Monday, September 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Combine's Coming

The NFL Scouting Combine starts Thursday. The Eagles have two first-round picks in the April 25 entry draft, and the priority seems to be offensive.

Combine's Coming

This week, your Eagletarian is preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and his annual visit to lovely Indianapolis, a Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis. Can't you just taste the Orange Julius?city whose most memorable downtown feature is a labyrinth-like shopping mall, and whose better restaurants tend to be chain franchises. The forecast is for temps that never rise above freezing at any point between Thursday and Sunday. (Hey, Roger Goodell -- you're moving the Pro Bowl out of Hawaii ...why not give Honolulu a consolation prize? I think running the 40 on the beach might get more prospects in the mood to showcase their wares. Think about it.)

But since you, the loyal reader, don't have to go to Indianapolis, you probably don't care all that much, except as the combine relates to the Eagles and their two first-round selections in the April 25 entry draft.

That's what we're hoping to get a little better fix on in Indianapolis.  Our assumption is that the Birds' focus will be offensive, given that their No. 3-ranked defense is young and should be improving, and that of the team's unrestricted free agents, free safety Brian Dawkins seems the most likely to return.

That's what the mock draft world seems to anticipate as well-- I've looked at about a dozen so far, and every one of them has the Birds taking offensive players at 21st and 28th overall in the first round. I have no idea what the team's brain trust is thinking right now, but if it were up to me, the top priority would be offensive tackle, with Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan both about to hit the free agent market, Thomas at 34 and Runyan at 35. Runyan also is rehabbing after microfracture surgery on is right knee, which is what they do when you don't have any cartilage left.

Many mocks have the Birds getting an OT either 21st or 28th. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., for example, has them getting Michael Oher of Ole Miss, who has played both left and right tackleOle Miss OT Michael Oher 28th, after picking up Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells at 21. But right now, it's hard to see how Oher would last until 28th. I was on a conference call with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock last week. Mayock thinks there are four elite O-tackles in this draft, including Oher, and he thinks all of them will go in the top 15.

That would create a situation where the Birds, assuming they feel they need an elite OT in the draft, might need to burn that 28th pick to move up from 21. (No, I don't see any way they trade out of the first round again. That doesn't make sense.)

Losing even one of the first-round picks would be unfortunate, because the Eagles have other strong needs. Though Brent Celek finished strong as a pass-catcher, he is a poor blocker at tight end, and with L.J. Smith assumed to be leaving in free agency, tight end ought to be a draft priority. The problem there, as Paul Domowitch noted in the Daily News last week, is that Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew is the only really elite traditional tight end available in this draft. The Eagles would have to spend one of their picks on Pettigrew, or just handle shoring up that position in free agency.

Lots of mocks, including the one rendered by NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang, have the Eagles drafting Pettigrew. Rang has Pettigrew going at 21 and the Birds getting Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton at 28. I'm not sure I like Brandon Pettigrew reaches for the end zonethat -- the reports I've seen on Britton indicate he's more of a run-game mauler and less of an agile pass blocker. We all know what sort of offense the Eagles run.
Rang's colleague, Chad Reuter, has the Eagles getting Oher at 21 and Wells at 28, switching the order forecast by Kiper. Again, this would be nice -- Wells (6-1, 235) is the big back fans have long coveted. But he seems to get hurt a lot, and even if the Eagles go for a bigger back to help out/eventually succeed Brian Westbrook, they're likely to look for one who can catch a pass here and there. That isn't Wells.

There are other backs who might better fit what the Eagles do, if they take a runner in the first round, something that hasn't happened since Keith Byars in 1986. Georgia's Knowshon Moreno is 5-11, 207, and an excellent receiver. Scout.com's Chris Steuber has the Eagles selecting Pitt running back LeSean McCoy at 28, after getting Pettigrew at 21 (no offensive line help early from him.) McCoy (5-11, 205) is an intriguing player, who can run and catch. SI.com's Bucky Brooks feels he is the best back in the draft.

Traditionally, the Eagles have said this week is more about the interviews with the draft prospects than the drills and tests. Teams have plenty of chances to put players through their paces, and the Birds say they value what players  show on game film more than what they do in shorts, anyway. But Indianapolis affords an opportunity to put a player in front of a chalkboard, with the coaching staff present, and hash out the team's offense or defense with him. You get a sense of what sort of person you are dealing with, and you should get a sense of whether the guy gets what you're showing him, or is totally overwhelmed. (See Ryan Moats, third round, 2005.)

Then, as the Combine ends, free agency starts, on Feb. 27. That's another post.  

Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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