The Philadelphia Eagles own the draft’s fourth overall pick and have been linked to a handful of candidates so far. Chip Kelly could opt to improve the defense, which is needed for a unit that allowed over 20 points in each of the final 11 contests in 2012.
The Eagles have pressing needs at nose tackle, 3-4 defensive end, cornerback and safety. Kelly has added six new starters on defense, just in free agency, but many of those players are simply stopgap players that would be best suited as backups.
Trading down is definitely an option for Philly, as it would give Kelly even more picks with which to improve the team. Either way, the talent pool on the roster is scarce enough that any player picked in the first three or four rounds has a chance to start from day one.
It will be interesting to see what Kelly chooses to do with his first draft pick as head coach. If he selects Geno Smith, he probably won’t start immediately. The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t paying Michael Vick a base salary of $3.5 million ($12.2 million total against the cap) for him to sit and watch for 16 games.
Any other player, though, will start immediately. Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd are the top interior linemen in the game, and each would be expected to make an impact on the new three-man front. Dee Milliner is a top cornerback who would start opposite Cary Williams while moving Bradley Fletcher to the nickel spot.
Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson and Chance Warmack are four NFL-ready offensive linemen who can help ease the Danny Watkins factor at right guard. The first three tackles would allow Todd Herremans to move inside to Watkins’ spot, while the latter is the best guard prospect this game has seen since Steve Hutchinson in 2001.
And then there’s the possibility of a supreme pass-rusher like Dion Jordan or Ezekiel Ansah. Both are 3-4 outside linebackers who can conceivably line up at multiple spots on the field. Regardless of whether the Eagles have enough pass-rushing linebackers (and they do), Kelly will find a way to play Jordan or Ansah for as many snaps as possible.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Chip Kelly looks to upgrade his safety corps during the NFL draft.
This was a position Andy Reid never paid much attention to, although he managed to luck into several players. He inherited All-World safety Brian Dawkins and got a Pro Bowler out of undrafted free agent Quintin Mikell.
The cupboard was bare when Kelly took over, although he has signed two veterans in Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips. Each is a good player that made a positive impact on a Super Bowl team, although both struggled with injuries. They will likely battle Nate Allen, with two of the three taking starting spots.
But should Kelly pick a safety in the upper rounds, it’s likely that safety becomes an instant starter. Matt Elam of the University of Florida is a tremendous playmaker who can play every aspect of the game.
Elam can stop the run, rush the quarterback and defend against the pass. He isn’t in Kenny Vaccaro’s class, but he’s a borderline first-round prospect. If Elam is around in the second round, he’s worth a look.
The Philadelphia Eagles will need a 3-4 nose tackle for their defense to run efficiently. Chip Kelly grabbed Isaac Sopoaga from the San Francisco 49ers, but Sopoaga is nothing more than a short-term stopgap given his age (31).
Jesse Williams would be a fine addition as the team’s nose tackle. He’s massive at 325 pounds and may just be a two-down player in the NFL given his limited pass-rushing skills. But Williams is a huge body who can stop the run. He’s the classic nose tackle in this league.
Williams may be overdrafted in the second round, but if he falls to the third round, he would be a great fit.
John Jenkins is an even better nose tackle prospect than Jesse Williams. Jenkins is an enormous man who played at close to 360 pounds while at Georgia. That makes him a natural 0-technique tackle who can line up directly over the center.
Jenkins will free up space for linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks to stop the run. On the outside, pass-rushers Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham will benefit from Jenkins. Jenkins is surprisingly quick for his size, and he’s more than just a two-down player.
He’s worth taking with the third pick in the second round. Should Kelly acquire Jenkins, he can even find ways to use both Sopoaga and Jenkins as his interior tackles. That’s a lot for any offensive line to take on.
Johnathan Hankins would be a terrific 3-4 defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. The team can’t reasonably expect Sheldon Richardson to fall to Round 2, but Hankins is a top talent.
He could even line up at nose tackle, considering he is 320 pounds. Hankins is a supreme pass-rusher, so Chip Kelly may want to utilize that talent coming from the 5-technique spot over the tackle. But either way, Hankins’ versatility and ability to get to the quarterback should make him worth considering at 35th overall.
Much of the hype for guards has surrounded Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper, and rightfully so. Each has All-Pro written all over him and could go in the top 15 picks.
But Larry Warford is no slouch. He’s probably the third-best guard. He’s a borderline first-round prospect that had a tremendous collegiate career. Warford would be a good pickup for the Philadelphia Eagles early in the second round. He would allow the team to move on from Danny Watkins, who has shown little positive production in two seasons.
But Warford may not be an ideal fit for Kelly’s offense. He ran a 5.58 40-yard dash and that might not translate to a fast-paced system Kelly will want to run. Then again, Warford is a much better option than Watkins, and he’s worth considering.
If anyone was made for Kelly’s offense, it’s Kyle Long. That’s probably because he excelled at Oregon under Kelly’s offense in 2012.
Long had an interesting career, playing for junior college, Florida State and Oregon. But he’s extremely athletic, running a sub-5.00 40-yard dash. He’s a former basketball player who has played both guard and offensive tackle for Oregon.
That’s perfect for the Philadelphia Eagles. Todd Herremans has been playing right tackle, but he’s a better fit inside at guard. The versatility of both Long and Herremans will allow Kelly to switch the two if needed.
It’s highly doubtful the Philadelphia Eagles select Tavon Austin. The team already has DeSean Jackson, who is virtually a clone of Austin, and Jackson is locked up for $10 million per year. Plus there’s Jeremy Maclin, who is a similarly undersized speed receiver.
But say Kelly gets an offer to move down to the 10th or 11th pick, and Austin is still there. The fit in Philly would be perfect. Austin has ridiculous speed, and defensive backs would have a nightmarish time trying to contain Jackson, Austin, Maclin and LeSean McCoy in 2013.
Maclin is a free agent after next season, so Austin could be an early replacement for Maclin, who has underachieved in four years. Austin would man the slot from day one, and Kelly would have loads of fun finding ways to utilize all three of his receivers.
If Kelly isn’t able to grab an offensive lineman in the first round, Terron Armstead would be a terrific addition in the second or third round.
Armstead is essentially a poor man’s version of Lane Johnson. Armstead ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a ridiculous time of 4.71. He also bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times, which makes him a pretty remarkable athlete.
Armstead is more of a developmental prospect, but if Kelly takes him, he’s probably going to start him right away. Again, that would allow Danny Watkins to be benched permanently, while Armstead’s athleticism would make him an asset in run blocking.