Eagles first round: cornerback or lineman? Kiper weighs in

Texas cornerback Aaron Wiliams could be available when they Eagles pick in the first round. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

When draft day comes, where should the Eagles look in the first round: cornerback or offensive line?

Both spots are huge needs, but with only one first round pick, it’s worth looking at which position is deeper and likely to provide quality prospects in the second round, and if either is so thin that the Eagles have to make an early pick to get a player who can make an immediate impact.

We asked ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper about the decision in a national conference call Thursday.

“Cornerback is an interesting position because I think there’s going to be a mixed opinion on those guys, specifically the juniors,” Kiper said. But when he rattled off his list of potential late first round or second and third round prospects, he added, “Cornerback is a little deeper from that standpoint.”

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Kiper helpfully provided a list of players at both spots who could be available when the Eagles pick late in the first round or in the second round (see below).

My interpretation: at this point Kiper sees more cornerbacks worthy of being chosen in the early rounds, but after the first couple of guys -- who are likely to be gone by the time the Eagles pick -- there is significant debate about which talented second and third rounders can put it all together to contribute. Several late first round or second round corners had disappointing seasons, according to Kiper. On the offensive line, most mock drafts, at this very early stage, have the prospects going fairly quickly, though Kiper named a few good players who might be available in later rounds.

Kiper has the Eagles taking Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi with their top pick, 23rd overall, though other draft prognosticators have linked the team with cornerbacks Aaron Williams, of Texas, or Brandon Harris, of Miami. Both of whom, right now, are expected to be available in the range when the Eagles first choose.

Below are some names Kiper cited as potential picks on the offensive line and at cornerback in the first few rounds. For our purposes, I’ve ruled out stars likely to go well before the Eagles pick.

Three points to keep in mind: 1)With free agency likely to be delayed by the CBA problems, the draft might be the first time the Eagles can address either position. 2)This is a still early evaluation by a handful of analysts. There is still more to see of these players -- notably the NFL Combine and interviews -- and some of these player ratings will change by April. 3)As we saw last year, the Eagles are perfectly capable of trading up or selecting from a position few anticipated.

Offensive Line:
Kiper said he doesn’t see many guards “who are going to be those potential, immediate hole-fillers,” unless a team moves a tackle inside. Several early projections have the top four of five tackles being picked in the first round.

Late first round possibilities:
-- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin: A “mauler” in the words of NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan. He said Carimi might be a right tackle – which implies that he is weaker as a pass blocker, since the best tackles play on the left side. For the Eagles, though, the right side is more important in pass protection, since it guards Mike Vick’s blind side.

-- Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: He’s the second best tackle in the draft, according to the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, though other evaluators have him a bit lower and like Carimi better. Kirwan liked his pass blocking at Senior Bowl practices.

-- Mike Pouncey, Florida: The younger brother of the Steelers Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. Mike is not as good as Maurkice, Kiper said, but he still thinks Mike could play center or guard and has him going at 19 to the Giants – right in the range of when the Eagles choose. In another year, Kiper said, Pouncey might go later in the draft, but jumps up because there aren’t many great guards available.

Top tackles Nate Solder (Colorado) and Tyron Smith (USC) are likely to go before the Eagles pick, according to several projections. Again, all subject to change by April.

Second round or later:
-- Danny Watkins, Baylor: Kiper said the guard is rising up the draft board and might be a second or third round pick.

-- Jah Reid, Central Florida: Kiper talked Reid up several times to different reporters, saying he could be a second or third round pick at right tackle. He has size: 6-foot-7, 325.

-- Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State: Mayock has the Penn State product ranked second among interior linemen, after Pouncey.

Late first round possibilities:
-- Aaron Williams, Texas: “Showed flashes of being a top 15 pick,” Kiper said, but added “he had other games where he showed not being a first rounder.” Expected to be available when the Eagles pick first.

-- Brandon Harris, Miami: Kiper didn’t think he had a great year, but he still has the corner going 26th to Baltimore, so he could be around when the Eagles choose. Most early projections have him as a first round talent.

Second round or later:
-- Jimmy Smith, Colorado: The All Big-12 corner might be had in the second round. He’s ranked in the next tier right now after Williams and Harris and top cornerback prospects Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) and Patrick Peterson (LSU).

-- Ras-I Dowling, Virginia: At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Kiper likes his size and potential, but Dowling missed most of his senior year with knee and ankle injuries (cue the Eagles/knee injury jokes). He might be around in the 2nd to 4th rounds, Kiper said.

-- Brandon Burton, Utah: He was seen as a talented prospect, but Kiper included him in the group of corners who will draw mixed opinions. He’s expected to be available in the second round and maybe later.

Harris, Williams and Smith rank third, fourth and fifth in Mayock's cornerback rankings. The top two on his list, and just about any, are Amukamara and Peterson. They should be long gone by the time the Eagles pick.

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