The Philadelphia Eagles exited 2013 with arguably fewer holes than they went in with, particularly on the defensive side of the football.
Fletcher Cox and the leftover defensive linemen from a 4-3 defense were supposed to be round pegs in the square holes of a 3-4 alignment. Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans were going to be too old to play in space. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher didn’t go far enough to fix a secondary that still had to rely on Nate Allen.
All the unit went on to do was hold opposing offenses to 22 or fewer points in 12 of 16 games. No big deal.
The Birds' defense was certainly better than advertised, but having said that, it was far from perfect. All of the criticisms turned out to be true to some extent.
The defensive line did not consistently get push or have all the right pieces. Cole and Ryans are getting older and can’t be counted on to be reliable forever. The unit was ranked dead last against the pass by the end of the season.
So needless to say, best case scenario, the Eagles are going to be focusing heavily on defense in the upcoming draft. With that in mind, we went round-by-round and built a dream class for 2014.
The Eagles’ transition to a 3-4 defense went better than could’ve been expected in year one considering they didn’t have all the right pieces. Namely, they were missing a true nose tackle, that disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line who occupies blockers and commands double teams—and often possesses his own gravitational field.
That’s a difficult player to find (in the draft, not in a crowd), but one could fall in the Birds’ lap this May. At 6’2” and 345 pounds, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix has the build defensive coordinators look for from their tablesetter.
Bennie Logan had a nice rookie season filling in at nose, but at 6’2” and 309 pounds, he doesn’t exactly fit the prototype.
Because the NFL places a premium on nose tackles, Nix could be off the board well before the Eagles select at No. 22. There are concerns that could cause the underclassman to slide though. Conditioning was said to be a question mark this year, and his season ended early due to a torn meniscus.
Nix also had underwhelming numbers in 2013 with just two tackles for loss and zero sacks in eight games.
If Nix can return to the form that led to his jumping on scouts’ radars, he has the potential to dominate at the next level. Players with his size and ability don’t come along often, so if he were to somehow fall to the Eagles, they should take a chance.
Trent Cole had a great year considering he made a position change in his ninth NFL season. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end adapted nicely to his new surroundings at outside linebacker, finishing with nine sacks over the Eagles’ final nine games including playoffs.
That said, at 31 years old, Cole won’t be productive forever, and his contract becomes unreasonable in 2015. The Birds’ pass rush was inconsistent at times this season, and the roster lacks depth at linebacker to begin with.
Enter Trent Murphy, who looks like a perfect fit for the so-called predator position Cole plays in the Birds’ scheme. Murphy can get after the quarterback with the best of ‘em, racking up 14.5 sacks in 13 games in his senior season at Stanford, and at 6’6” and 261 pounds, he has the size to move around the line of scrimmage—yet he is athletic enough to occasionally drop into coverage.
Even as a best-case scenario, Murphy is probably too good to be true this late in round 2. A player CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang once compared to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Philadelphia could conceivably grab Murphy at No. 22 and it probably wouldn’t be considered a reach.
Murphy could slip into the second round though, and if nothing else, the Eagles might have a window in which they could trade up.
If Murphy isn’t there, other outside linebacker prospects will be. The Eagles really need to address their pass rush early in this draft.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher brought stability back to the cornerback position for the Eagles, while Brandon Boykin has developed into one of the NFL’s top playmakers in the slot. Behind them though, there is nothing.
Luckily, this looks like a good draft for corners. There are quite a few intriguing prospects littered throughout the draft, such as Florida’s Louchiez Purifoy.
Purifoy opted to leave school early for the pros, and he’s everything the Birds like in the position. He’s got good size (6’0”, 190 lbs) and speed (4.47 40-time), but in particular it’s his length and versatility Chip Kelly will love.
NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler describes Purifoy as a complete package. He’s physical. He’s good in run support. He’s a playmaker (2.0 sacks, 2 INT in ’13). He played inside, outside, safety, special teams and even on offense.
Off-field concerns and an up-and-down junior season are all that would cause him to tumble it seems.
Philadelphia will be on the market for a corner who could possibly take over as early as 2015, when Fletcher is scheduled to be a free agent, or the team could choose to part ways with Williams. Purifoy could be the guy.
As of now, Philadelphia has just two safeties under contract for next season, and one of them is Patrick Chung, who could be looking for a job as well. That leaves Earl Wolff, who is coming off of a solid rookie campaign but nothing spectacular.
The Eagles are going to want to find a veteran for one of their two starting safety spots, whether that means bringing Nate Allen back or spending on one of the top players on the market. That said, the front office still needs to fill out the depth chart somehow, so a piece or two in the draft is inevitable.
There aren’t many top prospects available in 2014, but there is some good mid-round value. The Eagles could take a long look at Calvin Pryor, who decided to bolt Louisville for the pros and could be a steal at this point in the process.
Mike Huguenin of NFL.com describes Pryor as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the nation, something Bird nation has sorely missed since Brian Dawkins departed. Judging from the numbers, he’s an excellent playmaker as well, registering three interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles in ’13.
Pryor has good size (6’2”, 208 lbs), but Hugenin thinks a slow 40-time could cause him to drop. He could push Wolff for playing time immediately, and depending on how the front office addresses the other spot, the two could become a tandem a few years down the road.
Perhaps the most underrated need on the Birds’ roster entering this season is at wide receiver, where both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are free agents, and the offense got dwindling production out of Jason Avant in the slot.
Either Maclin or Cooper is likely to re-sign, but maybe not both. That’s a lot of money to invest in one position where the organization already owes DeSean Jackson $12.5 million in 2013. Plus, Zach Ertz figures to see his playing time increase, which will lessen the number of three-receiver sets in ’14.
Rather than break the bank on both, the Eagles should look to the draft to begin grooming another pass-catcher. I could realistically see them taking Penn State’s Allen Robinson or Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin in the first or second round, but if they wait, Philly could snag the underrated Cody Latimer out of Indiana much later.
Another underclassman, Latimer ended his collegiate career with a 1,000-yard campaign and nine touchdowns. At 6’2” and 215 pounds, he’s quick and strong, and he gains yards after the catch. Most importantly for a Chip Kelly offense, he’s a willing blocker.
Latimer’s 40-time at the combine could alter his draft stock significantly, but right now he’s flying under the radar in a deep receiver class. He could make an immediate impact next season as a late-round selection for the Birds.
The Eagles exchanged their sixth-round pick for the Patriots’ fifth at the trade deadline when they sent Isaac Sopoaga to New England, which turned out to be a nice little gain. Sopoaga was not helping anyway, and he was a healthy scratch for the Pats by the end of the regular season.
At this point, Philadelphia has already filled most of its pressing needs, so it’s a good time to snatch up a developmental prospect. Linebacker Lamin Barrow is a little on the short side at 6’1”, but he’s got a thick frame at 232 pounds and runs reasonably well (4.76 40-time).
Rob Rang’s scouting report on CBSSports.com describes Barrow as having long arms and being athletic.
After leading the SEC in tackles in 2012, Barrow’s play dropped off some in his senior season. He’s never been much of an elite playmaker either, but anybody who is a two-year starter on LSU’s defense must be doing something right.
DeMeco Ryans turns 30 over the summer, and while he’s coming off of a Pro Bowl-caliber season, he’s only got two years left on his contract. The Eagles would be wise to start thinking about the future, and choosing a fellow SEC alum to learn from Ryans might produce a starter at inside linebacker in the long run.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Alex Henery has failed to grow into a solid place kicker by National Football League standards. He’s not trustworthy on field goals from more than 50 yards, nor does he boom many kickoffs out of the end zone.
Henery’s dismal ’13 season—and perhaps his Eagles career—ended with a bad miss on a field-goal try from 48 yards in the team’s playoff loss.
The Birds will undoubtedly bring in some veteran competition, but why stop there? I can’t imagine the job Henery has done buying him another season, so the front office should consider moving on completely and taking a flyer on Anthony Fera in the seventh round.
Fera’s career began at Penn State, but he transferred from the program under the cloud of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal. In his senior season at Texas, Fera converted 20 of 22 field-goal attempts with a long of 50 yards.
Fera can punt the ball as well, although with Donnie Jones likely returning, that’s an afterthought for Philadelphia.
The Eagles should still bring in a veteran place kicker as well, but Fera could be the cheaper option, and possibly for the long-term. Considering how much of a crapshoot the seventh round is, a kicker might be the closest you can get to a sure thing.