NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock talks at length via conference call to reporters just before the NFL Scouting Combine every year. Today's two-hour and thirty-seven-minute message, with the league about to convene in Indianapolis on Thursday, was that this is the deepest group of draft prospects Mayock can recall in the last 10 years. He sees quality talent available into the third and fourth rounds at both wide receiver and offensive tackle, at least.
The draft doesn't arrive until May this year, but the combine definitely signals the start of serious draft season among fans and writers. Much of the public focus with the Eagles is going to be on upgrading the defensive talent, though knowing Chip Kelly, it would not be a shock if the team dipped into that deep WR pool pretty early. By May we'll know if pending free agents Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are coming back, and of course, that could affect the draft.
Mayock said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis "did a phenomenal job last year," as the Birds "went from very much a below-average defense to a playoff defense by the end of the season, without a lot of talent."
Like many observers, Mayock sees a need for an edge rusher added to the Birds' mix. But other than touting Auburn's smallish Dee Ford as a possibility (something that would work against Kelly's emphasis on length), he didn't have a lot of good pass rush names he thought would still be around at 22nd overall, when the Eagles are scheduled to make their first selection. Ford had an excellent week at the Senior Bowl, something that has carried weight with the Birds in the past.
"On the back end, that's really the biggest need of this defense," Mayock said, again echoing what most people who follow the Eagles seem to feel. "They need people everywhere ... They need a safety, or two. They need a corner, or two. I think they've really got to concentrate on the back, and getting an edge rusher."
Corners and safeties ought to be easier to come by than dominant edge rushers, should the Eagles remain at 22nd overall, though Mayock sees his top corners, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, going between 10 and 20.
The two top safeties, nearly everyone seems to agree, are Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor. It's tough to say if either will be available at 22. Mayock compared Pryor to former Colts star Bob Sanders, as primarily a box safety, a big hitter. Clinton-Dix, he sees as "more of a cover guy," but also "a complete player."
The draft's offensive tackle depth, in particular, might help push a talented safety or corner down to the Birds at 22. The Eagles probably wouldn't go out of their way to draft an OT in the first round, though they verry well might add one at some point, given the impressive draft group and the fact that Jason Peters just turned 32.
Mayock touted the number of playmakers available at the top of the draft, something that was not the case, say, last year, when three of the top four picks were offensive tackles, including Lane Johnson, who went fourth overall to the Eagles.