The Eagles wrapped up two days of drafting Saturday evening with nine new players that move us much closer to an idea of what the 2012 team will look like.
The first three picks and four of the first five went for defense. That wasn't a surprise; the only major problem with the offense last season was turnovers, and you can't draft an interception eraser. The only personnel issue was at left tackle, where the Eagles got ex-Bill Demetress Bell to plug in for Jason Peters when Peters tore his Achilles', and there was no better solution available there in a weak o-line draft. The defense, meanwhile, needed an inside difference-maker up front, an upgrade at linebacker, and at least a prospect at corner. It could have used a stud safety, as well, but that wasn't possible in this draft.
As we all said going in, the biggest strength of this draft was defensive tackle, and the Eagles' signature move was climbing three spots to draft Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox 12th overall. In the second round, the Eagles added Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks and Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry, two players they seem to think can contribute right away. If Kendricks is what the Eagles hope he is, look for more blitzing.
When it was all over, in a NovaCare hallway, I asked Eagles coach Andy Reid what he thought this draft would be remembered for, by Eagles fans.
"Probably defense," he said. "And 2 or 3 years down the road, I hope people will be saying, 'that was a GOOD draft.' "
It was hard to quarrel with any of the early picks, even if Kendricks is a little short at 5-11 for the SAM role Reid envisions. The developmental quarterback (Arizona's Nick Foles) in the fourth round was probably inevitable, given that Michael Vick turns 32 soon. After that, the Birds got what might be their draft-day steal, corner Brandon Boykin from Georgia, also in the fourth round. Reid made it clear Saturday that Boykin will have to play his way out of the kick return job, and will get every opportunity to oust Joselio Hanson from the slot. Boykin might also return punts; Reid said special teams coordinator Bobby April rated him the top combo returner in the draft.
With veteran DeMeco Ryans and Kendricks, the Eagles feel they've significantly upgraded their linebacking corps.
"You put on the (Cal) tape, this guy jumped out at you," Reid said.
Reid agreed with a questioner who posited that this might be his fastest defense.
Purdue offensive tackle Dennis Kelly began a run of four Eagles offensive picks in the final two rounds. Kelly has the Howard Mudd seal of approval as an athletic OT, Reid said, despite being 6-8, 321. The only other OL draftee was guard Brandon Washington from Miami in the sixth. The Eagles also seem to have high hopes for 6-3 wideout Marvin McNutt, from Iowa, taken in the sixth round. Reid pointed out that the Birds had a scouting report from Iowa corner Greg Castillo, son of defensive coordinator Juan.
Reid lauded McNutt as a "strong guy that's smart, who has great hands." McNutt began his college career as a quarterback.
The Eagles finished their draft with an interesting gamble. Running back Bryce Brown has loads of talent, but he managed to leave both the Tennessee and Kansas State programs, and get involved in an investigation of improper benefits given Miami players by a booster, when Brown's brother played for Miami.
Reid said he and general manager Howie Roseman "talked a lot about this kid, and we spent a lot of time evaluating him. He's had kind of a wild ride here through college football since being the No. 1 running back coming out of high school into college."
Off-the-field adventures aside, Reid said "you're talking about a kid who is an inch under six feet and is 220 pounds, who runs a 4.4 40. You're talking tremendous, tremendous skill here. He catches the ball effortlessly and is a smooth, smooth runner. He has all the talent in the world, but it's just a matter of tying things down here."
After the draft, the Birds set about adding undrafted free agents. They haven't announced that group but it appearently includes Washington running back Chris Polk, who would have been at least a mid-round draftee if not for what has been described as a degenerative shoulder condition.