Despite a number of holes on defense, the Eagles addressed the offensive line and Michael Vick's protection when they selected 26-year-old Danny Watkins of Baylor in the first round of the NFL draft.
Watkins has only played tackle but projects as a guard in the pros, although Eagles coach Andy Reid said Thursday night that Watkins could play anywhere on the line. Reid said that the 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman could step in and start immediately at either guard spot.
"We felt he was as good a football player as there was in the draft," Reid said at the NovaCare Complex. "It's not a glamour position, but it's a position that is crucial to us. He's got a toughness and a blue collar attitude."
The Eagles passed on Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi – also a blue collar type - who many projected would land in Philly. Cornerback Jimmy Smith was still on the board at No. 23 when the Eagles picked, but his troubled past may have kept the Eagles away. There were also several defensive lineman still available, an area the Eagles will likely address later in the draft.
Last year, the Eagles seemingly went into the draft needing offensive line depth. But they didn't select a player and did not add any via free agency or trade.
Those were non-moves the Eagles came to regret when center Jamaal Jackson, coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, tore his triceps in the opener. They also traded bust Stacy Andrews, who was expected to start at right tackle, before the season and were scrambling to fill that hole all season.
Watkins could be the answer. Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole split the position a year ago, but had difficulty protecting Vick's blindside along with right tackle Winston Justice. Mike McGlynn filled in at center last season, but he could be in for a move back to his natural guard position with Jackson on the mend. He'll have competition with Watkins.
If Watkins is to play left guard, Todd Herremans could be moved to right tackle, where Justice struggled late last season. Justice is also recovering from arthroscopic knee
Watkins may be 26, but he's a relative newcomer to organized football. Born and raised in British Columbia he was a part-time firefighter in Canada before he enrolled at Butte College in California and its fire sciences program in 2007.
"The fact that he's 26 and will be 27 this season is not a factor to his," Reid said. "His body has not gone through the beating up process."
He joined Butte's football team and gained attention from Division I-A schools after his freshman season. He transferred to Baylor after his sophomore season at the junior college and immediately became the Bears' starting left tackle.
He had a solid two seasons but jumped on NFL teams' radar during the evaluation period leading into the draft.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman "had this guy from the get-go at the top," Reid said. "He's one of those guys you can't help but like."
It looked as if the Eagles may go in another direction with the way the first round unfolded.
The run of three quarterbacks in between picks 8-12 threw the draft out of whack. Top pick Cam Newton was the only quarterback to go in the first seven picks, and it appear for a moment as if Roseman's prediction that quarterback-desperate teams would come to the Eagles looking to trade into the No. 23 spot would hold up.
But then Washington's Jake Locker went to Tennessee at No. 8, Jacksonville traded up and grabbed Blaine Gabbert of Missouri at No. 10 and the Vikings took Florida State's Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick.
That meant a significant number of players who were expected to go earlier dropped. The Lions, who many had taking Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, couldn't pass up Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley at No. 13. The Rams snapped up defensive end Robert Quinn of North Carolina next. And San Diego took Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget at No 18.
The biggest descent seemed to be that of Amukamara. Some analysts had the Nebraska cornerback going in the top ten. Most had him going before No. 13. But he fell right into the lap of the Giants at No. 19 and they snagged him even though cornerback didn't appear to be an area of need.
Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a player some envisioned the Eagles coveting, went to Tampa Bay at No. 20. Cleveland swapped with Kansas City at No. 21 and took Baylor and former Penn State defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo went to the Colts at No. 22.