Friday, December 19, 2014

First-round edge rusher for Eagles? Not likely

INDIANAPOLIS – Some quick pre-combine thoughts, some Eagles related, some not:

First-round edge rusher for Eagles? Not likely

Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. (Mike Groll/AP)
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. (Mike Groll/AP)

INDIANAPOLIS – Some quick pre-combine thoughts, some Eagles related, some not:

--It’s no secret the Eagles need to find themselves a difference-making edge-rusher this offseason. They may get one, but it probably won’t be in the first round of the draft.

The Eagles own the 22nd overall pick. Heading into the combine, there seems to be just two first-round-worthy edge-rushers who would be good fits at outside linebacker in the Eagles’ 3-4 – Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Three, I guess, if you wanted to include Jadeveon Clowney. But he’s going to be a top-3 pick.

Mack and Barr also likely will be out of the Eagles’ reach. Unless they do something to hurt their stock here this week, like run 4.9 forties, Mack and Barr both figure to be long gone by the time the Eagles are on the clock at 22. Yeah, I guess they could trade up. But they might have to move up into the top 10 to get one of them.

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“I think Mack is a top-five player,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “And I think Barr has got considerable upside and will be off the board before the Eagles (pick).’’

Mayock said the one edge-rusher that might force his way into the conversation at 22 with a good workout in Indy is Auburn’s Dee Ford.

Ford is just 6-2, but has been compared favorably to the Seahawks’ undersized edge-rusher, Bruce Irvin, who was taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Irvin had eight sacks as a rookie, but just two this season.

--As many as six offensive tackles could go in the first round of the draft in May. They are Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia’s Morgan Moses. Matthews, Robinson and Lewan all could be top-10 picks. Could one of the other three end up going to the Eagles? Sure.

I know what you’re thinking. The Eagles have much bigger needs than offensive tackle, and you’re right. But they’re going to take the best player available not necessarily the best player available at a position of need.

Also, keep in mind that three of the Eagles’ five starting offensive linemen, including left tackle Jason Peters, are on the other side of 30. Peters turned 32 in January and has one year left on his contract.

Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland coached Kouandjio at Alabama. But it’s questionable whether the kid is athletic enough to flourish in the Eagles’ zone-blocking scheme. He looked painfully slow in ‘Bama’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

“There was some inconsistencies in his game this year,’’ Mayock said. “He’s a talented kid but he was up and down.’’

This is an extremely deep draft for offensive tackles. “You can go 3-4 rounds this year and get a starting offensive tackle,’’ Mayock said.

--Matt Barkley is expected to back up Nick Foles next season. But what if somebody is interested in trading for Barkley? Could happen. Five of the first eight teams in the draft – Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota – all have a quarterback need. So do several other teams in the league. Only three of them are going to wind up with Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. That leaves three options for everybody else – draft another quarterback, sign one in free agency or trade for one. Just sayin’.

--Mayock thinks Manziel has the ability to be a successful starting quarterback in the league. But he had some concerns about the kid after watching the tapes of his games against LSU and Missouri.

“Neither were really good tapes,’’ he said. “The common denominator in both was I felt like he got frustrated in the pocket and I felt like LSU and Missouri did a great job with controlling their rush and keeping him in the pocket. And the more he was in the pocket, the more frustrated he got.

“He started to lose his accuracy. He started trying to escape the pocket way before he needed to, and I feel like he doesn’t like being confined. He likes those open spaces.’’

--Blake Bortles is considered the least developed of the three top quarterbacks in the draft. But he made quite an impression on the Texans’ new head coach, Bill O’Brien, last September. Bortles went up to Happy Valley and shredded O’Brien’s Penn State defense, completing 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead Central Florida to a 34-31 win.

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