WHAT CAN WE tell you about the Eagles and the NFL draft, 4 whole days before the selecting starts?
Well, unless you really care whether the Raiders choose JaMarcus Russell or Calvin Johnson first overall, there's no need to tune in at noon. The Eagles are scheduled to select 26th, and there is little chance they will be moving up this time. Mel Kiper's hair will still be just as shiny at 3 p.m., and you will have not totally wasted a precious sunny spring Saturday afternoon.
It's unlikely the Birds will move up because they have only six selections in the seven-round draft, the lowest number of prospective picks in the Andy Reid era. Draft-day trades resulted in the Eagles garnering only six players in the 2001 and '03 drafts, which weren't very good, coincidentally or not.
Under Reid, the two times the Birds have moved up in the first round, 2003 and '04, they've used second-round choices to do so. That wouldn't be impossible this time, but it would bring the Eagles down to five picks, which is not very many. In fact, the Eagles have never drafted fewer than six players since the draft went from 12 rounds to eight (1993), then seven (1994).
General manager Tom Heckert acknowledged yesterday that although you can never predict what another team might propose, "chances probably aren't real good that we move up."
More likely is a move down, into the second round, which presumably would net an extra pick. Heckert noted that if you study the long-term outcomes, most years you'd be just as well off picking 40th as 17th. Even though there are 32 first-round selections, on most teams' draft boards there aren't 32 players with true first-round grades.
"In theory, that makes sense," Heckert said. "But obviously, if you trust your evaluations, the 17th player [on your board] is going to be better than the 40th player, even if it doesn't work out that way [in the long run]."
Heckert said teams at the top of the draft tend to have multiple needs and after making an early first-round pick, such a team might want to move up from early in the second round to late in the first to be sure of getting a particular player. Buffalo did that in 2004, drafting both 13th (wide receiver Lee Evans) and 22nd (quarterback J.P. Losman), with the Cowboys trading that 22 slot for a second-rounder they used on running back Julius Jones.
Whether the Eagles stay put, move up or move down, it will be an upset if they don't bag either a safety or a corner in the first couple of rounds. Mike Lewis (second round, 2002) left for San Francisco in free agency this offseason; he is the only safety the Birds have drafted above the fourth round since Brian Dawkins arrived in the second round back in 1996. Dawkins turns 34 in October and it would seem to be time to draft his successor, particularly since this is said to be an excellent draft for safeties.
LSU's LaRon Landry should be long gone by the 26th pick, but the Eagles could have their choice of highly regarded talents such as Miami's Brandon Meriweather, Florida's Reggie Nelson and Texas' Michael Griffin.
If they decide to take a corner first, Griffin's fellow Longhorn Aaron Ross might be available, as could physical, press-coverage-oriented Chris Houston, of Arkansas. Off-the-field issues could make UNLV's Eric Wright a gamble at 26 but could keep him on the board until the Eagles select in the second round, 57th overall.
Why a corner? Well, nickel guy Rod Hood left for Arizona in free agency and the Eagles' only move at that position has been to bring back injury-plagued Will James on a 1-year deal. They definitely need depth at this key position in Jim Johnson's scheme, whether it's a first-round priority or not.
A defensive lineman - more likely an end than a tackle, because this is not a good draft for defensive tackles - is always a first-round possibility with the Eagles. They've gone defensive line with their first pick 3 of the past 4 years. Would they do it again? Well, on the one hand, it's hard to keep pouring resources into one area, over and over. On the other hand, they don't seem to have gotten it right yet, given their pass-rush and run-stopping troubles, and there will be some intriguing names on the board at 26 - possibly Purdue's Anthony Spencer or Florida's Jarvis Moss.
Heckert said recently that quality linemen "are tough to find - you can't get a Trent Cole every year." The Eagles drafted Cole in the fifth round in 2005. He led the team with eight sacks last season.
"I don't think we'd hesitate" to take the right defensive lineman at 26 on Saturday, Heckert said. "We kept 10 guys last year. You don't have to have five ends and five tackles; you can do it any way you want."
Heckert said any perceived defensive-line surplus would "work itself out sooner or later." (Translation: Jerome McDougle is entering the final season of his contract and the cap hit for getting rid of him after training camp would be minimal, if he doesn't totally turn his career around this summer. And Sam Rayburn might not be far behind.)
As everybody knows by now, the Eagles haven't drafted a linebacker in the first round since Jerry Robinson in 1979. Could this be the year? Well, there should be an linebacker in there somewhere, since the only offseason upgrade at that subpar 2006 position is 30-year-old Takeo Spikes. (Yes, Chris Gocong joins the mix after missing his rookie year on injured reserve. But is he a linebacker? The Eagles don't seem to be sure.) The guy who probably will be drafted somewhere around 26th on Saturday is Penn State's Paul Posluszny. Heckert said he expects Posluszny to be taken in the first round.
On the first day, the Birds pick 26th, 57th and 90th in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. They are scheduled to get a late start again on Sunday, since they sent their fourth-rounder to New Orleans in the Donté Stallworth deal. Sunday's Eagles picks are 162nd (fifth round), 201st (sixth) and 236th (seventh). The Eagles have no compensatory picks for lost free agents, for the first time since 2003.
It wouldn't be a surprise if the Eagles came out of the first day with a safety/corner, a running back (Penn State's Tony Hunt? Rutgers' Brian Leonard? Either could be available in the second round) and maybe a linebacker.
Before the acquisition of Kelly Holcomb, a developmental quarterback seemed a likely bet somewhere in the draft; that seems less likely now. When it's all over, more than one prospect probably will have been added to the secondary, and the team might have added a tight end, though this is considered a poor draft at that position. You can bet on a defensive lineman somewhere in the mix, since Reid has selected at least one in 7 of his 8 years here. The Eagles don't need offensive-line help - second-round rookie tackle Winston Justice and fourth-round guard Max Jean-Gilles never even got on the field last season - but there again, Reid has only gone one draft (2003) without taking one.