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“With the 23rd pick…” What Is the Eagles’ Biggest Need?

May 2, 2011, 1:41 PM EDT

Last night, I was all set to fix the final installment of our draft preview, but instead, I called an audible to insist the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb. Sure, it was pure fantasy. The NFL won’t allow player trades tonight (swapping picks is LEGAL however), despite the fact that the lockout ended three nights ago. Not sure what grounds they have to prevent teams from doing business now, particularly over rights to a player who is already under contract, but I digress.

The final part was supposed to be about what the team’s most pressing need is entering the first round of the draft tonight, and the answer might surprise you. We talked about the black hole at cornerback, and the continued regression on the right side of the offensive line, and a day one pick on either of those positions would be one well used. I can think of one area though where adding a first round talent may have an even greater impact on the Eagles in 2011, and beyond.

Last year, the Eagles jumped up 11 spots to select DE Brandon Graham, and people wondered why that didn’t solve their problems pressuring quarterbacks with the front four. Trent Cole recorded double digit sacks for the third time in four years, so why do these problems persist? Was Graham a bust? He didn’t record a very large number of sacks, but these stats on hurries suggest he was having a promising rookie season before his injury. So what is it?

Maybe part of it was the technique employed by former defensive line coach Rory Segrest, and is something that will work itself under the direction of Jim Washburn.

I’m not ready to discount personnel yet… but the problem may not be at end.

In ’05 and ’06, the Eagles used consecutive firsts on defensive tackles, selecting Mike Patterson 31st and Brodrick Bunkley 14th. From that point on, the defense has been solid in the interior, and when they’ve had any respectable play at middle linebacker, very difficult to run against between the tackles. However, Patt and Bunk both have been largely disappointing as pass rushers, and their inability to get virtually any penetration is making life more difficult on the edges, and really, everywhere else.

Bunkley will be a free agent next year, and so far, he’s given management little reason to consider a contract extension. Antonio Dixon was elevated to starter in Week 5 last season, and he played well, but the former undrafted free agent was more effective against the run. And just when you thought maybe the Eagles would consider adding an Albert Haynesworth in free agency, he had a pair of pretty serious criminal charges brought against him.

Everybody can probably agree this is a need position, but greater than corner or right tackle? It’s certainly debateable. Still, once free agency begins, the Eagles will have a shot at a number of excellent cornerbacks, and while the offensive line has some issues, better decision making under center can negate those to an extent.

To be fair, Haynesworth isn’t the only quality interior lineman that will be available when free agency opens, but there are arguably fewer difference makers there than at any other position in the NFL. With that kind of limited availability, the Eagles should be proactive and draft one… if the right player is there. With all that in mind, my hope for the Birds’ pick tonight is either Illinois’ Corey Liuget (6-2, 298), Baylor’s Phil Taylor (6-3, 334), or Temple’s own Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315).

Unfortunately, the top two tackle prospects (Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus) will be long gone before the 23rd selection, and likely even out of range in a trade up. Even Liuget could go much higher than this, as there is always a premium on defensive linemen in the draft, but the Birds should have a shot at one of the three. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about any of these players, on the count of I often work on Saturdays, and therefore don’t get to watch as much college ball as I’d like. All of the above would seemingly fill the general need though.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Eagles could go wrong with either a corner or offensive lineman in the first round, or even another defensive end. However, as the old saying goes, it all begins up front. For far too long, the Eagles have been content with merely not losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. What they need are the pieces to win that fight, and finally give opposing quarterbacks that unsettling feeling when a 300-plus pounder is heading straight for them.


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