My Fifth Annual Not-so Fearless Forecast of what the Eagles may do in the draft -- in which I actually give the top ten things I think the Birds won’t do -- comes with a caveat: I know far less than I typically presume to know because Chip Kelly’s preference for players remains mostly a mystery.
Howie Roseman is a holdover from the Andy Reid tenure, however, and the chatter from contacts around the NFL is as omnipresent as ever. So on we must speculate.
Last year, I hit the mark on eight out of ten predictions, up from six out of ten the previous year. (Best prediction from 2012: The Eagles will move up and draft Fletcher Cox. The worst: The Eagles won’t draft a linebacker in the first three rounds.)
1. The Eagles won’t draft Dion Jordan. If the Oregon pass rusher goes in the first three picks, as some suspect, then that takes this prediction out of my hands. But I have Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Sharrif Floyd going 1-2-3 in my new mock draft (which will be posted tomorrow) and the Eagles next on the clock with Jordan still on the board. I’m in the minority here and think that Kelly will pass on his former player. Some have made the argument that Kelly will take Jordan in this instance because he knows him as well as anyone. But couldn’t that just as easily be the argument against taking him? What if Jordan was slow in the classroom and occasionally lazy in practice? Wouldn’t his coach know that as well as anyone? Even if Jordan was an A student and the hardest worker, he comes with many questions. Like can he add 20 pounds and still move in space as well as he did in college? Can he be a consistent pass rusher? The Ducks did not ask him to rush much as a senior and he finished with only five sacks. Some analysts love Jordan. Mike Mayock has said that he could be as productive as Aldon Smith in the pros. But Smith was already Smith at Missouri. With Jordan there’s too much guesswork, in my opinion, for him to be worth the No. 4 overall pick. So I think the Eagles will pass.
Do you have confidence the Eagles will make the right draft decision?
2. If the Eagles pick at No. 4, it will be a tackle. I’m going out on a limb here because the Eagles may not be able to find a trade partner – at least one that meets their demands – and may be forced to take a defensive player if Joeckel, Fisher and Lane Johnson (yes, it’s possible) are already off the board. If that’s the case, I think Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and maybe even BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah would be the pick. But I think Johnson will likely be there at No. 4. If Joeckel or Fisher were to fall – an unlikely scenario at this point – then it would it be a no-brainer unless some other team were to make Roseman an offer he couldn’t refuse. Johnson is a little trickier. He’s only played tackle for two seasons, but has the athleticism that Kelly would seem to want from an offensive lineman playing in his up-tempo offense. Two veterans, after last week’s minicamp, told me they love Kelly’s speed game, but that they’re concerned about some of the aging linemen being able to keep up as the season progresses. The Eagles need to get a tackle at some point in this draft, but the quality drops off after the first round. If they’re picking at No. 4, a tackle would be the least risky choice and give the Eagles a potential Pro Bowler at a cornerstone position. If they can’t get one of the top two guys then there will be an aggressive push to trade back. If Johnson is still there, they’ll try to swap picks with the Lions or Cardinals, but if they can’t, then I think he’s the pick.
3. Vinny Curry will be on the trade block. It will be difficult to deal Curry considering how little he played as a rookie. The Eagles would likely want a mid-round pick for a player they invested a second-round selection on last season (Rather than take Russell Wilson a round early. But I digress). So Curry may end remaining remain on the roster. But I don’t see how he fits. Curry was brought in as a 4-3 edge rusher, the kind that pins his ears back and b-lines for the quarterback. But with the move to a scheme that will at least have an odd-man front on base downs, Curry could get lost in the shuffle. He’s staying at end for now. He said last week that he weighed 278 pounds, up from last season’s 260. Even if he packs on more pounds, Curry doesn’t have the preferred body type for a two-gap end. He’s a generously-listed 6-foot-3. Maybe I’m missing something. Curry said he did some two-gapping at Marshall, where he briefly played for new Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. Perhaps the Eagles will find a way to utilize Curry as a “joker” on passing downs. They already have two ends in Trent Cole and Brandon Graham that will be asked to play as they never have in the NFL, though. If the Eagles can get another draft pick for Curry, I’d make the move.
4. The Eagles will draft an outside pass rusher – maybe two. Graham is entering his fourth season. Cole is entering his ninth. Neither has a contract that would keep the Eagles from cutting them after this season. Connor Barwin signed a six-year contract this offseason, but only the first two years are guaranteed. He is entering his fifth season. Of the three, only Barwin has played in a scheme that isn’t a traditional 4-3. All three will get a significant number of snaps this season. Now is the time to draft some outside pass rushers, ideally those that will develop into 3-4 outside linebackers and replace the aforementioned three. It usually takes a season for pass rushers to adapt to the NFL. Even if the Eagles were to take one in the first three rounds, it is unlikely that he would contribute right away. Maybe Graham and Barwin return in 2014. But they can’t play every down. The Eagles currently don’t have any young outside linebackers. Chris McCoy came via the CFL this offseason, but he is an unknown. The middle of the draft will be the perfect time for the Eagles to add a pass rusher or two – the tall, long kind that Kelly prefers – that project as starters.
5. The Eagles won’t draft Tavon Austin or another wide receiver before the third round. There’s been a lot of recent speculation that the Eagles could take the speedy West Virginia product in the first round. Some have even suggested Kelly would draft the 5-8 receiver with the fourth pick. It may sound sexy, but I just don’t see it. The Eagles already have an Austin-type receiver in DeSean Jackson. They have another solid receiver in Jeremy Maclin. They have and like the diminutive Damaris Johnson. They have two tight ends in Brent Celek and James Casey that are going to catch a number of passes. They still have Jason Avant and Riley Cooper. And running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown will catch their share of balls, as well. I’m not saying the Eagles’ receiving corp is great, but it’s pretty good and there are plenty of options for whatever quarterback ends up starting to throw to. So Austin is an unlikely selection, even if the Eagles trade back. The receiver class isn’t strong this year, especially in the first three rounds. There are some quick ball-catchers that could be available on the third day of the draft. That could be a more likely time for Kelly to pull the trigger on getting a skill guy he likes for his offense. But, again, there are capable pieces already in place at wide receiver. The Eagles may go the entire draft without picking one.
6. Nick Foles will not be traded. Back in January, I made the prediction that Foles would not be on the roster by the start of the season. That meant that he would likely be dealt during the offseason and before the draft. I was wrong. He’s still here and it doesn’t seem as if he’s going anywhere. I’m sure Foles’ market value had something to do with his staying put. I’m sure Kelly also likes him to some degree. If he loved him, though, he would have never brought Michael Vick back. So there’s that. There aren’t many teams I could see being interested in dealing for Foles at this point. Maybe the New York Jets. Maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars, who now employ Frank Scelfo, Foles’ quarterbacks coach at Arizona. But for the most part, teams are set at the position after spending most of free agency lining up their ducks before a draft that is weak in quarterbacks. So I’m not sure the market on Foles has shifted much, and I can’t see the Eagles giving him away for anything less than what they paid for him originally and that’s a third round pick.
7. The Eagles will not draft Geno Smith. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of a no-brainer at this point. But what if Smith falls into the latter part of the first round, like some are saying, and the Eagles only have to move up a few spots from No. 35 to nab the West Virginia quarterback? That could be enough to entice Kelly and Roseman, but I just don’t see quarterback being an immediate need considering this year’s crop. There’s no doubt the Eagles need a future quarterback. Vick is a one-year rental. Foles could develop into a starter, but is his ceiling high enough and will he be the ideal signal caller for Kelly’s offense? But if Foles was in this year’s draft, I’d rank him higher than Smith. So if Foles is better (I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way), then what would be the point of drafting Smith or even grabbing him in the second round? The Eagles just have too many other needs to waste on a project quarterback.
8. That being said, the Eagles will draft a quarterback after the fourth round. Matt Scott of Arizona is the obvious name. He has been linked to the Eagles for some time. They worked him out in March, and it wasn’t the smokescreen workout the Birds had with Smith down in Morgantown. There is no need to draw attention to your interest in a fourth round quarterback. The Eagles have the fourth pick in the fourth round. Scott should be available at that point. He may be still on the board a round later. If the Arizona product goes elsewhere, keep an eye on Zac Dysert from Miami (Ohio) in the middle rounds. The Eagles could also take a chance with a project in the seventh round or bring in an undrafted rookie. Kelly had success in college with run-of-the-mill quarterbacks. He’s proud of that distinction.
9. A cornerback will be taken somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. The Eagles need a young outside corner to develop. I know, they’re tried that recently and failed (see: Jack Ikegwuonu, Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh). It’s why some believe they should draft one early like Dee Milliner or Xavier Rhodes or D.J. Hayden and get a guy that can start right away. It’s not like Bradley Fletcher has the spot opposite Cary Williams locked up. The only way they would draft one of the above corners is if they traded back. It is possible. What’s more likely is the Eagles grabbing a guy in the second round or later. Roseman, like other evaluators, has said the class is deep at the corner spot. He also said there will be a run on some of the top guys. That should happen late in the first round. But what about the second-tier corners like Jamar Taylor, Johnthan Banks and Dwayne Gratz. If the lanky Banks (6-2, 185) falls into the third round, he could make sense for the Birds.
10. The Eagles will say they like their 2013 draft class. This one is for after the draft and a gentle reminder to everyone that it takes three years to effectively judge a class. The Eagles’ 2010 class, it is fair to say at this point, was a bust. Graham hasn’t been a failure, but he hasn't exactly lived up to being the No. 13 pick. Safety Nate Allen (second round) is running out of second chances. The 11 other draftees have been role players at best. Here’s Roseman’s take on defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim a few days after the Eagles surprisingly took him in the third round: “You speak to the people there and they just can’t tell you enough about his character, how much he loves the game, he loves to play, and then you put on the tape, you see all those things. You put that package together, and for us, it just kind of added up.” In the end, it added up to virtually nothing.