As far as I see it, the Eagles have quietly improved during this offseason amidst accusations, rage, and disappointment. There are some holes, most occurring in depth areas rather than starting positions, but offseason moves and internal depth seem to have addressed most major questions.
Tra Thomas, LT
Jon Runyan, RT
Correll Buckhalter, RB
Brian Dawkins, FS
Sean Considine, SS
LJ Smith, TE
As I see it, these are the biggest losses from last season. We’ll start with the big fellas. Our aging bookends are now gone… correction, Tra is gone for sure and Jon is still recovering from major surgery will no play on the FA market. The starting RT spot has been address with a long term deal that brought Shawn’s big brother to Philly to create “The Wall of Andrews” on the right side of the line. But who’s the LT? To me, the answer is easy… Todd Herremans. He’s played well there in spot duty and is a natural LT. He may not be the pass blocker that Tra was in his prime, but he’s significantly better as a run blocker and gives you pass protection as solid as the current version of Tra, at least. This does leave questions at LG, but we’ll get into that as we discuss targets. The team seems to believe that McGlynn can be that guy, not to mention that Nick Cole and MJG both played well at RG last year.
Losing Buck is a pretty big loss, but there isn’t too much to say about it, as he was under-utilized here and deserves his opportunity. I expect big things from Buck in Denver. As the starter there, he should put up 1,000 yards without batting an eye. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a top 5 rusher this season.
At safety, we lost a legend and our most productive ST player. In the midst of the Dawkins debacle, no one noticed the departure of Sean “The Human Cape” Considine. Most would likely laugh at my mentioning him as a key loss, but his ST contributions were phenomenal. With Q as a full time player, Sean became a leader on the ST unit. Thankfully, the team didn’t glaze over the key loss, as they brought in Philly native Rashad Baker, who not only made key plays that got the Eagles into the playoffs as a Raider last year but also made his name in the NFL as a willing and able ST guy. He’s likely an upgrade as a backup S, and can hopefully fill Sean’s shoes on the ST unit. The signing of CFL standout Byron Parker could impact how many safeties make the team, to boot.
Dawk played like the Dawk of old down the stretch last year, but we can’t forget that during the first 6 games last year we were all talking about how he’s lost a step. Dawk’s effectiveness last year came playing out of position, as he was a FS only in title. Whenever Dawk played outside of the box, he struggled; the loss to Arizona in the NFCCG is a key example. We all remember Demps falling down and costing a Fitz TD, but no one remembers the several blown coverages by Dawk. This isn’t to shortchange the legend and HOF hopeful that revolutionized the position, it’s just to point out that we didn’t lose the 2004 Brian Dawkins, we lost the 2008 version. Demps is already an upgrade in coverage, not to mention that we brought in the upside of Sean Jones (which could potentially spell out a better safety duo in 2009 than we’ve seen in years).
I listed LJ as a key loss only because he’s been a starter on this team since the departure of Chad Lewis. Eagles fans, Philly media, and national press alike all agree that this is a case of addition by subtraction. Goodbye ole’ stonehands, how we won’t miss ye.
The primary targets in this year’s draft are all on the offensive side of the ball: RB, TE, and OL (not necessarily in that order).
At RB, there are two big name guys that could excel in our system here in Philly. The first, and most obvious, is Knowshon Moreno. If we target him, he’d likely have to be our first pick at #21, if he lasts quite that far. Knowshon is a smaller back than the bruising Chris “Beanie” Wells that many Birds fans seem to be clamoring for, but he’s got great hands, a necessity in our WCO.
The other bigger name at RB is UConn’s Donald Brown. His name is really hot right now, as many scouts really like him. He is ranked anywhere from the 3rd to 6th best RB in the draft. I’d expect him to be a 2nd round talent, but the hype around him could pushy him into the 1st.
If the Eagles don’t go for one of these bigger names, there are a few other ways they could go to address the need at RB. In the first 2 rounds, LeSean McCoy is likely the only other name that fits our offensive schemes fully. Like Brown and Moreno, he has displayed natural hands out of the backfield. McCoy is compared to Maurice Morris (who could be an interesting FA pickup to provide veteran depth) by some scouts, which translates to me as McCoy being a good third down back for the WCO, as Morris has been for the ‘Hawks. Considered a border line 2nd/3rd round player, Rashad Jennings of Liberty has also been mentioned as a good fit for the Eagles by some scouts, and unlike what the team currently has, he is a bit bigger and stronger allowing him to be a bruiser in short yardage situations.
In the later rounds, there are a few intriguing names. Oregon’s Jeremiah Johnson is built like Westbrook, small and stout with tons of elusiveness and deceptive speed. This doesn’t mean that I am comparing his ability to the Wizard of Westbrook’s incredible talent, just his size and style. Johnson is also a very willing pass blocker, which is a need for any RB in our system, especially since Westbrook’s beat-like blocking ability seemed to be in decline a bit last year. Another name that the Eagles could target is Andre Brown of NC State. Brown is considered by some to be the most natural receiver of this RB draft class. He runs hard, but lacks elite speed.
My pick at RB would be Jeremiah Johnson. He’d bring an immediate #2 with good value in the 3rd. He is also versed in kickoff return, which could prove useful in the case that Demps wins a starting job and needs to share or give up KOR duties. I also like Purdue’s Kory Sheets to compete with Booker for the 3rd spot. He’s likely a 5th or 6th rounder and has the tools to be a great fit for our system. He’ll likely need some time to develop, but could contribute as a willing ST player, with experience as a returner and a blocker on kick off return.
At TE, I believe we need to draft two guys. While Celek is all but cemented as the starter, we only have one other TE on the roster and he isn’t a good one. Schobel has been productive during parts of his career, but he can’t be on this team much longer. We saw last year that he really just can’t get it done, especially as a blocker. This means that the Birds need a #2 that can compliment Celek and a true blocking TE that can fill the #3 slot.
The obvious name is Brandon Pettigrew. He’s big and initially made his name as a blocker. He also is a solid route runner with soft hands. I’d welcome the addition, but he’d cost the Eagles the #21 at least. With Celek’s ability as a possession receiver, spending our 1st pick on TE may be excessive.
More likely and more prudent would be Rice’s James Casey, who could be available in the 3rd due to his age (turns 25 at the start of the season). If Casey falls to the mid third round, the Eagles could make a run at him. A gifted athlete, the biggest concern is his ability to block. While some scouts think he possess the tools to be a solid blocker, he lacks the experience.
This leads to the 2nd TE pick , the true blocking TE that the Eagles have not had. Fresno State’s McKenna “Bear” Pascoe is a solid blocker, but is may not be quick enough to contribute as a blocking in the open field. He has decent receiving skills, which adds to his quality as a possible pick with one of our seemingly infinite 5th round selections. Davon Drew of East Carolina and Ryan Purvis of BC are also interesting names in this respect. Even a good blocking FB with some experience as a n H-back could possibly fulfill this role, such as LSU’s Quinn Johnson or even Georgia’s Brannan Southerland (considered by most the best blocking FB).
My targets here, likely obvious by how I laid them out, are Casey and the Bear. I think that Celek and these two young bucks can get it done. Perhaps one year deals to Bubba Franks and another cheap veteran in late free agency could sure up the camp battles.
The offensive line is the last major target area, but where on the line is a debate. There is a great deal of versatility with many guys that play multiple positions. Shawn and Todd were drafted as OTs and both play OG. McGlynn played every spot other than LT in college. Nick Cole knows both OG spots and can play C. Jamaal Jackson is the C, but has some college experience at LG. Chris Patrick is a reserve with some experience at both OT positions, as is the ever unpopular Winston Justice (who only truly deserves a small part of his bad rep). The newly acquired Stacy Andrews has NFL experience at RT and LG and has played very well at both spots. Mike Gibson is another OG/OT reserve that spent the 2008 season on IR. This isn’t to mention MJG, whom may or may not be ready for the season, but has done a reasonably good job at both OG spots.
With this versatility, the best option for our Birds could be at OG, OT, or C, depending on what is available or where they envision their current guys. As far as I see it, Herremans, Andrews, and Andrews are locks. As the roster currently stands, Jackson and McGlynn are likely the favorites, though Nick Cole played extremely well at RG and may be able to make the switch to LG or even push Jackson at C.
My two top targets are the top 2 Centers, Alex Mack and Max Unger. Either would likely win the job over Jackson from the door and would definitely be the starter within a year. Mack is the better of the two, both as a run blocker and a pass blocker, though Unger is more versatile, having played nearly every position on the line during his 4 years as a starter. I’d target Mack with the #28 pick and go after Unger in the 2nd if that doesn’t work out.
Herman Johnson, the mammoth LSU OG, could be a smart 2nd round target. He is 6’7 and over 350 lbs. He’s a first day starter at LG. At his size, it’s hard to believe he ran the 40 in under 5.5 seconds and reportedly has run it at 5.3.
Add Mack, Unger, or Johnson to the competition in the O-Line and expect this line to be better than last year’s line.
Up Next… Other Targets and Mock 7 Round Draft