Mayock on Eagles' First-Round Options

Luke Kuechly would be the best bet for the Eagles, says the NFL Network's Mike Mayock. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

If Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is there when the Eagles make the 15th overall selection in the 2012 entry draft, “that might be a slam-dunk for me” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call with reporters today. If Kuechly, Mayock’s top-ranked linebacker in the draft, isn’t still around at 15, he thinks the Eagles’ picture gets more complicated.

Mayock said he doesn’t see another inside linebacker he would take in the first round. (Middle linebacker seems to be the Birds’ biggest need.) He particularly doesn’t like Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict, a legendary hitter whose consistency, anger management and work ethic have been questioned. Mayock said even putting aside the issue of costly penalties, Burfict “gets enveloped,” by bigger bodies, shows poor instincts. Eagles fans, who have been known to like big hitters, seem fixated on Burfict; maybe their team can get him after the first round. “I’m not a fan at all,” Mayock said. “For a big, strong guy, he’s nowhere near as strong at the point of attack as I thought he would be.”

“(Kuechly’s) playmaking and instincts are so good, think about Sean Lee. I think that’s the best comparison for him. Sean Lee went in the second round to Dallas (from Penn State, two years ago), but has become a Pro Bowl inside linebacker, and I think this kid is very similar. He doesn’t have the knee issues Sean had, and I think he’s a slightly better athlete,” Mayock said.

“If he’s not there, I think you’ve got a little bit of a problem inside,” Mayock said. “I don’t think Don’ta Hightower, from Alabama, is worthy of the 15th pick in the draft, and I don’t think there’s any other inside linebackers worthy of that pick.”

So what do the Eagles do? Well, if they’ve gone through free agency, which starts March 13, without really addressing inside linebacking, then maybe they have to trade up several spots to ensure they get Kuechly. Remember, they do have an extra second-round pick to play with. Or, if they get linebacking in free agency, maybe they’re looking somewhere else at 15. Mayock sees defensive tackle as the deepest talent group in the first round, with five to seven players to whom he’d assign first-round grades, including Devon Still, from Wilmington and Penn State. Still sat out the Senior Bowl with an ankle problem, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said today that Still will participate fully in next week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Mayock said he had Still at the top of the draft class before he started evaluating junior talent declaring for the draft at DT, and now he thinks maybe there are as many as three better options – Michael Brockers of LSU, Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, and Dontari Poe of Memphis, a raw talent with upside.

The Eagles have to decide by next month whether they are going to pay Cullen Jenkins a $7.5 million roster bonus; seeing how much the Giants’ d-line keyed New York’s Super Bowl drive might convince them they need more difference-makers up front, particularly inside.

“If both players are equally ranked, then you’d probably want to go defensive tackle first,” Mayock said, when asked if the Eagles couldn’t get better value at DT than at LB with the 15th pick. “You and I both know the Eagles have struggled with that inside linebacker position for a long time now. I think Kuechly’s a special player and I think Kuechly can help solidify what’s happening on that defense. He’s going to get everybody lined up in the right place, he’s going to play well. I think he starts Day 1.”

So, linebacker and defensive tackle are the mostly likely positions for the Eagles to target? Maybe not. Let’s say that after the expected franchising of DeSean Jackson next week, the Birds end up trading their get-out-of-jail-free card to a team willing to meet his longterm demands. Then you have to be thinking wideout at 15. Mayock said “you’d have to take a look at (Baylor’s) Kendall Wright” there, if Jackson is gone by the April 26 start of the draft. Wright, 5-10, 190, has that over-the-top speed that Jackson uses to open up the field for other pass-catchers.