Priority order: (1) OT, (2) DE, (3) CB, (4) S, (5) QB, (6) OLB, (7) TE, (8) ILB, (9) NT, (10)RB, (11) WR, (12) OG.
QB: The QB situation in Philly could be a 2,000 word post in and of itself, but I’ll be brief. If the season began today, as in before the draft, the starting QB would either be Michael Vick or Nick Foles, obviously. Both players come with a laundry list of question marks. In the NFL, you either have a good QB or you don’t, and if you don’t, you don’t have a prayer. I would be very surprised if the Eagles didn’t draft a QB this weekend, whether it be in the 1st round, or the 7th.
RB: Shady and Bryce could ultimately emerge as the scariest 1-2 RB combo in the NFL, but in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense, the Eagles may need 3 guys who can tote the rock. Is that 3rd guy Chris Polk? I don’t know. If not, the Eagles could absolutely draft a RB, although I couldn’t see that happening until Day 3.
WR: DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are both good receivers, individually. Maclin has one year left on his deal, so there could be reason to think about putting some insurance in place in case he and the Eagles either can’t work out a new deal, or if Maclin’s game doesn’t fit what Chip Kelly values in his receivers. Otherwise, the Eagles have nice depth in Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Arrelious Benn, and Damaris Johnson. Relatively speaking, this is a deep position for the Eagles.
TE: Here are all the TEs in the NFL that had at least 70 targets last season (data via ProFootballFocus), sorted by the percentage of those targets resulting in a dropped pass:
It’s interesting to note that some of the better TEs in the league drop a lot of passes, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse for Brent Celek (4th on the list), who not only dropped too many passes this season, but also had a few of those drops land in the arms of a defensive player.
Celek is a tough guy, he is emerging as one of the leaders in the locker room, he plays hard, and will occasionally make big plays. But he has to play better. Meanwhile, backup Clay Harbor will be entering his 4th year in the league this season. He has never really pushed Celek, and is fortunate that the Eagles haven’t addressed the TE position in the draft over the last 2 years. The Eagles already brought in an H-back kind of player in James Casey, and could absolutely be in the market for another TE at any point in this draft, aside from anything close to pick #4.
OL: The Eagles’ OL was an unmitigated disaster last season, but here’s how many snaps the Eagles’ projected starting OL missed in 2012:
Peters (LT), Mathis (LG), and Kelce’s (C) spots are pretty much locked up, assuming they recover from their various injuries, as expected. It’s the RG-RT spots that are a bit up in the air. Herremans will be a starter this season. It just remains to be seen if he plays RG or RT. Herremans will likely play RG if the Eagles draft an offensive tackle with a high pick, or if they really like Dennis Kelly at RT. Herremans will play RT if the Eagles choose to plug in a vet at RG, or if Danny Watkins figures out the NFL sometime between now and Week 1.
OT is a position that the Eagles could very well address with the 4th overall pick. That would likely be Lane Johnson, if it happened. Johnson would start at RT from Day 1 (presumably) and eventually take over for Jason Peters on the left side whenever Peters can no longer play. Drafting a OT high would also give the Eagles the luxury of having Kelly fill the swing tackle role.
The only thing that’s an absolute certainty is that Demetress Bell’s reign of terror in Philly will be over. Yay!
DE: Fletcher Cox is a stud, and Cedric Thornton should fit in nicely as a rotational 3-4 DE. The team also is trying convert Vinny Curry to a 3-4 DE, which I’m sure he’s just thrilled about. I suspect Curry could be trade bait during the draft, although I doubt the Eagles will recoup anything close to the 2nd round pick they spent on him last year. The team also signed Clifton Geathers, but depth here is thin. Bodies needed.
NT: The only thing close to a 3-4 NT on the Eagles’ roster prior to free agency was Antonio Dixon. The Eagles fixed that somewhat by signing run stuffer Isaac Sopoaga, making this position more of just a “need area” than a “gaping hole.”
OLB: This year at the week of Senior Bowl practices, the Eagles spoke with four pass rushers. They were (in alphabetical order):
The players noted above have a number of characteristics in common. They are all tall, sleek, and athletic, with long arms. They are all also thought to be good fits as outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme.
Trent Cole is 6’2 1/4, 270 with 32 7/8 arms, and he turned 30 in October. Brandon Graham is 6’0 3/4, 274 with 32 1/4 arms. Cole and Graham do not fit the the body types of the players noted above, however, they are arguably the two best pass rushers currently on the Eagles’ roster.
The Eagles added versatile OLB Connor Barwin to the mix that has both coverage and pass rush skills, although it remains to be seen if the Eagles will get 2011 Connor Barwin or 2012 Connor Barwin.
Dion Jordan remains a very possible pick at 4th overall for Philly.
ILB: Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans should transition well from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Kendricks may even thrive with this switch, as he’ll likely get more opportunities to blitz the QB, which is something he did well in college at Cal (He had 8.5 sacks as a Junior). The Eagles added Jason Phillips in free agency, and have had a eyebrow-raising large number of visits with other ILBs. That does not bode well for Casey Matthews or Jamar Chaney. I’d be surprised if the Eagles didn’t draft an inside backer.
CB: Bye Nnamdi. Bye DRC. Hello Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Two underachieving Eagles out, two overachievers (with their former teams) in. Still, Williams and Bradley (particularly Bradley and his injury history) come with their share of question marks, so a CB will be a high priority.
S: Nate Allen’s “benefit of the doubt” quota is used up by now. This is probably his last chance to prove to the Eagles that he can be a legitimate starting safety in the NFL, if he even gets the chance. Meanwhile, the Eagles brought in Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung. Neither are sure bets, but at the very least they should bring some toughness to the secondary. Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman are nothing more than special teamers and/or 4th safeties. I expect the Eagles to add a safety.