The Philadelphia Eagles were labeled the “Dream Team” after Vince Young voiced them as such during his enthusiastic introductory press conference. It didn’t take long for those two words to spread across the football landscape and become the new team mantra, whether the Eagles liked it or not.
But for a team to be a true dream team, it should be a complete team. The Eagles are a good team that acquired some dreamy free agents during the offseason, but until those new pieces come together and form a cohesive unit, it’s hard to expect them to live up to the hype.
There are a few positions that have stood out as obvious nightmares thus far – linebacker, offensive line and safety, although the star power in the secondary could disguise the flaws that the young safeties possess.
Regardless of how this “Dream Team” pans out this year in Philadelphia, looking ahead to next year’s NFL Draft, they’re well positioned to clear up their holes on offense and defense and challenge for a Super Bowl for the next 3 – 5 years.
Currently, the Eagles are scheduled to have 11 draft picks in the 2012 draft: 1 first-round pick, 2 second-round picks, 1 third-round pick, 2 fourth-round picks, 2 fifth-round picks and 3 sixth-round picks. The Eagles front office has done a great job of acquiring additional selections by parlaying their own draft picks and veteran players for future selections. And, next year’s draft is their opportunity to cash in on their creativeness.
So, while most Eagles fans have their eyes focused on this year’s team and have visions of the Lombardi Trophy being shuttled down Broad Street next February, here are six players that currently play on Saturdays who I project as the Eagles’ first six picks (rounds 1 – 4) in the ’12 draft next April.
The linebacker position in Philadelphia is a huge concern; it’s an area on defense that the opposition can take advantage of each week, and will continue to until their personnel displays consistency in coverage and against the run.
The Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first-round since 1979, but since that time they’ve tried numerous times to upgrade at the position in the second and third rounds with limited success.
The current nucleus at linebacker consists of starters Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews and Moise Fokou, as well as backups Akeem Jordan, Keenan Clayton and Brian Rolle; none of whom were drafted prior to the fourth-round. That’s disturbing and reveals the front office’s philosophy when it comes to linebackers.
For the Eagles to improve at the linebacker position, they will have to either sign a difference maker or break a 32-year trend and select an impact linebacker in the first-round.
Next year’s draft could feature a loaded class of draft-eligible linebackers that features Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. All three of these prospects could help the Eagles defense, but Te’o is the disciplined, dependable defender that could solidify the middle and give the Eagles an opportunity to move their current personnel in their proper positions.
A highly touted high school recruit who has lived up to the hype during his first two seasons at Notre Dame, Te'o has proved to be a durable, productive playmaker for the Irish. Te’o has been solid in the Irish’s first three games this season, racking up 26 tackles, two for a loss and a sack.
For years, Brian Dawkins occupied the free safety position in Philadelphia, but since his departure, the Eagles have struggled to fill his shoes. It’s never easy to replace an All-Pro performer like Dawkins, but having someone capable of making calls and leading the secondary is important.
The Eagles believed that 2010 second-round pick Nate Allen was going to be the answer, but after he ruptured his patellar tendon, he’s dealt with setbacks and hasn’t been able to regain his previous form. Kurt Coleman, another ’10 draft pick (seventh-round), has played well in Allen’s place and displays the potential to be a starter in the NFL.
However, in the NFL, teams are always looking to improve, and if a player doesn’t demonstrate consistency, then others will be brought in for competition.
The safety class for next year’s draft is solid, but it’s dependent on underclassmen. USC’s T.J. McDonald, Miami’s Ray Ray Armstrong and Alabama’s Robert Lester, if they declare, are the premier safeties eligible for the draft. Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin, a likely second-round prospect, is the top senior safety in the country.
Of the aforementioned safeties, Lester is the most intriguing fit for the Eagles. As a first-year starter in 2010, Lester, who was a sophomore, emerged on the scene and recorded 52 tackles, a sack and an SEC leading eight interceptions.
At 6’2”, 210, Lester is similar to Allen in the way that he plays, but has more upside as a playmaker and doesn’t shy away from contact. If the Eagles are to select a safety in the second-round for a third consecutive year, a lot will depend on the long-term health of Allen.
The health of the Eagles top-two draft picks, Brandon Graham and Nate Allen, in the 2010 draft could influence their direction in the 2012 draft. The safety position was outlined previously with Alabama’s Robert Lester, and the defensive end position -- although it’s been upgraded through free agency -- is an area that the Eagles always try to improve.
Graham, who was selected by the Eagles with the 12th overall pick in ’10, had microfracture surgery to his right knee during the offseason and isn’t expected to return to the field until Week 7, at the earliest, this season. The concerns surrounding Graham’s knee triggered the Eagles to sign free agent defensive end Jason Babin.
The Eagles have good depth already at defensive end with the likes of Babin, Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt, but they never shy away from explosive, undersized pass rushers who can get after the quarterback, and Marshall’s Vinny Curry is dynamic off the edge.
Curry had a breakout junior campaign where he generated 94 tackles, 18 for a loss and 12 sacks, and through three games this season, he’s recorded 16 tackles, 6.5 for a loss and three sacks.
At 6’3”, 263 pounds, Curry is eerily similar to Graham physically and in the way that he plays. If Graham is unable to get back on track and become the player the Eagles envisioned, the selection of Curry fills a need.
The Eagles offensive line is in transition after bringing in long time Indianapolis Colts line coach Howard Mudd to replace Juan Castillo, who is now the team’s defensive coordinator. The transition to Mudd has altered the Eagles philosophy upfront and has forced players originally scheduled to be starters to sit on the bench.
One of those players scheduled to start was 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins. The selection of Watkins wasn’t received well in Philadelphia, since most never heard of him and he was a 26-year old prospect. Given that the Eagles don’t seem concerned with a player’s age and could use help along the offensive line going into next season, Head Coach Andy Reid could reach into the talent pool at his alma mater, BYU, for help in the trenches.
In the mold of Watkins in terms of age and style of play, Matt Reynolds is a known prospect to many draft pundits and could elevate his draft status as the season progress. Entering his junior season in 2010, Reynolds was considered to be a first-round prospect, but he was bothered by and still played with a torn left shoulder, which hurt his play to a degree.
Reynolds shed 30 pounds during the offseason and is now listed at 6’5”, 306 pounds and has played well this season. Reynolds’ ties to the Eagles don’t just reside with him coming from the same school as Reid. His father Lance, who serves as Tight Ends coach at BYU, played for the Eagles in 1978.
From the outside, it doesn’t appear that the Eagles need much help at wide receiver. But, the fact of the matter is that DeSean Jackson still hasn’t received a long-term contract extension, Steve Smith, who is working his way back from microfracture surgery, signed just a one-year deal as a free agent, and Jeremy Maclin, while he appears to be fine right now, battled a mysterious illness during the offseason.
So, would it hurt the Eagles to use a mid-round pick on a receiver from a small school, who provides needed size, possesses playmaking ability and a familiar last name that used to star in Philadelphia?
It couldn’t hurt.
At 6’5”, 220 pounds, Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick would add depth to the Eagles WR core and give them a big target who can stretch the field, that could push former fourth-round pick Riley Cooper for a roster spot.
As a junior in 2010, Quick caught 47 passes for 844 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s on his way to having a breakout year this season, as he already has 19 receptions for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
Michael Vick is the Eagles starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, but after this season, it’s possible that Vince Young, who signed a one-year deal as a free agent during the offseason, will receive an offer from another team to be a starting quarterback. If that occurs, former fourth-round pick Mike Kafka will be elevated to backup status, and the Eagles could look to groom a developmental signal caller.
Andy Reid values athleticism in his quarterbacks. Reid’s system is structured, but he also likes his quarterbacks to improvise if needed and make plays out of the pocket. East Carolina’s Dominique Davis has the athleticism and tools that Reid covets, and would be the perfect project for him to develop.
A former Boston College recruit, who decided to transfer due to academic reasons, the 6’3”, 215-pound Davis ended up at East Carolina after spending a year at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
As a first-year starter for the Pirates last season, Davis completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,967 yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Through two games this year, Davis has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 387 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Chris Steuber is the NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to his role with Bleacher Report, Steuber serves as Director of Player Personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League. He’s previously served as NFL Draft Analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, as well as NFLDraftScout.com in conjunction with CBS Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSteuber.