Monday, April 26, 2010

A Comprehensive Eagles Draft Recap, Just Because I Wanted To Do One

Other people who have spent far more time than me on the topic evaluate the Iggles' draft as pretty good.  For my fellow diehards, I'll point to the analyses at Iggles Blog and Eagles Blitz (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) for stuff you won't get elsewhere regarding the individual draftees (to be fair, the guy at Eagles Blitz does blog on the team site, but his in-depth analysis blows away everything else on the individual players we drafted). 

With that out of the way, here are my thoughts, just because a couple people asked for them, and I was up late with the little one anyway (she is very upset with the failure to pick a corner, but likes the pickup of Nate Allen, thinks the fourth round QB and small college tight ends are going to be very good, and really loves the third round pick, since she's equally as capable as Daddy at prononoucing the guy's name).  Without further ado...

1.  Howie Roseman, the Eagles new GM, is a year younger than me.  Sometimes, I really hate my decisions on career choices.

2.  Jokes aside, I like the Eagles' first pick.  Brandon Graham fits in with the Birds' defensive philosophy (more on that in a moment) and with what I consider to be the hallmark of how this team operates.  I think the Eagles value certain positions as the ones where you spend your first round picks.  Defensive line is one of those positions, and this goes back to the idea Reid has expressed in the past of "throwing fastballs" at opponent's offenses in the pass rush. 

The pass rush last season basically consisted of Trent Cole and inconsistent appearances by Juqua Parker or (if lucky) Darren Howard and Jason Babin, augmented by the traditional blitzing package of JJ that had been tweaked by Sean McDermott.  The blitz will get you killed if you can't cover well enough, which is what started to happen as the season wore on.  The front four couldn't get to the QB fast enough, so the Eagles set to address the problem by loading up.  Two of their top three picks are d-ends, and they added a fifth round defensive end in Ricky Sapp whom many people viewed as third round value.  Add to that the off-season trade for Daryll Tapp, and the Birds are absolutely loaded at d-line.  The rotation at the end spot has seven guys competing for jobs: Cole (a Pro Bowler), Tapp, Parker (7 sacks last year), Graham, Victor Abiamiri, third rounder Teo'Neshaim, and fifth rounder Sapp.   I think Abiamiri may be moving inside on passing downs if he wants to keep a roster spot -- and he still may not make the roster, since there's plenty of competition behind Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.  The team should not be moving late in camp to get an additional rusher off the waiver wire (as they did with Babin last year).  Think about this -- the Birds' d-line could have three first rounders starting next year (Patterson, Bunkley, Graham) next to the team's best defensive player (Cole, who may be the best player on the team, period).  Not bad.

The key here is obviously Graham.  If he's what the Eagles think he is, then you've got a high-motor pass rusher on the opposite side of Trent Cole to make life miserable for opposing o-lines, and that's before you throw in all the fresh legs the Birds can employ from the long list of ends they now have on the roster.  If Graham is good, then the Birds converted two third rounders (one of which was obtained basically by trading down repeatedly last year and still getting the player they wanted in the fifth round in Cornelius Ingram) to get a bookend pass rusher for Trent Cole.  It's hard to characterize that as a bad decision.  I just don't know from watching Graham whether he will be that guy, but the Birds have good company in evaluating him as a good prospect.

3.  While I like Graham, I absolutely love the pick of Nate Allen in the second round.  Put it this way -- he's a ballhawk at safety who can step in and cover slot receivers and big tight ends without missing a beat, and if the Birds weren't going to get Eric Berry, then Allen is as good as it gets.  I know they passed on Earl Thomas to grab Graham, but I think Allen will be really good, and the difference will be inconsequential.  The fact that one of Allen's coaches is former Eagle safety J.R. Reed makes me feel even better -- Reed's off-field injury after the 2004 season is one of the underrated losses this team has had in recent years.  But if he's confident that Allen can pick up the Birds' defensive playbook, we have a playmaker at free safety.  He won't be like the last playmaker at that position, but even being two-thirds the player Dawk was would be cause for celebration.  Getting him means Macho Harris might move back to corner, or least compete with Joselio Hansen for the nickel corner slot, which I think he can play.

4.  I have to give Roseman credit for trading down and converting the second second rounder into about five picks.  Whether they got value for those picks will be seen in time, but getting quantity isn't a bad thing.

5.  I'm stunned the Birds actually selected 13 players, but I think the team's hit rate on later draft picks is decent enough that increasing the number means we might get a surprise player.  Moise Fokou, last year's seventh-round LB, got on the field last season.  The sixth round WR we traded mid-season for LB help, Brandon Gibson, snagged 34 balls for the Rams. Perhaps one of this year's seventh rounders (from what I read, I like both the LB and the OSU safety) will also get on the field and impress. 

6.  The concerns are obvious.  Let's start with the real concern, which is at cornerback, where the Birds drafted only one player, a fourth rounder who isn't setting anyone's heart afire.  Paul Domowitch nails the issue in the Daily News.

I'm stuck wondering how much of this is by design, and how much of it came about because of how the draft shook out.  I think the Birds probably liked Kyle Wilson and Devin McCourty, who went in the late 20's in round one.  The run on CBs in the late first round meant the Birds, who had traded up to get Graham, had to make a decision on how to get back in the round if they wanted one of the stud corners.  My guess is that it would have cost them both second rounders to do it.  Instead, they took Allen with the Donovan pick, and traded the second second rounder to accumulate somewhere around five picks later in the draft.

I think that was a prudent decision.  As noted, I'm fine with Allen, so this becomes a question of Allen plus any one of the other guys drafted with the mass of picks in the fourth and fifth round being better than Wilson or McCourty.  But the real problem here is that the cupboard at corner is pretty thin.  Asante Samuel is fine on one side, assuming he really is spending the off-season bulking up.  Joselio Hansen is a good nickel corner coming off an inconsistent season.  Harris or free agent safety signee Marlin Jackson may be the solution as well.  But the Birds need someone to step up and play well at the other corner, or the pass rush may not matter.  Then again, this may play into two of my theories that I discuss below (see #8 and #12).

7.  The other concern is o-line.  The Birds usually draft o-linemen like candy, but they passed completely this year

I think some of the concerns here were a bit overblown, and based too much on the line's terrible play in the final two games.  I'm not enamored of the backup tackle situation if King Dunlap is still the guy, but the Birds are going to be hosed no matter what if Jason Peters goes down long-term.  The interior line positions were viewed as weak in this draft, and the Birds have had great success plugging in unknown and undrafted guys at center (Bubba Miller, Hank Fraley, Jamaal Jackson) throughout the Reid tenure.  Cole actually was fine blocking at center last year in the last two games (the snaps were a different story).  The real issue for the Eagles is that they lost every o-line starter for at least a couple games last year.  No matter how much depth you have, that would test it.

The Eagles basically were saying that they have confidence that they can find two decent lineman between Cole, Stacey Andrews, Dallas Reynolds, Mike McGynn, and A. Q. Shipley until Jackson gets back.  Or at least, that they have more confidence that they can do that than to grab a low round rookie just to provide depth. 

I'm okay with that, although I wonder what happens if they have another rash of injuries, particularly at tackle.  But in the end, if you're going to trust Andy Reid on anything, his instincts on o-linemen seem pretty good, and Juan Castillo has been a terrific line coach.  So I'm not sure this is as big a problem as everyone thinks.

8.  Back to defensive philosophy for a moment.  The late Jim Johnson (God rest his soul) was Sean Mcdermott's mentor, but it's clear McDermott comes at things a little differently.  I think the guys at Iggles Blog are on to something when they note that McDermott may want to do more coverage scheming then exotic blitzing.  The team traded for Ernie Sims and Alex Hall at linebacker, and the fourth round linebacker they drafted from Oklahoma appears similar to them, which seems to back the idea that Birds are looking for speed, speed, more speed to cover tight ends and running backs.  If you can do that and rush the passer, it makes a difference in a division where Dallas has multiple pass catchers who aren't receivers.  Jason Witten kills the Birds every year, but youth and speed at safety and linebacker are good attempts to stop the bleeding.

With that being said, I really hope Stewart Bradley is back full-strength, because I'm not sure there's a decent option at MLB if he's not.

9.  Did I mention that the three day draft worked well?  I didn't watch much of Saturday anymore because of family obligations, but the Thursday night and Friday night sessions allowed me to flip in, flip out, then watch late night recaps on Sportscenter.

10.  My best guess for a sleeper?  I really like Riley Cooper, the fifth round wide receiver.  His resume looks similar to Jason Avant.  Great value pick who can play special teams, probably compete for the #4 receiver job right now (a position that doesn't actually get a lot of play for this team), and maybe be a red zone threat due to his height (perhaps we'll finally see the fade pass that Donovan seemingly never threw to Hank Baskett).  In fact, both fifth rounders and the sixth round running back, Charlie Scott, were good value picks.  The small college tight end is intriguing, because the Birds are basically loading up on tight ends who can catch and are works in progress blocking.  Speaking of which, count me among those hoping Ingram has recovered fully and gives us another option at tight end.  If he's as good as everyone thought before the second ACL tear last summer, the Birds offense may actually be able to play pitch and catch the way Reid likes.  I just hope Kolb's arm doesn't wear out.  Think about the personnel packages the team has available with Vick, McCoy, Bell, Weaver, Celek, Jackson, Maclin, Avant, and Ingram.  That's before we factor in contributions from Scott, Cooper, Baskett, or Harbor.  Options, baby, options. 

11.  I have no idea how to evaluate Teo'Neshaim, the third rounder whom some described as a reach.  I'm better off trying to pronounce his name.  But I like the fact that many people liked him as a sleeper pick.  The real question is whether the Birds passed on a corner they liked to draft this kid -- they say no, and the level of difference between the corners who went then and the one the Birds got at #105 may be inconsequential.  At the end of the day, the Birds think they got a player.  Football Outsiders' new SackSEER analysis says they may be right on the sleeper call.

12.  My last thought is somewhat of a downer.  I don't think the Birds are loading up for a Super Bowl run in 2010.  That's the first time I've said that in years.  A first-year starter at QB, even with all the skill position toys they have, is going to be tested, and that's before we consider the o-line question marks.  The defense will be better but young, and they may still need one or two pieces in the secondary.  I'd love to be wrong, but I think the team will come into the 2011 draft looking for one or two corners, a backup LB, a backup tackle, and perhaps a d-tackle for the rotation.  However, that wish list is not bad.  And if you're making a run in 2011 rather than 2010, it makes sense to accumulate picks, draft a bunch of prospects, and perhaps wait to get your top cornerback next year.  At least, I think it does.  It will depend on how the draft shakes out next year, but the Birds already have an extra third and fifth rounder next year (while missing a sixth).  That ammunition may help procure the playmaking corner that could push this defense to elite status.  The biggest counter to this theory is that the Birds should probably deal Mike Vick now for something (a fifth rounder that converts to a conditional 3?) for next year's draft, then sign Garcia as the backup.  If you're not going for broke this year, why not accumulate one more trading asset for next year?

Regardless, I think the Birds are still better right now than the Giants and Redskins, although the Giants are probably a toss-up.  Unlike many people, I don't fear Dallas long-term because (a) Wade Phillips is still going to screw things up eventually, (b) I think Jason Witten will wear down soon, (c) their o-line has issues, and (d) their defensive secondary can be had.  The Saints and Vikings are the best teams in the NFC, but I think the Birds are already on the same tier with Dallas, Arizona, the Giants, and Green Bay to break through and contend, and that's with a very young team.  Arizona is unsettled at QB, the Giants have defensive issues galore, and I flat-out like the Birds defense better than Green Bay's. 

Here's the good news -- I think the Birds are loading up for 2011 and 2012.  This team will contend for a playoff spot, but they will miss some of the veteran presence they once had.  But I think a strong nucleus has been built over the last five drafts for a terrific future, and they can top it off next year.  All of this presumes one important thing -- that Kevin Kolb can play.  I think he probably struggles a little next year, then breaks out in 2011... just in time for a run at finally lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

One more thing... E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!

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