Eagles size up edge rushers at Senior Bowl workouts
MOBILE, Ala. - The Eagles picked a bad draft to press their need for an outside linebacker. This year's class is loaded with talented edge rushers, according to many scouts and draft analysts like NFL Network's Mike Mayock.
MOBILE, Ala. - The Eagles picked a bad draft to press their need for an outside linebacker.
This year's class is loaded with talented edge rushers, according to many scouts and draft analysts like NFL Network's Mike Mayock.
"It's one of the best drafts I've seen recently for edge rushers," Mayock said this week during Senior Bowl practices. "Some of the guys are 4-3s, some are 3-4s, some can do both. Some of the juniors that aren't here are really gifted and will be at the top end.
"But I think it's one of the deepest outside linebacker-defensive end groups we've seen in a while."
Despite a disappointing rookie season, the verdict is still out on Marcus Smith, the Eagles' top draft pick in 2014. But the team may decide it has seen enough already and shy away from him as a long-term starter at outside linebacker. The Eagles could even keep him inside, where he was moved for most of last season.
And if the Eagles don't bring back Trent Cole or Brandon Graham, there will be a glaring need for a starter opposite Connor Barwin. They would likely address it through free agency. But Chip Kelly and company may consider one of the many possible edge rushers in the first two rounds of the draft as a plug-and-start answer.
Could they possibly swing early and hit a foul ball again?
The best of the lot aren't here at Senior Bowl workouts. The top projected 3-4 outside linebackers are not rangy, the way Kelly prefers his defenders - Florida's Dante Fowler (6-foot-2, 261 pounds), Clemson's Vic Beasley (6-2, 235), and Washington's Shaq Thompson (6-2, 231) - but they were explosive pass rushers in college.
There's more length from the top projected 4-3 ends - Nebraska's Randy Gregory (6-6, 245), Missouri's Shane Ray (6-3, 245), and Kentucky's Alvin Dupree (6-4, 267). The Eagles and other 3-4 base-defense teams could envision any of them as outside linebackers.
Utah's Nate Orchard rushed with his hand on the ground for his entire career and said he prefers to play end, but he has outside linebacker size (6-3, 251) and played there at times during Senior Bowl practices this week.
"I prefer to play with my hand in the ground," Orchard said Thursday. "I've been doing it for 10 years. If I had to play outside linebacker, the transition would be smooth."
Orchard conceded that he would have to pack on 20 pounds if he were to play end in the NFL. He already has the long arms that many teams, including the Eagles, like their pass rushers to have. Orchard said he met with Kelly and the Eagles this week and described the meeting as "intense."
"It's Chip Kelly," he said when asked why he thought it was intense. "Come on. He's the head coach of the Eagles."
Orchard said the majority of questions were about his personality and background. He played on both offense and defense in high school and was recruited to Utah as a tight end. But he was switched to defensive end a week into his freshman year.
"I just like hitting people and getting after it," Orchard said. "I like making plays. I like the pressure on me. I'm a defensive guy."
Smith had never played on defense until college. He was recruited as a quarterback. His former Louisville teammate, Lorenzo Mauldin (6-31/2, 256) was recruited as a tight end, but he had played defense in high school.
Like Smith, though, he started as an end before moving to outside linebacker as a senior.
"It was pretty easy," Mauldin said. "Playing the same position on the edge, the only thing that was different was dropping into coverage. It was a difficult time at first, but as I got through the season it got easier."
Mauldin won't likely be drafted as early as Orchard, who could conceivably be chosen in the late first round. The Eagles have the No. 20 pick. But edge rushers tend to go earlier than projected (see: Smith).
The remaining Senior Bowl outside linebackers are a mixed bag of mid-to-late-round talents. Missouri's Markus Golden (6-2, 255) could sneak into the second round, but short arms would likely keep the Eagles away.
Norfolk State's Lynden Trail (6-6, 262) is raw but has the measurements and some upside. Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom (6-3, 264, Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha (6-2, 246), and Harvard's Zack Hodges (6-2, 242) didn't stand out as much, but they could be third-day options.
Generally, it's difficult for edge rushers to transition into the NFL and have an immediate impact. Smith's growing pains were compounded by a position change. Mauldin said he still speaks to Smith regularly.
"With Marcus, he's with a team that's stacked at his position," Mauldin said. "He doesn't really worry about it. He just wants to play. He'll adjust and get better."
The Eagles are likely to buy some insurance in case he doesn't.