Four-for-Four: The Chase Utley Damage-Control Edition

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Oh Earl…What Could Have Been?

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) celebrates after a play against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In Thursday’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Eagles beat writer Zach Berman penned an article focusing on Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. The piece had little to do with the all-pro safety’s exploits on the field. While Berman paid tribute to the defensive back’s talents and accomplishments, the focus of the story was on the relentless notion of Eagles’ fans that Earl Thomas should have been the safety that filled the shoes of Brian Dawkins.

In the 2010 NFL Draft, a year after an embarrassing exit to the playoffs at the hands of the Cowboys, the Eagles were looking to make a splash. With Thomas yet to be taken off the board, Philadelphia jumped up to the 13th slot and it seemed as if the selection of Thomas was a formality. Dawkins had already been released by the team and there was a glaring hole in the once-dominant Eagles defense. With the move up the board, Eagles fans with any acumen for the draft celebrated as the move looked like a slam dunk.

But it was not to be. Instead, the team took Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham to try to supplement their already formidable pass-rush. Thomas was selected with the next pick and so began the ultimate ‘what if?’ scenario that would serve as fodder for talk radio and bar-room conversation for the next three years. In that time Thomas has established himself as the most important player on Seattle’s dominant defense. The ring leader of ‘The Legion of Boom’, despite his slight stature, uses an uncanny combination of speed, instincts, strength, and intensity to play the safety position as well as any in the league.

As far as the Eagles, despite momentary flashes of potential, Graham is largely considered a bust. He did his best to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker this past season, but is a defensive end by trade and has already expressed his desire to start, even if it is not in Philadelphia. In terms of the safety position, the Eagles have had a revolving door of players who either lack the talents to thrive at the position, or don’t have the sort of awareness necessary to play football’s equivalent of center field.

Needless to say, until the team finds a suitable talent to play arguably the most important position on defense (or win a Super Bowl), the anger as to why the team did not select Thomas will only intensify. The upcoming draft has several intriguing prospects at the position and, given Howie Roseman’s admission that it was a mistake to let Dawkins walk, it would come as no surprise if the team went that direction with their 1st round selection.

MOCK AROUND THE BLOCK will have intense pre-draft coverage leading all the way to the event, scheduled to start May 8th. While there are still just under four months until the 1st overall selection, held by the Houston Texans, that has not stopped draft analysts from every outlet from putting together their initial mock draft projections. As far as who the Eagles will select and what position they will focus on, the experts are all over the place. These projections should change a dozen times over before the actual draft, but here is the first outlook as to how some think the Eagles will use their 22nd overall selection.

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPNWR Kalvin Benjamin; Florida State (Sophomore-RS)-6’5″, 234 LBS. 54 rec, 1011 yds, 15 tds

Most remember Benjamin as the recipient of the game-winning touchdown pass from Jameis Winston in the Seminoles’ national championship win over Auburn. For those who did not follow Florida State all season, Benjamin was the most impressive of a dynamic stable of skill players. His frame is ideal for the NFL game and his ability to catch the ball in traffic makes him a superb red-zone target. With the Eagles already fielding a dynamic offense, this would be a ‘Best Player Available’ pick with the mindset of the team bringing in a potential number one receiver with an extremely high ceiling. Make no doubt about it, given Riley Cooper’s strong season with Chip Kelly calling plays, its hard not to imagine the physical Benjamin to contribute from day one.

Daniel Jeremiah, Darqueze Dennard; Michigan State (Senior)-5’11”, 197 LBS. 62 tkl, 4 int, 10 pbu

Jeremiah (@movethesticks) has the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award (CFB’s Best DB) falling to the Eagles at 22. This would be a dream pick for the Eagles, as Dennard plays the sort of solid, aggressive game that would allow him to lock down a starting cornerback position from the first day of camp. On one of the best defenses in college football, Dennard managed to stand out almost every game. He is a rare talent that can be put out on an island and focus his energy on shutting down the opposition’s best receiver. The first-team All-American might not have the blinding speed of a Patrick Peterson-type, but he takes advantage of his awareness and physicality to make up for it. I would be astonished if Dennard was available at this pick, as he is arguably one of the top ten players in the upcoming draft.

Chris Burke, Jason Verrett; TCU (Senior)-5’10”, 176 lbs. 39 tkl, 1.0 sack, 2 int, 14 pbu

In Burke’s draft, he has Dennard going off the board earlier and the Eagles scooping up arguably the 2nd best cornerback in Verrett. At TCU, Verrett did not have the coverage that the Michigan State product did but make no mistake, he took advantage of every opportunity he could. Since the start of the 2012 season, Verrett led the nation with a total of 38 passes defended (including eight interceptions). Even at a substantial size disadvantage, Verrett often lined up against the opposition’s top target and managed to more than hold his own. Despite losing a late-season game to Baylor, Verrett limited the Bears’ top target (Antwan Goodley) to a single catch. Verrett is more of a playmaker than Dennard, but still has the football IQ and awareness to play a solid starting cornerback position. There are those scared off by his size, so the combine should play a key role in solidifying Verrett’s status toward the top of the draft.

Peter Schrager, Foxsports.comS Calvin Pryor; Louisville (Junior)-6’2″, 208 lbs. 75 tkl, 6 tfl, 2 ff, 3 int

Dec 28, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals safety Calvin Pryor (25) waves his arms to the crowd in the fourth quarter as theCardinals beat the Miami Hurricanes 36-9 to win the Russell Athletic Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

If Pryor is there at 22 and the Eagles pass him over, there might be a full-scale mutiny on Broad Street. The playmaking safety out of Louisville might as well be the reincarnation of Brian Dawkins. Contrary to Earl Thomas, Pryor is a towering presence on the back-end that also has the speed and ball skills to cover the necessary ground. He demonstrates timely aggression and is a force in run defense. He totaled 100 tackles his Sophomore year, good for 1st team all-Big East and backed it up with a 75-stop campaign in 2013. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong called Pryor, “one of the best players I’ve ever coached.” This is a ringing endorsement considering Strong coached potential 1st overall pick Teddy Bridgewater as well as several NFL players when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida. I might go back and forth on this a dozen times over the next four months, but Pryor would be my ideal pick if I could realistically peg down a player right now.


In a recent interview, when asked about the Eagles potential for winning a Super Bowl during his tenure in Philadelphia, pro bowl running back LeSean McCoy was bold, to say the least, in his response.

"“In the next five years, we should get a couple wins. “We have the talent, we have the coach and the players all have the same goal and same dreams.”"

Shady is the best player on the team and confidence is a must in the NFL. One cannot get too upset with the NFL’s leading rusher for his opinion on the team, but forgive me if I am sick of every season having a player on the Eagles have a foot in mouth moment. This one happened before the offseason technically started for the NFL. Despite having the best season of any running back in franchise history, McCoy needs to focus more on improving himself and less on providing the rest of the league with bulletin board material.

Perhaps McCoy forgets that he managed only 77 yards in the team’s Wild Card loss to the Saints, as the NFL’s leading rushing attack was rendered ineffective. This is a far cry from ‘Dream Team’ or ‘Dynasty’, and it seems as if McCoy is embracing a potential leadership role on the team. That said, let’s hope he, along with the rest of the offense, puts in the type of work necessary to allow the team to improve from last season before they start talking multiple Super Bowls.