The Eagles spoke with 14 players after Senior Bowl practices, all on defense, and over the past two weeks we profiled all of them in a 5-part series. Apologies in advance if you're no longer interested in an event that occurred two weeks ago.
To give you a better idea of the setting, after every Senior Bowl practice, the players will sort of mill around on the field, where NFL scouts and assistants have the opportunity to speak with them. The Eagles were extremely busy speaking with prospects after several of the practices, and seemed to have a sense of purpose with who they targeted.
To note, by the time the Eagles whittle down their draft board to around 150 players, they will speak with just about every prospect. Still, it is interesting to see who the scouts and assistant coaches specifically spend some extra time with after practices.
Here's that 5-part series in one convenient place:
Corner is an obvious position of need for the Eagles. Bradley Fletcher was good in his first season with the Eagles, while there were mixed reviews on Cary Williams. Meanwhile, Brandon Boykin is emerging as one of the best slot corners in the game. That is a trio that overall is good, but certainly not anywhere close to teams like the Seahawks.
Beyond Fletcher, Williams and Boykin, the Eagles have virtually nothing in the way of depth at corner. They absolutely need to reload behind what they already have in place. A review of the corners the Eagles spoke with at the Senior Bowl:
• Stan Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (6'2, 215)
Jean-Baptiste had 4 INTs in 2013, 2 INTs in 2012. The first two things that stand out when you see him are that he's long and lean, and likes to play press coverage. Gil Brandt of NFL.com compared him to Seahawks All Pro CB Richard Sherman:
Jean-Baptiste has rare size (6-foot-2 3/8, 215); he looks like a clone of Richard Sherman. I'm sure the Seahawks, among most NFL teams, will be paying close attention to this player. He's a junior-college transfer who only played cornerback for a season and a half at Nebraska after switching from wide receiver in 2011. Has very long arms (78 3/8 wingspan) and is a willing tackler. Looks fast in coverage and has quickness. If he looks like he can cover in man drills this week, he might move up into my top 100. Smart player who entered 2013 with his degree already in hand.
Personally, I don't really see many similarities, and in the games I watched, I did not see a willing tackler. Jean-Baptiste's effectiveness as a press corner should not be confused with physicality. Nnamdi Asomugha was a great press corner for years in Oakland, but he wasn't a player that liked to stick his nose in there in the run game. When you watch Jean-Baptiste play, he demonstrates a lot of the same traits. He's a player that will just kind of stand around the pile and be content to let his teammates make tackles instead of aggressively attacking. Sherman, on the other hand, is a legitimately physical corner. Jean-Baptiste reminds me more of Nnamdi than Sherman.
Last year, the Eagles brought in two free agents in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher that were good in run support. Jean-Baptiste is an intriguing player for his size, but he has to become more of a willing participant in stopping the run.
Jean-Baptiste switched from wide receiver to corner, and thinks he thinks he still has some work to do. "I have to work on my off-man technique," said Jean-Baptiste. "I have a tendency to jump routes a lot, so I have to work on that." Against Penn State this year, Jean-Baptiste jumped a route on Allen Robinson, and was toasted deep, but Christian Hackenberg missed the throw. Check out the 2:05 mark here (and you may as well file away the excellent route that Robinson ran here while you're at it).
This is player that has a high ceiling because of his size and athleticism, but might not be someone you want playing right away, as he needs some work. If the Eagles like what they see, he could be a player that takes over on the outside in a few years.
• Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma (5'11, 186)
In 2012, Brandon Boykin broke his leg at the Senior Bowl and the Eagles were able to draft him in the 4th round, which was an absolute steal. In 2014, they may find themselves in a position to do the same with Aaron Colvin.
After the first day of practice, the Eagles were all over Colvin, as several scouts and assisstant coaches chatted him up. It was the most attention I saw the Eagles pay someone (with the possible exception of Florida State ILB Christian Jones) in my time down at the Senior Bowl.
On Day 2, Colvin tore his ACL. A torn ACL is far more serious than a broken leg, but if the Eagles really like him and are willing to be patient, they could draft him with the intent of Colvin basically being a rookie in 2015. They've done this in the past, unsuccessfully, with Wisconsin CB Jack Ikegwuonu, who they drafted in the 4th round in 2008. Unless he's a bona fide stud player, the 4th round is too early to draft a guy with a torn ACL, but if Colvin is still available a little later, it could be a long term value play.
Colvin was one of the top-rated CB prospects in the country before his injury. One of the most entertaining of Colvin's games to watch was the Sooners' 50-49 win over West Virginia in 2012. In that game, WVU WR Stedman Bailey went off for 13 catches, 205 yards, and 4 TDs. Colvin covered Bailey quite a bit that day, and was responsible for 2 of his TDs. However, he also had an INT, a pass breakup that led to an INT by one of his teammates, and several other pass breakups. He also had 8 tackles. That game is definitely worth a look, as WVU threw Colvin's way repeatedly. Sometimes Colvin won, sometimes he didn't, but you'll see him get a ton of action here:
• Dontae Johnson, CB, North Carolina State (6'2, 199)
Like Stan Jean-Baptiste, Johnson is CB with great size. The knock on him are the lack of big plays in his college career at NC State. For his career, Johnson only had 3 INTs and 1 forced fumble. The other concern is his speed. The video below is of Johnson against Clemson. There are a few occasions where Johnson is burnt on deep routes, although Clemson didn't capitalize on them.
What you do see in that video, however, is a very good, and willing tackler. Johnson will be a player to watch at the combine. It wil be interesting to see how fast he runs there. Because of the speed concerns, his future in the NFL could be at safety.
On a side note, Johnson's favorite player growing up was Brian Dawkins.
Safety is the most glaring hole on the Eagles' roster:
• Patrick Chung was a disaster in 2013 and likely won't be back.
• Nate Allen is a free agent.
• While Earl Wolff certainly showed glimpses that he can start in the NFL, his play was perhaps a little overrated by the fan base because of the fact that he isn't Patrick Chung. Wolff is a promising player, but he shouldn't be considered a sure thing at this point.
Even if the Eagles are able to retain Allen, the Eagles will have one functional starter, one promising player who might be starter in the NFL, and then a handful of "replacement level" players as depth.
There's a pretty good chance the safety position will be addressed both in free agency and the draft, like it was a year ago. The Eagles spoke with two safeties after Senior Bowl practices. They were Deone Bucannon of Washington State and Ahmad Dixon of Baylor.
• Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State (6'1, 216)
At the Senior Bowl, Bucannon made an immediate impression at the weigh-in, where he may have been the most muscular player among the 100+ players in attendance. His listed size in college (6'1, 216) was also confirmed.
Bucannon is probably best known for his big hits. Unlike a lot of other safeties who get the reputation for being big hitters because they're teeing off on defenseless recivers, many of Bucannon's biggest hits occurred when he was taking on runners who were at full speed with the ball in their hands. Those are the real enforcers. Check out his highlights here, and watch what he does to the poor kid from Auburn at the 1:03 mark. The runner was heading one way, and when Bucannon hit him, his momentum stopped in its tracks, and he went directly backwards, while also losing the football. Monster hit.
In 2013, Bucannon had 3 forced fumbles and 6 INTs. Also noteworthy is that he made plays against Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks. Here is Bucannon's career numbers against Oregon:
The big question on Bucannon will be his ability in coverage. Washington State didn't ask Bucannon to cover tight ends and slot receivers much in college. "We were a zone blitz team," said Bucannon, "so a lot of it was just straight zone."
When asked what he needed to prove to NFL people, Bucannon said, "(I need to prove that) I can actually cover, that I can actually stay with the slot receivers and tight ends, and that my hips aren't are tight as what people may think because I'm a big safety. Those are the things I'm working on... fluidity in my hips, being able to turn and run with the slot receivers."
Once mock draft season gets into full swing, you'll see Bucannon's name quite a bit in the 2nd round because of his highlight reel. However, you have to be careful with a player like him. 20 years ago, when the safety position was a lot different, Bucannon might have been a highly sought after player who could patrol the middle of the field and lay the wood. More recently, safeties have to also be good cover guys, more so than being enforcers. Bucannon can hit, but can he cover? That's a bit of an unknown because of the way he was used at Washington State. Can you use a 2nd round pick on a safety whose man-to-man cover skills are an unknown? That's a major risk.
• Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor (6'0, 205)
Like Bucannon, Dixon is untested to some degree as a cover safety, but is a physical player. I love this play by Dixon at the 1:02 mark below against Texas Tech. Stud TE Jace Amaro is running against the formation and is within the 5 yard chuck zone, so Dixon runs up and decleats him. Love that attitude.
However, unlike Bucannon, Dixon was not a big-time playmaker in college. In his 4-year college career, Dixon had just 4 INTs and 2 forced fumbles.
Sheil Kapadia of Philly Mag spoke with Dixon at the Senior Bowl:
Asked what he thinks the biggest question about him is, Dixon said: “It’s my coverage ability. And that’s because we don’t do very much man-to-man coverage at Baylor. We’re moreso a quarters-based team so more in zone a lot. But that’s what I’m here for, to show everybody that I can cover and I’m not afraid to do so.
“I’m not very good in [practice] one-on-ones, but in the game I’ll lock you down.”
Dixon was arrested on suspicion of assault in September. He was later cleared of those charges, but that doesn't mean that NFL people won't have questions about the incident. Dixon will have to interview well if the Eagles are to draft him, as it appears that Chip Kelly places a high value on character.
Inside linebacker is an interesting position to watch for the Eagles this offseason. DeMeco Ryans seemingly had a solid season for the Eagles at ILB, but was he leaving plays on the field? In the 3-4, the linebackers are expected to make more impact plays than linebackers in a 4-3. Ryans is a smart player and a respected leader, but would a more athletic player make more plays in Billy Davis' defense? The Eagles will have to weigh that when they consider the future of the ILB position.
Complicating matters for Ryans is that he's scheduled to make $6,900,000 in 2014. There's almost no way he'll see that amount in full. If/when the Eagles ask Ryans to take a pay cut, how much will they insist on, and will Ryans be receptive to the idea?
The Eagles were busy chatting up inside linebackers after Senior Bowl practices. Here's who they spoke with:
• Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU (6'1, 229)
Dating back to 2003, the number 18 at LSU has been worn by the player who best represents what it means to be an LSU Tiger on and off the field. In 2012, that honor went to Bennie Logan, who the Eagles drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. The number 18 went to Barrow during the 2013 season.
There's nothing flashy about Barrow's game. He makes a lot of tackles, always seems to be in the right position, and he doesn't overrun plays. However, there's also nothing flashy about his statistics. In his entire career at LSU, Barrow had no INTs, 1 forced fumble, and 1.5 sacks.
In the 2013 draft, 8 LSU defenders were drafted in the first 5 rounds, and 6 in the first 3 rounds.
With so many playmakers on one defense, it is understandable that Barrow was a bit overshadowed in 2012. In 2013, it was expected that Barrow could emerge as an impact player. While he played good team football, Barrow did not make impact plays. The Eagles will like that Barrow is a high character guy. They probably won't like his size or production.
• Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin (5'11, 245)
Doing a swami bit on NFL Network, draft analyst Mike Mayock predicted, "Chris Borland from the University of Wisconsin will start 16 games and be the Kiko Alonso of next year’s class."
Watch the 1:21 mark of the video below. Borland is an ILB, and look at this inside spin move he puts on Ohio State's RT. Then after Braxton Miller is flushed from the pocket, watch Borland chase him down an make an ankle tackle from behind. Same thing at the 4:11 mark. Great outside spin on the RB, flushes the QB, then hustles in pursuit. And rushing the passer isn't even supposed to be his thing.
And then finally, at the 8:21 mark, watch him stand up 235 pound RB Carlos Hyde at the goal line. Really, just watch this entire video. Borland is in on almost every play:
Borland has excellent quickness, and attacks downhill, but not in a reckless way. When he diagnoses a play, he hits it with authority. If the offense hasn't yet tipped their hand, Borland stays patient. He's just a really fun prospect to watch, and if you want to see more of him, check out DraftBreakdown.com's Chris Borland library, which includes 7 games.
But alas, from the Eagles' perspective, if they were to draft Borland, they'd have two ILBs who are are shorter than 6'0, and obviously, that is not ideal.
• Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois (6'1, 224)
Brown looks like he has some athleticism, but he doesn't have the same savvy as Barrow or Borland. Check out the 6:06 mark below. First, Brown bites on the play action. Then, when he realizes the QB still has the ball, Brown changes direction and flows toward the QB's bootleg. When the QB looks back to his left, Brown then turns his body completely around and tries to chase the other way, and he runs into the umpire. No anticipation at all.
Brown may run well at the combine, but he needs some polish as an ILB.
• Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State (6'3, 234)
There isn't a lot not to like about Christian Jones. He has good size, he can run, he can cover, he can tackle, and he can rush the passer.
Let's just start with his combination of size of speed. Here's Florida State's game against Clemson in 2012. There are two really impressive plays by Jones in this game. First, look at the 5:14 mark. Sammy Watkins is a potential top 10 pick in this draft, and Clemson somehow gets him matched up 1-on-1 against Jones. Maybe a better throw would have been completed, but watch Jones run nearly stride for stride with Watkins. That is about the best you can hope for from a 234 pound linebacker covering an elite WR. And then at the 6:25 mark, look at the closing speed as the WR crosses Jones' face, and Jones has to accelerate to undercut the pass and knock it down. This is tremendous for a player his size.
The downside of Jones' game shows up in the above video as well. Jones doesn't always play his assignment closely, and that can lead to big plays for the offense. At the 2:52 mark, it appears as though Jones was out of position, as explained by color analyst Kirk Herbstreit. At the 4:17 mark, Clemson's gadget play works for a long TD because Jones loses his man (Andre Ellington).
At the Senior Bowl, Jones was by far and away the best pass rusher in 1-on-1 drills among the ILBs in attendance. His versatility in that regard is where Jones becomes really intriguing as a potential target for the Eagles. In the 2nd half of the season, Florida State started lining up Jones at DE, and he looked the part. Watch the below game against NC State. Jones transitions seamlessly from rushing the passer from a 3-point stance on one play, to covering the seam from a LB spot on the next. This is extremely impressive versatility:
Jones is a player the Eagles could put on the field, and just leave him there for the entire game. With two highly athletic linebackers in Jones and Kendricks, Billy Davis would be free to show a lot of exotic looks, using his ILBs in all kinds of assorted roles.
The Eagles gave Jones plenty of attention after Senior Bowl practices. He could be a legitimate player of interest in the first two rounds.
Outside linebacker might be the Eagles' biggest need. In the first 8 games of the season, Trent Cole had 0 sacks. In the last 9 games he had 8 sacks. In the past, Cole was a guy who would start fast, and finish slow. This year he was the opposite. However, even with Cole's late rejuvenation, he's 31 years old, and the Eagles lack a true 3-4 OLB who can get after the passer with any level of consistency. They also lack depth.
While an edge rusher isn't as glaring a need as other positions such as safety, it is important to factor in the importance of the position. Premium edge rushers are extremely valuable and highly sought after players. Think of them in terms of importance to a defense similarly to the way you think of the importance of the QB to an offense. Any team that doesn't have a stud edge rusher should always continue to look for one until they do. And the Eagles most certainly do not have a stud edge rusher.
Here are the OLBs the Eagles spoke with after Senior Bowl practices:
• Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech (6'3, 252)
Two years ago, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin was drafted 15th overall by the Seahawks. While the pick wasn't a huge surprise to NFL people, it was a major surprise to the draftnik community:
While Irvin is a different player than Attaochu, there are some parallels. In two years at West Virginia, Irvin racked up 22.5 sacks, despite a limited repertoire of pass rush moves. Leading up to the draft, he said that West Virginia never taught him how to rush the passer.
I feel like, to be honest with you, I’ve never been taught how to pass rush. The last two years, the 23 sacks that I got, it was all natural ability. Not to knock my coaches, but they emphasized stopping the run, and that’s what we did. We never did any pass rushing drills. I feel like, with the proper coaching and the right people around me I feel like I can be a very productive player in this league.
When you watched Irvin's tape, he had three basic moves: Speed around the corner with a little dip, speed around the corner with a quick stop and rip underneath, and the bull rush. He was getting to the QB just with raw ability.
Irvin is more explosive than Attaochu, but Attaochu is more well-rounded as a run defender, and he didn't look lost dropping into coverage at the Senior Bowl.
Where Attaochu is similar to Irvin is his complete lack of a pass rush repertoire. Attaochu racked up 12.5 sacks in 2013 (6th in the country), and 31.5 for his career, which is the highest career sack total in Georgia Tech history. And he basically did it on raw ability. That can be viewed as a positive or a negative. I tend to view it as a positive, as pass rush moves can be learned, while raw ability cannot.
If the Eagles were to have interest in Attaochu, they might have to take him in the first round, and not expect immediate results. Attaochu has the requisite athletic ability and size to be a dominant pass rusher, but it could take some time to teach him how to rush the passer and master the finer points of the game (timing out the snap count, etc). In terms of his fit in Philly, Attaochu could be played sparingly behind Trent Cole for a year, before taking over as the rush OLB in 2015.
• Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6'3, 244)
To note, someone in Eagles gear spoke with Van Noy after one of the practices, but it was not a face I recognized, so it may or may not have been an Eagles' scout. Still, because Van Noy is an intriguing option for the Eagles, we'll review him anyway.
Van Noy is a complete OLB. He can rush the passer, he can play the run, and he's great in coverage. If you look at the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, you can three all three of those attributes on display.
At the 0:53 mark, watch him take on two lead blockers, and then make a tackle for loss anyway. At the 3:54 mark, look at the explosion through the hole to make a tackle for a big loss. At the 6:56 mark, watch the speed rush, resulting in a sack, FF, FR, and TD. At the 8:39 mark, he gets a pick 6 to seal the game. Oh, and he blocked a punt, too (5:41 mark). Van Noy had himself a game.
The thing that might dissuade the Eagles from having interest in Van Noy is that they already have a player who is just like him. Connor Barwin is the most complete player of the Eagles' outside linebackers, as he can rush the passer, play the run, and cover. He's not stellar at any one of those things, but he's solid enough across the board to be a legitimate productive 3-4 OLB in the NFL. Barwin seems to be the perfect compliment to an OLB on the other side who can really specialize in getting after the passer.
The Eagles' bigger need in terms of outside linebackers is a stud outside edge pass rusher who can play opposite Barwin and be an impact player. Van Noy is a lot more like Barwin, in that he's comfortable handling all the responsibilities of the OLB position, but isn't an elite player at any one of those things. Van Noy is a versatile player, which makes him very attractive in Billy Davis' defense. Could the Eagles double up on versatile OLBs, which would give Davis the ability to show more exotic looks, having confidence that both of his OLBs can do everything? There could be some logic in that.
The defensive line is probably the Eagles' biggest strength on the defense. Bennie Logan filled in at NT nicely last season, but his value is as a versatile defensive lineman who can play all 3 positions. Watching the Saints move the Eagles' defensive line in the run game reinforced the need to bring in a more traditional big-bodied run stuffer. The Eagles swung and missed with Isaac Sopoaga last offseason. Expect them to try again in 2014.
At DE, the Eagles have a nice mix of young talent. This is a low priority position in terms of "need," however, it's also never a bad idea to load up on players in the trenches. The three below players would all likely project to DE in the Eagles' 3-4 scheme.
• Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia (6'6, 271)
Clarke was late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, after having a good week of practices at the East-West Shrine Game, and is a player who continues to ascend.
When you watch Clarke's games in 2012 and compare them to 2013, there is a noticeable difference in his play both on the field and in the stat sheet. First, the stats:
The number that jumps out is Clarke's 17 tackles for loss last season, a very impressive number.
The other thing that jumps out is Clarke's impressive size, at 6'6, 271. Over the last 2 years, Clarke had 7 batted passes at the line, which is something the Eagles value. Batted passes are more of a product of awareness as opposed to height, but the add height certainly doesn't hurt.
I liked the following consecutive plays at the 8:25 mark below. First, Clarke keeps his eyes on the QB while rushing, reads bubble screen, gets his hands up in the passing lane, makes the QB double pump, which almost leads to an INT by the CB. Then on the next play, TCU tries to block Clarke with a RB (which isn't going to happen), but more impressively, watch the bend and balance to stay up continue to hunt the QB. Nicely done (via draftbreakdown.com):
Clarke is also thought of as a good character guy, who is thought of highly by the West Virginia coaching staff. He expects to pursue his masters in forensics. The Eagles have shown that they are placing a high value on character under Chip Kelly. He is also a player used to playing the read and react style on DL play that the Eagles employ with their 3-4 two-gap scheme.
• DeAndre Coleman, DT, Cal (6'5, 315)
After watching Coleman's games, what you see is a player who does a really good job of engaging the blocker, driving him back while reading the play, and then shedding the block once the play has been diagnosed. He does a great job against the the run, but he's not an impact player as a pass rusher.
Here's a quick 3-minute video of Coleman against Chip Kelly's 2012 Oregon Ducks. Watch Coleman consistently get off blocks, and affect running plays.
The Eagles' run defense was exposed a bit in the playoff game against the Saints, when they were often blown off the ball in short yardage situations. Coleman is big and strong at 6'5, 315, and he has long 34" arms to keep opposing blockers from getting into his body. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton are both good DEs against the run, but the Eagles don't have much in the way of depth in terms of run-stopping defensive linemen. Coleman could be a legitimate target to fill that kind of role in the mid-late rounds.
• Brent Urban, DE, Virginia (6'7, 298)
Urban has great size at 6'7, 298, and is a batted pass machine. In 2013, he had 9 of them. Batted passes really aren't all that much different from sacks. Let's look at the difference between sacks and batted passes:
• Loss of down
• Potential for forced fumble
• Potential for inflicting some pain on the QB
• Loss of yardage
• Loss of down
• Potential for INT on deflection
With sacks, obviously, you get the loss of yardage, and the hit on the QB, but batted passes can be just as impactful. For example, Connor Barwin's batted pass on 4th down in the 4th quarter against the Cowboys was every bit as big a play as Brandon Boykin's game sealing INT. 9 batted passes by Urban is a huge number, and one that should not be under-appreciated.
However, there is one glaring red flag to Urban's game. In the following game against BYU, Urban had a very good showing. He had 3 batted passes, and a lot of good pressure on the QB. However, throughout the game, you consistently see him jogging and watching when he thinks the play is away from him. A great example is at the 6:36 mark. It looks like the RB is going to be tackled, but he gets free, and because Urban is loafing around behind the play, he's nowhere to be found when he could have made the tackle or even punched the ball free from behind if he had been hustling. This is the opposite of what you would call "having a good motor."
The Eagles will need to determine if Urban's bad motor is a product of fatigue, or just a lack of hustle. If it's the former, you can get a guy into shape. If it's the latter, it's hard to teach desire.
Otherwise, Urban would be a great fit as a DE in the Eagles' 3-4 scheme.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski