Chip Kelly Must Waste No Time Boosting His Defense in the NFL Draft
Chip Kelly has made it no secret that he views the Eagles defense as a glaring weakness to his football team. In the offseason, the Birds have already made six moves on the defensive side of the ball.
Among those six moves, five of the players (Patrick Chung, Kenny Philips, Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, and Connor Barwin), are likely brought aboard to be starters. And the sixth player acquired, Isaac Sopoaga, may also potentially compete for a starting spot due to his experience and success with the 49ers in previous seasons.
But the Eagles defense still has a long way to go before it can hope to assert itself as one of the league's better units. While a players like Cary Williams and Kenny Philips may seem like clear improvements over the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Nate Allen, the D lacks depth.
It was one of the biggest weaknesses on the Eagles roster in 2011 and 2012; when players like Asomugha struggled, the Eagles simply had no one else on the roster capable of replacing him.
And even though the moves made by Kelly and Howie Roseman may seem like huge improvements, none of Kelly's picks are locks to be reliable starters. Chung and Philips are both injury-prone. Williams and Chung are capable of making big plays, but can be exploited in coverage. Barwin is coming off a mediocre season, recording just three sacks in 2012 compared to 11.5 in 2011.
The defense, therefore, must remain a huge priority in the 2013 NFL draft. The Eagles need youth and depth at just about every single position, as the impending switch to 3-4 will require bringing in players who are capable of fitting the new scheme.
The secondary play was so poor in 2012 that it must be addressed within the top three rounds, if not the top two. The Eagles allowed 33 touchdown passes last season, which was the most by any NFL team.
If they do not select an offensive lineman at fourth overall, they should definitely select the best available cornerback, which will most likely be Dee Milliner. A player of Milliner's talent could potentially give the Eagles an elite corner, which would do much to improve the play of the passing defense.
At safety, the Eagles have added two great young safeties in Chung and Philips. But the two players have a history of injuries, and there is not much depth behind them should any of them miss time.
Both Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were disappointments in 2012 and contributed as much as the corners did to the team's abysmal pass defense. Selecting a safety in the first round would be a reach, but the Eagles should wait no later than the third or fourth round to address the position.
The next biggest priority for the Eagles would be acquiring linebackers who are capable of playing in a 3-4 scheme. Mychal Kendricks, being 5'11", is likely too small to play linebacker in the 3-4, either on the inside or the outside. The Eagles should draft a linebacker who could potentially play across DeMeco Ryans at ILB, ideally by no later than the fourth round.
With the acquisition of Connor Barwin, the Eagles are likely set if they are confident in Brandon Graham's ability to play outside linebacker. However, they should look into adding talent at OLB just for depth purposes.
Which Position on Defense Should the Eagles Prioritize?
While the defensive line improved drastically last season, largely due to the abandonment of the wide-nine scheme, the D-line is still an area of need. The Eagles lack a player who has experience starting at nose tackle, except for the recently acquired Sopoaga, who seems to be entering the decline of his career.
While Fletcher Cox can likely switch to playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, the same cannot be said for Trent Cole, who will likely be moved to outside linebacker. It is possible that the Eagles will also need to find 3-4 DEs as well.
Despite all the free-agent acquisitions, Philadelphia still has their work cut out for them in the draft in regards to the defensive side of the ball. While the offense played poorly in 2012, many key players are expected to return from injury and improved coaching and quarterback play should improve its efficiency.
The defense remains the unit containing the most holes and they must add as much talent to it as possible, particularly in the top few rounds. Expect Kelly to add an O-lineman early in the draft, but don't be surprised if the rest of the draft is entirely defensive.
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