WHEN THE safety position came up, reporters covering Howie Roseman's annual predraft media briefing yesterday heard a lot about Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff and even Chris Maragos, but not so much about available prospects.
The upshot seemed to be, don't have your heart set on a first-round safety. Or maybe on any kind of safety, though the May 8-10 draft is supposed to be one of the deepest ever.
"In terms of the safety class, I don't think it's a good group overall," the Eagles' general manager said. "I think you're talking about a dropoff, certainly when you get into Saturday [and the final four rounds]. When we look at our safety group, obviously we signed Malcolm, and [like] Malcolm's ability to fit in the defense and be a QB back there for our defense. And Earl and Nate, we're excited about their ability to take a jump. We talk about athletic tools and what's in their body, and Nate is 6-2, he's 215, he's finally in the same system for the second year, and you gotta be able to play fast. You gotta not [have to] think. It's very hard on a safety going through all those system changes, especially a young player who didn't really grow up playing the position - he was a quarterback in high school.
"And then Earl as a rookie, I thought did a really good job before he got hurt. Again, you're talking about a guy who's 215 pounds, who runs a 4.4. Unbelievable work ethic, off the charts. We're excited about those guys, and bringing in Maragos [a Seattle free-agent special-teams standout] as well. That doesn't mean we wouldn't add one if he was the best player, but at the same time, we expect those guys to take a jump and be better players."
Later, in a conference call, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said the Eagles will have to trade up to get the draft's best safety, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Many mock drafts have the second-ranked safety, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, also off the board by the time the Eagles make their first selection, 22nd overall. Mayock said Pryor might last until 22, but he is a traditional box safety, and the Eagles seem to covet cover skills and versatility.
Mayock mentioned Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (5-11, 193), or maybe Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner (5-8, 184) as possible Eagles second-round targets, then later maybe Florida State's Terrence Brooks (5-11, 198). Mayock touted Minnesota's Brock Vereen (6-foot, 199) and Wolff's former North Carolina State teammate, Dontae Johnson (6-2, 200), as versatile players who could fit in at corner or safety.
Fans might still see safety as a top need, even after Roseman made Jenkins his top free-agent priority, and they might be right. But drafting for need is what left the Eagles with Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round in 2011, and Allen in the second round the year before, after they decided edge rusher Brandon Graham was a bigger first-round priority than safety Earl Thomas. Roseman made it clear yet again yesterday that he'll be looking for the best talents to fit the Eagles' schemes next week, not fretting about filling holes.
"When we go into the draft, we try to stay away from that. Obviously we look at our needs at some point, but in this week, we try to get to keep our mind clean and really go about taking the best players because we've learned from that, of going into the draft and pushing guys up based on need," Roseman said. "We're going in with a clean head. Obviously there are things that you'd like to come out of it."
Roseman said the "elephant in the room is that you're not going to be able to fill all your needs," that you have to be comfortable going into August and September with the idea you are still looking to improve the team. He said it isn't wise to reach for need even later in the draft, when less is at stake.
"I think as the draft goes along, it's even more important you stick to your board. If you look at the percentages of where you hit on guys in the draft, as you go into the middle and later rounds, it's harder to hit on guys. So now, if you're saying, I gotta find a particular position that may or may not be strong at that spot, and you're expecting to hit on that guy, I don't think your chances are very high."
Other highlights from the 50-minute confab with about two dozen reporters at Nova-Care:
* Roseman said he was open to trading up or trading down, as every GM is every year. Practically, with just six picks in a deep draft, the Eagles seem much more likely to want to trade down. They don't want to further deplete their 2014 stockpile, and Roseman doesn't like trading away future picks.
In fact, he told a story about that. Last year, he didn't have a sixth-round pick, so when the sixth round came up, he left the draft room and walked the practice fields. Roseman wanted to physically remove himself from the danger of trading away a 2014 pick for a 2013 sixth-rounder.
"I was worried about the future damage I would do by sitting in there and going, 'I like that player, I like that player,' " he said.
* Roseman said there is internal debate among the Eagles' brass over whether there are three or four first-round quarterbacks this year. "How many go before we pick, and how many teams are jockeying to get their guy?" Roseman wondered.
So, can teams taking QBs knock other coveted players into the Eagles' first-round range, or might a team that wants a QB covet the Eagles' pick enough to trade something for it?
* After wide receivers, Roseman said he sees offensive tackles as the strongest group in this draft, particularly the top-end bunch. A run on first-round tackles also could push players down to the Eagles who might better fit their needs.
* Roseman said he used the extra 2 weeks of draft preparation this year to do more work on the priority free agents, the guys the Eagles will try to sign when the draft ends. With just six picks to be made, that group will be more important than usual this year.
* In his opening remarks, when he thanked his scouts and coaches, Roseman said ubiquitous workout attendee Chip Kelly "set an NFL record for Pro Days."