As usual, because it’s the weekend, it brings a double dose of primers. Earlier today I posted who I thought the Colts would take, as well as a recap of the previous twenty-one picks. Now it’s time to move onto the Philadelphia Eagles, who hold the twenty-third pick in the first round.
Unfortunately for my soul, the Eagles had a strong season due to the play of quarterback Michael Vick. What many expected to be a rebuilding year with Kevin Kolb at the helm turned into a potential Super Bowl run with Vick. The Eagles offense was super explosive with Vick under center, and arguably the fastest pair of starting receivers on the outside in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, as well as having the super-charged LeSean McCoy in the backfield.
With their skill positions seemingly set, the Eagles will likely focus their attention on the defensive side of the ball with their top pick. And because of that, I see them taking Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith with this selection.
The Eagles defense struggled last year, which led to the dismissal of coordinator Sean McDermott. His schemes were too complicated, and the team opted to hire offensive line coach Juan Castillo to simplify things. The Eagles most glaring weakness on that side of the ball was their secondary. Cornerback Asante Samuel is one of the best around, finishing the year with seven interceptions. But the other side was a clear weakness. Ellis Hobbs dealt with injuries, but was nothing special even before then. Dimitri Patterson had his moments, but looked overmatched as a starter. And Joselio Hanson is a nice nickel option, but his lack of size can be exposed in the starting lineup. Getting themselves a big, physica corner on the outside makes a lot of sense. Smith has the size and speed to match up against receivers like Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks in that division (soon to be joined by Julio Jones). Texas corner Aaron Williams and Miami’s Brandon Harris will also be in the mix, but Smith has a better blend of tools than either.
Linebacker is also a potential need, but the Eagles have to decide what they want to do with Stewart Bradley. Jamar Chaney played fairly well down the stretch and there is talk he could take over as middle linebacker next year. Which would kick Bradley back outside to his more natural strongside position. Ernie Sims and Omar Gaither are free agents and neither is expected back on the weakside. That would likely leave Akeem Jordan and Keenan Clayton their best options at that position. Someone like Akeem Ayers would be a good fit. Ayers is athletic enough to play either outside position and has the ability to play in coverage, stuff the run, and get after the quarterback.
Up front, the Eagles are fairly solid. Using their first rounder a year ago on Brandon Graham and the emergence of Antonio Dixon would likely have them passing on any of the available defensive linemen.
On the offensive side of the ball, their focus is likely to be on their offensive line. Vick’s style of play lends to him taking a lot of hits, which led to him missing some time last year. Jason Peters is solid at left tackle, and Winston Justice has become a nice option at right tackle. The interior of their line remains their biggest issue. Center Jamaal Jackson missed all of last year besides the opener with an injury. Mike McGlynn had his moments as a replacement, but they probably could feel more comfortable with him moving to guard. Florida’s Mike Pouncey would be an option because the team prefers bigger centers, but he’s not a great candidate to come in right away and play there. He would probably be seen more as a guard. Todd Herremans is a capable left guard, and Max Jean-Gilles had his moments on the other side. But they would definitely look at potential upgrades. They tend to prefer bigger guards, so Pouncey (303 pounds) and Danny Watkins (312 pounds) aren’t ideal. Villanova’s Ben Ijalana (317 pounds) or TCU’s Marcus Cannon (358) is more their style, as well as the possibility that they could look at Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi (6-7/314) and see him potentially as a guard inside. He could remind them of Herremans when he first came into the league back in 2005.
The Eagles are a team that is willing to maneuver in the draft, as they showed a year ago by jumping up eleven spots to take defensive end Brandon Graham. The moved back two spots in the 2009 draft, allowing the Bucs to take Josh Freeman. They also traded back in the 2008 draft out of the first round, picking up an extra first round pick in 2009 from Carolina in the process. If they aren’t in love with any of the candidates at No. 23, then they could move up or down to find better options. They might feel they can get better value on the interior linemen in the second round. They also could decide to move up in the draft to go after one of the two premier corners like Prince Amukamara, particularly if he falls out of the Top 10 range. I’m sure a team like Washington would love to move back to this spot from No. 10, pick up some extra draft picks, and be in a better position to take one of the top quarterbacks.