Every day, from now until the draft, I'll round up the latest Eagles buzz on MTC. Here is today's installment.
Today, we start with four Eagles draft predictions:
Neither is a position of need, but there are some intriguing playmakers who could help this offense. LeSean McCoy played more snaps than any other running back in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Did it take a toll on him towards the end of the season? The numbers would suggest yes. McCoy carried 85 times for 290 yards in his final five games, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. In the first 10 games, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
The Eagles didn't sign a veteran running back in free agency, although they still could do so. They could also give the job to Dion Lewis, a fourth-round pick last year. But I think there's a good chance they identify a back to complement McCoy in the draft. Matt Waldman gave us some good names last week. Two players worth mentioning: Oregon's LaMichael James and Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead. James has been compared to Darren Sproles, and NFL Network's Mike Mayock has him ranked as his fourth-best running back. James had 19 runs of 20+ yards last year, second-most in the nation. He could likely contribute as a return man right away. Pead, meanwhile, is Mayock's fifth-ranked running back. He had 39 catches last season for the Bearcats. Both James and Pead are expected to be Day 2 picks.
Remember, the Eagles are not only looking for a complement for McCoy, but they could also try to grab a talented prospect to fill the Chad Hall role.
As for receiver, the Eagles could bring a bigger target in to compete with Riley Cooper. But they could also think about bringing in someone to compete with, and eventually replace, Jason Avant in the slot. Regular readers of MTC know I like and respect Avant. But perhaps the Eagles would consider a more athletic slot receiver. One name to keep in mind: Florida International's T.Y. Hilton (5-10, 183). He averaged over 30 yards per kickoff return last year to go along with 72 catches for 1,038 yards. Hilton, who reportedly had a pre-draft visit with the Eagles, is expected to be a second- or third-round pick.
I like a lot about what the Eagles have done this offseason, but I'm not sure what the plan is to back up Michael Vick. At this point, it looks like Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards will compete for the No. 2 position. That doesn't seem good enough to me if this team wants to make a run. It's possible they'll still try to add a veteran quarterback in the coming months.
But as I've explained in the past, I don't think drafting a second-tier quarterback makes sense this year. For example, having Kafka and someone like Kirk Cousins backing up Vick doesn't do anything for me. If a guy drops and they perceive value, that's one thing. But there are too many other areas to address, especially on the first two days of the draft.
Two of the top draft minds in the business - Mayock and Greg Cosell of NFL Films - have Syracuse's Chandler Jones now rated as the top defensive end. I wrote here and here about why I really like Jones, and he could bring size and length that the Eagles don't currently have on their defensive line.
There is a scenario in which Jones, Coples, Brockers and Poe will all be on the board at No. 15. If that happens, I think Jones is the pick. Really, it would likely come down to Jones or Brockers. But when you look at the Eagles' defensive tackle situation right now, they have guys whose strengths are against the run - Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri. Cullen Jenkins is their best pass-rushing tackle (although it's worth noting that Patterson improved in that area last year).
While I'm hesitant to label Brockers as a run defender only, considering he's only 21, that's what we know about him at this point. Jones, meanwhile, has the size to rush from different spots on the line, and I think he's a player the Eagles could target, assuming Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox gets taken earlier.
OK, I should say "potential" replacement. Hanson turns 31 in August and did not have a great year in 2011. As Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie proved last year, it's tough to play slot cornerback at a high level, covering someone like Wes Welker one week and Victor Cruz the next. Depending on how high the Eagles draft cornerback (and I fully expect them to take one at some point), Hanson's exit could come sooner rather than later.
I mentioned Georgia's Brandon Boykin yesterday as a possibility to be the Eagles' next nickel cornerback. He's expected to be a Day 2 pick. Alabama's DeQuan Menzie (some see him as a safety, but he played in the slot in college) and LSU's Ron Brooks (came in for a visit) could be late-round options.
MORE DRAFT LINKS
I mentioned Cosell earlier. He put together a mock draft based on film study and team needs, not taking character and off-the-field issues into account. At No. 15, he's got the Eagles taking Jones:
I look at the Eagles defense, and see the need for an inside pass rusher in their sub-package personnel groups. Remember, in the final 4 games of 2011, the coaching staff expanded the alignment and personnel concepts, often utilizing Jason Babin and Trent Cole in 2 point stances as moveable linebackers. With that said, the pick is Chandler Jones from Syracuse. Jones has an intriguing combination of size, length and athletic movement. I think of Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn, and I could easily envision Washburn looking at Jones, and seeing a better version of Jason Jones, whom Washburn coached in Tennessee for 3 years.
Mike Tanier of Yahoo Sports did a mock draft based on team needs. He has Alabama safety Mark Barron going to the Eagles at No. 15:
The Eagles safeties lacked instincts last year, but they made up for it by not being physical or having exceptional speed. There's nothing like breaking down game tape and watching a safety break straight for the line of scrimmage when the ball carrier is already through the hole. After three years of trying to replace Brian Dawkins with fond memories and wishful thinking, it is time for the Eagles to abandon econometric reasoning ("but players with the safety skill set become abundant commodities in middle rounds!") and draft an impact player in the secondary.
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