Despite a number of holes on defense, the Eagles addressed the offensive line and Michael Vick's protection when they selected 26-year-old Danny Watkins of Baylor in the first round of the NFL draft.
Watkins has played only tackle, but he projects as a guard in the pros, although Eagles coach Andy Reid said Thursday night that Watkins could play anywhere on the line. Reid said that the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder could step in and start immediately at either guard spot.
"We felt he was as good a football player as there was in the draft," Reid said at the NovaCare Complex. "It's not a glamour position, but it's a position that is crucial to us. He's got a toughness and a blue- collar attitude."
"I don't see it as an issue," Watkins said of his advanced age for a rookie. "I took a different path. I'm not collecting my 401(k) by any means. My body's fresh, and I've been out in the world and worked."
A hockey player as a youth in his native Canada, Watkins said the sports are similar.
"In hockey, I looked for the big hit," he said. "In football, guys are six inches from your face, so someone's got to win that battle, and I like winning."
As for his new favorite NHL team, "I think I'm going to go with the Flyers now," he said. "My team was the Canucks, but I've got bad news for the Canucks."
The Eagles passed on Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi - also a blue-collar type - who many projected would land in Philly. Cornerback Jimmy Smith was still on the board at No. 23 when the Eagles picked, but his troubled past may have kept the Eagles away. Also available were several defensive linemen, an area the Eagles will likely address the rest of the draft.
Last year, the Eagles seemingly went into the draft needing offensive line depth. But they didn't select a player and did not add any via free agency or trade.
Those were non-moves the Eagles came to regret when center Jamaal Jackson, coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, tore his triceps in the opener. They also traded bust Stacy Andrews, who was expected to start at right tackle, before the season and were scrambling to fill that hole all season.
Watkins could be the answer. Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole split the position a year ago but had difficulty protecting Vick's blind side along with right tackle Winston Justice. Mike McGlynn filled in at center last season, but he could be in for a move back to his natural guard position with Jackson on the mend. He'll have competition from Watkins.
If Watkins is to play left guard, Todd Herremans could be moved to right tackle, where Justice struggled late last season. Justice is also recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Watkins may be 26 years of age, but he's a relative newcomer to organized football. Born and raised in British Columbia, he was a part-time firefighter in Canada before he enrolled at Butte College in California and its fire sciences program in 2007.
Watkins said his firefighting background has come in handy.
"A couple high-pressure games [in college], and the boys are getting all worked up, and I say: 'Trust me, boys. It could be worse,' " he said.
He joined Butte's football team and gained attention from Division I-A schools after his freshman season. He transferred to Baylor after his sophomore season at the junior college and immediately became the Bears' starting left tackle.
He had a solid season but jumped on NFL teams' radars during the evaluation period leading into the draft.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman "had this guy from the get-go at the top," Reid said.
It looked as if the Eagles may go in another direction with the way the first round unfolded.
The run of three quarterbacks between picks eight and 12 seemingly threw the draft out of whack. Top pick Cam Newton was the only quarterback to go in the first seven picks, and it appeared for a moment as if Roseman's prediction that quarterback-desperate teams would come to the Eagles looking to trade into the No. 23 spot would hold up.
But then Washington's Jake Locker went to Tennessee at No. 8, Jacksonville traded up for Blaine Gabbert of Missouri at No. 10, and the Vikings took Florida State's Christian Ponder at No. 12.
Eagles Draft Picks
The Eagles had 10 picks at the start of the 2011 draft, the second-highest total in the NFL behind San Francisco's 12.
First round: 23d overall: Danny Watkins, T/G.
Second round: 54th overall (own pick).
Third round: 85th overall (own pick).
Fourth round: 104th overall (acquired from Washington in the 2010 Donovan McNabb trade).
Fourth round: 120th overall (own pick).
Fifth round: 149th overall (acquired from San Diego in a 2010 trade).
Fifth round: 153d overall (own pick).
Seventh round: 227th overall (acquired from Seattle in the 2010 Stacy Andrews trade).
Seventh round: 237th overall (compensatory pick).
Seventh round: 240th overall (compensatory pick).
cannot be traded.
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jeff_McLane