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A Lineman Seems Likely for Eagles at Fourth Overall in the NFL Draft

Apr 22, 2013, 12:27 PM EDT

Take a look at the top
prospects in this year’s NFL Draft, and you’ll find many of them have something
in common. With the exception of a select few players – namely Geno Smith, Dion
Jordan, and Dee Milliner – the overwhelming majority of athletes the Eagles are
expected to be weighing with the fourth-overall pick are either offensive or
defensive linemen.

It’s a good year to have needs
up front given the plethora of linemen that are suspected to be at the top of
most draft boards. In all, three offensive tackles (Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane
Johnson), an offensive guard or two (Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper), one
defensive end (Ezekiel Ansah), and a pair of defensive tackles (Sharrif Floyd,
Star Lotulelei) help round out the list of names that are consistently found in
the top 10 of mock drafts.

Based on that list, there is roughly
a 70% chance the Eagles select a lineman of some sort should they stay at
number four this Thursday night – and truthfully the odds are probably much higher than that.

Why linemen?

Despite the lengths the front
office has gone to make people believe otherwise, quarterback seems an unlikely
route, specifically West Virginia’s Smith that early in the process. Jordan
could be gone before the Birds are even on the clock, and his Oregon ties to
Chip Kelly don’t necessarily make the outside linebacker a proverbial shoe-in
candidate anyway. And the team canceled a scheduled visit with Milliner altogether for what it’s worth,
so it would seem the Alabama cornerback is not a priority, either.

Plus it’s debatable whether
some of those are still areas of immediate need. The Eagles signed free agents
Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, and Bradley Fletcher to help ease the defense’s transition
on the edges, while Michael Vick and Nick Foles are ready to compete for the starting
quarterback job.

One place where there
definitely appears to be holes however is along the defensive line, where
Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis are expected to utilize more
three-man fronts than their predecessors.


Fletcher Cox, the 12th overall
pick a year ago, has one of the end positions locked down in a standard 3-4
alignment, while free agent Isaac Sopoaga brings valuable NFL experience to the
middle. Sopoaga is little more than a stopgap though, while the end opposite of Cox remains
something of a question mark to say the least.

The Eagles can find a lot of
what they are looking for from either Utah’s Lotulelei, who could play the nose in a
3-4, or Floyd, who lined up all over the place for Florida. Both of them are
said to be scheme diverse, which might prove to be an important quality if the
Birds intend to use multiple looks, something Kelly has intimated with some frequency.

Ziggy Ansah is also an
intriguing player here. In a conventional 3-4 defense, the BYU product is probably
an outside linebacker, but in a hybrid scheme such as Davis’ 4-3 under, he
could be used in more of a true defensive end capacity. He does the ability to drop into
coverage though, so clearly Ansah is an incredibly versatile athlete.


On the other hand, it’s not
known exactly how great the club’s need is along the offensive line. Jason
Peters, Todd Herremans, and Jason Kelce are all returning from significant injuries,
while Danny Watkins has been labeled a bust more or less after two seasons.
Watkins could prove critics wrong yet, while the other three may very well be
back to their old selves, but only Evan Mathis looks like a sure thing as of

The fact is, unless there is an
unforeseen run in the first three picks the Eagles will have an opportunity to choose
a future franchise left tackle at four. One or possibly even two out of Joeckel
(Texas A&M), Fisher (Central Michigan), or Johnson (Oklahoma) should be
available when their turn comes around, and it’s not every day you get a shot
at an offensive lineman of their caliber.

While this is almost certainly
too high to go guard, this year’s class happens to feature two of the better
prospects at the position in some time – potential top 10 picks even. It’s not
likely they would, but the Eagles could erase the Watkins mistake with either Warmack
out of ‘Bama or UNC’s Cooper.

Who’s it gonna be?

Obviously the draft is not all
about need, especially at fourth overall, but whoever the best player available
is. Maybe that winds up being Geno Smith, Dion Jordan, or Dee Milliner. Who
knows, maybe it’s somebody completely off the radar. They could always trade down in the draft order, too. Then the board becomes much more wide open.

That said chances are good it will be one of those linemen. They are positions where the Eagles could use some fresh blood, at an area where football games are often won and lost: the trenches. Oh, and
there are simply a lot more of them than the rest of the top prospects.

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