signed to a massive five-year, $60 million deal in free agency and former Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was acquired in the trade that sent quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals. Oh, and the Eagles also had ballhawk Asante Samuel as a starter.
Now, the Eagles don't have Samuel and Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie may be on their way out of Philly. Asomugha is scheduled to receive $15.3 million in 2013 and is a likely pay cut, while DRC is a free agent and may not be re-signed.
The Eagles need to find a pair of starting cornerbacks in the next six months.
They should be very interested in Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, projected by many as the top cornerback prospect and a likely top-10 selection.
Milliner just completed a first-team All-American season as a senior. He is described as being extremely aggressive when the ball is in the air and plays with excellent anticipation.
Milliner's weakness is his straightaway speed, so it will be interesting to see what sort of time the 6'1", 198-pound corner turns in at the 40-yard dash.
Regardless of his 40 time, Milliner is an elite prospect who would start immediately for an Eagles team that endured a ridiculous eight-game stretch without an interception in 2012.
Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker
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Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones would be a tremendous fit for the Eagles in a 3-4 defense, if they choose to run one under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Jones is dominant as both a pass-rusher and a run-stopper. He collected 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in 2012, both leading the SEC, and earning him a finalist nominee for the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker.
The concern for Jones is his medical history. He suffered a sprained neck as a freshman and was diagnosed with a mild case of spinal stenosis in 2009. Some NFL doctors may be unwilling to clear him, which will ultimately determine his draft status.
If Jones is impressive at the scouting combine, he could warrant a top-10 selection, possibly even at the No. 4 pick. For the Eagles, Jones would become an immediate starter, regardless of whether the team used a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense.
Geno Smith, Quarterback
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Even though the Eagles have plenty of holes on the defensive side of the ball, there are a number of quarterbacks worth considering with a first- or second-round draft pick.
It's impossible to predict where the top quarterback will be selected (or who it will be), but Smith definitely is a player worth keeping an eye on for any team in need of a quarterback.
Smith has a powerful arm and excellent mobility, both attractive fits for new head coach Chip Kelly's offense. NFLdraftscout says that Smith possesses all the traits necessary to become a franchise quarterback.
If he was drafted by the Eagles, he would likely be thrust into the open competition for the starting quarterback job, which currently includes veteran Michael Vick, last year's rookie Nick Foles and former Oregon standout Dennis Dixon.
Just like Reid with McNabb in 1999, Kelly could set the Eagles on the right track by grabbing his franchise quarterback with his first pick as the team's new head coach.
Desmond Trufant, Cornerback
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The little brother of current NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah Trufant, Desmond Trufant is rated as the third best cornerback and a late first-round draft pick by NFLdraftscout.
He is said to possess excellent athleticism and awareness, both essentials for a defensive back. He thrives as a tackler and can contribute against both the run and the pass.
Trufant doesn't have great speed, so it will be interesting to see his time in the 40-yard dash and how that impacts his draft status.
Regardless of where he is selected in the draft, he could easily start for the Eagles in 2013, considering the current situations of Nnamdi Asomugha (huge contract) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (free agent).
Manti Te'o, Inside Linebacker
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Forget about the girlfriend hoax. This kid can play.
Considered by some to be the most decorated defensive player in college football history, Te'o was a Heisman Trophy finalist and earned the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards as the top player in the nation.
His stock took a hit following his poor performance in the national championship game, as well as the infamous hoax.
Te'o does not possess impressive straight-line speed and his 40-yard dash time could impact his draft status. His interviews with NFL teams at the combine will go a long way in convincing teams that he is still worth a first-round draft selection.
Te'o is a very interesting candidate. He had a tremendous career and a tremendous senior season derailed by a very poor performance in the biggest game of his career and a major off-the-field issue. He'd still become an immediate starter for the Eagles regardless of which round he was selected in.
Jonathan Cyprien, Safety
Rated as the No. 2 safety in the draft by NFLdraftscout, Cyprien would become an immediate starter for the Eagles. He would also become the team's third safety drafted in the second round in a four-year span, as Nate Allen (2010) and Jaiquawn Jarrett (2011) have failed to live up to lofty expectations.
Cyprien is labeled as a fearless hitter with an aggressive playing style. He excels against top defenses, although he struggles with straight-line speed and his 40-yard dash time will be closely monitored at the scouting combine.
A potential second- or third-round draft pick, Cyprien brings intensity and physicality to the Eagles that was completely missing in 2012.
Travis Kelce, Tight End
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The younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, Travis Kelce will surely be monitored at the scouting combine.
Listed by NFLdraftscout as a potential third-round draft pick, Kelce could compete with 2010 fourth-round draft pick Clay Harbor for the backup tight end spot, as well as filling in at two tight end formations.
Kelce has good acceleration and is powerful after the catch. He has solid potential as a run-blocker and emerged as the favorite receiving target in Cincinnati as a senior.
His character could be an issue, however, as he was suspended for the entire 2010 season following an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Eric Reid, Safety
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An All-American selection during his junior year at LSU, safety Eric Reid will forego his senior year of college to enter the NFL draft.
He is pretty inconsistent as a safety, with a tendency to produce a high amount of pass interference and late-hit penalties. He also didn't play near as well in 2012 as 2011 with Morris Claiborne no longer on the team.
But on the upside, he is considered the most explosive hitter in the draft and always plays with extreme aggression.
He likely would not be a first-round draft pick but the Eagles could look to select him with their second- or third-round draft pick. There's no doubt that he would start right away over Nate Allen and/or Kurt Coleman.