Back by popular demand (OK, one reader asked for it) it’s the Fourth Annual Not-so Fearless Forecast of what the Eagles may do in the draft. Here’s the hook: rather than try and predict what they might do over the next three days, I’ll give you the top ten things I think the Eagles won’t do.
Two years ago, I hit the mark, more or less, on eight out of ten. Last year, my batting average went down and it was only six out of ten. (Best predictions: The Eagles won’t draft a linebacker before the third round; quarterback and wide receiver won’t be addressed. The worst: The Eagles will not draft a kicker. Oops.)
Based upon conversations with the Eagles and around the league, analysis of past drafts, reading the lines on Andy Reid’s forehead and whatever Mike Mayock says, here are my anti-predictions:
1. The Eagles won’t pick at No. 15. Reid can get a very good player with the 15thoverall pick in the draft, but I just can’t see him getting a great one, especially if he’s going to expend his top pick on one of the three positions I think he’ll address – defensive tackle, cornerback or defensive end. Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox is the near-unanimous choice as the best defensive tackle prospect in this class, which alone would make defensive line coach Jim Washburn salivate over the Eagles acquiring him. He appears to perfectly fit Washburn’s scheme up front which favors pass rushers. But the Eagles are likely going to have to trade up to get Cox. The next group of defensive tackles includes LSU’s Michael Brockers, Memphis’ Dontari Poe and Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy – all players with good upside. But only Worthy has the “high motor” the Eagles look for out of their defensive linemen. If those are the options and the Eagles are still at 15 and in search of a defensive tackle, I’d imagine they’d prefer to trade down. Morris Claiborne of LSU is considered by many to be the top cornerback, and I’m sure the Eagles covet his abilities, but he’s not especially big (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) and the Eagles are making a concerted effort to get tall, lanky corners (see: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Curtis Marsh). Claiborne is also unlikely to get past pick No. 6. That leaves South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, seemingly a perfect fit for the Eagles’ now-preference for corners that can bump and run. Mayock has Gilmore lasting until 15, but I could see any number of teams in the early 10s grabbing him. So the Eagles may have to take one of their two second-round picks and parlay it with their first to move up for Gilmore. If they miss out, they could trade back and try for Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama, a long-limbed corner. Defensive end isn’t as much a need, but the mock draft buzz the last week has the Eagles selecting Syracuse’s Chandler Jones at 15. He could be this year’s Jason Pierre-Paul, and maybe some pundits think the Eagles will take him because they don’t want to miss out on another game-changing edge rusher. But my sense says Jones would still be around if the Eagles jumped back several spots.
2. The Eagles won’t trade up any higher than the 7th pick. According to the draft value chart for trades, the Eagles could move up to the seventh spot if they paired their first second round pick (46th overall) with their 15th overall pick. They would have to add value if they wanted to move up any further. The Jaguars currently own the seventh pick. Jacksonville could go in any number of directions in the first round, defensive line certainly being one of them. But they have only seven picks in the draft and may be looking for quantity over quality. No. 8 Miami probably isn’t interested in Cox, if that’s the Eagles’ target, but Carolina with the ninth pick could certainly take the defensive tackle. If the Eagles were looking to jump one spot ahead of the Panthers they could pair their second second-round pick (51st overall) with their first and swap with the Dolphins. Miami could probably still get quarterback Ryan Tannehill at 15 if he was their target.
3. The Eagles will not draft Mark Barron even if they stay at 15 and he slips to there. I’ve seen Barron mocked to the Eagles in a bunch of places, from writers I really respect, but I don’t see it. He’s certainly a talented safety, and the Eagles certainly were below par at that spot last year. But why would they expend their top pick at a position where they spent two second round picks in the previous two seasons? That’s not how Reid does business. Nate Allen was shaky last season, but he seemed to progress by the end of the season when his knee was nearly healed. He deserves another chance, one the Eagles will surely afford him. Jaiquawn Jarrett could hardly get on the field, and when he did he was lost. But he didn’t have a full off-season of preparation. I’m not very confident that he will be what the Eagles think he will become – at least what they’re saying they think he will become – but I don’t see the team giving up on him this early. There is a certain commitment of time and money that a second round pick will often get. So Barron doesn’t make sense, at least looking at it from that perspective.
4. If the Eagles draft a quarterback it won’t be either Tannehill or Brandon Weeden.It’s very hard to get a read on what the Eagles will do at quarterback. I don’t think I’m making a very bold statement when I say the team won’t draft Tannehill, the quarterback out of Texas A&M with only 19 college starts. The Eagles sent quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson to College Station, Tex. to work out Tannehill, but that was probably nothing more than a dog and pony show. Many believe Tannehill will be gone by No. 8. I’m not sure, but it makes zero sense for the Eagles to use two picks to get a player that won’t contribute next season when Reid really has to turn his ship around. The second round appears a more likely round for the Eagles to go quarterback. They have two picks and there are about three or four quarterbacks that could go in the round. I agree with most of my colleagues who have made the argument for not drafting a quarterback beyond the first round. It’s very hard to find a franchise quarterback after the first 20 picks or so. We saw the last time the Eagles took a quarterback in the second round with Kevin Kolb and I think it’s fair to say he is not a franchise quarterback. But the Eagles may see something in Kirk Cousins or Brock Osweiler or Nick Foles or Russell Wilson that makes them think one is worth a second or third or fourth round shot in the dark. Notice how I didn’t mention Weeden. I asked an Eagles decision-maker about a month ago whether the 28-year-old Oklahoma State quarterback would be a first-round talent if it weren’t for his age and I got a shake of the head. That doesn’t rule Weeden out, but coupled with all the arguments for not drafting a quarterback in the early rounds, I think it’s safe to say the Eagles won’t draft another player closer to 30 than 20.
5. The first three picks won’t go by without the Eagles selecting a cornerback.The Eagles taking a cornerback early as picked up steam of late. I’ve always had defensive tackle as their top priority, but they just as easily could grab a corner in the first round. Gilmore would look nice in green. He could play in the slot with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside to start. If Rodgers-Cromartie struggles then Gilmore can take his place. Rookie corners can start in this league. And I’m not sure how confident the Eagles are in either Joselio Hanson or Marsh being their third corner. Gilmore can also return kicks, which is bonus. If Gilmore isn’t attainable, there are options in the second round. I like Montana’s Trumaine Johnson. He’s tall (6-2), lanky (33-1/4-inch arms) and aggressive. If he’s not there at either 46 or 51, Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward could be got. Much has been written about North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, he of the criminal past. The Eagles normally stay away from players with significant character issues, but I’m not sure if Jenkins is completely off their board.
6. Same for defensive tackle. It’s about time Reid takes a defensive tackle with his top pick. In 2000, he selected Corey Simon with the sixth overall pick. Five years later it was Mike Patterson in the first round, followed up Brodrick Bunkley a year later. In 2008, the Eagles traded out of the first round, but took Trevor Laws with the 47th overall pick. In the next three drafts the Eagles took only one defensive tackle – Jeff Owens in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. It is time. They have enough depth with Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Antonio Dixon, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton to cover their tracks if they can’t get one of the defensive tackles at the top of their list that is suited to their scheme. Cox, obviously, has been on their radar for some time. But if he is out of reach, keep an eye on Clemson’s Brandon Thompson in the second round. He’s a pass rusher with a “high motor.” Enough said.
7. Eagles won’t take Quinton Coples, Poe or Devon Still. Speaking of high motors, the three aforementioned are said not to have one. If true, their names won’t be called by the Eagles. Reid has always preferred defensive linemen that are always moving, but Washburn takes the high motor cliché to another level. Only he’ll call it something like, “bleepity-bleeping til you drop,” or something like that. Coples has rare size and athletic skill, and some team is more than likely to take chance on that in the first round. But he’s inconsistent and came up small against top opponents in college. I don’t get the notion that the Eagles would take such a guy because Washburn would get the most out of him. Could he get Ricky Sapp to play? Sapp’s issues had nothing to do with ability; they had to do with desire. And when Washburn came along he shriveled up, packed his bags and left Lehigh. Maybe the Eagles think they can get Coples to play, but it would be a risky proposition. Poe’s problems don’t seem to be related to effort. He exploded at the combine, displaying rare speed and strength for a man of his size (6-4, 346), but his college film did not stand out. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman recently said his draft board hasn’t change much at all since before the Senior Bowl. If true, could Poe have been anywhere around the 15th best overall prospect? Doubtful. Penn State’s Still has his supporters. He has his detractors. Most expect him to go sometime in the early second round. The Eagles won’t be takers.
8. Or Luke Kuechly. The reasons for not drafting Kuechly have less to do with the reasons mentioned above for the Eagles not taking the others and more to do with variables such as he’s probably won’t be there at 15. Even if he is -- and it would be hard to pass on that kind of talent -- the Eagles just don’t draft linebackers in the first round, especially one that early that would command a pretty significant salary. The trade for DeMeco Ryans all but dropped the Eagles out of the race for Kuechly, who probably won’t get past Buffalo, Kansas City or Seattle at Nos. 10, 11 and 12.
9. The Eagles won’t draft a linebacker in the first three rounds (Again). There are a number of linebackers in this draft that I could easily see the Eagles grabbing and tossing into their already young mix. Cal’s Mychal Kendricks, Nebraska’s Lavonte David and North Carolina’s Zach Brown have second round grades according to many analysts. Kendricks is better suited to play inside. David and Brown would probably work better on the outside. Brown, who comes with a “soft” label, could slip into the third or fourth rounds. James-Michael Johnson of Nevada and Tank Carder of TCU are inside linebackers that could go in the third round, or perhaps later. The same applies to outside guys like Bobby Wagner or Utah State and Demario Davis of Arkansas State. The uncertainly over where these players land, I think, has as much to do with teams lessening the value of 4-3 linebackers than with anything else. We saw how many free agent 4-3 linebackers got nowhere near the money many thought they would get heading into this off-season. The Eagles probably think they can get a decent linebacker in the latter rounds because, simply, they’ll be there. They also used five picks on linebackers over the last two drafts – Keenan Clayton, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle and Greg Lloyd – and still have all five on the roster.
10. The Eagles won’t draft more than one offensive player in the first two days. Defense. Defense. Defense. It’s possible the Eagles use each of their first four picks – they have four of the first 88, more than any of other team – on defense. I could see them going defensive tackle, cornerback, defensive end and linebacker (nullifying my No. 9), with those selections. They probably won’t. There will probably be either a wide receiver or offensive linemen chosen during Day 2. But the Eagles need to get younger on defense, especially at key spots where they have aging veterans -- defensive ends Jason Babin (31) and Trent Cole (29), defensive tackles Jenkins (31) and Mike Patterson (28) and Asomugha (30). On offense, they could stand to bring in a young tackle that they could groom for a year or two to someday replace either Jason Peters (30) or Todd Herremans (29).