Coming out of high school in 2009, Eagles RB Bryce Brown was the #1 rated high school prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com. His college career wound up being an enormous disappointment, as he played one season at Tennessee in 2009 before transferring to Kansas State and losing a year of eligibility in the process. Brown declared for the 2012 NFL Draft with the following college career stat line: 104 rushes, 476 rushing yards, 11 catches, 140 receiving yards, 4 total TDs.
Prior to the 2012 draft, Eagles GM Howie Roseman watched high school tape of Brown, and conferred with Assistant Director of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz, who had spent time in Brown's house trying to recruit him to Alabama, where Marynowitz formerly worked under Nick Saban. When Brown lasted until the 7th round, Roseman scooped him up with the 229th overall pick. That move payed immediate dividends, as Brown rushed for 564 yards and 4 TDs his rookie season, providing a little excitement in what was otherwise one of the most dreadful seasons in Eagles history.
The Eagles have a history of acquiring players who were standouts in high school. In the last five years, no team has drafted more "Top 100" Rivals.com high school prosects than the Eagles:
One of the two biggest Eagles' needs this offseason is an edge rusher to play the 3-4 OLB spot opposite Connor Barwin. While Trent Cole came on strong at the end of last year, he is going to be 32 in October, and it's not as if the Eagles have a lot of depth at the position.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, there is a dearth of good pass rushers in free agency. Brian Orakpo is probably the best of the bunch, but he is likely to stay in Washington either with a new deal or via the franchise tag. Then there's Jason Worilds, who the Steelers may make a priority to bring back to Pittsburgh. Even if Worilds does sniff free agency, he is likely to be overpaid by whoever signs him, since he could be the best of a weak OLB free agent crop.
In the draft, there are a number of very intriguing pass rushers, but the top players (Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, Khalil Mack of Buffalo, and Anthony Barr of UCLA) are highly unlikely to make it anyway near the Eagles' spot at 22nd overall. Auburn's Dee Ford remains a realistic option for the Eagles at that spot, but even if he slips to 22, the Eagles may not view him as the best available player on their board.
The Eagles may not find an immediate edge rushing answer this offseason, but there are three very interesting players who could be available in the later rounds. They are the following:
• Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida (6'3, 237)
• Devon Kennard, OLB, USC (6'3, 249)
• Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida, (6'5, 249)
What do Powell, Kennard, and Lynch all have in common? They are all decent-to-good sized edge rushers, they all missed the 2012 season completely, and they are all former major high school recruits who had disappointing college careers. A look at each of them individually:
Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida (6'3, 237)
Powell was Rivals.com's #1 overall high school recruit in the nation the year after Bryce Brown. His college career hit a bump when he tore his ACL during the spring of 2012. Powell missed the entire 2012 season, but returned in 2013, when he had just 4 sacks. Unless you're Adrian Peterson, there's a belief that it takes 2 years to fully recover from a torn ACL.
In watching Powell's games, his play is underwhelming, but there are glimpses of what he could have been when he was the #1 overall high school player in the country. Below is Powell's game against Georgia last season. Skip to the 2:26 mark below. Powell is the right defensive end. Check out Powell's burst at the snap, and how quickly he gets around the edge on the Georgia LT. That is excellent. On the following play, watch Powell blitz from the middle of the formation and force an intentional grounding call.
Powell could be a high-upside kind of player in the mold of Bryce Brown, who can probably be had in the late rounds.
Devon Kennard, OLB, USC (6'3, 249)
Kennard was the 8th rated high school player in the country by Rivals.com in 2009. Prior to the 2012 season, Kennard tore his pectoral muscle as a senior. He redshirted that season, came back in 2013, and had 9 sacks. If you watch USC's game below, you can see some speed limitations that you wouldn't expect from a former top 10 high school recruit (typically, they're athletic specimens), but Kennard does a good job of playing under control, he reads plays, and shows a nice inside spin move at the 1:48 mark:
Kennard had better production than Powell, but probably has less of an upside. But again, this is a player who could be available late.
Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida, (6'5, 249)
I'll give you the short short version of Lynch's career. He was the 28th overall ranked high school player by Rivals in 2011. He went to Notre Dame, and as a true freshman, led the team with 5.5 sacks and 14 hurries, earning a spot on the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American team. After one season there, he wanted to go back home to Florida, so he transferred and had to sit 2012 out, which counted as his redshirt year.
During that year off, Lynch's weight dropped drastically, from his playing weight of 270 at Notre Dame to 244 at South Florida. He's now up to 249. Lynch's production in his first year playing at South Florida was initially disappointing. He had 1 sack through his first 9 games, but finished strong with 4 sacks in his last 2 games.
Lynch does have talent, and something you can't teach -- size. From a size perspective, Lynch fits the "Dion Jordan mold," at 6'5, 249 pounds, with room to add weight. Here's Lynch's 2-sack performance against SMU:
Trent Cole is likely to start at ROLB in 2014, but any of the three formerly elite players above could be viewed as projects that can develop behind Cole, and eventually become quality pass rushers in the NFL.
Perhaps Howie and Co will dip back into their high school backgrounds to help determine if any of them are worth a late round flier in the 2014 draft.
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