There are plenty of reasons why this is an exciting draft season for the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans, but I think the mystery factor leads that list.
Not only are the Eagles in a situation where they could go any number of directions with that No. 4 overall pick, but they also have a head coach who has never conducted an NFL draft before. Nobody knows what to expect from Chip Kelly on draft day, which is why mock drafts are still all over the place with that fourth selection.
The mystery will be solved in two-and-a-half weeks. But in the meantime, keep checking back here for updated chatter and speculation regarding what the Eagles will do when the NFC East spotlight shines on them during the final weekend of April.
4/24/2013: The Eagles continue to be connected to West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, according to PhillyMag.com.
4/23/2013: CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora keeps "hearing more and more" about LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo as a potential No. 4 overall pick for the Eagles.
4/23/2013: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Eagles are one of five teams looking to trade down in Round 1.
4/18/2013: Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson thinks there's "a good possibility" the Eagles draft him fourth overall, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
4/172013: Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel recently mentioned the Eagles as a team showing strong interest in him, according to ProFootballTalk.
4/15/2013: For what it's worth, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told reporters on Monday that this is a "meat and potatoes" draft, emphasizing that it's heavy in the trenches. Does that mean Philly's leaning toward drafting an offensive or defensive lineman?
4/15/2013: PhillyMag.com's Sheil Kapadia thinks Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long could be a second-round candidate for the Eagles.
4/15/2013: CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher thinks the Eagles are merely performing due diligence by expressing interest in and spending time with defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd.
4/12/2013: Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Eagles have canceled a visit with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
4/11/2013: Dave Spadaro of PhiladelphiaEagles.com doesn't seem to think the Eagles have to concern themselves with the wide receiver position in the draft.
4/8/2013: With Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson visiting with the Eagles before the weekend (according to CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher), the team has really begun to perform due diligence when it comes to potential first-round options.
All in all, based on a superbly comprehensive list compiled by PhillyMag.com's Sheil Kapadia, the Eagles have now met with at least nine potential first-round picks, and 28 prospects in total. Here's the list of potential first-rounders thus far:
- Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
- Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
- Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
- Dion Jordan (OLB, Oregon)
- Jarvis Jones (OLB, Georgia)
- Alex Ogletree (OLB, Georgia)
- Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
- Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan)
- Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma)
Only three players will be off the board when the Eagles are on the clock April 25, so the team's draft board needs only to consist of a quartet of prospects. Here are the four that I believe they should currently favor.
And yes, this is of course subject to change. A lot.
1. Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah): Fills a need and could also be the best player available. Lotulelei is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. Imagining Fletcher Cox and him together for years to come is exciting.
2. Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan): He might actually be a better fit for the Eagles than top-ranked tackle Luke Joeckel.
3. Luke Jockel (OT, Texas A&M): Just in case he slides. No way the Eagles let him go.
4. Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma): Toss-up between him and Sharrif Floyd. Either way, you're looking at the worst-case scenario.
Round 1 (Pick 4): Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Round 2 (Pick 35): E.J. Manuel (QB, Florida State)
Round 3 (Pick 67): Phillip Thomas (S, Fresno State)
Round 4 (Pick 101): Terron Armstead (OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
Round 5 (Pick 136): Brandon McGee (CB, Miami)
Round 7 (Pick 210): Josh Hill (S, Cal)
Round 7 (Pick 212): Bruce Taylor (ILB, Virginia Tech)
Round 7 (Pick 218): John Boyett (S, Oregon)
Round 7 (Pick 239): Uzoma Nwachukwu (WR, Texas A&M)
Look for this to continue to be the top storyline surrounding the Eagles and that No. 4 overall pick as the draft approaches. We all know Philadelphia could use a quarterback, and it's rare that the Eagles have a top-five pick, but the problem is that this is a weak quarterback class.
Geno Smith's reputation has arguably been inflated by the fact that he's the best of a bad batch, and so now Eagles fans are split on whether their team should knowingly reach for the West Virginia quarterback early or wait to draft a potential franchise pivot in a later round or in 2014.
There's little doubt that Smith would be a high-risk pick, especially when the Eagles would truly benefit by adding a run-stuffing defender or an offensive tackle in a draft that has some studs at both of those positions.
Would Philly be better off taking a guy like Eric Fisher or Star Lotulelei early and then grabbing an E.J. Manuel or Matt Barkley in a safer spot, or should Chip Kelly and Co. roll the dice in the same way Andy Reid did with Donovan McNabb the last time this franchise had a top-five selection?
Let the debate rage on.
Our four-man draft board for Round 1 doesn't include Oregon's Dion Jordan. Jordan might be the best pure pass-rusher in the draft and worthy of a top-five pick, but the Eagles have already invested so deeply in the pass rush with Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox, so I just don't think they can rationalize going with another outside linebacker/defensive end-type in the No. 4 spot.
Yet the fact that Jordan hails from Oregon could complicate things. How much might Chip Kelly favor a fellow former Duck? Will he be able to set aside his Oregon bias, or will he see his former players through the same rose-colored glasses that Greg Schiano seems to use when viewing Rutgers grads?
The Eagles hold a top-five pick for the first time this century and Chip Kelly is about to run his first draft, so there's no telling what the team might do with that No. 4 overall selection. The possibility also exists, of course, that they could trade down to collect more picks.
As Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, trading down is something the Eagles would probably be down with. Considering the wide array of prospects they've been linked to and that make sense for them, I can definitely see that being the case.
The real question is whether they'd be able to find a trade partner. Considering that this year's batch of prospects isn't exactly top-heavy, that isn't a strong possibility. There aren't any players that stand out in a big way, so Philly wouldn't be able to take advantage of its positioning unless someone really desires a guy they think the Lions, Browns or Cardinals might draft.
While Geno Smith is a wild card, the best trade scenario for the Eagles might involve a team desperate to grab the draft's top-rated cornerback, Dee Milliner, before Detroit does so.
But don't get your hopes up.
Silly question, right? Surely, the fact that the Eagles canceled their scheduled visit with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner (according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer) means that the team has opted against selecting the draft's top-rated corner with the No. 4 overall pick.
Unless, of course, the Eagles have seen enough of Milliner to satisfy them and want to play the smokescreen game.
The first scenario is much more likely than the second, but you never know what to believe in April.
If, indeed, interest has faded, it's an indication that Philly either thinks Milliner isn't that special, has fallen in love with someone else, or is just really happy with current corners Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin, all of whom weren't on the roster one year ago today.
I suppose it could be also be a combination of each of those factors.
There are plenty of good corners projected to be available in Rounds 2 and 3, so maybe the Eagles are looking to take the best player available in the first round, and maybe they've simply determined that Milliner doesn't make that cut.
A lot of maybes. Welcome to draft season.
Even though 2012 starters Kenyon Coleman and Nate Allen are still on the roster and they invested in two free agents at the position (in addition to bringing back restricted free agent Colt Anderson), the Eagles are in clear need of safety help.
But Howie Roseman and Co. haven't exactly had a lot of luck drafting safeties early of late. Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett flopped as second-round picks in 2010 and 2011.
With that in mind and this year's safety draft class deep, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer believes the Eagles would be smart to wait until the middle rounds to draft another one.
While I wouldn't be opposed to using that No. 35 overall pick on a safety if the team feels strongly about someone there, the Eagles absolutely have to be thinking offensive tackle, defensive tackle and quarterback before thinking safety.
So Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson feels there's a decent chance the Eagles take him with that fourth overall pick, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. But Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher has been a much more common mock draft pick for Philadelphia, while Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is the highest rated of the three.
Assuming the Eagles don't ignore them all and go with someone like Geno Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei or Dee Milliner, Philly will very likely have a decision to make regarding which tackle to take when it is on the board next Thursday night.
At least two of those tackles should be available, and there's even an outside chance all three will be. The Chiefs are expected by many to take Joeckel with the top pick, but the Jaguars and Raiders have plenty of other needs in the two and three spot.
From what I've seen, read and heard, I'm more excited about Fisher than either Joeckel or Johnson. And in fact, I think both of those guys are better suited for the Eagles because of their experience on the right side. Joeckel is more of a pure left tackle, and the Chiefs may be willing to move Branden Albert in order to make that happen. But Fisher and Johnson could have smoother starts as pure right tackles, moving Todd Herremans inside and then becoming options for left tackle when Jason Peters' run comes to an end.
Bleacher Report's Eric Stoner on Fisher:
He was one of the breakout performers at the Senior Bowl and possesses an elite combination of length, athleticism, and flexibility. ... Can play in an up-tempo offense with lots of quick-setting from a two-point stance and zone blocking in the run game, or a downblock-heavy, play action/deep-drop offense.
And Stoner on Johnson:
Despite being a little rough around the edges and needing to add more bulk and strength (especially to his lower body), Johnson possesses the kind of elite athleticism and foot speed that NFL teams have coveted in their left tackles for decades. He figures to be the third tackle off the board (behind Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher) but has the kind of staggering upside that lead many to think that he could end up as the best of the group.
Again, Fisher is the safer pick here. Johnson was a quarterback and a free safety in high school. I think Chip Kelly is probably excited about his athleticism and foot speed, but Stoner points out that Fisher is suited to play in an up-tempo offense, which is critical.
High ceilings based on athletic ability and Combine performances scare me. Johnson isn't as polished as Fisher or Joeckel, and the Eagles can't afford to screw around and flirt with danger this high in the draft. That's why I'm still favoring the higher-rated Fisher over Johnson.
Of course, if the Eagles go with Smith or Floyd or Lotulelei or Milliner or make a trade, this will all be moot. That's the draft for you.
Online gaming site Bovada has set the odds for who will land where in the 2013 NFL draft, and the top player on the Eagles' list at No. 4 is Lane Johnson, the offensive tackle out of Oklahoma.
Bovada has concluded that the odds are 3/2 that Johnson is the pick, according to PhillyMag.com's Tim McManus. Star Lotulelei (7/4), Dion Jordan (2/1) and Chance Warmack (9/1) follow suit.
Warmack seems like an odd name over Eric Fisher, but whatever.
The odds also heavily favor the Eagles staying put (2/5) rather than trading down (17/10), which isn't surprising when you consider a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that suggests a lot of teams are looking to move down. Supply and demand.