Draft week is upon us. As the Sixers and Flyers limp into their respective offseasons and the Phillies continue to find new ways to force Philadelphians to pull their hair out in bunches, the intrigue, mystery, and anticipation of what the Chip Kelly regime will bring to the Philadelphia Eagles has positioned itself squarely in the forefront of the local sports scene. With the sour taste of the Andy Reid era all but cleansed from the ever-changing palate that is Philadelphia sports fandom, Kelly has an opportunity to take charge of the local sports scene for years to come. Through an active, albeit unspectacular free agency period; several engaging media appearances by select personnel, and arguably the most innovative, fascinating 3-day mini camp one can remember in recent history, the Philadelphia Eagles’ brain trust has put the organization firmly in the spotlight as the premiere, most discussed team in the area.
That all being said, the series of decisions and events that occur over the next week could either foster those good feelings moving toward year 1 of the new regime, or derail the aforementioned good will and plunge the organization further into uncertainty. One could argue, rather effectively I might add, that drafting poorly over the last few years is the reason that the Eagles found themselves in a situation where they were forced to push Andy Reid, Joe Banner, and countless players out the door. While the jury is still out on the 2012 draft, and all signs point to players like Fletcher Cox, Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, and Mychal Kendricks being solid contributors either here or elsewhere, the 2010 and 2011 drafts were utter disasters and the organizational depth of talent suffered mightily from it. Conventional wisdom might say that a team who experiences consistent success, much like the Eagles did for the better part of the 21st century, does not have to focus as much on the draft, as their selections usually fall in the later stages where the premiere talent has already been tabbed on other teams. When one takes a step back from the current NFL landscape, and looks at the likes of: the Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Packers, 49ers, etc. it is easy to see that the ability to draft effectively is just as, if not more important for perennial powers in the league. The ability to draft for depth and foster the sort of organizational competitiveness throughout the entire depth chart is the lynch-pin of the type of championship franchise the Eagles are striving to be.
For an organization that has had several things to point at and blame for their struggles over the last few years, the blame game is officially over. Andy Reid is out the door, Howie Roseman is the unequivocal leader of the team’s personnel decisions as the General Manager, Tom Gamble was brought in to head up the scouting and fill the shoes left by Ryan Grigson, and Chip Kelly is on board and it is his ship to steer. As far as situations go for a new head coach, Kelly appears to be in as enviable a situation as there is. Due to the team’s priority-based approach to free agency, the Eagles are not forced into a selection that might be considered a reach at their current slot. Holding the fourth overall pick, all signs point to the team taking the best player available who, more likely than not, will address an area of concern on the roster.
As one sifts through mock drafts, player profiles, combine results, analyst breakdowns, and the like, it is easy to see that ‘experts’ can see the Eagles going in any number of ways when their name is called during this weekend’s draft. Due to the seemingly relentless media coverage the Eagles have received in recent weeks (most of it by their own doing) the scrutiny that the team’s selections will take should be just as excessive. Keeping that in mind, it is important for fans and analysts alike to approach this draft with an open mind, keeping one major factor close to the forefront: no one has any idea what Chip Kelly wants to do.
We have been bombarded with the reports of Kelly’s desire to make the team bigger, faster, longer, stronger, etc. but none of us can comfortably predict what type of prospect Kelly wants to draft until he does select one. Rather than trying to predict what the team will do throughout the seven rounds, it feels more appropriate to try to figure out which type of prospect seems to suit Kelly’s plan properly compared to those who, although may be graded out highly, simply do not fit the bill for the next generation of Eagles football. With all that in mind, here is my position-by-position primer for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Thumbs Up: Matt Scott; Senior, University of Arizona; 6’2″, 213 lbs, 4.69 40-yd, 31.0 in vertical, 6.69 3-cone
I’ll preface this entry by saying that the re-signing of Michael Vick to play quarterback for this team was the most head-scratching move I can think of the team making. One can speculate all day as to why the team decided to bring Vick back, but that is for another time. Had they not brought Vick back into the fold, I would have the team going in a different direction. Having said all that, having Vick on the roster allows the team to take a chance at possibly drafting one of more intriguing prospects in the draft in Matt Scott. Scott had an interesting career at Arizona. The former Wildcat spent the better part of his career backing up current Eagles QB Nick Foles. The highly touted recruit from California was seen as mostly a runner and, under now-fired head coach Mike Stoops, was benched in favor of the more traditional passer Foles. Scott’s career was rejuvenated with the hire of Rich Rodriguez as head coach. The noted spread-offense specialist constructed his game plan around Scott’s strengths and the signal-caller demonstrated a run-pass talent package that made his years on the bench seem like an after thought. Scott completed over 60% of his passes (301 of 499), ran for over 500 yards, and accounted for 33 total touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions. Before anointing Scott as the next RGIII or Colin Kaepernick, there are knocks on the young man. To handle the physical onslaught of the NFL, Scott would have to hit the weights and add some muscle to his slight frame. Although he possesses a NFL-ready arm, Scott must learn how to drive his passes more and improve his decision-making as a passer. Despite his shortcomings, Scott appears to be the type of prospect that, given the proper patience and adequate time to refine his game, could be the perfect fit for what Chip Kelly wants in a quarterback down the road. Many people do believe that the Eagles should, and will select a quarterback at some point in the draft. While I agree with the sentiment, if the team wants to garner the most value of its draft picks, I feel as if focusing on a prospect like Scott could yield the greatest overall return.
Thumbs Down: Geno Smith (WVU), E.J. Manuel (FSU), Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), Mike Glennon (NCSU), Tyler Bray (Tennessee), Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Matt Barkley (USC)
While I do think there will be at least one pro-bowl caliber quarterback in this weekend’s draft, it seems a lot more difficult this year than last year to figure out just who that will be. It is difficult to fathom that, with the list of universities attended by prospects this year, it is such a struggle to find positive things to say about them. One constant about NFL Drafts that people can set their watch by is that some team will overdraft a quarterback. Scouts fall in love with the positive attributes of fringe prospects and ignore the shortcomings that prevented them from being the sort of ‘lock’ that Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, and Robert Griffin III were. In comparison, this group of prospects feels like it is littered with the Christian Ponders and Blaine Gabberts of the world. For argument’s sake, let’s focus on Geno Smith. Smith’s draft stock went through the roof when he turned in a 4.59 second 40-yard dash, the fastest in the position. The West Virginia product is coming off of a statistically phenomenal senior season where he completed over 70 percent of his passes to go alone with 42 touchdowns. Smith performed well in high-profile games throughout his career, most notably a 70-33 victory over Clemson where the then-Junior Smith passed for six touchdowns. Strangely enough, heading into this draft, Smith’s stock takes a tumble for several factors he could not control. Many people believe, due to his impressive 40-yard dash, that Smith is the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s run-based offense. However, for those who have watched Oregon over the years (and realistically any offense that features a dual-threat quarterback) it is more important to have a player that knows how to run like a ball-carrier. So rarely does an option play work so well that a quarterback makes a decision, and finds himself with 40 yards of greener pastures ahead of him. If that were the case, Smith would be the ideal candidate. However, this is the NFL we’re talking about, and unless Geno Smith is hiding a pre-injury RGIII-like next gear, I can’t imagine his 40 time will amount to much except for a earmark on his player profile. In his offense at West Virginia, head coach Dana Holgersen kept Smith in the pocket for the most part, and only on rare occasions did the young man break containment and run for yardage (1.4 career YPC). Smith also was blessed, and potentially cursed, with having one of the most talented receiving tandems in the nation. The duo of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin wreaked havoc on defenses to the tune of 40 touchdowns from scrimmage. Austin appears to be a lock 1st round pick and it would not surprise any one to see Bailey selected in the first two days of the draft. It is difficult to list ‘being surrounded with elite talent’ as a negative trait for a draft prospect, but when you are selecting in the top 5, which is where the Eagles would most likely need to take Smith, one has to consider every variable. Smith has the size (6’2″), the arm strength, the stats, and the makeup of a solid NFL quarterback. Yet, if there is anything that the last few seasons have shown us, is that ‘solid’ might not cut it anymore in the NFL. The talent level of the premiere quarterbacks in the league is at an all-time high and shows no signs of slowing. Chip Kelly may turn that whole idea on its head and show the world that one can plug and play a quarterback as long as he possesses a handful of necessary traits. To counter that, there is a laundry list of other ‘geniuses’ who felt they could outsmart the game and revolutionize football. Last time I checked, the game is still winning. Maximize your value in this draft and wait for that quarterback that you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to convince yourself that he’s the right guy.
Projected round of selection for position: 2nd-4th
Thumbs Up: Chris Thompson; Senior Florida State University, 5’7″, 192 lbs, 21 Reps (did not run at combine)
Running back is another position of depth that will allow the Eagles to get creative at the draft, should they decide to select one. While several reports link the Eagles to former South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore, recent reports regarding the positive outlook of Lattimore’s health could see the young man’s stock raise beyond the point where Philadelphia should be interested. Considering the already stacked backfield of LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Chris Polk, it would be in the team’s best judgement to avoid bringing in another high profile back who cannot contribute elsewhere. An interesting prospect with a similar medical past to Lattimore’s is Chris Thompson out of Florida State. Thompson’s collegiate career was littered with the sorts of injuries that can derail even the most talented of prospects. Between two fractured vertebrae followed by a torn ACL, the Seminole struggled to find the field, and more importantly, stay on the field. For those who did get a chance to see Thompson at full-strength (or as close to that as he can be), they witnessed one of the most dynamic players with the ball in his hands in the country. A rare combination of sprinter speed and shiftiness, Thompson was productive and spectacular when he was given the chance to. Despite his 5’7″ frame, the fact that Thompson plays close to 200 lbs makes his blazing speed and agility all the more impressive. Thompson averaged 6.3 ypc during his career and in his 2010, Thompson’s only full season, he caught 19 passes to go along with 845 rush yards. Due to his injury-riddled past, Thompson is far from a sure thing at this point. Fortunately for the Eagles, they don’t really need a sure thing. In a league where players like Darren Sproles and Jacquizz Rodgers can excel, I see a player like Thompson worthy of a risk in this year’s draft.
Thumbs Down: Kenjon Barner, Oregon; Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Seeing as the Eagles do not appear to be showing much interest in running backs who could be considered in the first two rounds, I will address the two names that I’ve seen linked to Philadelphia and the running back position. First and foremost, I am a huge Marcus Lattimore fan. I was devastated watching his injury and am pulling for him to make the sort of recovery that can allow us fans to see a sliver of the talent that had people talking about him like the next Adrian Peterson just a few years out. My main problem with Lattimore in terms of the Eagles is that this is a player who has prepared his entire career for being a feature back, and that is not what the team needs right now. In terms of handing a ball off to someone and watching them work, Lattimore could be a similar talent to Trent Richardson, perhaps better. Unfortunately for him, two torn up knees will usually keep you out of the first round of the draft, which is where feature backs are taken. Lattimore is one of those special human beings that one almost expects to come out the better player from this injury. I just have trouble finding him a spot on a team with 1, maybe 2 feature-style backs already in tow. Best of luck to Marcus though. In terms of Barner, a lot of people feel as if the former Duck is a no-brainer for a potential pick by the Eagles. Barner is an extremely talented back. He has the necessary speed, field awareness, and feel for the offense necessary to excel in Philadelphia. Ignoring the fact that the Eagles’ backfield is already crowded with talent, my main knock on potentially selecting Barner is some of the little things. Right off the bat, Barner stands 5’9″. I know, Thompson is two inches shorter and coming off of severe injuries. I am also trying to think in terms of the managing bodies of a team that has arguably 2 of the 3 most talented running backs in the division in their backfield. Barner could chip in on special teams and potentially work his way ahead of Chris Polk in the backfield rotation. However, when a team is trying to increase the talent level of a team devoid of talent, it is crucial to consider finding a place for players to play. Reading reports of Barner’s profile as a prospect, it seems as if Barner is one of those players that is good, to very good at several different things while lacking one area where he stands out among others. When one is moving to the later rounds of the draft, which is where I would imagine the Eagles would even consider taking a running back, you are looking for something that jumps off the screen at you that projects to contributing to the team down the road. With Lattimore, you see that for sure, but it is tough to justify potentially using a 3rd round pick on a third string running back. With Barner, it seems as if he’s a rotational running back that is not as good as either running back currently in the rotation.
Projected Round of Selection for Position: 5th-7th or undrafted free agent
With the release of Stanley Havili, it is evident that Chip Kelly does not intend on using a fullback (at least in the traditional sense) in his offense.
Thumbs Up: Travis Kelce; Senior, Cincinnati, 6’5″, 255 lbs, 40.61 40-yd, 35 in vertical, 7.09 3-cone (Pro Day-Cincinnati)
One of the few enjoyable features of the seemingly endless gauntlet of postseason college football is the hand full of games between two low-profile schools who play the game in an effective, enjoyable fashion; compete at a high level for the entire game; display an obvious commitment and sacrifice to the game to determine a winner in the most dramatic fashion. This past bowl season, one of those games for me was The Belk Bowl between Cincinnati and Duke. Duke was competitive for the first time in what seemed like forever and was facing a Cincinnati squad that, although not as talented and nationally prominent as the Brian Kelly teams, had remained a relevant, respectable Big East team. The game went back and forth and tied at 34, after a costly Duke fumble, Cincinnati’s Brendon Kay floated a pass past a defender to a streaking Travis Kelce who rumbled 83 yards for, what proved to be, the game winning touchdown with under a minute to go. My initial thoughts on this play, as an Eagles fan, were a.) That has to be Jason Kelce’s brother right? and b.) how does someone that big get that open and move so well. Kelce had turned in an impressive night already, catching 4 balls for 50 yards. He had demonstrated an ability to run both short, and long routes in a crisp, aggressive fashion. What stood out to me on that route specifically, was his effortless running motion. On a route that, on the surface, had very little action in terms of deceiving a defender, Kelce still managed to set up the opposition just how he wanted to. It took Kelce starting at a lesser speed before hitting another gear and maintaining a straight line pattern until clearing the first defender. The timing of the route had it so Kelce was not turning his head until the last second, thus to keep the defender from reading his coverage for the route. The effortless manner in which Kelce turned in the sort of clutch play reserved for the wide receivers and quarterbacks of the world tells you something about the special nature of this prospect. The tight end position appears to hold an important place in the Chip Kelly offense. I do not believe it will require a Vernon Davis caliber athlete in terms of speed and explosiveness to get open. The misdirection and action of the scheme is what will create openings. What takes precedent with the tight ends is the ability to get open and be a dynamic threat with and without the ball. Reading more about Kelce, you realize he is a player that takes advantage of every inch and pound that he brings to the table. He is a physical tight end that just happens to be a legitimate receiving threat. Although it is not a measurable or viewable factor, after following current Eagle Jason Kelce’s career and learning what type of professional he is, one would think his younger brother would bring a similar approach to the table. Kelce left a major impact on me with his bowl game performance, and looking past the surface of that one play, it appears as if the praise that this young man has received is deserved.
Thumbs Down: Jordan Reed, University of Florida, Junior
Jordan Reed is an athletic, skilled, dynamic player from the SEC who has scouts raving following a solid performance at the combine. People seem to be convinced that Reed is the type of player, sort of hybrid receiver / tight end, that Kelly covets for his offense. While there is some merit to that sentiment, the team already addressed the position in free agency with the acquisition of James Casey from the Texans. Reed’s talent and projected skill set on the professional level will make him a second day pick and a team will probably groom him to be a vertical tight end in a pass-heavy offense. With the current situation at tight end for the Eagles, it does not make sense to bring in a tight end at a high draft pick whose primary value will be as a pass catcher. Ultimately, it is more important for this pick to be able to chip in as a blocker who doubles as a reliable receiver.
Projected Round of Selection for Position: 2nd-4th
Thumbs Up: Ryan Swope; Senior, Texas A & M, 6’0″, 205 lbs, 4.34 40-yd, 37.0 inch vertical, 6.76 3-cone
Barring the unthinkable happening, and the Eagles selecting Tavon Austin somewhere in the 1st round, it is still safe to say that Chip Kelly would like to address the talent level at wide receiver somewhere in the draft. Trade rumors regarding Jeremy Maclin and it is very difficult to find a place where Jason Avant will excel in the new, uptempo offense. Even for all of his gifts, DeSean Jackson does not seem to strike fear into opposing defenses the way he did at the start of the career. Whether or not that is a result of his talents falling off due to wear and tear or opponents keying in on his role in what many considered to be a stale Eagles offense remains to be said. With all that in mind, Chip Kelly would like to bring in a player who can contribute right away and weave his way into the offense as a constant for whomever lines up under center for the team. To me, Ryan Swope fits the bill both on paper and beyond the statistics. Many people remember Swope from his role in the Aggies’ upset of a top-ranked Alabama team that served as Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel’s coming out party. Swope was pegged all season as ‘Johnny Football’s’ primary target and the beneficiary of the young quarterback’s dynamic playing style. While much of this is true, Manziel was not the only quarterback who featured Swope in a big way. Current Dolphin Ryan Tannehill also developed the type of rapport with Swope that earned him a top-ten selection in the 2012 NFL draft. Swope was named second team all-conference in 2011 breaking school records in receptions (89) and yards (1,207). He also demonstrated his ability to work within an offense that features Chip Kelly ideals such as blocking downfield, working in tight spaces, and extending plays. While his accolades and statistics highlight his ability to produce, what is more impressive to me is that a talent like Swope was able to go from being a polished, future 1st round pick quarterback’s favorite receiver, to a completely different style of quarterback’s most reliable target, all while playing in a different, much more competitive conference. Swope appears to be the type of receiver who can link up with a quarterback and be his safety valve, as well as most dynamic weapon.
Thumbs Down: Marquise Goodwin; Senior, University of Texas
Every year, most notably at the receiver position, there is a shifting of stocks as drastic as any position in the draft. As prospects work through the combine, it’s almost as if college production and tape becomes a thing of the past, and scouts and analysts envision players streaking down the sidelines after reeling in a fly route. One player who benefited a great deal from this phenomenon is Goodwin. The former Longhorn posted the fast 40-yard dash time of his group (4.27 ) and, save for maybe Tavon Austin, became the workout warrior who helped himself out the most. Goodwin is actually a player who appears to garner a lot of positive response regarding his name and the Eagles. He carried the ball in certain situations in Texas, he returned kicks with a natural, ball-carrier mentality, and the combine numbers only reinforce his status as one of the premiere athletes in the draft. The biggest red flags with Goodwin that make him a questionable pick are a lack of production in college and a slight frame. Despite all of his natural gifts, Goodwin managed only 1,780 yards from scrimmage in a 4-year career. He was also held to 10 total touchdowns between rushing and receiving. To put that in context, Swope accounted for 3,176 yards and 24 touchdowns in 4 seasons. Goodwin appears to be the type of prospect that, if put in a situation where he can go through the offense, can be the type of home run threat that stretches out defenses and opens the middle of the field. The Eagles already have committed themselves to DeSean Jackson being that type of player. One of the major issues this team has had on offense the last few years is ability to generate touchdowns from their skill players on the outside. The last thing they need is another short, unproven burner who looks great between the 20s and running fly patterns, but is unable to work his way into the endzone and make catches in crucial situations.
Projected Round of Selection for Position: 2nd-4th
Thumbs Up: Lane Johnson; Senior, University of Oklahoma, 6’6″ 308 lbs, 4.72 40-yd, 28 reps, 34.0 in vertical, 7.31 3-cone
If you were to ask right now who the Eagles will pick at #4, taking all factors into account, smart money appears to be on the uber-athletic Lane Johnson. After taking the bizarre route to his position on the line (recruited as a quarterback, shifted to tight end, shifted to tackle) Johnson made the most of his chance to hold down the tackle position at Oklahoma and emerge as, from an athletic standpoint, the premiere prospect at his position. While I think it would be irresponsible for the Eagles to pass up on Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel should they be there at #4, ultimately, Johnson is the pick that can yield the most potential return as a franchise player considering his upside. Aside from maybe Ziggy Ansah, Johnson was the most impressive specimen at the Senior Bowl and carried that momentum into his stellar combine. He worked in a balanced Oklahoma offense and was learning on the job against some of the nation’s best. If the Eagles do decide to select Johnson 4th overall and things work out on the injury front, they will have the advantage of not forcing Johnson to step in and be the team’s best tackle. If Jason Peters can return to form, and early reports are promising in that regard, the Eagles can have Johnson take over at right tackle, a position he played in 2011, and move current tackle Todd Herremans back to his most effective role next to Peters on the left side of the line. With a potentially healthy Peters and Johnson serving as the bookends, it is arguable that the Eagles could have the most physically gifted, imposing combination of tackles in the NFL. In a motion-heavy offense that employs a great deal of action by the offensive line, the idea of Johnson and Peters controlling the line of scrimmage and even, to an extent, the next level of the defense can only have Chip Kelly salivating at the possibilities. While Eagles fans are especially wary of the ‘workout warrior’ whose combine performance rockets him up draft boards, earning him million of dollars (see Mike Mamula), the situation with Johnson is different. Johnson will not be looked upon as a franchise-saving type player at #4. He will be looked at as the premiere talent at his position where the team is drafting and they type of project that can, in a year or two, distinguish himself as the best player in the draft. There are 3 players that, when realistically projecting this draft, seem to be the perfect fit for Philadelphia at #4. Johnson is most definitely one of them
Thumbs Down: D.J. Fluker; University of Alabama, Junior
Fluker is a name that recently has moved up draft boards and even is considered to be a top-ten player at this point. Whether this is due to the thought that Johnson, Luke Joeckel, and Eric Fisher may all be off the board in the first five picks or due to the fact that Fluker is truly a top-ten prospect is left to speculation. The reason I have him as a consideration for the Eagles is that there is more and more speculation surfacing that the team may decide to trade out of the top 5 to collect more picks. This evaluation may be unfair, as I do not think that trading out of the top 5 is a good idea for this draft. Should the team decide to pull the trigger as such, Fluker is a name that might be considered with their newly acquired first round pick. Fluker does sport the sort of pedigree that would, and rightfully should elevate him to top-flight status. Playing for a school that features running the ball and beating down opponents like Alabama does, Fluker had plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents on a national scale. The Eagles in particular are an interesting match, due to the hire of former Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Between his skill set, the team’s production, and a solid combine, Fluker has done everything in his power to garner the type of praise that, a few days before the draft, reserved for truly special players. The major factor as to why this should not be the pick for Philadelphia is Chip Kelly. Although one cannot pass judgement on a coach or a team until he or she sees it on the field, all signs point to the Eagles being as athletically balanced a team as there is in the league. From the quarterback position, to the skill players, and across the offensive line, everything that has been reported on about the new Eagles’ regime highlights a commitment to tempo and athleticism. Fluker, at 6’5″, 339 lbs, represents an imposing, and potentially dominant type of player. The reason he will not be the pick is that there really is not a spot on this offense for a prospect who is considered more of a ‘stay-at-home’ tackle used to a power running system. Although it does appear as if there is a place for Fluker as a top-notch tackle in today’s NFL, I do not think that place is with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Projected Round of Selection for Position: 1st-2nd
Thumbs Up: Kyle Long; University of Oregon, Sr. 6’6″, 313 lbs, 4.94 40-yd, 28.0 inch vertical, 7.83 3-cone
Every year, going into the draft, there is a prospect that you hear or read about, then you hear and read a little more about it, as the draft draws closer you learn more about every potential selection. By the time the draft rolls around, one can find themselves with a mindset where they cannot imagine the player ending up anywhere but on the team they follow. For this draft, that player is Kyle Long. To put his story in perspective, the fact that he is the son of Hall-of-Famer Howie Long and the brother or former second overall pick and current St. Louis Ram Chris Long is almost an afterthought. Originally, it appeared as if Long would not be following in the family footsteps toward the gridiron, as he accepted a scholarship to play baseball at Florida State University. Long was an elite talent on the diamond and appeared destined to become one of the premier pitchers in the country at one of the most prestigious baseball programs in college sports. However, after only one semester, a DUI charge and a lack of commitment forced Long to leave Florida State and reassess his future. Long straightened out his priorities, and decided to take his talents onto the football field to see if he could take a different path to athletic stardom then what was once his projection. After a year in Junior College, Long decided to join Chip Kelly in Oregon for his final year of eligibility. As a junior college player looking to crack a loaded Duck starting lineup, Long appeared to be far from a sure thing in terms of taking the strides to where he is today. Early last season, Long was stuck taking secondary reps at tackle behind Tyler Johnstone (a freshman all-american) However, opportunity came calling for Long and an injury at left guard presented an opening. He went to start 10 of 12 games at guard and was part of an offense that was 2nd in the nation in scoring (48.5 ppg) and ran over 80 plays a game. What makes Long an interesting pick for the Eagles to consider is that, although he is still relatively new to football, he is more familiar with Chip Kelly’s blocking schemes than anyone else in the draft. Long’s versatility, athleticism, and ceiling make him an intriguing prospect in the traditional sense, but his time spent with Chip Kelly and his taking advantage of an opportunity make him more valuable to the Eagles then perhaps any other team. If Long continues on a similar trajectory to where he is now, there’s no reason not to think he could be the steal of the draft, wherever he is selected.
Thumbs Down: Chance Warmack; University of Alabama, Senior
Before jumping to any conclusions, at least consider all the variables involved with Warmack. Yes, he is widely considered to be the best guard prospect to enter the draft in recent history. He was the best player on an Alabama offensive line that could boast three NFL starters at the beginning of next season. If the Eagles did draft Warmack, he would most certainly start in front of Danny Watkins, and the team may sport one of the better offensive lines in the division. There is no doubt that Warmack is a once-in-a-generation talent and a specimen the likes of which comes along very rarely in the draft. The reason the Eagles will ultimately pass on the Alabama product is the same reason they will pass on his teammate, Fluker: the fit is good, but not ideal. Warmack is another player who uses size, strength, and short-burst explosiveness to dominate the point of attack at the line and create interior running lanes for backs and develop pockets for his passer. While Warmack has displayed athleticism and mobility throughout his decorated career, that aspect of his game is not what makes him arguably the best player in the draft, regardless of position. I will not be surprised if Warmack’s name is called at some point in the top ten. If the Eagles had hired Gus Bradley or Mike McCoy as coach, I would not have been surprised if the Eagles were the team to make that selection. However, with Chip Kelly running the show, it’s almost as if there are certain types of prospects that will be almost completely phased out of the team’s selection process. While it is difficult to imagine an NFL without the type of hulking human beings that make up the interior of offensive lines, it is difficult to imagine a 340-pound mammoth lugging his body up and down the field, with mere seconds to catch his breath, for at least 70 plays a game. While I do think the Eagles will end up taking the ‘best player available’ and Warmack may be the best player in the traditional sense, he is not the best player for the Eagles and this team cannot use a top-five selection on a prospect that does not fit in the ideal sense.
Projected Round of Selection for Position: Late 1st (I would trade back into the 1st for Long)-3rd
I do not believe the Eagles will address the center position in the draft as they appear more than happy with Jason Kelce and Dallas Reynolds.
The true stamp of the Chip Kelly offseason should be whatever offensive players he decides to draft this season. The Eagles were a team that, prior to the hire, appeared to have some of the personnel that Kelly would want running his scheme. While the team spent a great deal of free agency addressing holes on the defensive side of the ball, I can see the organization placing a hire premium on the other side of the ball, doing their best to root an offense that, if all goes well, should rank among the most dynamic in the league.
In my next article, we will take a look at the defensive prospects in the draft and go position-by-position in terms of what players the Eagles might draft and where. Comments and criticism more than welcome.
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-NFL Combine details courtesy of http://www.nfl.com/combine/participants
-NCAA Football Statistics courtesy of http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/