The Seattle Seahawks’ impressive victory in Super Bowl XLVIII probably didn’t alter the Philadelphia Eagles’ draft strategy as much as reinforced it. The Birds were always going to focus on upgrading their 29th-ranked defense, only now it should be by mandate.
That’s not to say Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman will break his promise to stick to the “best player available” when the club is on the clock. Rather, Seattle might’ve changed the definition of what the best player available is.
The Seahawks built arguably the best defense the NFL has seen since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and they did it during a period when great defenses were believed to be largely a thing of the past. In retrospect, it seems so very simple—just add size and speed on defense, particularly in the secondary.
The defensive backfield just happens to be one of the prime areas the Eagles need to address in the draft, so in honor of the Seahawks’ championship, this mock draft emphasizes those improvements. Hope you like defensive backs.
S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The longer I rack my brain over who’s going to be available at No. 22, the more I think the Eagles could trade down. The last of the “elite” prospects might be gone by that spot, while there appears to be good value on Day 2 if the Birds can add a second- or third-round pick.
That being said, it’s not difficult to envision Philadelphia falling in love with Pryor between now and May 8. At 6’2”, 208 pounds, the Louisville product became one of the largest safeties entering the draft the moment he declared, and his NFL.com profile describes Pryor as maybe “the most physical football player in the entire draft.”
Here’s the rest of the overview on Pryor:
Against the run, he is very quick to diagnose and he explodes to the alley. He takes correct angles and he doesn't need to gear down before securing the tackle. He uncoils his hips on contact and he's produced several impressive hits this season. Against the pass, he has the instincts and ball skills to play over the top, and he has enough speed/agility to match up in man coverage. He's a complete safety.
Pryor finished his junior season with three interceptions, four passes broken up, two forced fumbles and 5.5 tackles for loss in 12 games. In three seasons, he racked up three picks, 14 PBUs, 8 FFs, 11 TFLs and two sacks in 38 games. The kid is a playmaker in every phase of the game.
CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
Bradley Fletcher is scheduled to become a free agent next year, and the Eagles could stand to upgrade from Cary Williams at cornerback, where depth is also a serious concern.
Purifoy could be a perfect fit if he falls in the Birds’ laps in Round 2. He’s a little rough around the edges, which could cause him to slip and means there will be no rush to get him on the field. However, Purifoy does have first-round talent and measurables, and could be ready to take over a starting job in one season’s time.
Broken down to simplest terms, Purifoy is an incredible prospect. He’s 6’0”, 185 pounds, and according to his scouting profile on ESPN Insider (subscription only), runs in the low 4.4s. He’s also insanely versatile, having played offense and returned kicks for the Gators as well.
Perhaps most importantly, Purifoy excels in man coverage. Here’s more on his coverage ability from Insider:
Good foot quickness, plays with feet under him and is consistently balanced. Can stop and start on a dime. Shows adequate-to-good burst out of backpedal. Is high-cut and a bit leggy when shuffling laterally, but has smooth hips for a taller corner. Very good turn-and-run skills. Not as effective playing off as he is in tight man-to-man coverage. Has elite press-man coverage potential if he continues to get stronger and polish technique.
Believe it or not, for all the raving, the Florida product recorded his first career interceptions in 2013, but that’s not likely to dissuade suitors. Purifoy has rare ability; all he needs is to wind up on the right team to harness it.
OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
It will be an upset if the Eagles get out of the first two rounds of the draft without selecting a pass-rusher, but if they play their cards right, the guy they want could fall into their lap.
Trent Murphy was an extremely disruptive player at Stanford. He had 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses over 14 games during his senior season alone, to go along with an interception, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups. He finished with 32.5 sacks in 53 career games for the Cardinal.
At 6’6”, 261 pounds, Murphy also has ideal size for the next level and has experience in 3-4 defenses. So why is he still on the board in Round 3? One, it’s something of a deep draft for outside linebackers, but two, and more to the point, Murphy’s stock has been slipping.
Specifically, it’s Murphy’s athleticism that continues to be called into question, which will cause some talent evaluators to view him exclusively as a defensive end. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks also discussed how Murphy’s disastrous Senior Bowl didn’t help the young man:
Murphy has failed to stand out in drills this week despite entering the Senior Bowl regarded as one of the top defenders in college football. Despite measuring 6-6, 261 pounds, Murphy looks thin and frail battling offensive tackles on the edges. Consequently, he has struggled winning in 1-on-1 pass rush drills and made a minimal impact as a rusher in team drills.
Against the run, Murphy's lack of girth has shown up in battles with big bodies on the perimeter. Murphy has struggled holding the point on runs to his direction, and his inability to set the edge has been startling for a player with his sterling reputation.
Despite all the negatives, Murphy has a good frame, and if his record at Stanford is any indication, he’s a football player.
G Anthony Steen, Alabama
The Eagles featured one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2013, yet it’s probably more of a need than most people realize. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters is 32 and scheduled to become a free agent next year. Guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are both in their 30s as well, and Herremans in particular struggled at times last season.
Somewhere during the process, Philadelphia is likely to add a lineman to start grooming for the future, and Steen makes a lot of sense. For starters, the Birds will have first-hand input from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who would’ve worked directly with Steen while they were both at Alabama.
This scouting report via CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang bills Steen as athletic, which is a prerequisite for the Eagles’ blocking schemes and especially the offense’s uptempo pace. Here’s the full report:
STRENGTHS: Steen quickly established himself as one of Alabama's top backups after redshirting in 2009 and he started two games at right guard in 2010 when Barrett Jones went down with an injury. Steen started the first seven games (and nine games overall) a year later before suffering an injury of his own (concussion). Steen made significant strides last year. His quickness allows him to seal off defenders and he has the strength to catch and control.
WEAKNESSES: Steen is a bit shorter than ideal and may be viewed as a candidate to be moved to center by some scouts.
COMPARES TO: Steen was far and away the least hyped of Alabama's celebrated offensive line a season ago but his combination of quickness, power and competitiveness will earn him high marks from scouts
Ultimately, Stoutland’s endorsement will be the difference here. Steen may lack ideal size at 6’2”, 310 pounds, but if the coaching staff believes he can excel in their offense, the Eagles could nab a future starter in the fourth round.
WR Shaq Evans, UCLA
My guess is the Eagles would not be opposed to adding a wide receiver earlier than this. Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews will all be options in the first two rounds.
However, Philadelphia might be inclined to hold off given some of the defensive talent that’s available nearer the top of the draft. With that spot on the roster unsettled though, eventually the front office lands on Evans, perhaps as the club’s Riley Cooper replacement.
Evans doesn’t have monster size, but 6’1”, 210 pounds is still big enough to box out some smaller defenders. Like Cooper, he’s probably not going to burn many pro cornerbacks with pure speed, but Evans’ scouting report via ESPN Insider (subscription only) suggests there is some hope in that area:
Separation Skills: A smooth route runner that could use to add some polish. Adequate-to-above-average speed and quickness. Clean getting out of breaks and shows an adequate burst to create separation. Needs to continue to improve strength and add savvy working within stem. Solid feel working against zone coverage.
Ball Skills: Above-average hands and rarely allows ball into frame. Natural plucking the ball outside of frame and on the move. Good body control adjusting to throws. Average strength and leaping ability to win contested battles. Tracks the deep ball well.
Evans’ production actually dipped in his senior season at UCLA, hauling in just 47 receptions for 709 yards and nine touchdowns. Cooper didn’t exactly light the world on fire when he was coming out either though, and Evans certainly seems to fit a similar mold.
CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
*The Eagles swapped their sixth-round selection and NT Isaac Sopoaga for the New England Patriots' fifth-round selection at the trade deadline.
Who knows how high Colvin’s stock would’ve risen had he not suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, but what’s done is done. Now he might be available in Round 5, though, and it’s not the type of injury that precludes players from making a full recovery anymore.
At 6’0”, Colvin comes in just tall enough for the Eagles’ liking. Honestly, though, what does it matter? This is a chance to get a potential first-round talent in the fifth and likely stash him on injured reserve for a season. What’s the harm in taking a flyer?
Dane Brugler provides a brief scouting report on Colvin for CBSSports.com:
Strengths: Physical corner with a tough-minded approach against the run and in coverage.
Weaknesses: Aggressive mentality can get him in trouble in coverage, drawing pass interference penalties with his hands-on approach. Susceptible to biting on play-fakes.
Physical. Tough. Aggressive. Those three words alone could sell the Eagles on a cornerback, particularly one with decent size. Colvin probably wouldn’t help the Birds much initially, but a year or two down the road, he could be a mainstay at one of the club’s two outside corners.
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
The Eagles already drafted one Louisville safety; why not snag the other? Calvin Pryor gets all the attention, but Smith was a four-year starter for the Cardinals, earning all-conference honors all four seasons along the way.
Smith isn’t quite the athlete that Pryor is, which is the reason for the huge discrepancy in where each of them could wind up going in the draft. Smith has reasonably good size though (6’0”, 186 lbs.), and was reasonably productive throughout his collegiate career, racking up three interceptions and a sack as a senior.
He's not a great playmaker, which may make him a depth pick at best, but there is some upside based on Alex Brown's report for Optimum Scouting.
Playing a single high alignment over the top of Louisville’s defense, Smith is your prototypical center fielder at free safety. Smith puts himself in proper positioning to make plays on the ball in air and shows awareness for his coverage responsibilities; however, he’s not enough of a playmaker or strong enough athlete to warrant anything higher than an early day three selection.
With only Earl Wolff comfortably making the roster next season, the Eagles need safeties in the worst possible way. Smith may not have the greatest upside, but his experience is all positive. Even if his greatest impact is felt on special teams, he would make for a sound selection.