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Seven NFL Draft Questions and Answers for the Eagles

Apr 23, 2012, 12:08 PM EDT

Answering seven questions about how the Eagles will go about the first round of Thursday's upcoming NFL Draft.

After months of workouts, visits, and speculation, the 2012 NFL Draft is finally fast approaching, with the first round slated to kickoff Thursday in primetime. The Eagles appear to have tremendous flexibility with their first pick, No. 15 overall, and as usual they are a threat to move up after a player they really covet. We try to sort that out what their options are and possible factors in their decision making by answering these seven questions about the Birds’ plan once the clock starts ticking.

Would the Eagles take a quarterback?

ryan.tannehill

Yes.
Donovan McNabb turned 31 the year the Eagles chose Kevin Kolb with the
36th pick. Vick will be 32 in June, he’s injury prone, and his execution
is erratic. He also makes tons of money, but the team can get out from
under his huge contract as early as next year. The front office under
Andy Reid consistently values the quarterback position,  and the time is now always to consider who would come next. Assuming the coaching
staff isn’t unexpectedly high on Mike Kafka, they could look to the
draft for a potential stater.

Probably not in the first round
though. After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III go one and two to
Indianapolis and Washington, the best available QB is Texas A&M’s
Ryan Tannehill. Most mocks have Tannehill going in the top 10 — at or
before Miami picks at No. 8 to be exact — despite the fact that talent
evaluators don’t seem to agree he is a franchise quarterback. He has the
size (6-4, 221), athleticism, and arm strength to play in the NFL, but
spent only one college season under center. If he slipped somewhere in
the neighborhood of 15th, Tannehill becomes an increasingly realistic
option. However, moving ahead of the Dolphins would come at a steep
price.

Yet it is worth noting the Eagles are in the somewhat
unique situation where they have a season or two to bring a quarterback
along, and he certainly has the tools, so you can’t completely rule
Tannehill out. Still, a player from the next tier of passers may be more
likely, albeit not a landscape-altering addition. In addition to
Tannehill, the Eagles held visits with Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and
Arizona’s Nick Foles, both of whom project as mid-round picks.

Who is the best defensive tackle in the draft?

fletcher.cox.miss.st

Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox appears at the top of
most lists, although beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If
you’re the type who keeps track of mock drafts, they predominantly have
the Eagles selecting a defensive tackle on Thursday night, which is not
all that far-fetched. While starters Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson
are each signed through at least 2014, the rest of the club’s interior
linemen are scheduled to become free agents next year. Jenkins was an
alternate for the Pro Bowl last season, but he’s 31, and described this
offseason’s contract restructuring as a chance to retire in
Philadelphia. Patterson is a solid player as well, but not especially
disruptive.

Considering it is becoming a need, along with this
front office’s predisposition to drafting interior linemen — two firsts
and a second rounder between ’05 and ’08 — defensive tackle is as good
a guess as any at 15. The Eagles are seldom content to take the player
who falls to them though, so if they are in fact targeting DT, it
matters which one is the best. While Dontari Poe out of Memphis has been
the guy making headlines after an outstanding combine, running a
sub-5.0 forty at 6-4, 346, and blowing the competition away with 44 reps
in the bench press, he is not often regarded as the best tackle in the
field.

Cox had a greater impact on
Saturdays, and played in a more competitive conference to boot. He’s
quicker at 6-4, 298, and many would say a better fit for Jim Washburn’s
wide nine, with its emphasis on rushing the quarterback. But like
Tannehill, the problem could be availability. Carolina has been tied to
defensive linemen at No. 9, and should they tab Cox as the best talent,
the Eagles might be left with a less-heralded prospect like LSU’s
Michael Brockers or Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy by the time they’re on
the clock.

Is linebacker still a priority?

luke.kuechly

It should be.
Nobody is saying the Eagles must take Boston College’s Luke Kuechly as a
token demonstration of their newfound appreciation for linebackers.
Then again, nobody is saying they shouldn’t, either. He projects as an
interior linebacker, a need the team seemed to fill in their trade for
DeMeco Ryans,
but Kuechly’s ability may transcend one defined role.
Scouting reports tell us he sheds blocks, and he tackles — skills Birds
linebackers sorely lacked last season — plus has the size (6-3, 242)
and athleticism to cover tight ends. Kuechly can even make a seamless
transition should things not work out with Ryans.

That said,
linebacker is no longer an automatic first-round need, which is probably
a good thing seeing as Kuechly is the only kid rated in the top 15.
Teams that utilize 4-3 defenses target high-end talent increasingly less
at outside linebacker anyway, as those are not always three-down
positions, their roles often specialized. The Eagles should add a player
or two into the mix, but they are undoubtedly still seeking
contributions from some combination of Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, and
Casey Matthews.

Is safety a need?

mark.barron

Not necessarily, but maybe.
You can pencil in Nate Allen for one of the jobs. He improved gradually
last season as he recovered from a torn patellar tendon suffered toward
the end of his rookie year, and hopes are high he can still live up to
being the 37th overall selection in 2010. There are two hopefuls for the
other spot: incumbent Kurt Coleman, and second-year player Jaiquawn
Jarrett. Coleman is “serviceable,” meaning they could do better, but he
doesn’t kill them. Jarrett was used sparingly in his first season,
perhaps a victim of the lockout-shortened offseason.

Whether or
not the Eagles feel the need to upgrade the position may have more to do
with how they feel about the one quality prospect in this draft than
the guys they already have. Alabama’s Mark Barron is considered the
cream of the crop in an otherwise weak safety class, and in what you
might sense is a trend here, he could be gone by the time the Birds are
up. At 6-1, 213, Barron has the instincts and athleticism to defend
against both the run and the pass.

In something of an
astonishingly honest revelation, GM Howie Roseman recently suggested the
front office may have reached to fill needs in past drafts, the
selection of Jarrett being one such possible example. If the Eagles wind
up with Barron on Thursday, some observers may see that as an admission
of guilt of sorts, when in reality, it may simply be a calculated
decision to add a potential elite talent over a seemingly developmental project.

What else could they do in the first round?

michael.floyd

Track record would suggest there are three other options: WR, DE, or CB.

The
Eagles have used two firsts and three second-round picks on receiver
during the Reid era, and while they aren’t exactly hurting for pass
catchers, another target would provide flexibility. DeSean Jackson
recently signed on for five more years, but his small stature limits him
in certain areas of the field, while Jeremy Maclin has put up steady
numbers through three seasons, though he hasn’t emerged as a star, and can become a free agent after 2013. Oklahoma State’s Justin
Blackmon, the consensus number one in the draft, is likely
out of reach, but Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd (pictured) and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill are in play.

Defensive end is always a safe bet too. The Eagles have
gone to the well on several occasions, committing a pair of firsts and a
second over the past decade. Jason Babin and Trent Cole have the
starting jobs locked down, and Brandon Graham will be out to prove
doubters wrong after recovery from microfracture surgery washed out his
2011. With Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt also on the roster, defensive end
looks a little crowded, but if North Carolina’s Quinton Coples is
sitting there at 15, he might be too good to pass up. Like the old saying goes, you can never have too many pass rushers.

Finally,
cornerback, where the Birds could add before they even subtract. They
don’t have quite the same history in the draft they do other positions,
making Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown the only first- and second-round
corners under Reid, but the signings of Asante Samuel and Nnamdi
Asomugha, and the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie prove beyond any
doubt its importance. Of course, Samuel is on the way out for basically
whatever
apparently, and DRC is a free agent in 2013. They spent a
third on a Curtis Marsh last year, but as Trevard Lindley can attest,
that doesn’t rule out a Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama.

What won’t they do in the first round?

trent.richardson

OL
and RB — unless Trent Richardson somehow fell into their lap.
Obviously the Eagles don’t need a running back in the first round. Paul
Domowitch reports that everybody involved in the LeSean McCoy contract
negotiations is optimistic that an extension will get done before the
team reports to training camp. Richardson might be a one-of-a-kind
prospect though, quite possibly the best overall talent in the entire
draft. If he played practically any position besides running back, he
might go first overall, but since that’s what he does, it’s conceivable
he falls out of the top 10 entirely. Richardson would be hard to pass on
at a certain point, with or without Shady.

If there’s a
less-than-2% chance Richardson falls to the Birds and they actually take
him, offensive line actually might be even more unlikely. The injury to
Jason Peters created a stir a few weeks ago, but the front office acted
fast in acquiring Demetress Bell to fill in at left tackle. The rest of
the line is set, with every starter under contract through at least
2014, so the only immediate need that exists is to build depth.

What should they do in the first round?

Impossible
to say.
Without any direct knowledge of which teams are open to trades,
or more importantly what it would cost, it’s difficult to get specific
about moving up for any prospect in particular. And while at least one,
maybe more, of the players mentioned above will be on the board when the
Eagles are up at 15, nobody can say for sure who will be there.

For
now, we’ll defer to management on which players are worth trading for.
However, should the Eagles stand pat in round one for a second year in a
row, it still appears they have the luxury of taking whoever the best
player available happens to be. Whether you agree or disagree with the
exact level of each individual need, ultimately they can only choose
from the guys who aren’t already posing for photographs under their new
baseball cap.

Honestly, I like all of the players mentioned here
to some degree or another, but how much will depend on the circumstances
under which they are drafted.