2008 Philadelphia Eagles All Inclusive NFL Draft Preview (Part 1)

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football, Senior NFL Writer and Draft Analyst

2007 Season Overview

Going into the 2008 NFL Draft, the Birds are coming off a head-scratching roller coaster up and down season where they finished 8-8.  “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” sums up the theme of the 2007 season, which ended with another unfulfilling journey and no parade for die-hard Eagles fans.  Storylines were plentiful in 2007 with Andy Reid battling family issues, Donovan McNabb coming back from his third season-ending injury, and the cutting of Jeremiah Trotter in training camp to name just a few of the subplots.  But from the start of the season something seemed to be a miss as the team started out 0-2 with a terrible opening game loss to the Packers namely due to the inability of the Eagles return players securing the ball and a Monday Night home opening loss to the Redskins.  After such a bad start where the team had so far not lived up to everyone’s prediction of another NFC East crown.  Donovan McNabb, who clearly was struggling to recover from a 2006 season ending knee injury, had an earlier taped controversial interview air on HBO causing a firestorm leading up to their week three home game.  With the environment around the team and the quarterback swirling, McNabb and the team went out and put forth a Herculean effort torching the Detroit Lions for 56 points and 536 total yards.  All seemed well, but in another bad “Prime Time” loss the Birds were throttled by the Giants 16-3 as McNabb threw for only 76 yards mainly due from the fact he was running for his life as he was sacked 12 times.  Six of the sacks were credited to Osi Umenyiora who dominated first-time starter and injury replacement offensive tackle Winston Justice for most of them.  With the gut-wrenching loss, the Eagles entered the quarter marker and their bye with a disappointing 1-3 record.  Their record at that point seemed unbelievable given that they look to be much more prepared going into the season.

After a bye week where the Eagles got some time off, they fattened up on the lowly New York Jets.  The win setup a home game versus the defending NFC champion Chicago Bears with a strong chance of getting to .500 for the season and building momentum.  This game truly typified a 2007 season where the Eagles would continually get “close”, but fall short in the end.  All day the Eagles moved the ball up and down the field producing 334 yards with 123 yards rushing.  However the yards only amounted to 16 points mostly coming on David Akers field goals.  With the game on the line the Eagles pinned the Bears at their own three-yard line with 1:52 on the clock.  I won’t go through the unpalatable state of events that followed ending with journeyman Brian Griese throwing a touchdown pass to Mushin Muhammad giving the Bears an improbable 19-16 win.  I don’t care what anyone says, I believe the Eagles season was over after that game.  They were now 2-4 and trailed the 6-0 Cowboys badly in their division and you could see a strong level of discontent in “Eagles Nation”. 

With 10 games left the Eagles tried to rally winning three out of their next four contests  improving to 5-6 heading into a pivotal “Mission Impossible” type game against the undefeated Patriots, who were running rough shot over the entire NFL on their way to a 16-0 regular season record – crazily the Birds were a 24 point underdog going into the game.  Without starting quarterback Donovan McNabb (sprained ankle), backup AJ Feeley performed admirably putting up 345 yards and three touchdowns with one costly interception in the 31-28 loss.  The loss teased Eagles fans as they were close enough to taste victory, but in the end it was still a heart ripping loss.  After two more close losses to Seahawks and Giants, the Eagles were sitting at 5-8 with three games left and no playoff chances.  I know fans that I talked to were saying one thing “Lose, so we can have a top 10 pick”.  Their cries didn’t reach the team as to their credit, the Eagles kept fighting beating the Cowboys in Dallas (remember Westbrook cementing the game by falling down at the goal line), going on the road again this time throttling the equally inconsistent New Orleans Saints and completing the slate with a ho-hum home win over the young Buffalo Bills.

In the end three straight wins to end the regular season to finish 8-8 is “ok”.  Some say that winning at the end of one season is a springboard into the next, example the Packers won six straight at end of ’06 and in ’07 they had a 13 win season.  But I subscribe to the school that every season is different and teams really do start with a clean slate each year.  I have heard by some that the Eagles were a play/game away here or there and that this team was as good as the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants and the rest of the NFC.  I liked the play of RB Brian Westbrook (1st Pro Bowl Selection and established an Eagles record for combined yards with 2104), WR Kevin Curtis (Scrappy receiver had over 1,100 yards w/ 8 TD’s), and DE Trent Cole (Brought the wood on his way to his first Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks). But the cold hard reality is that this team needs more quality depth and playmakers to be a “real” Super Bowl contender.  Sure they could have squeaked into the playoffs in ’07, but who could they have beaten averaging less than 20 points in most games and not producing turnovers (-8). 

This off-season is essential for the Eagles to understand that their “philosophy” needs to be changed and that they can no longer live on their Super Bowl from 2004.  They are now a team that has missed the playoffs in two out of the last three years while their division rivals have gotten younger and you hate to say it better — All three NFC East teams except the Eagles made the playoffs in ‘07.  I am not saying drastic measures need to happen, but urgency is omnipotent.  The Eagles started their off-season with a bang by signing high-profile free agent Asante Samuel and bringing in quality role players Chris Clemmons, Dan Klecko, and Kris Wilson.  But we all know as Donovan McNabb goes, so will the Eagles.  After being on the hot seat all season, McNabb finished with good numbers (19 TDS, 7 INT, 3,324 yards passing, 89.9 rating, 9 fumbles (5 lost), 236 yards rushing) and fans should be encouraged by his play in the final three games of the season.  But everyone looking at this team including McNabb is asking “Do the Eagles Have Enough Playmakers?”.  With free agency basically over the team has said “yes” we are okay with our current roster – myself and many others would debate that thinking.  Unless something enormous happens between now and the draft (i.e. Chad Johnson talks his way out of Cincinnati or Roy Williams finally gets traded by Detroit) then Tom Heckert and Andy Reid will look first to the draft to find players.  That thinking is all well and good, but the Eagles need to also “play” their younger players.  They only need to look up the turnpike at how the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Giants for the blueprint on drafting and playing rookies.  The G-Men showed that draft picks can have an immediate impact with all eight of their draftees “The Little Giants” making the team and contributing throughout the season, playoffs, and into the Super Bowl. 

The Eagles found a nice building block for the future in ’07 draftee linebacker Stewart Bradley (3rd Pick), but they need more.  The Eagles will have several options in the draft armed with 11 picks including #19 in the first round, their own selections in rounds 2 through 6, Cleveland 6th rd pick (Center Hank Fraley trade), and Seattle’s 7th rd pick (Fullback Josh Parry trade) plus three supplemental picks (one in the fourth round and two in the sixth round).  The key item to watch in the draft will be how the Eagles cash in the very big “bargaining chip” of disgruntled cornerback and former 1st Rd pick Lito Sheppard, I expect them to at the least equal the 2nd and 5th round selections that the Falcons received from the Raiders for CB DeAngelo Hall.

 

2007 Record with Breakdown

 8-8 Overall Record, Finished 4th in the NFC East and missed the playoffs

5-3 record on the road

3-5 record at home

3-1 vs. the AFC

5-7 vs. the NFC

2-4 in   Division

 

Key Stats and Rankings

Offense

336 Points Scored, (Ranked 17th in the NFL)

42%  – 3rd Downs Converted (Tied for 7th in the NFL)

30:56 in Time of Possession (9th Ranked in the NFL)

27 Giveaways, 15 INT’s, 12 Fumbles Lost (19th Ranked in the NFL)

49 Sacks Allowed (28th Ranked in the NFL)

45% in redzone percentage with 23 TDs in 51 chances (24th Ranked in the NFL)

 

Defense

300 Points Allowed, (Ranked 9th in the NFL)

19 Takeaways, 11 INT’s, 8 Fumbles Recovered (30th Ranked in the NFL)

1533 Rushing Yards, 96 yards per game (7th Ranked in the NFL)

37 Sacks (9th Ranked in the NFL)

No Defensive Touchdowns

 

Overall

83 Penalties for 649 yards (12th ranked in the NFL)

-8 in Turnover Ratio (25th ranked in the NFL)

 

Offense

                    

                            PASSING                            RUSHING                   TOTALYARDS  

                        CMP   ATT   YD    YPA   TD   INT             ATT     YD    YPA    TD    

                         350     577 3755      6.0   24    15         421   1974     4.7     12    5729

NFL Rank                         7      10       16   12    11           20         8       2      16       6

 

Defense

                         PASSING                                              RUSHING                        TOTAL YARDS

                         CMP   ATT     YD     YPA   TD INT       ATT     YD      YPA   TD                     

                      312      539     3067    6.0   16  11        403    1533    3.8    10       4982

NFL Rank                     17        18        14   2  30           8         7        8        9       10 

Pro Bowlers: Shawn Andrews (OG), Brian Westbrook (RB) and Trent Cole (DE) – Alternate

 

Stat Leaders 

 Passing

              Att  Cmp   %     Yds  TD  Int 

McNabb 291 473    61.5   3324 19   7

Feeley      59 103     57.3     681   5   8

Kolb         One game played with no passes attempted and 3 rushes for -2 yards

 

Rushing

                   Att   Yds    Avg  TD  Long 

Westbrook 278 1333    4.8    7    36 

Buckhalter   62   313    5.0    4    30

Hunt            10  16       1.6    1     4

 

Receiving

                   Rec  Yards  Avg  TD  Long 

Westbrook   90     771    8.6    5    57t

K. Curtis      77    1110  14.4    6   75t

R. Brown     61      780  12.8    4    45

J. Avant       23      267  11.6    2    31

L. Smith       22      236  10.7    1   26

 

Tackles

Gaither            102  (69 Solo, 0 Sacks)

T. Spikes          86   (64 Solo, 1 Sack)

Cole                   69  (49 Solo, 12.5 Sacks)

S. Brown           68  (61 Solo, 0 Sacks)

Patterson          66  (50 Solo, 4 Sacks)

 

Interceptions

S. Brown             3

Sheppard            2

Dawkins              1

Gaither                1

 

Sacks

 Cole             12.5

J. Thomas      5

Patterson       4

Kearse           3.5

Bunkley          3  

 

Player Movement

IN 

LB Rocky Boiman, formerly of Indianapolis Colts: Signed a 1-year deal with the terms unreleased.  The former Notre Dame player is a high-character guy who can fill in at outside linebacker (good in coverage) and excels on special teams.  The twenty-eight year old was originally drafted in the 4th round in 2002 by the Titans. Won a Super Bowl ring in ’06 with the Colts. Will wear number # 50

WR/KR Brandon “Bam” Childress, formerly of New England Patriots: Signed 2-year deal with the terms unreleased.  The twenty-six year old is a very fast player, who has battled injuries throughout his career.  Signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2005.  Has spent time on and off the Patriots roster in ’05 and ’06 while catching five passes for 39 yards in his career.  Will be called on to play special teams and  return kicks for the Eagles.  Will wear number # 11

DE Chris Clemons, formerly of Oakland Raiders: Signed a 5-year deal with the terms unreleased.  The twenty-six year old comes to the Eagles as a player on the accession as he produced 8 sacks in a limited role for the Raiders (only on the field for 37% of defensive plays).  Will be called on to be a situational pass rusher in the defensive end unit.  Will wear number # 91

FB Dan Klecko, formerly of Indianapolis Colts: Signed a 2-year deal with the terms unreleased.  The former Temple University player is a tough football player who will attempt to make the permanent switch from defensive lineman to full-time fullback.  The twenty-seven year old was originally drafted in the 4th round in 2003 by the Patriots. Has played for two of the best organizations in football in the Patriots and Colts winning Super Bowl rings in ’03, ’04, and ’06. Expect to see a lot of him on special teams and blocking at the goal line. Will wear number # 49

 

CB Asante Samuel, formerly of New England Patriots: Signed a 6-year deal for 57.14 million with 20 million in guarantees.  The twenty-seven year-old cover corner is another player coming over from the Patriots.  Entering his sixth season, the Pro Bowl corner has 22 interceptions in 75 career regular-season games.  The former Central Florida player had six interceptions last year and I know you remember the two against the Eagles including one returned to the house in the Pats victory last season. Originally drafted in the 4th round in 2003 by the Patriots and won Super Bowl rings in ’03 and ’04. Will wear number # 22

TE/FB Kris Wilson, formerly of Kansas City Chiefs: Signed a 3-year deal with the terms unreleased.  The twenty-six year-old H-Back type tight end is not known for his in-line blocking, but he has solid receiving skills.  The former University of Pittsburgh player has good hands and is a willing blocker.  After spending time behind Tony Gonzalez, he will get his chance to push LJ Smith.  Has 42 receptions and 4 TDs in his career with a high of 24 catches in ’07 with the Chiefs. Originally was drafted in the 2nd Rd by the Chiefs in 2004. Will wear number # 88

 

OUT

LB Takeo Spikes (Unsigned as of the Draft) – Former 2-time Pro Bowl player never really seemed recovered enough from past injuries to make the impact plays needed by the Eagles linebacker unit.  Produced 86 tackles, but only 1 sack and no fumble recoveries or interceptions.

– DE Jevon Kearse (Signed by the Tennessee Titans) – Had his best year as an Eagle in 2004 finishing with 8 sacks, but never produced double-digit sacks for the Birds.  His sack numbers have dwindled every year since his rookie year high (14.5) and his bothersome knee may cause his career to be in jeopardy.

– DT Ian Scott (Unsigned as of the Draft) – Was supposed to be in the defensive line rotation after coming over from the Bears, but injured his knee in training camp and spent the year on injured reserve.

– CB William James (Signed by Buffalo) – The former New York Giant never really embraced the nickel role after losing a non-battle with Sheldon Brown for the 2nd corner spot.  Struggled and was eventually passed by youngster Joselio Hanson.

– FB Thomas Tapeh (Signed by Minnesota) – Former 5th round pick in 2004 never really excelled as a true fullback.  Was more of a ‘tweener and a hip injury in ’04 slowed him.  Will be remembered for being called on to catch a swing pass on a crucial 4th and goal versus the Saints in an ’06 playoff game.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS NOT RE-SIGNED

KR/RB Reno Mahe – A utility player and a favorite of Andy Reid.  Every year it seems that Mahe will not make the roster, but he shows up like a bad penny.  The quality punt “catcher” filled the role after the Eagles week one fiasco, but more game-breaking skills in the return game are needed.  His ’07 numbers were 31 punt returns for 249 yards (8.0 ypr) with a long of 32 yards. 

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

– CB Joselio Hanson – A developing nickel corner that has paid his dues on the practice squad and in NFL Europe.  Filled in well when Lito Sheppard has been injured.  I think his best spot will be as a fourth defensive and helping on special teams.

– S/KR JR Reed – One of the better stories of the ’07 season was the return of the popular hard-hitting safety.  Though not as explosive as in the past, Reed filled in nicely when injuries struck the safety positions.  Of course everyone will remember his gaffe of muffing a punt return against the Packers in week one, but he should be a solid contributor on special teams again.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – 2008 Schedule

PRESEASON

Week 1: Friday, August 8               at Pittsburgh        7:30 pm   ETN/6ABC

Week 2: Thursday, August 14        Carolina               8:00 pm   FOX

Week 3: Friday, August 22             at New England   7:30 pm   ETN/6ABC

Week 4: Thursday, August 28        NY Jets                6:30 pm   ETN/6ABC

 

REGULAR SEASON                                   

Sunday, September 7               St. Louis               1:00 pm   FOX     

Monday, September 15            at Dallas                8:30 pm   ESPN

Sunday, September 21             Pittsburgh             4:15 pm   CBS

Sunday, September 28             at Chicago            8:15 pm   NBC

Sunday, October 5                   Washington           1:00 pm   FOX

Sunday, October 12                 at San Francisco   4:15 pm   FOX

Sunday, October 19                 BYE

Sunday, October 26                 Atlanta                  1:00 pm   FOX

Sunday, November 2               at Seattle              4:15 pm   FOX

Sunday, November 9               NY Giants             8:15 pm   NBC

Sunday, November 16              at Cincinnati        1:00 pm   FOX

Sunday, November 23              at Baltimore         1:00 pm   FOX

Thursday, November 27           Arizona                 8:00 pm  NFL Network

Sunday, December 7                at NY Giants        1:00 pm   FOX

Monday, December 15             Cleveland              8:30 pm  ESPN

Sunday, December 21              at Washington      1:00 pm   FOX

Sunday, December 28              Dallas                   1:00 pm   FOX

(All times are EST with every game simulcast on WYSP (94.1 FM) and WIP (610 AM)

 

2008 Eagles Draft Picks

1st Rd   19th overall

2nd Rd   49th overall

3rd Rd    80th overall

4th Rd    115th overall

4th Rd   131st overall (Compensatory Pick)

5th Rd   152nd overall

6th Rd   184th overall

6th Rd   191st overall  – (From Cleveland – Hank Fraley Trade)

6th Rd   200th overall (Compensatory Pick)

6th Rd   203rd overall (Compensatory Pick)

7th Rd   230th overall (From Seattle – Josh Parry Trade).

 

Team Needs

1.  OT – The O-line was solid in ’07 pushing Westbrook well over 1,000 yards and quarterback McNabb was able to finish the season.  But there are some definite areas of concern with the unit.  Too many sacks were allowed 49 (Finished ranked 28th in the NFL) and bookend offensive tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are 34 and 33 respectively.  There is a need for one or possibly two players to be chosen as future successors to the aging veterans.  Third year player Winston Justice has done little, so he is a big question mark and Todd Herramins looks like a better fit as swing player.  The Birds need to draft a young offensive tackle to team with Pro Bowl Guard Shawn Andrews for the future. This position is stacked in this draft, so I could at least two O-Linemen selected by the Eagles.

2.      Kick Returner – In today’s NFL most teams place an importance on having a game-changing homerun threat at the kick return position, I am not sure that the Eagles agree with the majority as “ball security” is paramount to them.  Since veteran return man Brian Mitchell left town, the Eagles have struggled to find an explosive and ball secure returner.  The Birds finished near the bottom in the NFL in field position (29.08 yard line for a ranking of 25th) and they have not had a kickoff return (since 2001) or punt return (since 2003) for a touchdown in some time, so this position must addressed.  They can longer afford to throw just any player into this position and I won’t bring up the Green Bay game again. The Eagles should use a mid round pick (4th or 5th round) solely dedicated to this area.

3.   Safety – Need to bring in a player with pedigree to eventually replace stellar free safety Brian Dawkins (35 in November). With Dawkins and SS Sean Considine always seeming to be battling injuries a younger guy to throw in the mix is needed.  Quinton Mikell is a good fill-in and special teams guy, but he is not a long range answer.  Must improve in deep coverage and in creating turnovers.  Will need to dig for a replacement in the draft as this position is not deep this year.

4.  DE  – The Eagles got heat from a variety of players (37 sacks), but other than Pro Bowl player Trent Cole (12.5) no one came close to double digits.  The addition of Chris Clemons will help, but more playmakers are needed.  All the Eagles have to do is look in their division at the pressure (league leading 53 sacks) that the Super Bowl champion Giants’ front four caused leading to turnovers and wins.  The effort of Juqua Parker (formerly Thomas) is good, but with an unknown in second-year player Victor Abiamiri, the team cutting ties with Kearse and underachievers Darren Howard and former first round pick Jerome McDougle fighting for their Eagles careers, another young two way DE that can rush the passer is needed.

5.  WR – So you want a receiver Philly fans to finally fill the void or is it a canyon that has existed since the departure of — The initials that we dare not say —  T.O.   Sure we can all hear Andy Reid’s 9-year common retort –uh, uh, [Throat Clear], “We are okay with our receivers”.  But 16 receiving touchdowns from your entire receiving corps when Patriots receiver Randy Moss had 23 touchdowns by himself, says it all.  Kevin Curtis was scrappy (77 catches for 1110 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 6 TDs), but he is better suited for the slot.  Fourth year receiver Reggie Brown in my opinion has not lived up to his second round selection and after him you have a bunch of “guys” in Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, Greg Lewis, and the other receivers. Need to find a receiver who can start out on special teams helping in returning kicks and possibly growing into something.  There are good second round and mid-round level players at this position, so you could see one or two players (speed w/ 4.4 speed and a big 6’4 plus) selected.

 6.  CB – With the signing of Asante Samuel this unit got a much needed upgrade, but in signing the NFL’s number one defensive free agent, the Eagles opened a can of worms with Lito Sheppard.  We all know Sheppard will not make it to training camp, so it is necessary to find a corner in the draft that can be groomed as Sheldon Brown’s eventual replacement.  After Rod Hood left free agency before the ’07 season, a big hole was left in the Eagles secondary.  Will James was a disappointment and slot receivers had good games versus the Eagles.  With so many team going to four and five receiver sets, the Birds need a quality backup, who can also play on special teams and possibly help in the return game.  With the great depth in the ’08 draft at this position there is no reason that two players can’t be selected.

7.  RB – For the second year in a row Brian Westbrook showed he is a premier back in the NFL as he finally made the Pro Bowl. He broke the Eagles record for combine receiving and rushing yards, but one has to ask at 28 years old can the mercurial back continue carrying the load essentially by himself.  I definitely think 368 touches not including his occasional punt return is enough.  With the new trend in the NFL being the use of a tandem in the backfield (Giants, Saints, and Jaguars), the Eagles need to find a partner for Westbrook.  Correll Buckhalter has been a good story the last couple of years coming back from his knee troubles to average a hearty 5.0 ypc in ‘07, but he is always a play away from injury and he is also approaching thirty.  With Tony Hunt firmly in Reid’s doghouse due to his blocking and Ryan Moats looking like he is ready to move on a younger back is needed. If ever there was a draft to pick a running back the 2008 NFL draft is it.  There are several high producing running backs coming out including several that have kick return experience.

 8.  TE – It was evident by the Eagles woes in the redzone that McNabb’s favorite targets needed some assistance going into the ’08 season.  Injuries limited LJ Smith to only 10 games, 22 catches, and one touchdown.  The Eagles used the franchise tag on Smith, but the Eagles may need to start thinking about a replacement.  The possible emergence of ’07 training camp sensation Brent Celek and the addition of Kris Wilson will help, but I would like to see a tight end added in the draft that can push Matt Schobel.  The preference is for a blocking type that can also contribute on special teams.  There are a couple of tight ends in the draft, but with so many teams running spread offenses in college, blocking is not a strong point for many in the draft class.

 9.  LB – Even with the release of Spikes and moving Stewart Bradley into the starting lineup at middle linebacker more is needed.  The entire linebacking unit only had 3 sacks and 2 interceptions.  The NFL is now built on hybrid players and schemes at the LB area.  4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 schemes and pass rushing based on the talent at LB.  The Eagles biggest problem is the aforementioned game-changing plays, but coverage is also a concern as teams like to run play action and screens on them.  Need to select another linebacker to help Rocky Boiman on special teams.

 10.  Kicker – I know a lot of Eagles fans are saying, “Wait a minute we have automatic Akers”.  The automatic part may have been the case in the past, but the former Pro Bowl kicker is approaching 34 and in 2007 he was 24 for 32 overall while making only 2 for 10 from beyond 40 including an alarming 1 for 6 between 40 to 49 yards. With his leg appearing to be not as strong since his ’05 hamstring injury, the Eagles should bring in a younger guy to push him. My suggestion would be a late round pick, an undrafted free agent, or possibly inquiring about Rams extra kicker and Chiefs ’07 draftee Justin Medlock.  The left footed kicker flamed out in Kansas City, but he had a made field goal percentage of 85.7 in college.

2008 NFL Draft – Mock Draft v1.0

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football Draft “Guru” / Senior NFL Writer

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after attending the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, talking with key NFL talent evaluators and letting Free Agency play out before making my picks.  In my opinion you cannot do a true “mock” until after these events, because only then you can get a good sense of how NFL talent evaluators are viewing prospects and have accurate team needs. 

1. Miami Dolphins — Jake Long, OT, Michigan

Record: 1-15 | Needs: OL, QB, CB, DT, LB

No matter what anyone wants to sell you on, Parcels and his boys will make this pick — sure they will listen to offers but in the end they won’t get their asking price.  The last time we saw a move with the first overall pick it was four years ago as Eli Manning changed hands on draft day.  Luckily for the ‘Phins they have the solid triumphant of high character Senior leadership players to choose from in QB Matt Ryan, OT Jake Long, and DE Chris Long. I do believe that Dolphins like Ryan and Chris Long, but Parcels likes to have a franchise tackle to build around — in the past with the Giants the Tuna grabbed Jimbo Elliott from Michigan and now it will be Jake Long’s turn.  Long (6’7, 315) was a unanimous All-Big Ten Conference first-team pick while serving as team captain for the second consecutive season, starting all thirteen games at left offensive tackle, and producing 119 knockdowns. The Tuna and the Dolphins have been very active in free agency reshaping their unit, but there is still a big hole at the offensive tackle position.  With John Beck or Josh McCown filling the role of the veteran “Vinny” type quarterback, Jake Long will be their escort.  Remember this road-grader only allow two sacks his whole career at Michigan.

2. St. Louis Rams — Chris Long, DE, Virginia

Record: 3-13 | Needs: DE, OT, CB, OLB, WR

With the Rams trying to rebuild a defense that has had problems stopping other teams this pick makes sense.  Sure Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis, and Gholston could be tempting here, but the team has made too many mistakes in the past on the front four (See Jimmy Kennedy) not to go with a high-character player like Long. Howie’s son is an almost clone of last year’s pick Adam Carriker (smart, big, leadership ability).  In 2007, ranked 3rd in the nation with fourteen sacks for minus 122 yards in thirteen starts playing as his team’s captain at the right defensive end position.  By adding Chris Long (6’4, 275) to Carriker and speedy DE Leonard Little, the Rams defense will have the energy and versatility needed to help their secondary, especially 2006 first rounder Tye Hill make plays.

3. Atlanta Falcons — Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College

Record: 4-12 | Needs: QB, OT, LB, S, CB

This should be the biggest no-brainer of the first five picks as the Falcons have a glaring need at quarterback and Ryan is the obvious number one signal caller in this year’s class.  Though Ryan (6’5. 224) needs to cut down on his interceptions (19 in 2007), he is the leadership type player that new GM Tom Domitroff — former New England front office guy that saw many BC games — and new head coach Mike Smith need in the post Michael Vick era. The Philadelphia suburbs kid in ’07 at BC averaged 321.93 yards per game finishing with 4,507 yards passing while setting school season-records for completions 388-of-654 (59.3%) and touchdowns (31).  With Ryan’s high character and leadership abilities this is the safest pick for an organization that needs a new beginning.  In his private workout he completed 48 of 50 passes. 

4. Oakland Raiders — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, TE, RB, WR

The affinity of the Raiders and Cowboys of McFadden (6’2, 210) has been this draft’s biggest non-secret.  Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills will look to grab the former two-time heisman runner-up.  McFadden has all the makings of last year’s yard-churning Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  The former Arkansas star ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the forty at the combine after leading the SEC in rushing with a 140.77 yards per game average while setting a school season-record with 1,830 yards and sixteen touchdowns.  McFadden is a home run threat and should team with the recently signed Justin Fargas and ’07 pick Michael Bush to form a formidable one-two-three punch.  Look for the Raiders to try and move current backs Dominic Rhodes and LaMont Jordan because they no longer will be in their plans. The only thing to watch for his a blockbuster trade where Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones makes a move to grab McFadden by dealing his 22nd and 28th picks to his old friend Al Davis. 

5. Kansas City Chiefs — Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: LT, G, CB, DE, S

With the retirements of perennial Pro Bowlers Guard Will Shields and Tackle Willie Roaf in recent years, the Chiefs’ number one priority is solidifying their offensive line. Unfortunately for them Jake Long will be long gone by the fifth pick, so Herman Edwards and Carl Peterson will go with the next O-lineman on the board in Clady (6’6, 316).  The former Boise State road-grader is a boom or bust prospect as there have been questions about his attitude and competition.  Was named Boise State’s second All-American while only being charged with six penalties, producing 122 knockdowns, and only allowing 3.5 sacks.  I believe he has the size and smarts to

learn the Chiefs new ground attack.  Look for Larry Johnson to get back on track running behind Clady and Pro Bowl Guard Brian Waters after an injury plagued ’07 season.

6. New York Jets — Vernon Gholston, OLB/DE, Ohio State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: NT, WR, LB, G, RB

With a glaring need for a running back, there is a chance that the Jets try and move up to grab McFadden or reach for any of the other talented junior RB’s.  I believe that Mangini will look to add another pass rusher for their attacking 3-4 system.  They already have new free agent Calvin Pace and Gholston (6’4, 258) should help in not allowing the big plays downfield that plagued the Jets in ’07.  The former Buckeye wowed the scouts at the combine with numbers of 4.67 in the forty and posting the top bench press  (37 reps at 225 pounds).  Obtained the only sack the Jake Long allowed this year while being named to the All-Big Ten Conference first-team finishing with a school season-record of fourteen sacks for minus 111 yards.

7. N.E. Patriots (from 5-11 San Francisco) — Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU

Record: 18-1 | Needs: LB, CB, DS, OL, RB

The Patriots probably would go for Gholston if he is on the board to rebuild their aging linebacking core, but they will have to settle for Dorsey (6’2, 316).  Much like Warren Sapp during his draft process, Dorsey has experienced going from being the consensus number one pick to move down boards due to red flags (injuries and didn’t workout at the combine).  However I believe that if the cat-quick DT is there, the Patriots will jump all over him.  He may not be the classic 3-4 defensive tackle, but look for Belichick to use him as an end and to move him around.  Despite double teams and illegal blocks that caused some leg problems, Dorsey managed to record 69 tackles (39 solos) with a career-high seven sacks for minus 45 yards and 12.5 stops for losses of 53 yards.  He should team with Rich Seymour and Vince Wilfork to form a great rotation upfront allowing for more plays from their linebackers and secondary. 

8. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt

Record: 5-11 | Needs: QB, CB, LOT, ILB, DE/OLB

The ideal pick would be Matt Ryan, but they will need to move up to grab him.  Look for the Ravens to wait to find the quarterback of the future until later in the draft as they address the big hole left by the impending retirement of future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at left tackle.  Williams (6’6, 320) is known as a finesse much like Ravens ’06 pick Chris Chester and he will need to tap into his nasty streak plus get stronger at the point of attack.  But the All SEC lineman had impressive senior numbers of 12 starts at left tackle, 102 knockdowns, and allowing only one quarterback sack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Keith Rivers, LB, USC

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, TE, LB, OT, DE

With their choice between USC teammates Rivers and DT Sedrick Ellis, head coach Marvin Lewis will choose “the shark”.  Ever since troubled linebacker Odell Thurman has not been able to stay out of trouble, the Bengals linebacking crew has been in disarray.  Rivers — nicknamed “Shark” from the character played by Lawrence Taylor in the film “Any Given Sunday” — is the most athletic and playmaking linebacker in this draft and should provide a boost along with free agent signee DE Antwaan Odom to a defense that has lacked teeth recently. Rivers (6’2, 236) finished his All-American 2007 campaign with 13 games played, 78 tackles (44 solos), five stops for losses, three fumbles recoveries, and one forced fumble.

10. New Orleans Saints — Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC

Record: 6-9 | Needs: CB, LB, TE, DT, C

With the Saints putting a lot of dollars into the cornerback (Randall Gay), defensive end (Bobby McCray), and linebacker (traded for Jonathan Vilma) positions look for them to grab the best front seven defensive guy on the board.  With Hollis Thomas slowing down and DE Will Smith underachieving the D-Line needs an infusion of talent.  Ellis (6’1, 308) has risen up draft boards recently after solid showings at the Senior Bowl.  He has excellent strength and quickness, which should help in Sean Payton’s off-season overall of his defensive unit.  As a senior in 2007, started thirteen games at DT helping the Trojans rank fourth in the nation against the run (84.15 ypg).  Recorded a career-high 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for losses, and had two fumble recoveries.

11. Buffalo Bills — Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy

Record: 7-9 | Needs: CB, DT, LB, WR, TE

With Nate Clements leaving in ’07 for big free agency dollars there has been a strong need for a top flight cover corner in Buffalo.  With a choice between McKelvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Aquib Talib, I believe that McKelvin (5’11, 190) will be the pick.  The silky smooth cover corner will provide an immediate lift to the Bills back four helping in the nickel and dime.  The All-Sun Belt Conference first-team choice started twelve games at left cornerback producing 60 tackles w/ 2.5 stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and 2 interceptions.  Also his high marks as kick returner will not hurt (Ranked fourth in the nation with 436 yards and three touch-downs on 25 punt returns (17.44 avg) and had a 23 yard average on kick returns). 

12. Denver Broncos — Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, OT, MLB, S, WR

With Long and Ellis long gone, the Broncos reach a little to bring in a much needed defensive tackle.  The former Tar Heel is a fast-rising prospect with very good size, power, and quickness. Balmer (6’5, 310) in 2007, started twelve games, had 59 tackles including 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.  He should help in taking heat off of sack man Elvis Dumervil and push troubled ’07 draftee Marcus Thomas.  I heard many evaluators at the combine comparing the All-ACC second teamer to Patriots versatile D-lineman Richard Seymour.

13. Carolina Panthers — Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, DE, WR, DS, DT

With the Panthers’ career of Julius Peppers looking like it will end soon, look for an upgrade on the D-Line.  Harvey (6’5, 252) will provide some of the versatility and disruptive skills that Peppers brought early in his career.  The stout Florida Gators defensive end is a more complete player than Broncos ’07 first round selection Jarvis Moss and should quickly emerge as an impact every-down two-way end.  The junior eligible started thirteen games at left defensive end position recording 49 tackles (31 solos), 8.5 sacks (fifth in SEC), 17 tackles for loss, causing one fumble, and deflecting five passes.

14. Chicago Bears — Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois

Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, RB, OL, DT, S

Don’t be surprised if GM Jerry Angelo takes advantage of this year’s talented crop of running backs by selecting Mendenhal (5’11, 210) with this pick. Mendenhall is a natural fit, because he plays in the Bears backyard and he can provide more explosiveness and versatility than current starter Cedric Benson.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer ranked eighth in the nation in rushing (129.31 ypg).  Had amazing final numbers of 13 games started with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns rushing and 34 receptions for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns.

15. Detroit Lions — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tenn. St.

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, G, CB, S, DE

The Lions’ secondary was a major reason why the Lions limped home at the end of the ’07 season and Rodgers-Cromartie (6’2, 183) will be welcomed with open arms. The former TSU star is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2008 class. After an amazing week at the Senior Bowl where he displayed his speed, versatility, and athleticism, he went from a small-school product to a top 15 pick.  Started eleven games at left cornerback as a senior recording 37 tackles with two tackles for loss, recovering two fumbles, deflecting 11 passes, and 2 interceptions.  Also set the school season-record by blocking four kicks, ran back 33 kickoff for 806 yards, and played some offense. He experience at free safety and cornerback, which should definitely help one of the NFL’s weakest secondaries — remember the 56 points the Eagles hung on them in week 3.

16. Arizona Cardinals — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, OLB, TE, RB, DE

With making moves to retain all of their offensive fire power including receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals should concentrate on defense especially cornerback.  With some thought out there that Antrelle Rolle might be a better safety, the Cards will need a physical young corner like Talib (6’2, 202).  The junior eligible played in 10 games in 2007 finishing with numbers of 42 tackles with two tackles for a loss, six interceptions, and 22 passes defensed. The former Kansas Jayhawk is a big and fast (ran 4.4 at the combine) corner that should help provide better coverage in the Cardinals back four that allowed too many big plays in 2007.  A red flag to watch is that Talib was suspended 2 games for violating team rules in ’07.

17. Minnesota Vikings — Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, S, WR, QB, TE

Believe it or not, Minnesota still is in the market for help at defensive end, despite investing first picks in the past on DE’s Kenechi Udeze (2004) and Erasmus James (2005).  After coming back to school after an All SEC junior season, Groves (6’3, 250) had some difficulty as a senior.   In ’07, he finished with 38 tackles, three sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and a SEC best 23 quarterback pressures.  After a good showing at his March 10th Pro Day, Groves seems to be back on track weighing in 10 pounds less than at the combine producing a 35-inch vertical jump, which was 5½-inches better than he did at the combine.

18. Houston Texans — Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, RB, S, LOT, DE

The Texans have been looking for a partner for former first round selection Dunta Robinson for some time and Jenkins (6’0, 200) looks like a good fit.  The South Florida star is a man to man corner with size, speed, and athleticism.  Started thirteen games at right cornerback producing a career-high 41 tackles with four tackles for loss, twelve passes break-ups, and three interceptions.  Jenkins can also help wideout Andre Davis on kickoffs as he averaged an amazing 30.4 yards per kickoff with one touchdown.

19. Philadelphia Eagles — Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh

Record: 8-8 | Needs: WR, S, OT, G

I know you want a receiver here Birds fans, but given the Eagles track record and their need to get younger at Offensive Tackle, you will have to wait until the second round for a pass catcher.  Stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been stellar for years, but they aren’t getting any younger.  Otah (6’6, 340) reminds me a lot of Eagles Pro Bowl Guard Shawn Andrews and Colts ’07 rookie sensation Tony Ugoh coming out of college.  The New Castle, Delaware native was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection starting twelve games at left offensive tackle while helping the offense average 141.4 yards rushing. Produced 101 knockdowns and committed only two penalties.  He needs to work on his conditioning, but there is no doubt that he has the ability to be a solid pro.  With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic player to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma

Record: 9-7 | Needs: WR, CB, RB, QB, LB

With his stable of quarterbacks (Simms, Garcia, McCown, Griese, and Gradkowski) a difference making receiver is needed.  Kelly (6’4, 218) should fit in well in the Bucs west coast offense.  He is a true big play receiver with the size of T.O, but possessing better speed (4.35 in the forty at the Combine) and less attitude.  The All-Big Twelve second-teamer started fourteen games at split end producing numbers of 49 receptions for 821 yards (16.8 avg) and nine touchdowns.  Amazingly the junior eligible receiver on thirty-six of his catches produced first downs. With Joey Galloway getting older and Michael Clayton underachieving this is a natural pick. Kelly should thrive in Gruden’s system, which needs a  young receiver to emerge.

21. Washington Redskins — Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

Record: 9-7 | Needs: S, DE, OT, CB, WR

In 2007, the Redskins suffered a tragic blow with the death of Sean Taylor.  After making an improbable run into the playoffs, a replacement is needed in their back two and I think they go back to the “U” for the guy.  In Phillips (6’2, 208) the ‘Skins can select a player who may not be as physical as Taylor,  but does possess some of the same playmaking ball skills of past Hurricane safeties Ed Reed, Brandon Merriweather, and Taylor.  The junior eligible was an All-ACC first-teamer was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while starting twelve games at free safety, producing a career-high 82 tackles with six stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and intercepting two passes.

22. Dallas Cowboys (from 10-6 Cleveland) — Limas Sweed, WR, Texas

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

Assuming owner Jerry Jones doesn’t package picks to trade up, expect Dallas to use its two picks to address needs at corner and receiver in the first round. With Jones’ favorite Darren McFadden long gone off the board look for the Cowboys to settle for Texas product Sweed (6’4, 212).  Much like former Cowboys great Michael Irvin, Sweed is a big physical receiver that should help ease the transition from older players T.O and Terry Glenn.  After being picked on everyone’s preseason All-American team, Sweed struggled with a nagging wrist injury.  He played in the team’s first six games of the season before a October 16th surgery finishing with a career-low nineteen catches for 306 yards (16.1 avg) and three touchdowns.  Teams will try and lean on his ’06 numbers of 46 receptions for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns.  But is he this year’s Bobby Meachem — Saints ’07 first round draftee that never made it on the field due to injury.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers — Branden Albert, T/G, Virginia

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, G, DE, WR, RB

With Alan Faneca leaving for the Jets and other glaring needs along their front group, look for the Steelers to select at least three offensive linemen in the draft. Albert (6’7, 315) is a massive player that could play either guard or tackle in the Steelers power running system.  The junior eligible has good feet, rare quickness, and a good initial punch with a play to the whistle mentality. An All-ACC pick for the past three seasons, Albert started straight 36 games since his freshman year. 

24. Tennessee Titans — DeSean Jackson, WR/KR, California

Record: 10-6 | Needs: WR, DE, DT, CB, C

Though they made the playoffs, it was evident that the Titans need a weapon on offense.  Brandon Jones was their number one by default without much behind him.  A young receiver needs to be added to help in Vince Young’s development.  Jackson is not big (5’10, 180) however he is a big play guy who will open the field up for the Titans other receivers.  Also Jackson can help out in the return game, which has suffered since the suspension of the CB Adam Pacman Jones.  In 2007, the junior eligible was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff Award even though a sprained left thumb suffered in the season opener against Tennessee nagged him.  Catch a career-high 65 passes for 762 yards (11.7 avg) and six touchdowns plus in the return game had 132 yards with a touchdown on kickoffs and a 10.8 yard average on punts with one touchdown.

25. Seattle Seahawks — Sam Baker, OT, USC

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G

Mike Holmgren believes in having the horses upfront so that his runners have many holes to choose from.  Baker (6’5, 308) is a versatile player  that should be able to fit in at any of the positions on the O-line.  I can see him finally filling the void left by the ’06 departure of Guard Steve Hutchinson and he can also provide valuable insurance to Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones slowing down.  The stout USC product helped his offense average 434.9 yards per game in 2007 while producing 88 knockdowns and allowing only two sacks on 460 pass plays.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars — Gosder Cherilus, ROT, Boston College

Record: 11-5 | Needs: S, CB, OT, LB

Finally after years of being picked to make some noise in the AFC, the Jags finally put a good “run”.  Behind upstart quarterback David Garrard and a power running game led by a rejuvenated Fred Taylor and Mighty Might Maurice Jones-Drew the Jags were a tough wild card team beating the Steelers on the road.  With several moves already made in free agency (Jerry Porter, Troy Williamson, trading Marcus Stroud, and other moves) they will now look to the draft to continue building. For years the Jags have tried to fill a void at the tackle position with players like Bills retread Mike Williams and Cherilus (6’6, 314) should be an upgrade.  The huge Boston College O-lineman should help in continuing the Jags ball control prowess.  At his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in just over 5.00 seconds and reportedly looked very good in position drills.

27. San Diego Chargers — Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas

Record: 11-5 | Needs: ROT, RB, S, CB, DT

After a year where everyone thought they would take a step back after the firing of Marty Schottenheimer along with the hiring of Norv Turner, the Chargers may have not lived up to their 14-2 in ’06 record.  But they did make it to the AFC Championship game and won the AFC West after a slow start. With Michael Turner taking his speed to Atlanta as a free agent, the Chargers should find their new homerun threat with Jones (6’0, 200).  Despite only starting three games in 2007, he ranked fifth in the SEC in 89.38 yards per game rushing.  Had an amazing 1,990 all purpose yards on only 171 touches while ranking 22nd in the nation in the category. Finished second to Darren McFadden on the team with 1,162 yards on only 133 carries (8.7 avg) and eleven touchdowns. The mercurial speedster should have an immediate impact in the kick return game and provide a complement to LT.

28. Dallas Cowboys — Reggie Smith, CB, Oklahoma

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

With a receiver in hand at #22 look for Jerry Jones to help out his beleaguered secondary with his second first rounder – barring of course the usual Dallas wheeling and dealing.  Sure the ‘Boys are hoping to land Pacman Jones, but that is not a done deal and Smith can definitely help situation immediately.  Smith (6’1, 198) is a smooth cover corner that will help Terrence Newman and the slower safety combination of Hamlin and Williams.  In 2007, the junior eligible had 78 tackles, one sack, seven tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions.  He also did not allow a touchdown against in ’07.

29. S.F. 49ers (from Indianapolis) — James Hardy, WR, Indiana

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, OLB, DE, QB

Think they want to rethink their trade up to grab Offensive tackle Joe Staley last year??  Anyway armed with the Colts pick, the 49ers grab a much needed playmaker at the wide receiver position.  The junior eligible Hardy (6’6, 220) is a Plaxico Burress clone, who will provide size and speed to take attention away from TE Vernon Davis.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer set school season-records with 79 catches for 1,125 yards (14.2 avg) and sixteen touchdowns.  Quickly look for Hardy to become QB Alex Smith’s security blanket.

30. Green Bay Packers — Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, OT, S, TE, QB

With the retirement of Brett Favre looking at the offensive side is tempting, but aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris need a future replacement.  Cason (6’0, 190) is not a burner running in the 4.5 range in the forty, but he is a smart tough corner.  In 2007, he started twelve games producing a career-high 71 tackles (56 solos), one sack,  four tackles for a loss, causing two fumbles, intercepted five passes and a team-high fourteen deflected passes.

31. The NFL stripped the New England Patriots of their own first round pick (#31) for “spygate” activities this past September

32. New York Giants — Dan Connor, LB, Penn State

Record: 10-6 | Needs: LB, CB, S, Backup QB, OT

The Giants may also take a look at Connor’s PSU teammate CB Justin King at this spot.  But after the loss of linebacker Kawika Mitchell to the Bills, the instinctive and athletic Connor is the right pick for the Giants.  He should be able to contribute immediately on the inside or outside. A tough high character Giants type of player (2 time captain at Penn State).  Has good size (6’3, 233), great football instincts, and intelligence.  He always is around the ball as shown by his stats as PSU’s all-time leading tackler.  Has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends one-on-one.  Reminds me of former Lions LB Chris Spielman.

Teams not owning a first round pick

Cleveland Browns

Record: 10-6 | Needs: CB, G, LB, RB, S

Last year was a magical year for the Browns as they just missed the playoffs while posting a 10-6 record thus saving head coach Romeo Crennell’s job.  By not having a first round pick in ’08 — thanks to moving up in ’07 to pick Brady Quinn in the first round — the Dogs thought building through free agency and trades was the best way to go this off-season adding DT Shaun Rogers, DT Corey Williams, WR Donte Stallworth, and others.  They definitely need some help in the secondary with the trading of Leigh Bodden to Detroit.  However they now have painted themselves into a corner due to they will not be picking until the fourth round. 

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 13-3 | Needs: DT, LB, G, RB, CB

After a good season where the defending Super Bowl champs lost at home to the Chargers in playoffs, the Colts head into the draft looking to get back to the big game.  They seemed to have made a good move trading up in ’07 to grab promising offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, but not picking until the second round (#59) will hurt.  With head coach Tony Dungy coming back for one more season and the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium this season look for some key additions especially at defensive tackle where Booger McFarland left for Pittsburgh and Cory Simon was let go.

Eagles 2007 Season is Over and Now it is Time to Look Toward the Future

(Philadelphia, Pa) — What a season for the Birds (Truly a head-scratcher)!!!  They were up and down overall with no consistency week in and week out (3-5 at home).  Donovan McNabb was on the hot seat all season as he came back from his knee injury to post some good numbers (19 TDS, 7 INT, 3,324 yards passing, 89.9 rating, 9 fumbles (5 lost), 236 yards rushing), but his game play was equally up and down, Andy Reid was his usual self despite his family issues (Passed too much, Ran too little, didn’t play draft picks, wasted timeouts, few in-game adjustments), Westbrook proved he was an elite back in the NFL (Eagles record for combined yards of 2104), Kevin Curtis was scrappy (over 1,100 yards), Trent Cole brought the wood (12.5 sacks) and three straight wins to end the regular season to finish 8-8 is “ok”.  But in the end it was another unfulfilling journey that ended with another parade less season for die-hard Eagles fans. 

I know that Andy and his staff will spin it that they were a play/game away here or there and that this team was as good as the Cowboys and the rest of the NFC —Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda  (Packers game punt return fumbles, Bears game last drive, Feely’s interceptions at the end of the Patriots and Seahawks games, etc) — but you could also do that with some of their wins (2nd Redskins game, Jets, etc).  The cold hard reality is that this team needs to take a long hard look in the mirror and figure out that they just did not have enough talent on their roster to be a “real” playoff team (only team in NFC East not in the playoffs).  Sure they could have squeaked in like the Titans, but who could they have beaten averaging less than 20 points in most games and not producing turnovers (-9).

It looks like McNabb will be back to the consternation of many fans —The end of his Eagles career is near, but unless there is a blockbuster (1st Rd pick plus additional players/Day 1 picks) he will be back next season.  Which I think is the right call considering there are only about five quarterbacks that are clearly better than him when he is healthy (too many Eli Mannings, Cleo Lemons, Rex Grossmans, and others).  I believe the best thing for the Birds if they want to catch the rest of the division and drive up the trade value for a healthy McNabb next off-season is to get him some help (ranked only 17th in the NFL in scoring with 336 points).  Free agency is an option (There are some names that I like Bears WR Bernard Berrian, Chiefs DE Jared Allen – likely to be a “franchised”, Rams LB Brandon Chillar, Patriots DB Asante Samuel and others — However $$$ will come into play and there are too many “David Patten” (veterans not worth a big deal) types on this year’s list), but the draft is where the team has to be built.  The Eagles will have several options in the draft armed with several picks including #19 in the first round, their own selections in rounds 2 through 6, Cleveland 6th rd pick (Center Hank Fraley trade), and Seattle’s 7th rd pick (Fullback Josh Parry trade).  Plus expected compensatory picks awarded in March for the loss of free agents following the 2006 season (QB Jeff Garcia, DB Michael Lewis, WR Donte Stallworth, and others).

Some things that I believe are needed going into ’08 are listed below, but you know that I don’t like this braintrust’s draft history.

— #1 I believe a playmaking Kick Returner is needed.  The Eagles finished near the bottom in the NFL in field position (29.08 yard line for a ranking of 25th), so this is must.  Don’t let me pull out the tape of the week 1 loss to Green Bay to illustrate my point.  This is a position is too important to forget and it can be fixed by bringing in a free agent like former Houston Texans Pro Bowl return man Jerome Mathis or a good Day 2 of the draft pick (4th or 5th rounds) or by bringing in an undrafted free agent.  I would love for them to consider a former college option quarterback for this role in the draft and the player that I love for this role is this year’s Walter Payton award winner from Georgia Southern QB/WR/KR Jayson Foster.  He is elusive, speedy, has moves, and went for over 1,000 yards passing and rushing in 2007. He is explosive and really reminds me of Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs when he came out of Kent State.

— Receiving TE: The NFL is now built around a lot of zone coverages “Cover Two” and the way to bust up zones is to have a player that can beat you underneath.  The prime example is Jason Whitten from the Dallas Cowboys.  With T.O getting coverage rolled up to his side every time, there is plenty of room for Whitten to operate and he did to a tune of over 1,000 yards in 2007.  I know the Eagles are kicking themselves for not taking a harder look at Bears emerging TE Greg Olsen before they traded their own pick (#26) last year to the Cowboys.  The Birds may decide to bring back LJ Smith, but they need more production from him.  I believe their best bet is to let him get a fresh start and look for a player in the draft to play along side developing TE Brent Celek.

— Front-line WR:  We all like what Kevin Curtis did this season, but he is an “effort” player that needs additional help.  Coach Reid may have called this year a “career” year for Reggie Brown, but who is he fooling???  The Eagles need to find a receiver that will scare the opposition and open up things for the rest of the offense, remember 2004 how great everyone looked with Owens on the field.  There have been whispers that premier receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Chad Johnson may be available due to cap issues or complacency, either one would look great for the Eagles – but don’t hold your breath. 

— DE (Cole is a fast starter and a playmaker, but he had no help.  With Jevon Kearse (4 sacks) and Darren Howard (5 sacks) done as Eagles and the DT’s playing better this area is a must as the Eagles produced only 37 sacks opposed to 40 in 2006)

–OLB (Spikes is a good guy, but no game changing plays.  LB’s only had 2 INTs and 3 sacks between all of them.)

— 3rd Corner (Lito too injury prone and Williams James/Joselio Hanson can’t cut it as a top nickelback)

— Younger safety to be groomed as Brian Dawkins (34 years old and 1 INT) replacement.  Sean Considine is a special teams player/backup at best and so is Quinton Mikell, so a player needs to be added to the mix.

— Replacement for Kicker David Akers (24 for 32 overall, but 2 for 10 from beyond 40 yards including 1 for 6 between 40 to 49 yards)

— O-Line: This unit was good in ’07, but there is glaring need for depth as Tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are getting older.  Definitely need to find a player to push underachieving Guard Todd Herramins (too many penalties) and light a fire under Winston Justice whose psyche maybe bruised.

I will have much more as the draft approaches and finished my full draft evaluation including attending the Senior Bowl.