Eagles draft outlook: Defensive line

Earlier breakdowns:

Offensive line

Running back

Wide receiver

And while I didn't do a specific Draft Outlook post on defensive tackle, I covered that position in detail in a post earlier this month.

So today's item will focus more on defensive ends and the line overall.

On the roster: The Eagles used eight primary players as a part of their defensive line rotation last season: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws and Darryl Tapp.

The most stable position on the line is right defensive end. Cole rarely comes off the field and was really their only three-down lineman in 2010.

Dixon was outstanding, and unless he takes a step back, I can't see how the Eagles can keep him out of the starting lineup. Right now, Patterson has the other defensive tackle position locked down, meaning Bunkley likely becomes more of a rotation guy in 2011.

Left defensive end is up in the air. The Eagles tried to solidify this spot last season with Graham, who tore his ACL late in the year. Parker still contributes, but he turns 33 in May.

Laws and Tapp served as inside pass-rushers, and Tapp also provided some depth at the end spots. In his third NFL year, Laws showed encouraging signs. And I thought Tapp really improved as the season went on. Don't be surprised if the Eagles expect to have him play a bigger role in 2011. Remember, Tapp will only be 27 next season.

The other defensive linemen on the roster: Jeremy Clark, Phillip Hunt, Bobby McCray, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Jeff Owens, Victor Abiamiri and Ricky Sapp.

Contract situations: This section is particularly interesting for the defensive line. Three of the Eagles' eight core linemen from a year ago are entering the final year of their contracts: Parker, Bunkley and Laws.

Cole is signed through 2013; Patterson 2016; Graham 2014; and Tapp 2012.

Dixon's future depends on the new rules put into place with the CBA, but the Eagles figure to control his rights through 2012.

In other words, competition will be fierce for D-line positions, not only for 2011, but for the future beyond next season. The Eagles spent four picks on defensive linemen in 2010.

Draft history: The Eagles have taken 19 defensive linemen since Andy Reid became the coach in 1999: Pernell Davis (7th round, 251st overall in 1999); Corey Simon (1st round, 6th overall in 2000); John Frank (6th round, 178th overall in 2000); Derrick Burgess (3rd round, 63rd overall in 2001); Raheem Brock (7th round, 238th in 2002); Jerome McDougle (1st round 15th overall in 2003); Jamaal Green (4th round, 131st overall in 2003); Mike Patterson (1st round, 31st overall in 2005); Trent Cole (5th round, 146th overall in 2005); Keyonta Marshall (7th round; 247th overall in 2005); Brodrick Bunkley (1st round, 14th overall in 2006); Chris Gocong (3rd round, 71st overall in 2006); LaJuan Ramsey (6th round, 204th overall in 2006); Victor Abiamiri (2nd round, 57th overall in 2007); Trevor Laws (2nd round, 47th overall in 2008); Brandon Graham (1st round, 13th overall in 2010); Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (3rd round, 86th overall in 2010); Ricky Sapp (5th round, 134th overall in 2010); Jeff Owens (7th round, 243rd overall in 2010).

The Eagles have used either a first- or second-round pick on a defensive lineman in seven of the past 11 drafts and five of the past six.

How I see it: I've mentioned this before, but 14 of Mike Mayock's 32 top draft prospects this year are defensive linemen. That's a high number.

And the more I think about it, the more likely it seems that the Eagles will spend an early pick on the defensive line. Consider the last two offseasons. Before 2010, the Birds traded up to draft Graham and spent a third-rounder on Te'o-Nesheim. They also acquired Tapp from Seattle.

After the 2010 season, they aggressively went after Jim Washburn and have made it clear that the defensive philosophy will be based off of his scheme up front.

As I mentioned above, Bunkley, Laws and Parker are all entering the final year of their contracts, and Graham is coming off an injury. It's no secret that an upgrade on defense is the key to the Eagles being a contender in 2011.

For those reasons, look for them to take a defensive lineman early. That could mean at No. 23 in the first round. That could mean trading back and picking someone up in the second. And despite what Howie Roseman said last week, I wouldn't be surprised if they traded up to snag one.

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