Haran KnightCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2010


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    The 2010 NFL season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already thinking about who the Eagles should consider pursuing for 2011.  I know, I know….I sounds pathetic.


    I haven’t written off the chances of a successful season, but I’m confident this team won’t be representing the NFC in Dallas in February either.


    I’m okay with this team taking a slight step back.  Whether it’s rebuilding or retooling, growing pains are on the horizon in Philadelphia.  Looking at their schedule, I’m predicting the Eagles to go 8-8 in 2010.


    Nine to ten wins with a wildcard appearance would be successful 2010 season when you look at the changes this team has made.  But, the goal is to eventually win a Super Bowl, right?


    Assuming a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place to end any discussions of a 2011 NFL lockout, the Eagles should be poised to make some big moves the next off season in pursuit of being considered a heavy contender again.


    With the free agency guidelines hopefully back to normal (more unrestricted FAs) and the return of a salary cap, Philadelphia should be in great position after shedding many huge salaries this past offseason.


    The Eagles also have nine draft picks (not including compensatory selections) for 2011.  How they use them obviously depends on the various performances this NCAA season.


    Based on observations and current scouting reports, these are the positions and players I think Howie Roseman and Co. should keep an eye on for next year

Right Guard

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    The past few years, the Eagles have entered the regular season lacking at a position they didn’t prepare for and it proved to be key to their struggles. 


    In 2007, it was a punt returner. 2008, there was no true fullback.  Last season, it was two positions (free safety and middle linebacker) that doomed them.


    In 2010, it’s looking quite clear it’s going to be the right guard position.  Stacy Andrews was far from the long term answer the Eagles envisioned him to be.  He was outperformed by to backups playing on one year tenders (Max Jean-Giles and Nick Cole). 


    This led to the Eagles recent trade with Arizona for veteran Reggie Wells.  While it looks like a good move, this is not a long term solution either.


    Next off season, this position HAS to be addressed.  Who will the Eagles keep an eye on?


    The one possible free agent the Eagles should watch is New Orleans’ Carl Nicks.  While the Saints would like to keep Nicks around, the question is can they afford to? They have a few other expiring contracts including left tackle Jermon Bushrod.  While Nicks will be a Saints priority, it’s a situation worth monitoring.


    On the collegiate level, it’s not looking to be a strong year for offensive guard.  A player like Connecticut’s Zach Hurd may fit the mold, but barring a breakout 2010 season it’s looking to be a weak draft.


    The Eagles like to draft tackles and move them inside anyway (Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews).  If that tradition continues, look for guys like Auburn’s Lee Ziemba or BYU’s Matt Reynolds.


    Whoever the player is, they need to be able to start immediately and help stabilize that offensive line.


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    LeSean McCoy has earned his role as the Eagles starting tailback.  It’s his backups I’m concerned about.  The Eagles signed Mike Bell to a one year contract.  Due to his history of health issues, I doubt he’ll be in midnight green in 2011.


    Whoever the third running back in 2010 probably won’t be around next year, also.  The Eagles are going to need a consistent between the tackles/short yardage runner and a third down back/kick return. 


    Possible free agents

    1. Darren Sproles (San Diego Chargers): Sproles is the prototypical third down back.  He’s excellent at both kickoff and punt returning, also.  With the Charger’s multiple contract issues, Sproles my avoid a potential implosion if they don’t have a successful season.  The problem is, Sproles is not going to be cheap.
    2. Leon Washington (Seattle Seahawks): The former Jet is probably going to play in Seattle for just one year.  Like Sproles, Washington fits the mold as a third down back and would probably cost significantly less.  Washington’s not as good a punt returner as he is with handling kickoffs.
    3. Michael Bush (Oakland Raiders): Bush might be the one ‘power’ back with enough pass catching ability to fit the Eagles offensive scheme.  If he becomes a free agent, how he picks up blitzes in 2010 will be a key factor in pursuing him.


    Draft prospects

    1. Mark Ingram (Alabama): I know this is a long shot, but if a mediocre Eagles team is positioned to draft him do they pass on the Heisman winner?  A player of his caliber would be hard to ignore.  He and McCoy would make a formidable tandem for years.  How Ingram recovers from his recent knee surgery will be a huge factor of course.
    2. Daniel Thomas (Kansas State): Thomas would be a good fit for various reasons.  He fits the mold for the Eagles ideal power running back.  He also has experience running the Wildcat offense (no I’m not a fan of it).  With quarterback Michael Vick gone after this season, the birds can actually use a running back in the formation.



    Brent Celek is the Eagles starter hands down and he should actually make the Pro Bowl this season.  If Cornelius Ingram can get the knee together, he’ll make a formidable backup. 


    That said, the Eagles are in dire need of a tight end whose primary role is blocking.  The Eagles aren’t going to find a player suited for this role in the draft, especially next year.  Their best chance is finding a veteran willing to accept this role if it means being part of a contender.


    Possible free agents

    1. Jeff King (Carolina Panthers): King is currently the Panthers starting tight end, but he’s better suited as a backup in my opinion.  He’s an okay receiving option but a better blocker which is why he would be a great fit as Celek’s backup.
    2. Daniel Fells (St. Louis Rams): Fells has the size (6’4”, 272lbs) of a blocking tight end.  He would have the chance to be more productive with a better team. With rookie Michael Hoomanwanui making his claim as the Rams’ future starter, Fells likely will be available soon

Tight End

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    Brent Celek is the Eagles starter hands down and he should actually make the Pro Bowl this season. Rookie Clay Harbor has a chance to be productive but he has a lot to learn. 


    That said, the Eagles are in dire need of a tight end whose primary role is blocking.  The Eagles aren’t going to find a player suited for this role in the draft, especially next year.  Their best chance is finding a veteran willing to accept this role if it means being part of a contender.


    Possible free agents

    1. Jeff King (Carolina Panthers): King is currently the Panthers starting tight end, but he’s better suited as a backup in my opinion.  He’s an okay receiving option but a better blocker which is why he would be a great fit as Celek’s backup.
    2. Daniel Fells (St. Louis Rams): Fells has the size (6’4”, 272lbs) of a blocking tight end.  He would have the chance to be more productive with a better team. With rookie Michael Hoomanwanui making his claim as the Rams’ future starter, Fells likely will be available soon


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    If Jamaal Jackson re-aggravates his ACL or has any other significant injury, the Eagles and their O-line are in huge trouble. 


    If Jackson proves to be fully recovered and has a good season, he’s still on the wrong side of 30.


    The bottom line the Eagles need to strong consider their future at the center position soon.  They’ve been good in the past at smoothly transitioning from one guy to another. That trend needs to continue.


    Forget free agency, the Eagle’s future starting center needs to be acquired via draft (2011).


    Draft prospects

    1. Mike Pouncey (Florida): The twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting rookie center Maurkice has the potential to have a similar impact when he enters the NFL.  The 2009 2nd team All American has the size (6’5”, 320lbs) and versatility Andy Reid covets in his O-lineman.
    2. John Moffitt (Wisconsin): Not as good as Pouncey, but he has the same size and versatility.  Some reports rate him high and other’s not so much.  How he performs in 2010 will a huge impact on where he’s rated.  

Strongside Linebacker

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    I refuse to concede that Akeem Jordan is the answer for the starting SAM linebacker spot.  Jordan is a good backup in my opinion.  If he’s starting, there’s room for improvement.


    The Eagles have had a need at this position ever since Carlos Emmons left for the Giants early 2004.  Last year’s starter Moises Fokou might not even make the final cut this coming weekend.


    It’s difficult to find a linebacker Emmons size (6’5”, 245lbs) who isn’t better suited for a 3-4 defense.  That was the case with Chris Gocong and it’s probably going to be the same issue with Ricky Sapp.


    Next offseason the Eagles will still have a need at the SAM linebacker.  The question is: Will they pursue someone and if so, who?


    Potential free agents

    1. Derrick Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs): I wanted the Eagles to pursue Johnson this past offseason.  Unfortunately, the CBA rules kept him restricted.  Johnson lost his starting spot during the Chiefs transition to a 3-4.  He may improve this year, but he’d till be a better 4-3 linebacker.
    2. Thomas Howard (Oakland Raiders): Although Howard is a WILL linebacker in Oakland, he could fit in at the SAM position in Philly.  He currently is a backup on the Raiders’ depth chart.  A change of scenery may be needed, similar to Ernie Sims in Detroit.


    Draft prospects

    1. Kelvin Sheppard (LSU):  Sheppard is the best collegiate prospect for this position.  He has the size and ability to effective cover tight ends and running backs.
    2. Colin McCarthy (Miami):  McCarthy has good size, but he needs to show he can stay healthy again (missed most of 2008).  How he performs in pass coverage will determine if he’s a good 4-3 fit.
    3. Kenneth Wright (Mississippi St.): Wright has room for improvement going into his senior year.  Currently a mid round prospect, it’s noted that he’s easy to coach and has high character.  Sounds like an ideal Eagles’ candidate to me.


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    Asante Samuel may improve his tackling this season and he may not.  Either way, he’ll be 30 in January.  Ellis Hobbs is playing on a one year tender. 


    Joselio Hanson is overpaid and one-dimensional.  Trevard Lindley is a rookie with lots of potential which means he hasn’t done anything yet.


    Overall, the Eagles don’t have a set in stone cornerback tandem for years to come.  At one time there was Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown.  Before those two there was Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.


    Howie Roseman would be wise to establish a new tandem.  2011 is expected to be a strong year for cornerbacks in the NFL Draft.


    Possible free agents

    1. Johnathan Joseph (Cincinnati Bengals): It’s hard to fathom the Bengals would be stupid enough to let Joseph walk, but he should’ve been resigned by now.  He’ll probably get an extension this year, but his contract is worth monitoring.
    2. Richard Marshall (Carolina Panthers): It’s much more realistic to envision Marshall in midnight green than Joseph.  He has good size and is still in his mid 20s.  He’s playing on a one year tender and it’s unlikely he’ll re-sign with the Panthers as a UFA.


    Draft Prospect

    1. Patrick Peterson (LSU): If the Eagles have a below .500 season and somehow end up with a top 15 pick, they have to pursue this guy.  Not only does he have the size (6’1”, 211lbs) to challenge the NFC East’s big receivers, he excels in press coverage which is good for the Eagles style of defense.
    2. Prince Amukamara (Nebraska): Some scouting reports have him rated higher than Peterson.
    3. Curtis Brown (Texas): At this point, if I had to choose between the Longhorns duo of Brown and Aaron Williams, I’d pick Brown. He’s rated higher in press coverage.
    4. Jimmy Smith (Colorado): Good size (6’2”, 203lbs) and good at press coverage.


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    Michael Vick won’t be an Eagle after this season.  He may move on to start somewhere.  Other teams may still be wary of him for fear of negative publicity.  Either way, he won’t be playing in midnight green.


    Kevin Kolb is the starter and rookie Mike Kafka has a good chance to be the No. 2 QB in 2011.  The Eagles normally keep three signal callers.


    The only way a veteran QB would sign with Philly is if Kolb has a horrendous 2010 season.  Veterans want a chance to start, their not going to sign knowing they’re No.3 on the depth chart.  Therefore, the Eagles’ No. 3 QB for 2011 will be acquired via draft.


    Draft prospects

    1. Ricky Stanzi (Iowa): The Eagles aren’t going to draft a QB in 2011 higher than the sixth round if the do at all.  They are going to select someone they coach and teach their West Coast offense.  Stanzi might the guy they want to look into.
    2. Colin Kaepernick (Nevada): At Nevada, Kaepernick doesn’t take too many snaps under center, but neither did Kevin Kolb at Houston. Kaepernick has good size (6’6”, 215lbs) and the physical skills to succeed.
    3. Nathan Enderle (Idaho): Enderle had health issues with his shoulder last year, so he has a chance to improve his stock this season.  His experience making pre-snap reads and calling his own audibles could be something to build on.



Strong Safety

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    With Quintin Mikell heading into a contract year at the age of 30, it’s time to consider the Eagles future at Strong Safety.  Mikell’s production depends on the players around him.  He’s not a difference maker and I’d be surprised if the Eagles re-sign him.


    How the front office prioritizes replacing him depends on the progress of rookie Kurt Coleman.  The seventh rounder’s preseason has many people thinking ‘steal of the draft’, so he could end up being Mikell’s replacement.


    There are two potential free agents the Eagles would likely consider, Houston Texan’s Bernard Pollard and Baltimore Ravens’ Dawan Landry.  I don’t see either team letting those players walk.  That leads to draft prospects…..


    Draft prospects

    1. DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson): McDaniel has the ability to play both safety spots and the Eagles love versatility.  If he can duplicate his 2009 season he may be a Top 10 pick.  The only knock on McDaniel is a June 2008 arrest for assault.
    2. Robert Sands (West Virginia): At 6’5”, 221lbs, Sands will probably move to linebacker in the NFL.  Whatever position he plays, he’s a hard hitter with decent skills in coverage.
    3. Mark Barron (Alabama): Barron was very productive on a National championship defense.  He has the size and ability to cover receivers and tight end.
    4. Shiloh Keo (Idaho): Keo probably won’t be a starter on the Eagles.  What stands out with him is his punt return ability. 



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    Sav Rocca has had an outstanding preseason.  The problem is, he usually does and ends up having a mediocre regular season.  If the 2010 regular season is as productive as the preseason was, the Eagles will re-sign him.


    If not, they need to move on.  It’s very difficult to draft a punter and have him produce right away.  The Eagles will likely sign a free agent, but of course it depends on who’s available.


    Potential free agents

    1. David Sepulveda (Pittsburgh Steelers): Like Rocca, Sepulveda is playing on a one year tender.  Heinz Field is almost identical to Lincoln Financial, so Sepulveda should be familiar with the wind conditions.  In 2009, 40% of his punts landed inside the 20 yard line.  If the Steelers the 26 yr old go, the Eagles must pursue him.
    2. Sam Koch (Baltimore Ravens): Koch is probably a notch below Sepulveda in terms of being a good fit for the Eagles.  Still, he’s still in his 20s and he has experience playing in an outdoor stadium.

Place Kicker

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    David Akers has been great for the Eagles, but he’s not going to kicking forever.  The Eagles will probably re-sign the 2009 Pro Bowler, but his sore heal is something to keep an eye on.


    Most of the great kickers in the league are around Akers’ age (35).  The younger players like Green Bay’s Mason Crosby aren’t leaving their teams anytime soon.  If the New York Jets let Nick Folk go after the season, it’s because he’s not good enough.


    The Eagles might want to acquire a kicker they can place on the practice squad to develop for a year or two.


    Draft prospects

    1. Alex Henery (Nebraska): Henery is definitely worth a look.  He’s shown he can make kicks beyond 50 yards and he hasn’t had any durability issues with his legs.
    2. Kai Forbath (UCLA): Forbath current is the No. 1 rated prospect for 2011.  In 2009 he was 25 for 25 in FGs less than 50 yards and 3 for 6 50 yards or more.


Middle Linebacker

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    2009 showed Eagles fans how detrimental it is to not have a steady middle linebacker in this defense.  Stewart Bradley is back and ready to go, but he’s going into the final year of his rookie contract.


    If he stays healthy, Bradley won’t finish the season without an extension.  If he has any setbacks, the Eagles may be cautious to give him another contract. 


    With Omar Gaither likely gone after this season, rookie Jamar Chaney’s progress will be monitored. 


    I doubt the Eagles will draft a MLB and expect him to contribute immediately.  If they have to bring in a starter to replace Bradley it will be a free agent.


    Potential free agents

    1. Barrett Ruud (Tampa Bay Buccaneers):  Bradley’s former teammate at Nebraska may be considered indispensable in Tampa.  Even if Bradley’s healthy, the Eagles may pursue Ruud if he becomes available.  That would slide Bradley to strongside linebacker and Ruud in the middle which is how they played as Cornhuskers.
    2. Paul Posluszny (Buffalo Bills): The former Penn State standout would be a good fit in the middle if needed, but he needs to show he can stay healthy in 2010.  

Defensive Tackle

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    The Eagles defensive tackle lineup is steady, but there’s room for improvement to me.  Broderick Bunkley is good and could be a 3 down tackle if the Eagles didn’t rotate the way they do. 


    Mike Patterson is good, but he’s limited.  I think the Eagles should look into trading him next offseason.  Trevor Laws has done enough to make the 2010 roster and Antonio Dixon is very good run stuffer.


    An early mock draft I read recently stated UNC’s Marvin Austin would be a great fit for the Eagles.  I think his recent suspension will turn off Philly’s front office completely.


    That said, there are plenty of options for the Eagles to improve their interior D-line.


    Potential free agents

    1. Brandon Mebane (Seattle Seahawks): New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll might not include Mebane in his future.  If that’s the case, he would be a great fit on the Eagles next to Bunkley.  Trent Cole, Bunkley, Mebane and Graham would be a top front four the next 3-4 years.
    2. Clifton Ryan (St. Louis Rams): At 6’3”, 324lbs Ryan has the ability to occupy two blockers which would free up both the defensive ends and linebackers.  A team with a 3-4 defense may pursue him more if he hits free agency, but he has experience in a 4-3 under for Eagles’ assistant Steve Spagnuolo.


    Draft Prospects

    1. Stephen Paea (Oregon State): Paea’s scouting report fits the description of what the Eagles like in their defensive tackles.  Quick, powerful and has a high motor.
    2. Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson): Unlike Austin, Jenkins is known to have high character and improving as a leader.  He’s a disciplined interior lineman which would fit the Eagles’ system.
    3. Marvin Austin (North Carolina): Austin is one of many talented Tarheels who will be under the microscope for the behavior this season.  Austin is currently suspended indefinitely.  His talent is top rated, so we might not get an idea of his chances in the NFL until the next Draft Combine.