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Philadelphia Eagles 2013 Draft Primer-Defense


Dec 23, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans (59) is introduced prior to playing the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins defeated the Eagles 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Recently I released a position-by-position breakdown of players on the offensive side of the ball that I expect the Eagles to seriously consider drafting at various points of the upcoming NFL  draft. As mentioned in the article, I do believe that Philadelphia will place a higher premium on offense in the draft than defense. Judging by the organization’s approach to free agency: a focus on bringing in young, productive defensive players from winning organizations, it would not be surprising to see the team allow Chip Kelly to put a stamp on his first draft with an emphasis on his area-of-expertise, offense.

As much hope and intrigue as there is surrounding the Eagles offense, there is that much concern and uncertainty regarding the defensive side of the ball. While the organization has effectively ‘trimmed the fat’ in terms of some of the players most associated with the Eagles’ free-agency splurge of 2011, that does not change the fact that, even with the moves made in free agency, this is far from a Super Bowl caliber defensive unit. Save for the first four games of the 2012 season, there was very little to feel optimistic about in terms of slowing and stopping opponents. With the exception of Fletcher Cox and, for the most part, DeMeco Ryans, every player either regressed or failed to live up to expectations. After the release of Jason Babin, Brandon Graham demonstrated some of the promise that the previous regime saw worthy of trading up in the first round for. However it is somewhat perplexing as the where Graham fits in terms of the Eagles’ new defensive scheme. Whether is a 3-4 or a 4-3 under alignment, Graham was drafted to be a 4-3 pass rushing end and he will have to make adjustments in order to remain on the team. Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin showed flashes of the type of player that earned the 2012 draft such high remarks. In reality though, both players had weaknesses exposed that made it difficult to project them as impact, long-term starters at their position. Although I do expect both players to factor into the team’s plans moving forward, it is not out of the realm of possibility to think that, with Chip Kelly’s emphasis on organizational competitiveness, either could be replaced. Trent Cole was perhaps the most disappointing member of the anemic Eagles defense. Turning in a career-low 3.0 sacks and experiencing perhaps the most visually obvious drop-off of all the defenders, Cole went from the most dependable player on the defense, to a fading star whose shortcomings seem to have finally caught up with him. Despite painting a bleak picture with Cole, I do believe a player with his work ethic and pure football IQ and ability can regain some level of effectiveness and, with the proper adjustments, fit in nicely to the team’s defensive rotation.

Even with the hiring of Kelly, the confusion surrounding the organizations plans for the defense appeared as high as ever. The hiring of the underwhelming Billy Davis as defensive coordinator after coveted targets like Ray Horton and Kirby Smart became available raised several question marks. The parting of ways with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, although probably the necessary move to make, left two very large holes in an already historically bad secondary. All the while, the apparent shift to a new defensive front alignment away from the 4-3 base so notorious with the last few decades of Eagles football forces a personnel shift that, even with making the perfect acquisition at every position, will probably take more than one offseason to establish. I have very little doubt that this organization is committed to bringing the defense back to a lofty status among the league’s stingiest, but I do acknowledge that the defense must improve a great deal more than the offense before the team and fan’s alike can realistically start considering a championship run. With that in mind, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the defensive side of the ball and potential prospects the Eagles could look at for each one.


Thumbs Up: Star Lotulelei, University of Utah, 6’2″, 311 lbs, 38 reps, 30 inch vertical, 7.76 3-cone

November 17, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (92) lines up opposite Arizona Wildcats defensive lineman Kirifi Taula (75) and quarterback Matt Scott (10) during the first half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

To preface this entry, I will mention that this specific entry will be dedicated to players who, although versatile enough to play in various positions across the defensive line, project to be most effective as interior linemen. With that said, Star Lotulelei is the type of prospect that can truly be a lynch pin for a franchise undergoing a makeover.  The Tongan native, Starlite has the size, strength, and mean-streak to go along with an uncanny quickness and nose for the ball that has had him near the top of draft boards for the better part of the last year. Realistically, had it not been for a health scare surrounding Lotulelei’s heart prior to the NFL draft combine, one could argue that he would be the ideal combination of a high ceiling with excellent production that scouts can only dream of. It’s literally impossible to see why experts are so high on Lotulelei as a potential anchor for a defense. Simply put, he is a gigantic human being who, once committed to the nose tackle position, is capable of putting on even more mass. He showed off the type of quick feet and agility that is necessary to be a dominant run-pass defender on the defensive line in both live-game situations as well as his pro day at Utah. Measurable factors aside, one of the very difficult factors in terms of projecting linemen down the road is playmaking ability. There are multiple prospects who can occupy blockers in a 3-4 scheme and, for two out of every three plays, serve their role effectively on a defense. However, if the team is looking at Star as a potential top-5 pick, they will certainly be looking for the type of impact individual that can stay on the field and make plays on the ball while being a disruptive force. Fortunately, in his two seasons at Utah, Lotulelei demonstrated an uncanny nose for the ball, constantly turning in game-changing plays in key situations. Between recording sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (19.0), forcing fumbles (4) and even a blocked field goal, the often-dominant Lotulelei emerged as the premiere defensive player in the Pac 12. Although he projects to be a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, the versatile lineman can come in and contribute across the line in the Eagles rotation while learning under short-term solution Isaac Sopoaga for the time being. Lotulelei is, for lack of a better term, a larger than life player on and off the field. Production and projections aside, he plays a feature position that teams game plan against and, given the proper patience and nurturing, could become the heart and soul of whatever team ends up selecting him. Based on need, talent, and speculation, I can see Star Lotulelei as one of the three players the Eagles would seriously consider taking with the fourth overall selection.

Thumbs Down: Shariff Floyd, University of Florida

If there is a player in this draft that I want more than any other player, while realizing at the same time how likely it would be for the pick to turn out to be the incorrect one, that player is Shariff Floyd. If the team had brought back Andy Reid as head coach or hired any other number of candidates, I would be leading the Shariff Floyd draft bandwagon straight to New York City. As a story, Floyd’s is almost too good to be true. The Philadelphia native from less than humble beginnings is the type of personality this city craves for in its stars and, if the fates had it any other way, would have had the potential to be the most beloved defensive player since Brian Dawkins. Unfortunately, the NFL is not necessarily a place for fairy-tales, at least not when they get in the way of winning. While I do think Floyd could serve on the same defense line as Fletcher Cox, making up a formidable tandem of versatile linemen, the selection would not be addressing an area of weakness as much as adding a high-profile selection in one of the defenses few strong points. If the circumstances were different and the Eagles were coming off a winning season, inexplicably holding a top-5 pick, one could justify bringing the defensive prospect with arguably the highest upside on board. That is far from the case however. I would not be surprised if Floyd is selected ahead of the Eagles current slot, but if he is there for them, the team would be best to avoid the temptation of pulling the trigger. Floyd will be a player I plan on keeping my eye on throughout his career, due to his local ties and remarkable story. Unfortunately, if the Eagles do decide to make him their selection, I will consider it a moderate waste of a top selection in a draft with players, graded at a similar mark, in positions that are more pressing for them.

Projected Round of Selection for Position: 1st-3rd

DE (3-4 specific):

Thumbs Up: Margus Hunt; Southern Methodist University, Senior, 6’8″, 277 lbs, 4.60 40-yard, 38 reps, 34.5 inch vertical, 7.07 3-cone

Oct 18, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs defensive end Margus Hunt (92) talks to the referees during a break in the action against the Houston Cougars at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The Mustangs defeated the Cougars 72-42. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It might be ignorant of me to think that Margus Hunt will be available for the Eagles at one of their first two selections, but it is difficult not to look at the freakishly athletic Estonian and project him onto the Eagles starting defensive line. Simply put, Hunt has the potential to be the perfect prospect opposite Fletcher Cox on the Eagles prospective 3-man front. Hunt, who is 25 already, has displayed a skill set eerily similar to all-world Houston lineman J.J. Watt. While this is, perhaps more so with Hunt than any other player, a lofty projection, Hunt’s impressive frame to go along with some of his areas of strength in college invite the comparison. As the focal point of the SMU defense, Hunt was forced to refine his abilities as a 5-technique defensive end and by season’s end had  turned in an all-conference performance that eased several pundits concerns regarding the prospect as a future pro. One particular area that brings up undeniable comparisons to Watt is Hunt’s ability to use his towering frame and vertical leap to bat down balls at the line. Hunt blocked 17 total kicks in his NCAA career, including seven as a freshman. Sporting the height (6’8″) and vertical leap (34.5 inches) of an NBA power forward Hunt could very easily carve out a nitch for blocking down passes similar to Watt. While it would be wonderful if a team could pencil in a player as the next J.J. Watt and move on to the next one, that is not the case with any prospects, Margus Hunt included. Hunt does have extensive experience as an athlete, participating in the 2006 World Junior Track and Field Championships, but his experience as a football player is limited to say the least. While his 8.0 sacks in 2012 were impressive, he was held to just 3.0 sacks in his junior season, all three of which came in the season finale bowl win vs. Pittsburgh. If Hunt wishes to play at a more athletic build with a chance to make plays, he will have to establish himself as at least a semi-consistent threat to get to the quarterback. Due to his unique frame and physical potential, Hunt does appear to be the type of 5-tech DE who could both rush the passer and set the edge, freeing up space for blitzers. However, he seems like the type of project that will require a great deal of patience and, due to some growing pains, could frustrate a great deal of fans while refining as an NFL professional.

Thumbs Down: Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah, Brigham Young University

It may seem unreasonable to place one prospect in a negative light for being a raw, untapped commodity after heaping praise among another for the exact same reason, but there is a logic as to why Ansah is not the right pick for the Eagles. On the surface, Ansah is as impressive a physical specimen that has ever entered the draft. He has ideal measurings, 6’5″ 271 lbs, he has a speed-agility combination that, when equipped with an arsenal of moves, could render Ansah unblockable, and the type of versatility that a defensive coordinator could spend countless nights thinking of new ways to utilize. Why would a team like the Eagles, seemingly devoid of any elite talent on the defensive side of the ball pass up on such a specimen? Simply stated, Ansah is a prospect who could either be a slam dunk pro-bowler in a few years, or completely out of the game. Ansah’s trajectory toward where he is now suggests that he will continue to progress toward his limitless potential. However, prospects such as Ansah are also the most delicate to deal with. Being relatively new to the game, coaches will have to continue to foster a love of the game and competitive nature that will help the still-developing young man deal with the sort of failures and obstacles he was able to get by on natural ability with in college. It is easy to look back on players such as Vernon Gholston or Tyson Jackson and scratch your head as to why a team would be dumb enough to pick a player so high with so many questions surrounding him. What’s not easy is, as a talent scout put in charge of millions of dollars of organizational money with the job of discovering the next elite defensive talent in a draft, and avoiding the pitfalls of projecting a prospect based on physical traits and ‘upside’. So few people criticize selections of prospects such as Ziggy due to their uncertainty as NFL players. All the ‘experts’ can critique is what they can see and measure. It is impossible to pick the brain of these young men and realize the sort of personality traits and qualities that showcase a commitment to becoming the best a player can be. Ziggy Ansah is another defender who fans of several teams will look at and either wonder, ‘what if we had the guts to draft him?’ or pat themselves on the back for not being the sorry organization that wasted a top selection and millions of dollars of a player who never put in the work to becoming the star everyone expected. Considering the Eagles current standpoint, I’d rather not have them take that risk until at least the 2nd round, when Ansah has already been off the board for 24 hours.

Projected Round of Selection for Position: Late 1st (trade back)-3rd


Thumbs Up: Dion Jordan; University of Oregon, Senior, 6’6″, 248 lbs, 4.60 40-yard, 32.5 inch vertical, 7.02 3-cone

November 12, 2011; Stanford, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive end Dion Jordan (96) sacks Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck (top) during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If Chip Kelly decides to bring in one, maybe two Oregon players in his first two draft picks (see: Kyle Long), one can almost guarantee that the Steve Spurrier comparisons will only intensify. While Kelly would not be bringing in quarterbacks without the necessary talent to play in the NFL, it is hard not to imagine what would be said if he decided to make his most important personnel decision to date by bringing in former players. Fortunately for the newly minted head coach, it does not really matter what people think or say as long as the players you bring in can contribute at a high level. While I’m not as high on Jordan as most people appear to be, I do think he is a player whose freakish athleticism, untapped talent, and impressive physical frame who would be very difficult to pass on. If every defensive player in the draft played to his potential, I honestly believe Jordan would end up being the best player in the draft. In a division that boasts the likes of RGIII, Eli Manning, and Dez Bryant amongst others, it is essential to have the type of dynamic talents on defense to combat the dynamic talents on offense. The knocks on Jordan seem to focus on his inability to turn in the sort of consistent dominant performances on the field that a specimen of his stature should be able to paired with a shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason. In his senior year at Oregon, while dealing with the aforementioned injury, Jordan recorded 44.0 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 3.0 forced fumbles, and an interception. Although these seem like respectable numbers that would garner first-round consideration, analysts question whether an athlete with the opportunity to get to the passer seemingly at will was held to 5.0 sacks. To enlighten the argument, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, once considered the premiere rush linebacker in the draft, led the nation with 14.5 sacks while boasting a much more modest physical makeup and skill-set. If a team is going to draft Jordan, they will have their hands full in terms of putting the young man in situations to succeed early on and developing a more natural pass-rush repertoire while honing his ability to play in space and cover. It seemed like for a while, Jordan was penciled in to go to the Jaguars as the second overall pick. This was a disappointment at first, as it was exciting to imagine Jordan lining up around the field using his unique combination of talents to be the Eagles’ defense’s primary playmaker. After some thought though, one can almost envy the position the Eagles would be in if the Jaguars did take Jordan. If it weren’t for the shoulder injury, passing on Jordan at any point in the top-5, with the exception of the first overall pick, would be as criticized a decision as any in the draft, especially for a team like the Eagles who are switching to a new defense. Hypotheticals aside, it is starting to look like the Jaguars may consider pulling the trigger on a tackle allowing other teams to make the difficult decision on Jordan. At the end of the day, should Jordan fall to the Eagles, one could argue that no team is in a better position to make such a decision on him. Chip Kelly, more than any other talking head in the NFL, knows what makes Jordan tick and how to get the most out of him. If he thinks that Dion has the type of makeup to grow into a premiere rush linebacker in the NFL, he should draft him. If the team decides not to draft him though, you can rest assured knowing that the man with the most knowledge of the prospect in the league ultimately made the decision. I think if there is one player available at #4 that would force the Eagles to think long and hard on passing on Lane Johnson, Jordan is the guy. If it comes down to the decision between the two of them, if Kelly thinks Jordan can excel in the league, he will be the pick.

Thumbs Down:Barkevious Mingo; LSU, Damontre Moore; Texas A & M

The reason I list these two players is that both of them, at some time or another, have been slated to go in the first two rounds. While I do believe they will probably be selected somewhere in accordance with their projection, the Eagles are not in a position to bring in a prospect whose ability to produce on the NFL level is in question. At different points of the season, Mingo and Moore were both considered top-5 talents. Both players played on impressive SEC defenses and displayed an ability to get to the passer consistently. Even at the end of the season, all signs pointed to both of them being part of the first wave of defensive players selected. However, as the combine came and went and both players struggled to turn in the type of numbers that solidify first round positioning, more questions came about. Neither player displayed the type of physical strength necessary for the rigors of the NFL season. Both players have utilized talent and overmatched opponents in succeeding in the SEC. Even though the SEC is widely regarded as the premiere conference in college football, even the top pass rushers in the NFL are students of the game and are constantly adjusting and adapting their style of play to maintain an edge over the offense. While I think it is possible that both of these players could end up being pass-rush specialists in the right defense, ala Bruce Irvin for the Seahawks, there are prospects sprinkled within the later rounds who have displayed the same sort of skills necessary to chip in as a pass rusher. When selecting in the top 5 of the draft, it is imperative to bring in a player who can step on the field right away and contribute at a level at least close to where the team projects in the future. With players like Mingo and Moore, even in a best case scenario later on in their careers, it is hard to imagine either one being anything more than a third down specialist with one goal in mind every time they step on the field. Not worth first or second round consideration if all the team is going to get is effective snaps on 25% of defensive plays.

Projected Round of Selection for Position: 1st (if Jordan); 3rd-5th


Thumbs Up:

Michael Mauti; Penn State University, Senior, 6’2″, 243 lbs, 28 reps (did not run at combine; injury)

November 24, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Michael Mauti (42) hugs guard Eric Shrive (75) during the senior day festivities prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one position on defense where I think the team might be willing to sacrifice some athleticism and physicality for intangibles, this is the one. While, at least for the time being, the Eagles are set at inside linebacker with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, it is hard not to feel some skepticism toward the heart of the newly formatted Philadelphia defense. While the ILB does not have as many responsibilities as the MIKE in the 4-3 base defense has, it is crucial for both of these players to be instinctual tacklers and fearsome, every-down leaders. One could argue that Mauti, who served as a rallying point for the tumultuous Penn State football program, has already demonstrated more leadership than a major handful on current NFL players. There are several red flags with Mauti. He has torn both of his ACLs in his collegiate career, and one wonders how many more recoveries a player whose position is as physical as any on the field can handle. Realistically, it would probably take a year or so of special teams work and rotational play for Mauti to even sniff any sort of starting role. That all being said, Chip Kelly seems like a coach who wants to foster competitiveness and groom leaders for this team. If Mauti does complete his recovery and shows no ill effects from his injuries, at the very least, he is the type of team-first player who gives the sort of effort that would push his teammates to new heights. Although a Penn State fan I am not, I can still appreciate the role of the primary Nittany Lion linebacker who takes control of the defense and makes the big plays when others have fallen by the wayside. It is impossible to quantify this, but if one goes through the years, it is plain as day to see that it takes a special kind of man to uphold that tradition. Mauti; in circumstances that few adults, let alone college students, had to deal with, demonstrated those qualities both on and off the field. Should this young man make a full recovery to a level where he could compete, I am convinced no team will find another player with the drive and will to make his team better than Mauti. A second-day talent when healthy, Mauti could be the steal of the draft depending on where he ends up.

Thumbs Down: Kiko Alonso; University of Oregon

If there is one thing Chip Kelly is going to find out very quickly in the NFL (I am certain he’s already started to swallow some of this reality) it’s that one cannot mask defensive deficiencies by having a dynamic offense. Every phase of the game requires equal level of attention and it is important to recognize the roles necessary for each position on the field to produce the best product necessary. Kiko Alonso was Kelly’s field general on defense for his last two seasons at Oregon. He displayed an innate ability to make plays in the pass and run game while showing a nose for the ball in pursuit of quarterbacks and ball-carriers alike. He excelled as a blitzer and even demonstrated uncanny ball skills, recording four interceptions his senior season. Alonso seems like the type of aggressive athlete that, if put in the right situation, could become a key piece to a defense. What I really question is how this prospect translates to an inside linebacker on the professional level. Oregon was the perfect situation for a player like Kiko. They scored so much that it allowed the defense to take risks at making plays while the opposing team was doing their best to catch up. Aided by that, Alonso was able to show off his playmaking skills in a relatively safe environment. What I have a tough time imagining, is how Alonso will stack up when the game is within three points with less than five minutes ago and the defense needs a stop. Will he have the presence of mind to make the smart play instead of trying to win the game on his own? Tough to say. I do think that Alonso is a player who has value as a potential special teams player and maybe, with the right coaching and honing of skills, could end up proving me wrong across the board. That being said, Alonso is a player from a unique defense that did not showcase his position’s skills in a way that translated to the NFL game. It would be difficult to be upset about a pick that will probably happen during the final day of the draft, but anything before that would be a mistake.

Projected Round of Selection for Position: 4th-7th


Thumbs Up: Johnthan Banks; Mississippi State, Senior, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 4.62 40-yd, 34.0 inch vertical, 6.97 3-cone

Jan 1, 2013; Jacksonville FL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive back Johnthan Banks (13) before the start of their Gator Bowl game against the Northwestern Wildcats at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Banks’ less-than-steller 40-yard dash time could be the blessing of this draft for the Eagles should they decide to pursue the SEC cornerback. In a position that boasts some of the fastest players in the NFL (Antonio Cromartie, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins), a ‘red flag’ like a slow 40-time can be the kiss of death for prospects looking to garner an early pick. While the idea of having a pair of corners that put up better numbers at the combine than Banks, there are certain players where it is simply impossible to look past the film. Banks, a member of the same defense that produced Fletcher Cox, was routinely matched up against the premiere receiving talents in the country and made an impact all four years of college. Due to his height, Banks was initially brought on board as a safety and excelled there as a freshman. The coaching staff in Starkville decided to give him a shot at corner and it turned out, the young man was a natural. Banks was able to combine his physicality with an intriguing skill set that has become more prominent in today’s NFL. He was able to play close to the line of scrimmage as a blitzer and was frequently left in isolation situations, due to his team’s attacking style of play on defense. Although he is not quite as tall as Richard Sherman, Banks’ height does invite comparisons to the All-Pro Seattle cornerback who emerged as one of the league’s top defenders last season. There is no doubt that his stock suffered due to his combine performance. He does not have the pedigree of a Dee Milliner, and the praise surrounding D.J. Hayden, the feel-good story of the draft, has curbed the conversation surrounding Banks dramatically. For a position like cornerback, where a certain balance of confidence, as well as an edge, generally produces the top players. Banks does not have the baggage of a player like Tyrann Mathieu, but with his numbers likely to affect his draft slot and watching his SEC counterpart Milliner likely going in the top 15 picks, it is hard to imagine the young man not carrying a chip on his shoulder into his first pro camp. Although it may hurt him early in his career, if for no other reason than over-eagerness, Banks’ nose for the ball and playmaking ability should allow him to develop into a multi-talented defensive back, rather than being pigeon-holed into a specific category of player. Banks has the frame, football mind, and talents to be a high first round talent. If brought on board in Philadelphia and given the time to grow, Banks could help stabilize a cornerback position that was once considered a strength in this organization.

Thumbs Down:

David Amerson; North Carolina State

As an ACC football fan, David Amerson was a name that I heard more than any other player, regardless of position, in every preseason conversation. He picked off everything that was thrown his way, he had the size, the strength, the confidence to be left out on an island, and was a solid tackler. I could not wait until I was able to watch the Wolfpack play this season to watch this guy in action. Needless to say, disappointed is a term that does not do justice to how I came away watching him. The second this guy was forced to turn and run with a receiver, which tends to happen every once in the NFL; believe it or not, he became a lost puppy looking for anyone to help him. I could not imagine how this guy was able to run into 13 interceptions in 2011. The ACC is far from a stellar conference in terms of quarterbacks, and Amerson made some of them look like Matt Ryan. Miami’s Stephen Morris, a name that would have 1980s Vinny Testaverde spinning in his grave, picked on Amerson for four touchdowns in a single game. I have a difficult time thinking that Andrew Luck was ever able to expose the same guy, in plain sight, for four touchdowns in a game, and Morris was able to do it to the front-runner for the Jim Thorpe award. One of the reasons I did not love Dee Milliner when I watched him at the combine, even for his impressive 40-yard dash time (Amerson ran a 4.44), I could not get past his unnatural performance in the drills following all the measurements. Going back through some of the combine tape, Amerson looked even worse when it came to shifting directions, swiveling his midsection, and flowing in and out of his cuts. Amerson will get drafted, likely fairly high for that matter, because a team will think they have the personnel to cut out some of Amerson’s bad habits while nurturing the ball skills that helped him threaten a record that has stood for 50 years. From an Eagles’ standpoint though, after the Nnamdi Asomugha experiment typified the last two years of frustration for fans, I find it difficult to justify bringing in another player with a penchant for getting burned. Thanks, but no thanks

Projected Round of Selection for Position: 2nd-3rd; 5th-7th


Thumbs Up: Eric Reid; LSU, Junior, 6’1″, 4.53 40-yard, 40.5 inch vertical, 6.99 3-cone

September 15, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Eric Reid (1) raises his arms to the crowd as the Tigers take the field against the Idaho Vandals during the first half at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Idaho 63-14. Mandatory Credit: Crystal Logiudice-USA TODAY Sports

With all of the quality safeties in this year’s draft, it will be very interesting to see, once the first one is taken, how long players like Reid last. While Reid is not necessarily the highest rated safety in this year’s class, I would also argue that he cannot be too far off the consensus top guy, which appears to be Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro. The SEC has been the breeding ground for some of the highest-rated, highest-drafted safeties in the last decade or so, and it is truly a trial by fire position. From the day they step on the field, safeties in the SEC are required to diagnose and combat some of the most impressive, physical offenses in the country. There is little room for the faint of heart and, if a safety is tentative to mix it up all over the field, the talent pool at a school like LSU would find a replacement. In addition to the gameplay alone, the national exposure catered toward SEC football presents several opportunities for success, and failure for players looking to make a splash. Although it may come off as irresponsible analysis, I saw everything I ever needed to see from Eric Reid in LSU’s regular season win vs. Alabama. On the surface, it is tough to imagine gaining any sort of positive feedback in a game that ended 9-6. However, it is arguable that Reid, with no assistance from his offense and the rest of his defensive unit with their hands full, took over the game for the Bayou Bengals. Reid had six tackles, scooped up a blocked field goal, and reeled in one of the most clutch, impressive interceptions on his own goal line that I have seen from a college player. The young man preserved his team’s victory on multiple instances, and helped lead an effort that held an offense with Trent Richardson to two field goals. Once upon a time, the Eagles felt that a small school safety with an impressive skill set and an ‘NFL body’ deserved second round consideration. I realize that Nate Allen’s career has mostly been riddled with injuries, but that is the way the league works. With all of the changes the Philadelphia defense is undergoing, they are going to need a field general who can set the tone in terms of physicality, and omnipresence. Reid’s aggressiveness will cause fans to pull their hair out at times, but those same fans praised Brian Dawkins because he sold out and delivered the sort of bone-jarring hits that changed the outlook of a game with one play. I do not always buy into the small school vs. big school argument, good players can play on any level, period. That being said, safety is a man’s position in the NFL, and Eric Reid has seen more NFL-caliber players in one season at LSU, than a prospect like Jonathan Cyprien has seen in his entire career. If the Eagles are intent on bringing in a safety that they can mold into a starter in a year or two, this is a guy to keep a close eye on.

Thumbs Down:

Jonathan Cyprien; Florida International University

Cyprien is a guy whose name started popping up right around the end of the college football season and has not stopped since. After watching him at the Senior Bowl and listening to the talking heads break him down as a physical specimen, it’s not hard to see why people are so high on this young man. As a small school player, Cyprien was able to take advantage of his opportunities to shine on a national scale, most notably in a game against Louisville where he terrorized potential 2014 1st overall pick Teddy Bridgewater, forcing his first of only eight interceptions on the season, in a near upset of the Cardinals. For a team with a strong defense, stocked with leaders, Cyprien is a guy that could be plugged in to start at safety and shine in a complimentary, playmaking role. Unfortunately for the Eagles, this defense is far from anything that might resemble that situation. With a drastic revamp of the scheme and personnel, it will take some time for leaders to distinguish themselves and earn the credibility to help groom a young player. DeMeco Ryans, Trent Cole, and maybe even Mychal Kendricks may have the personality and work ethic to beat the drum as vocal leaders in the locker room, but they will all be learning a new defense that promises to take a bit of time to root. For the safety position, a position that is so crucial in terms of high-level defensive success as well as an area that Eagles have been downright dismal in for the last five years, I need someone who is going to distinguish himself early on. This player needs to be someone who already knows what it is like to play with the highest of stakes on the line and what sort of mental capacity it takes to be a leader in that situation. As mentioned before, this safety class is extremely talented and its arguable that Cyprien is at the head of it. That being said though, this year’s draft for the Eagles should not be all about talent, as much as it should be bringing the first wave of Eagles under Chip Kelly who are ready to lay it on the line for him.

Projected Round of Selection for Position: 2nd-4th 

While the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles appears to have the playmakers and moderate cohesiveness to make some noise this season, the defense, once a staple of Eagles football, has become among the most embarrassing in the league. Between the antics of Jason Babin, to the gutlessness of Nnamdi Asomugha, to the aloofness of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the decline of the post-Jim Johnson Eagles defense reached its nadir at the end of last season. With defenders especially, there is a certain quality and drive that is so difficult to spot, but the organizations that turn out the top defensive units in the game appear to have grasped what it is that makes those players tick. To be honest, its difficult to feel confident about the defensive side of the ball with Billy Davis running the show and an offensive minded head coach entering his first draft. However, and it could all turn out to be fools gold in a few short months, the intrigue and the mystique surrounding the Eagles appears to have some legs to it. It is not always the defensive-minded coach that produces the top defenses, but the coaches willing to go the extra miles, put in the necessary work, and dig up what it is that gets his players to lay themselves on the lines for him that produce those units. From everything that has been documented, speculated, and leaked about Chip Kelly, he seems to fit that category in a way that this league has yet to see. It could be the Andy Reid fatigue talking, but it has been quite some time since I’ve enjoyed uncertainty regarding one of the teams that I follow to this level.

As the draft continues to draw near and the rumors and speculation continue to intensify, the level of frustration and anxiety for Eagles’ fans is sure to reach a fever pitch. While the team has made its mark in free agency and taken care of the players it feels are solid fits moving forward, the draft is where we finally get a solid grip on the direction this thing is taking us. The last time the Eagles were slated to pick this early, we were taken in a direction that, whether or not you want to admit it, represented the peak of Philadelphia sports for the better part of a decade. I was not old enough to truly appreciate the production that was drafting Donovan McNabb, but I can appreciate the feelings one has going into such an important draft. The tension, the anxiety, the speculation tugs at you with every tweet you read and mock draft you open up. The Eagles are on the cusp of what promises to be an entertaining era of football for fans on a national and local scale. Say what you want about Chip Kelly, but I think smart money is on the idea that he will either be a brilliant success story that innovates the game across the board, or the most expensive, flashy train wreck the league has ever seen. Either way, I am looking forward to finding out, and the criticism all starts when the Commissioner opens that envelope, telling the world who Chip Kelly is ready to hitch his wagon to. Hopefully, sitting here this time tomorrow, I can experience a taste of what all those fans felt when they heard Donovan McNabb’s name called all those years ago. Whether it’s anger, hope, confusion, joy, or frustration, that moment will mark the beginning of a new age of football on Broad Street. Happy draft people. I hope, whether I am wrong or right, this team sets in motion something as special as they’ve made it out to be. Until then, we’ll wait and see.

Stay tuned for after the draft where I will be breaking down the Eagles selections pick-by-pick

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