NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- the best in the game, if you ask me -- did a conference call with reporters today, giving me and Les Bowen a chance to ask him about Luke Kuechly and other inside linebacker options, assuming that the Eagles are looking for an upgrade there when the draft rolls around.
To sum up: he likes Kuechly a whole lot, more than any other inside linebacker in the draft, and thinks he'd be perfect for the Eagles.
"If I'm the Eagles and Kuechly's there, that might be a slam dunk for me, because I know what I'm getting and I'm plugging a huge hole," Mayock said.
He compared the Boston College linebacker to the Cowboys' Sean Lee, only without the same injury history coming out of college. He thinks Dont'a Hightower, of Alabama, isn't worth the 15th pick and is way, way down on Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict.
"I think he’s the best inside linebacker in this draft by far," Mayock said of Kuechly. "He's got more production than you could ever imagine."
Kuechly led the nation in tackles each of the past two season, has never had a serious injury, according to Mayock, has "great instincts and he’s a better athlete than people think."
Kuechly could start right away, Mayock said. While saying there might be some "explosive" defensive tackles available at 15, and that DTs are typically more valuable than LBs (assuming the players are equally talented), he thinks the Eagles, with their history of struggles at linebacker would need to pick a player who can play there.
He later added, though, that Kuechly has something to prove at the Combine. Run a 4.7 40-yard dash, and he's an almost sure top 15 pick, Mayock said. "If he runs 4.8, there’s going to be a problem."
Mayock said he doesn't see any other linebacker worthy of taking at 15. Judging by Twitter and my chat today, Burfict has enticed some fans. Mayock doesn't join them.
"I came away unimpressed," he said.
Burfict, he said, can look "really good" making highlight-reel hits but "the other major percentage of the time, his instincts aren’t good, he gets enveloped by big bodies" and runs around blocks. "For a big, strong guy he's not as strong at the point of attack as I thought he would be."
He added, "I don't see first round at all."
Some have argued that Burfict is a big-time playmaker. It's worth noting, though, that he didn't make the All-Pac 12 first team, second team, or even honorable mention last season, as voted on by coaches. Those are guys who would have seen more of him than almost anyone.
Of course, the Eagles' needs could change based on what they do in free agency. Mayock said DT is the deepest position in the draft and that he has five to seven tackles worthy of a first round pick. The Eagles got a better pass rush from their tackles last season, but could use more of a run-stopping presence and some youth in there.
Mayock has Jerel Worthy (Michigan State), Michael Brockers (LSU), Dontari Poe (Memphis) and Devon Still (Penn State) as his top tackles.
Still has a "great body, a great skill set ... but there’s a consistency or lack of consistency factor that he's got to work on."
The calculations could also change if the Eagles part ways with DeSean Jackson. In that case, "you'd have to look at Kendall Wright," Mayock said.
Wright, a Baylor wide receiver, is a five-foot-10, 190 pound speedster, so he'd seemingly be a logical successor if Jackson departs, though there are plenty of enticing free agent options at receiver as well.