Philadelphia Eagles Free Agency and Draft Preview: Defense

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Philadelphia Eagles Free Agency and Draft Preview: Defense

The Eagles are game-planning for 2010. 

Although there is a general consensus that the team could improve in every aspect of their game, the 2010 wants have been flipped upside down from last season when the talk was almost exclusively about receivers.

The 2009 defense was plagued by injury, particularly at the linebacker position, and the secondary was exposed at times and holes appeared.

Also, there is a great demand for a top-tier defensive end to play opposite of Trent Cole.

How can the Eagles address their needs and wants on defense?

The Secondary  

Free agency does not offer much of a talent pool for defensive backs.

The draft pool of quality defensive backs will likely be depleted in the first few rounds as well.

The goods news is that the secondary is actually very talented in places.

Despite his age and contract frustrations, Sheldon Brown is still a stud at corner, and Asante Samuel, despite being a bit shy at the line of scrimmage, is one of the most dangerous and talented corners in the league.  

Quintin Mikell has been a perennial lock at safety, but he is aging and I thought his game was a bit off in 2009.

I think there could be an open competition between 2010 rookies Demps and Harris for a safety job, and possibly a challenge to Mikell as well.

The big hype is on Taylor Mays, the big, hard-hitting free safety out of USC (6'3" 230 lbs). I don't think he'll slip to the 24th pick for the Eagles, but issues concerning his coverage ability make him a more risky option with a ton of upside.

There are two good looking cornerbacks that might slide to 24: Earl Thomas from Texas and Patrick Robinson from Florida State. Both players could more than likely start as a nickel back for the Eagles in 2010.

There are two free safeties that will likely be available in the second round for the Eagles, Morgan Burnett from Georgia Tech and a very impressive Nate Allen from South Florida.

Both Burnett and Allen stand at 6'1".

I also really like strong safety Chad Jones from LSU to challenge Mikell. The 6'3" 230-pound Jones is an impressive player.  

Perrish Cox from Oklahoma State is another highly-rated cornerback that looked good at the Senior Bowl and could be available for the Eagles in the second round.

There are three more defensive backs that I really like who are rated to go in the fourth and fifth rounds.

I like cornerbacks Chris Cook from Virginia and Myron Lewis from Vanderbilt a ton. Both players are 6'2", over 200 lbs, and fast. Cook looked very good at the Senior Bowl workouts. 

At safety, Myron Rolle is an impressive prospect who would have been drafted in 2009 had he not opted to accept his Rhodes Scholar award and attend Oxford University. Now that he's ready to play, he looks to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick that could pay dividends for the Eagles.

At least one of these draft prospects will more than likely be an Eagle in 2010. I would not be surprised to see the Eagles take a cornerback and a safety by the fourth round. 

Earl Thomas in the first round and Nate Allen in the second or Myron Rolle in the third/fourth seems very reasonable, as does Perrish Cox in the second, Chris Cook in the third, and Myron Rolle in the fourth.

Defensive Ends

The most over-demanded position, albeit not without merit, is for a defensive end to play opposite of Trent Cole. I believe the Johnson-McDermott system of rotating ends and tackles has somewhat masked our lack of a major presence at the position.

Players like Juqua Parker and Victor Abiamiri aspire to succeed at end, but an imposing end that plays both the rush and pass well would alleviate a significant burden on the defense.

Free agency offers some interesting veteran talent, most notably the standout defensive end from Carolina, Julius Peppers. Peppers is accompanied by sack masters Aaron Kampman and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

All three defensive ends are 30 to 31 years of age, but still considered impact players at the position.

Elvis Demurvil and Ray Edwards will most likely be restricted free agents and/or re-signed by their current teams. If available, these guys will come with a hefty price tag, including draft picks to compensate for their tender offers.

I think there is a good chance that the Eagles dip into this group, but if they do not, there are some more options in the 2010 draft class.

Either Carlos Dunlap (6'6" 290 lbs) from Florida or Everson Griffin (6'3" 278 lbs) from USC could slip to 24th and land as an Eagle. Both of these players exhibit the speed and size that the Eagles are looking for at defensive end. 

Corey Wootton from Northwestern and Brandon Graham from Michigan are two defensive ends that could slip to the Eagles in the second round, or they perhaps may get aggressive and take one of them in the first.

The speedy Graham impressed everyone at the Senior Bowl, but his size (6'1" 263 lbs) seems to be more in line with the Eagles SAM position.

Wootton (6'6" 280 lbs) would appear to fit the Eagles prototypical defensive end dimensions more than Graham.

Alex Carrington of Arkansas State and Brandon Deadrick of Alabama are two prototypically sized defense ends that could be available in the third or fourth rounds.

One last thing I feel is noteworthy is an interesting thought of making a defensive end out of Penn State star and Philadelphia native Jared Odrick. Odrick made a very versatile and impressive showing at the Senior Bowl.

Despite the rumor, I can't help but think that he is really suited for the interior line in a 4-3 defense. 

I would not be surprised to see the Eagles draft one of these defensive ends even if they sign a free agent.

Linebacker

The 2009 linebacker group was utterly decimated by injury, starting with the ACL injury to Stewart Bradley.

Without knowing what to expect from the current group of linebackers, the Eagles could easily make a move for depth and competition across the positions.

Free agency does not offer much depth at linebacker. Some of the interesting veterans include Gary Bracket (30) from Indianapolis and Keith Bulluck (33) from Tennessee.

Shawne Merriman and Demeco Ryans will both be tendered free agents if they don't sign by the time free agency starts. I don't think these guys will be on the market. 

There isn't what I would call a big pool of talent coming out of college in 2010, either. 

Sean Weatherspoon, OLB from Missouri, was the most impressive linebacker at the Senior Bowl by a long shot. His speed, quickness, and reaction times were amazing.

Ricky Sapp from Clemson and Sergio Kindle from Texas could also be available at the 24th pick. Sapp would be an absolute steal at 24.

All three of these outside linebackers will probably go in the first round, along with middle linebacker Brandon Spikes from Florida, and the Eagles will likely have an opportunity at three of the four at pick 24.

Brandon Spikes or Sergio Kindle may slip into the second. They would be a great value if they were on the board for the Eagles' second-round pick.

A.J. Edds from Iowa is an outside linebacker that has the size, speed, and athleticism to be a third- or fourth-round steal in the draft. He played very well throughout the Senior Bowl week. 

Final Thoughts

I can see the Eagles pulling a defensive end from free agency and drafting four defensive players in the first four rounds (they have two third-round picks).

I can dream of landing Julius Peppers and drafting Sean Weatherspoon, Nate Allen, Chris Cook, Myron Rolle, and Alex Carrington if it were to fall in that order, but I will temper any optimism on Peppers.

There are going to be some steals in the draft on the offensive side of the ball as well, which I will review in my next piece.

As a preview: The offensive line could stand a push to strengthen the running game, and Toby Gerhart and LeGarrete Blount are a pair of power backs that look to go in the third- or fourth-round of a draft full of amazing running back prospects.

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