First of a series of looks at positions the Eagles might target in the May 8-10 NFL draft.
* What they have:
Inside, Mychal Kendricks is a young building block. DeMeco Ryans, leading tackler the two seasons he has been an Eagle, emerged as the defensive leader and played really well against the run in 2013, but wasn't great against the pass. Ryans, who turns 30 in July, won't man the middle forever. Outside, Connor Barwin is a solid, smart player who still should have plenty of mileage left at 27. The other spot is a question. Trent Cole made a strong adjustment in his first year in the 3-4, but Cole turns 32 this season and isn't the force he was 5 years ago. Everybody seems to think 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham is miscast in the 3-4. He lacks Chip Kelly's prized length and has been effective only in spurts.
* What they need:
A top-tier edge rusher. This is the Eagles' weakness that is hardest to cover up. Billy Davis did a strong job manufacturing pressure by moving people around last year, but the Birds need that unblockable, slam-dunk Pro Bowl guy. Given Ryans' age, they could also use better inside depth, but the edge rusher is the big-ticket item.
* What's available:
This is a really deep draft, but not for edge rushers. There is little chance the Eagles will take a difference-making, 3-4 outside linebacker at 22nd overall in the first round, because the two or three guys who fit that bill will be long gone. They could trade up, but that might be tough, given that the Birds have just six picks to work with this year.
Auburn's Dee Ford is a guy the Eagles have talked to, but he's Graham-sized (6-2, 252), and is more of a high-second-round-level prospect. Some mock drafts suddenly have UCLA's 6-5 Anthony Barr dropping into the Eagles' range, apparently because of a perceived lack of anticipation and unrefined technique, but NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said yesterday he thinks Barr's descent is a media phenomenon and that he will be a high first-round pick. There's a good chance Ohio State's speedy, undersized (6-1, 237) Ryan Shazier will be on the board at 22, but will he be the best overall player available there? And aren't the Eagles trying to make the defense bigger?
After the first round, there might be Ford, Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu (6-3, 252), Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence (6-3, 251), Stanford's Trent Murphy (6-5, 250, with 11 1/8-inch hands, biggest measured at the combine) and short-armed Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 243) from BYU. Arm length is a Kelly priority.
Inside, it would be interesting if Alabama's C.J. Mosley (6-2, 234) dropped into the Eagles' range at 22. He could be an eventual replacement for Ryans, a three-down linebacker with strong coverage skills. In later rounds, Wisconsin's Chris Borland is just 5-11, 248, but is a fine athlete. Louisville run-stopper Preston Brown (6-1, 251) might make it to the third day.