The last time the Eagles made a big draft investment in cornerbacks, it paid off.
In 2002, the team used first- and second-round picks on Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, respectively, landing players who would hold down the two starting corner spots for years, including the Eagles' Super Bowl team. Sheppard was a two-time Pro Bowler in Philadelphia.
Since then, the Eagles have not used anything higher than a third-round pick on a cornerback, leaning instead on undrafted free agents and veterans acquired from other teams.
The result? For a second consecutive year the team is searching for a someone to clean up the mess opposite Pro Bowler Asante Samuel.
Drafting a cornerback ready to start right away probably will require costly maneuvering, because the three topflight corners in this draft probably will be out of the Eagles' reach at No. 23 overall.
After the star trio of Patrick Peterson (LSU), Prince Amukamara (Nebraska), and Jimmy Smith (Colorado), the rest of the cornerback class has major question marks, leaving the Eagles to consider trading up, choosing from a slim remaining group, or waiting.
General manager Howie Roseman has hinted that at cornerback he would consider "other avenues," meaning trades or free agency when the NFL lockout ends.
If the Eagles were to go with the draft, Smith would be the big-name cornerback most likely within striking distance.
He's 6-foot-2 with elite talent but comes with baggage, including an attitude that may cross the line from confidence to cockiness.
"If he didn't have off-the-field issues, he'd be a potential top-10 pick," said the NFL Network's Mike Mayock. "He's an athletic freak with length and speed."
Peterson is considered the best corner in this class. Smith, though, may be as good or slightly better than Amukamara, according to Mayock and ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper.
Smith has been a popular pick for the Eagles at 23 in mock drafts, but it's unclear if he will last that long.
The corner's stock, which fell because of character concerns, including being caught with a beer when he was 18, a positive test for marijuana in 2007, and his robust self-esteem, has bounced back after some strong interviews, McShay and Kiper said. He could go in the top 20.
The Eagles aren't afraid to move up the draft board, but they may be wary to do it for Smith, considering the value the team places on character.
"He's got good energy, and he did a great job when he was here," Roseman said, without revealing how the team views one of the draft's most hotly debated prospects.
Roseman hinted at seeing some cornerback possibilities later in the draft, particularly slot players who are less isolated on the field and don't require the same level of coverage ability.
"When you include that group, there are a number of guys that can come in and play," Roseman said.
A slot man who can return kicks may help, but a bigger need is someone who can play at right cornerback, where Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson struggled last year.
Peterson is expected to go in the top 10, and the cost for moving up that high would be immense, especially with the Eagles able to offer only picks, not players, due to the lockout.
Amukamara is projected to go by the early teens. The Eagles probably would have to part with their top two picks to rise that high, and Roseman prefers to accumulate choices, not surrender them.
Other late first- or second-round options include Miami's Brandon Harris, Texas' Aaron Williams, and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling, but all come with question marks.
Though the draft class is thin, the free-agent cornerback crop could be plentiful, depending on the rules governing player movement.
Signing a veteran would be consistent with the Eagles' recent history as they try to find another starter to match the team's cornerback tandems of the past.
Andy Reid's Picks: Cornerbacks
Since taking taking Lito Sheppard 26th overall in 2002 and Sheldon Brown in the second round, 59th overall, the Eagles have not picked any corners earlier than Round 3. Not surprisingly, they haven't developed any quality starters from within, relying instead on veterans from elsewhere, including Pro Bowler Asante Samuel and the oft-injured Ellis Hobbs. Of the six cornerbacks Andy Reid drafted after 2002, none has made a significant impact, and only 2010 fourth-rounder Trevard Lindley is still on the team.
Here is how we grade Reid's three notable cornerback picks and the 2007 draft overall:
Lito Sheppard (1st round, 2002) - A two-time Pro Bowler, he started on the talented defenses of the early 2000s, including the Eagles' Super Bowl team.
Matt Ware (3d round, 2004) - Several corners could qualify for the failed list, but Ware was the highest selection. He spent two years in Philadelphia and left without starting a game.
Trevard Lindley (4th round, 2010) - Lindley had the ups and downs you might expect from a rookie. The Eagles want to see him take a step forward in 2011.
2007 Draft Review
A controversial draft at the time, this class had no cornerbacks, keeping with the team's recent trend away from that position, and has produced only two standout seasons: Brent Celek's 2009 and Stewart Bradley's 2008.
Only Celek, a find in the fifth round, looks like a sure piece of the Eagles' future, and he is coming off a down year. Unless Bradley (third round) rebounds from injuries in 2011, he could be gone. Four of this year's eight picks were washouts, and Victor Abiamiri (second round) is nearing that territory due to knee problems. No one from this class has made the Pro Bowl.
The wild card in assigning a grade is Kevin Kolb (second round). A starting-quality quarterback is valuable in the abstract, but with only seven career starts, Kolb has played a fairly minor on-field role. Even if Kolb is as good as Reid says, his value must be weighed against the immediate help the Eagles could have had at the top of the draft.
No one could have known in 2007 that Michael Vick would end up the heir to Donovan McNabb. But in an unpredictable league it's fair to ask whether the Eagles got ahead of themselves when they picked Kolb. If Kolb brings a nice return when trades resume, the deal could raise this grade. But for now, only Celek has provided strong, tangible results.
Grade: C-minus - Jonathan Tamari
Top College Cornerbacks
Patrick Peterson, LSU (6-foot, 219) - With size and athleticism, Peterson might be the best player in the draft.
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (6-0, 206) - Another mix of speed and strength, Amukamara is a potential top-10 pick who should start right away.
Jimmy Smith, Colorado (6-2, 211) - Smith has elite talent but comes with concerns about his attitude, consistency, and character. He's a boom-or-bust type.
Brandon Harris, Miami (5-10, 191) - Harris is skilled in coverage but faces questions about whether he is tall enough to take on bigger receivers.
Aaron Williams, Texas (6-0, 204) - He's a tough, talented corner who may be better suited to the slot than on an island outside. Some see Williams as a safety.
Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (6-1, 198) - He was considered one of the best corners in the nation at the start of 2010, but he suffered an ankle injury that limited him in his senior year and hurt his draft stock.
- Jonathan Tamari
Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or email@example.com.
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