Eagles in limbo on draft needs in secondary

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South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is expected to be a first-round pick. (AP Photo / Dave Martin)

The Eagles' true feelings about their young defensive backs will be revealed this week.

If coach Andy Reid and company believe that safeties Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett are the real deal, if they believe that either Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Curtis Marsh is the long-term answer at cornerback, then the Eagles likely will not take a defensive back in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.

General manager Howie Roseman can say that the Eagles will select the best player on their board, and if that happens to be a cornerback or safety for all nine of their picks, then so be it.

"I think the most important thing is we want to add competition of good players to our roster, and things will sort themselves out," Roseman said last week when specifically asked about Jarrett's future. "If we take the best player and we add competition, that will be only good things for our team."

But the Eagles go into every draft with specific areas of need, and it's difficult to say for certain where they stand in their secondary because no one really knows how good, bad or average Jarrett, Marsh and Allen are.

Jarrett and Marsh - selected in the second and third rounds a year ago – did not have the benefit of spring practices because of the lockout. Jarrett, the Eagles have said, was affected by the short offseason. But they also were concerned about his inability to pack weight onto his 6-foot frame.

Marsh was buried on the depth chart below starters Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and so on. He could be the next Sheldon Brown or the next Jack Ikegwuonu. No one knows. Not even the Eagles. But they must have an inclination.

"We have two years of draft classes who we think we know about them," Roseman said, "but I don't think we have a complete picture of them."

Allen's sophomore season was stunted by his return from knee surgery. He was shaky at various points, but looked worthy of his 2010 second-round selection at other times - especially in the final four games of last season.

The Eagles seem to have faith in Allen. They appear to like Kurt Coleman, a 2010 seventh-round pick. But the middle of the Eagles defense was exposed, sometimes embarrassingly so, by a variety of quarterbacks, and Jarrett couldn't even make an impact on special teams.

It appears to be a position in need of an upgrade. But the draft is light on quality safeties. Alabama's Mark Barron is considered the best of a weak group. The safety position has grown in value in recent years, and many mock drafts have Barron going to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 14. Has his worth been overestimated?

"Sometimes you look at the draft class, which may not be a strong class, and you're taking the best of a bad group as opposed to just the best," Roseman said.

The same could be said of the cornerback position, especially in the first round. Only three prospects - Louisiana State's Morris Claiborne, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick - are expected to go in the first 32 picks. Only three cornerbacks were selected in the first round a year ago.

"It's always hard to find cover corners," Roseman said. "It's one of the harder things to do in the NFL. But we like our young corners."

How much do they like them? Samuel is expected to be traded this week, making room for Rodgers-Cromartie at left corner. But the former Cardinal, who came in the trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb last July, has only one year remaining on his contract.

The Eagles easily could move on after 2012, so it would make sense to have a young guy. Is Marsh the one? If he's not and the Eagles have their doubts, don't be surprised to see Gilmore taken at No. 15 if he's still available.

 


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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