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.

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2008 Philadelphia Eagles All Inclusive NFL Draft Preview (Part 2)

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

Offensive Roster Overview

 QB – It was an up and down season for Donovan McNabb much like the overall franchise.  Coming back from his third season ending injury was tough as McNabb attacked his rehab and was able to be on the field from the start of training camp.  But other than the Detroit game he was slow coming out of the gate.  After a justifiable rounding back into form period, McNabb returned from an ankle injury amidst fan calls for Kevin Kolb to finish strong going 3-1 in his last four games.  In those games his numbers (96-147, 995 yards, 65%, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 96.2 QB rating with an additional 101 yards rushing) were definitely close to his usual Pro Bowl form.   With McNabb entering his 10th season, which is hard to believe some may be ready to push him out the door, but I am not ready.  If McNabb gets the weapons he has so cherished, the he has a good chance of ending his career in Philadelphia.  However with the team selecting Kevin Kolb with their first selection in ’07, you know the veteran quarterback will be looking over his shoulder.  Right now I say let’s take it year to year until either the Eagles or McNabb say they don’t want the relationship.  As for the backup quarterback position the Eagles have a situation, which most teams like to have.  Veteran AJ Feely understands his role as the distinct number two guy and he is capable of moving the team as shown in the Patriots game.  I think after Feeley’s performance against the Patriots and Seahawks the legions of “AJ needs to be a starter” backers now understand that the former Oregon quarterback is best served being a backup.  In the 2007 draft the Eagles finally brought in the “quarterback of the future” with the selection Kevin Kolb.  The drafting of the promising quarterback didn’t come without waves as to the surprise of Eagles Nation they traded their first rounder to the rival Cowboys and grabbed the former University of Houston gunslinger with a high second round pick    Grabbing a developmental quarterback was needed, but the question is “Were there more pressing needs?”  As we know from drafting players like Bobbie Williams and Freddie Mitchell, there is no going back so now it is time to just see what the kid can do.  Kolb has a live arm, good mobility, and a swagger about him that I like (reminds me of a young Mark Brunnell).  It will be interesting to see how he takes to watching McNabb at the controls.  But he should come to camp ready to contribute, because you never know when injuries will happen.  Right only have three quarterbacks on the roster, but the team will probably add an undrafted free agent type to help out in mini-camp.

RB – Brian Westbrook showed that when given the opportunity, he is one of the best backs in the NFL.  The mercurial back broke the Eagles record for combine receiving and rushing yards with 2104 yards plus he had over 1,200 yards rushing and 90 catches (those are LT type numbers).  The season was truly one for the books as Westbrook was selected to the Pro Bowl for the time.  Plus let’s not forget B-West’s incredible season highlight play versus the hated Cowboys of laying down right before crossing the goal line thus forgoing a touchdown in order to cement a road win for the Birds.  However there are some questions around the Eagles number one offensive threat that will need to be worked out.  His contract situation is tenuous as Westbrook is not happy with his current contract (In 2007 made 2 Million from the contract extension that he signed in 2005 that included a 12 Million dollar signing bonus.  His ’07 salary ranked him 20th behind players like DeShaun Foster and LaMont Jordan) and there is talk that a holdout maybe in the works – I don’t see the classy back going that route.  With Westbrook at 28 years of age and nearing the magical age of 30, you have to wonder if the Eagles brass will entertain thoughts of paying him after seeing how the play of running backs like Shaun Alexander dropped off after signing extensions close age thirty.  Hopefully B-West, his agent Fletcher Smith and the Eagles can work out an extension to put the talented multi-purpose threat in the neighborhood of at least Houston Texans running back Ahmad Green (four-year, $23 million contract that includes between $6 million-$7 million). Behind Westbrook, veteran Correll Buckhalter has been steady and I think more carries (only had 62 in 2007) are needed for him.  Entering his eighth season with the Eagles, Buckhalter has overcome past knee troubles to provide a good compliment to Westbrook.  He ran for 313 yards and 4 TDs while averaging a hearty 5.0 ypc in ’07.  But same as Westbrook, Buck is close to thirty (will be 30 in October) so a backup plan is needed.  Last April after the draft I thought the Eagles had finally solved their need for a physical running back with the selection of Penn State star Tony Hunt in the 3rd round.  Unfortunately the former Big Ten prospect’s play was spotty leading to several Sundays on the inactive list.  Many have said Hunt landed in the doghouse due to missed blocking assignments, but after only 10 carries I am not ready to give up on him.  Hunt needs to come to camp ready to work and prove he was worth his selection.  Also in the mix is former 3rd round selection in 2005 Ryan Moats, who looked destined to be somewhere else before badly breaking his ankle in preseason.  As stated earlier with the great depth in this year’s draft class look for a running back to be selected by Eagles and hopefully he will have some kick return skills.  The FB starter in 2007 was Thomas Tapeh and he left via free agency leaving an opportunity for someone else.  I think the Eagles thinking in signing Dan Klecko to replace Tapeh was that they wanted a more physical blocker in the backfield.  The interesting thing about the whole situation is that no one knows how the former D-lineman will pick up the intricacies of playing fullback in the NFL.  Jason Davis, who has hung around in training camp and on the practice squad is also on the roster.  Look for another player to be added to push Davis and contribute on special teams.

WR – We have heard it time and time again, “We are okay with our receivers”.  Everyone please relax, because you and I both know this coach speak.  This is why this unit fills more sports talk radio show hours in Philadelphia than anything.  This is due to a need for a playmaking target that can come through in the clutch. I know the last few Super Bowl champions other than Marvin Harrison and Colts have not had that all-world receiver that everyone is clamoring to obtain, but this unit needs more playmakers as Donovan McNabb said earlier this off-season.  I am not saying that the Eagles have to have a prima donna player like the guy whose initials we dare not say — T.O.  But when you look at this group’s difficulty in scoring especially in the redzone, changes need to made.   A good building block is already in place with ’07 addition Kevin Curtis.  The former Rams receiver came to the Eagles ready to work and he produced (77 catches for 1110 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 6 TDs plus 2 fumble recovery touchdowns). But evaluators I have talked to seem to have come to a consensus that with his size (5’11, 190) that maybe his best work could be done in the slot.  Entering his fourth year receiver Reggie Brown had a “career year” in 2007 according to Andy Reid.  But I believe that many people don’t agree with that assessment.  Sure Brown’s number of catches rose to career high of sixty-one, but his yards fell from 816 to 780, his touchdowns also fell (8 to 4) and did you see the whopping almost five yard drop-off (17.7 to 12.8 ) in the former second rounder’s yards per catch.  In order for the Eagles to compete with scoring teams like the Cowboys more is needed.  After Curtis and Brown there is an array of players that are in the league, but could they make the Colts roster?  Baskett (Big target entering 3rd year with the team, but looks like specials player), Avant (former ’06 fourth round pick is strong in the slot, but does he have the speed), and Greg Lewis (Been on the team since 2003 and always shows up versus the Patriots, but where is he the rest of the time). The aforementioned Bam Childress and special teams ace Mike Gasperson will compete in camp to see who can make a contribution like the Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree.  Other WR’s Jamal Jones, Bill Sampy are just guys on the team for training camp.  Look for two players in the draft to add depth to this group.  The biggest need is to find a receiver who can start out on special teams and returning kicks.  There is also talk that five-time Pro Bowl receiver Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson is trying to talk his way out of Cincy and possibly into an Eagles uniform.  As for the legions of receiver starved Philadelphia Eagles fans that think Johnson is the answer, I can only say don’t let history repeat itself and this guy is not for Philly or Head Coach Andy Reid.

TE – The winds of change are definitely blowing around this group going into the ’08 draft.  Starter LJ Smith is back for possibly his last go around after receiving the franchise tag from the team and cashing it in to the tune of a 1-year, $4.5 Million dollar contract (average of Top 5 tight ends salaries in ‘07).  You can’t blame the Eagles for retaining the services of their former second-round pick in 2003, but many fans and media are asking is the often injured player worth it. The fact that Smith struggled through an injury-plagued 2007 campaign where he had 22 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown in only 10 games (sports hernia) plus the signing of Kris Wilson and the emergence of Brent Celek definitely have put “make or break” expectations on the former Rutgers product.  With an emphasis on a field stretching tight end throughout the NFL especially in the NFC East division — Cowboys perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, Redskins emerging tight end Chris Cooley, and the Giants combo of Jeremy Shockey and Kevin Boss – all eyes will be on Smith.   A good barometer for Smith could be his 2005 numbers where he had a career-best 61 catches for 682 yards with three touchdowns.  No matter his catch total or yards, Smith needs to be McNabb’s man in the redzone catching touchdowns as the Eagles finished ranked 24th in redzone percentage with a mark of 45% (23 TDs in 51 chances).  Wilson will be a much-welcomed addition as the  twenty-six year-old H-Back type tight end has solid receiving skills and is a willing blocker.  The former University of Pittsburgh player has a second round draft pedigree and is coming off a career high of 24 catches in ’07.  Here’s hoping he learned a lot while working behind Tony Gonzalez (one the best pass catching tight ends ever) and former Eagle Jason Dunn (a devastating blocker).  When I attended training camp at Lehigh last July, everyone was buzzing about #87.  During camp and in preseason Brent Celek a 5th round find in ’07 out of Cincinnati not only looked the part of an NFL veteran, but excelled everyday in practice making one-handed and diving grabs.  In limited time (16 games played with 2 starts), Celek put up modest numbers of 16 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown.  But a pair of 29-yard bullish catch and runs versus the Cowboys and Saints at the end of the season were definitely encouraging.  People around the team expect him to come back stronger and ready to compete for the reps. The tight end that appears to be the odd man out is Matt Schobel.  Since coming over from the Bengals in ’06, Schobel has been solid (11 rec, 108 yards w/ 1 TD in ’07), but he needs to do more to take away reps from the other tight ends. I think the Birds should bring in a TE on Day 2 of the draft.  As shown by last year’s selection of Celek, you can always find a good tight end late in the draft to develop.  I particularly would love for them to bring in a former college basketball player.

OL – This group had a good year, but they were not as cohesive as ’06 when all five guys almost played the entire season together.  Of course when you talk about the Birds O-line it all starts with now two-time Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews.  After getting off to a slow start due to a slow healing high ankle sprain, the “big kid” as he likes to call himself, returned to his dominating form.  Andrews was the only Pro Bowl starter on the Eagles and his leadership and talent is invaluable to this unit.   When you know a big short yardage situation is coming always look for the Birds to right behind Andrews and his tag-team partner RT Jon Runyan.  The tandem was definitely was one of the reasons you saw the Birds become more balanced in 2007 running for 1974 yards with a healthy average of 4.7 ypr (2nd in NFL).  RT Jon Runyan again played at a consistent level and continued his amazing consecutive game streak to 176 games.  Runyan, who continues to be a huge proponent of the run is a solid teammate on and off the field, where he is involved in too many community events to list. With Runyan’s stellar career seeming to be coming to the end (will be 35 in November) the Eagles need to start thinking about his replacement.   The interior of the Birds off-season line starts with big center Jamal Jackson.  In his second season, the former undfrafted free agent out of Delaware State was good, but not as dominant as in ’06.  I heard that there were some missed assignments that led to others having to compensate.  It will be interesting to see if the Eagles bring in another center via the draft or free agency to push the 27-year old pivot, but expect Jackson to comeback strong this year. The LG spot should be the main position of competition on the O-line in the ’08 season.  Todd Herremans is the current the starter, but the former small college offensive tackle sometimes struggled with penalties and inside pressure.  An evaluator that I talked to said the third year guard plays “too high” at times.  Ready to battle Herremans for the potentially open guard spot is former second round pick in 2006 Max Jean-Gilles.  The big former Georgia road grader is easily the Eagles nastiest O-lineman.  The day I was at camp, Jean-Gilles got in the best donnybrook of the Lehigh session battling even without his helmet.  The big lineman (6’4, 355) will need to work on his conditioning going into camp.  LT William Thomas had another solid season to follow-up a dominating performance in 2006.  The only question that surrounds the 33-year old veteran (34 in November) is whether he will continue to play after his contract runs out after 2008.  Thomas has battled through blood clots and a bum should to team with Runyan as a great bookend combination.  However the former 1998 first round pick and safety Brian Dawkins are last two player links to the bygone Ray Rhodes era.  The among the backups third-year player Winston Justice, who will be called upon to spell Runyan and Thomas if needed, but some evaluators are starting to question his high draft grade.  Unfortunately for the former USC Trojan, he was the main victim in a nationally televised demolition by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora with the Pro Bowl pass-rusher setting a franchise record six sacks.  The personable young offensive tackle has all the skills and size to be a top-flight right tackle, but he will need to step it up in ’08 to silence his critics. The backups that will have fun with the veterans and O-line guru Juan Castille in the Lehigh hot sun include fourth year guard Scott  Young, Nick Cole (Center and sometimes short yardage blocker), and Stefan Rodgers (Developmental Tackle).  Competition and depth will be the key for this unit to cut down on the 49 sacks that they allowed and keeping Brian Westbrook over 1,200 yards rushing in 2008.  Look for the Birds to add at least two O-Linemen through the draft to prepare for a future without their bookend tackles and provide quality depth.

Defensive Roster Overview

DE – This unit definitely had a definitive leader in Pro Bowl player Trent Cole (12.5).  Cole came into his own at a time when the Eagles needed most due to former free agents Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard not showing much for their money (4.5 sacks between the two of  them for a salary cap figure of 12.3 Million).  Though undersized Cole was definitely the best defensive end while playing the run too.  Of the Eagles 37 sacks in 2007 only 22 came from the defensive ends and after Cole that number sinks less than 10 sacks.  The effort of Juqua Parker (formerly Thomas) is good and he produced 5 sacks in a limited role, but I am not sure he is a starter.   This year will be a real test for second-year player Victor Abiamiri as the 2nd round pick from 2007 needs to take a step up.  Abiamiri is expected to be a big two-way end that can play the run and get after the passer.  After watching his former college teammate Justin Tuck terrorize the NFL on the way to a Super Championship with the Giants that should light a fire under Abiamiri.   The team rightfully cutting ties with Kearse after another season where his knee didn’t allow him to perform.  Kearse went back to the Titans after his release leaving everyone to ponder what they thought of his time in Philly.  When you look back on Kearse’s time he never hit double-digits in sacks in his Eagles career and 2004 was definitely the high point for him as the Birds made the Super Bowl.  Training camp will be crucial for underachievers Darren Howard (huge free agent dollars and Jerome McDougle (first rounder that has only 3 sacks in 5 years on the team) as they fight for their spots on the team. I like the addition of Chris Clemons from the Raiders as the light defensive end has a nose for the quarterback and will be a fresh body into the rotation.  Even with the addition of Clemons, this unit will definitely add at least one player in the draft.  Also with the great effort shown by linebacker Chris Gocong while playing defensive end versus the Patriots (1 sack) expect him to be used more rushing the passer as a DE.  Other players that will go to camp are Xzavie Jackson and AJ Schable

DT – For years the Eagles Defensive Tackles have been a point of contention as this unit had problems stopping the run in the past.  However In 2007 this group was nasty as all the teams high draft picks came to play and contribute.  The defensive tackles were stout and were a major reason that the Eagles finished ranked 7th in rushing yards (1533) for the regular season. Mike Patterson a first round selection in 2005 finally showed the quick penetrating style that the Eagles expected from him when they signed him to a huge extension in the 2006 season.  Patterson had a solid season producing 67 tackles and 4 sacks.  The former USC lineman’s effort and value cannot just be shown in his numbers as he teamed with Broderick Bunkley to form one of the young rising defensive tackle tandems in the NFL.  Speaking of Bunkley, after a frustrating rookie year in  green, the muscular stout defensive tackle flashed his first round pedigree.  Bunkley got out of the Birds’ doghouse by coming to work in shape and ready to contribute finishing with 3 sacks plus occupying blockers.  Now that the young guys can be considered veterans, it is time to lead.  Despite a bad penalty against the Dallas Cowboys, Lajuan Ramsey continued to be a solid part of the rotation.  After signing as a free agent, Montae Reagor (2 TKLs, 1 sack) never really seemed to recover from his  health issues.  Reagor was injured from the start of camp in ’07 and the team will definitely be watching him as they have already parted ways with other ’07 free agent defensive tackle Ian Scott.  Jeremy Clark an undrafted free agent in ’07 will also be going to camp looking for a spot.  With veteran Kimo von Oelhoffen leaving, look for the Birds to continue to place an emphasis on stopping the run by bringing in another DT in the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

LB – This unit will have a new coach in Bill Shuhey and there is definitely an expectation for more game changing plays (only 3 sacks and 2 interceptions).  The Eagles believe that they have gotten off to a good by releasing veteran Takeo Spike and moving Omar Gaither to the outside allowing Stewart Bradley to move into the starting lineup at middle linebacker.  I like that the Eagles are getting younger and hopefully the younger legs will make Shuhey and Jim Johnson look good.  Bradley showed his Nebraska pedigree at the end of the season filling in, especially versus the Saints producing 6 TKLS, 1 Sack, and 1 INT.  Now the Eagles expect the tall (6’5) linebacker to use his smarts in leading this unit.  2006 5th round pick Omar Gaither filled in nicely as the Eagles middle linebacker and leading the team in tackles, but the team realized that he is best served playing on the outside.  Gaither will be counted on to fly around the ball and produce more than Spikes (only 1 sack, 0 INTs).  Former 2006 3rd Round pick Chris Gocong made it back to the field after a rookie season lost to injury and seemed to be getting more comfortable as the season went on.  The third year pro, who is still learning, will continue to work on his coverage of tight ends and hopefully the coaching staff will find more chances for the former small college sack leader to get after the passer.  The addition as Rocky Boiman as the extra coverage linebacker and special teams ace should definitely give a shot in the arm to this group.  The former Indianapolis Colt is smart and has a nose for the ball on coverage units. Pago Togafau (Backup MLB, who have to earn his way on special teams.) and Akeem Jordan (Birds like this young former undrafted free agent from 2007) close out this group.  With the NFL being built around hybrid linebackers look for a versatile linebacker to be added in the draft.

CB’s – The defensive secondary will get their old coach back in Sean McDermott after John Harbaugh left for the Ravens and the young coach should have a great time acclimating new free agent Asante Samuel into the Birds system.  Samuel is playmaking cover corner who comes with a winning attitude.  I expect at least 6 interceptions from this year’s number one free agent signing.  The signing of Samuel was welcomed news to everyone, but veteran Lito Sheppard.  The former number one draft choice is being paid much less than Samuel, which has left him unhappy and looking for the Birds to find him a new team.  After missing 14 games over the last two years you cannot blame the Eagles for looking for an upgrade.  Samuel’s new partner Sheldon Brown played in every game, but the Eagles maybe wary of his outspokenness and age (29).  I like Brown’s hard hitting style, but he will never be a high interception guy. The loss of Roderick Hood in 2007 didn’t seem like a big loss but the former Eagle produced 5 interceptions, which was more than any Eagle.  The Eagles tried to replace Hood with Will James, but the former Giant was not up to the task.   James’ struggles opened the door for Joselio Hanson, who after hanging around in the past came in to provide solid nickel coverage.  Nick Graham (training camp surprise), Tanard Davis (very fast player signed from the Panthers practice squad) and Therrian Fontenot round out the group.  The team will definitely be looking to add at least one corner to their Dime, Nickel, and training camp roster.  I would like the Birds to bring in a mid-level player from this year’s talent rich CB group that has return skills.

Safeties – After a season where veteran Brian Dawkins missed a lot of time due to injury (stinger), the Eagles struggled to find consistent play from this group.  Dawkins is predicting a return to his Pro Bowl form, but with the veteran entering his 13th season it maybe tough.  I believe many of Dawkins struggles are due to the fact his partner in the back two Sean Considine also missed time with injuries in ’07.  Considine is an effort player, but he often throws his body in the mix and pays for it.  Quintin Mikelle played well as a fill-in, but he is best a swing player and special teams demon.  Hard-hitting JR Reed was re-signed and hopefully the tough safety will continue playing well on special teams plus adding depth. Marcus Paschal is also on the roster, but he will have to battle any rookie the Birds bring in.  Overall the Eagles safety coverage needs to improve and they need to create more turnovers (only 3 interceptions by safeties).  Unfortunately for the Eagles, they will have to dig for a replacement in the draft as this position is not deep this year.

Specialists – For years this area was manned by John Harbaugh, but the young coach wanted to fulfill a dream of coaching a position and it led to his current position as the Ravens head coach.  Inexperienced Rory Segrest took over and this unit was definitely not as cohesive.  The Eagles struggled with field position, covering kicks, and making field goals.  The usually reliable David Akers was 24 for 32 overall, but you could see at times beyond the forty-yard line his confidence was not great (2 for 10 from beyond 40 including an alarming 1 for 6 between 40 to 49 yards).  With the former Pro Bowl at 34 years of age, it maybe time to look for his eventual replacement.   One of the best stories of the 2007 season was the improving play of former Australian Rules player Saverio Rocca.  The big Aussie produced a 42 yard average and the team seems to have confidence in his ability to improve in 2008.  With the Eagles valuing “ball security” over playmaking ability they have been at the lower end of the return game.  Finding a return specialist is paramount in the draft as continually the Eagles had one of the longest field in the NFL (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.  The Eagles can longer afford to throw just any player into this position as evidence by the Green Bay loss.  The long snapping is now in the hands of Jon “the Magician” Dorenbos, who filled in well for departed veteran Mike Bartrum.  Look for JR Reed, Sean Considine, Rocky Boiman, Kris Wilson, Dan Klecko, and Quintin Mikelle to be leaders on coverage units.

2008 Draft Notes

The teams that seem to always do well in the draft and in season — Giants, Colts, Steelers, and Patriots usually follow a blueprint that the Eagles should try to follow.

  • Go for Larger School Players (BCS Championship Level Players) in the 1st Two Rounds. In the first three rounds of the 2006 draft, 85% of the players selected were from the six BCS Conferences.
  • Judge the total player (Interview, Practice Habits, All Star Game, Combine, Pro Day, “Character”, and most importantly Game Film)
  • “Football Players” on Day 2 (Look for players that may not have all the measurables or the proverbial “pedigree”, but who have a high football IQ and can provide quality depth while helping on special teams and/or fill needs at multiple positions.
  • Always consider your team’s needs with picks (Use the draft to replenish and build to establish the cornerstone of your team). 

 I have broken down where the Eagles are picking and how I would use their draft picks considering the needs I listed earlier.  However I do not believe that they will not use all 11 of their picks on prospects so be shocked if they trade around especially with the aforementioned Lito Sheppard ready to be moved – hopefully for Birds fans the team’s trades will not be with the hated Cowboys again.  .

 (1st – 19, 2nd – 49, 3rd – 80, 4th – 115, 4th – 131, 5th – 152, 6th – 184, 6th – 191, 6th – 200, 6th – 203, 7th – 230)

1st Round (19) – Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh, OT, 6-6, 340, 5.1

At a spot where all of the top receivers should be on the board, I expect a frenzy like none ever seen in my hometown.  Unfortunately as I have been telling Birds fans on the radio for some time with Head Coach Andy Reid pulling the trigger expect a lineman.  As someone, who may have been a “tad” bit tough on former Eagles draft classes, I can honestly say that I would be okay with the selection of an offensive tackle.  Stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been stellar for years, but they aren’t getting any younger.  No it will not be popular, but the best value for the Eagles is to wait until the second round to grab a receiver – I also believe that there are very few receivers this year worth a number one pick.  Otah (6’6, 340) reminds me a lot of 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.

2nd Round (49) – Early Doucet, LSU, WR, 6-0, 211, 4.54

By waiting until the second round or later to draft a wide receiver, the Eagles will get the expected value from this year’s receiver group.  The receiver that I like for the Eagles system is Doucet.  Whenever the National Champion LSU Tigers needed a big play this senior answered the call. Much like Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, Doucet makes plays that move the chains as shown by his 29 first-down catches and 21 receptions for 10 yards or longer including seven for more than 20 yards.  Doucet has the size and strength while also having enough speed to get deep.  At this year’s Senior Bowl, Doucet was by far the best receiver in practices attacking passes with his hands.  Some teams may shy off Doucet due to an injury history including missing games in ’07 due to a groin injury.  But despite the groin injury the former high school quarterback was a second team All-Southeastern Conference pick producing a team-high 57 receptions for 525 yards (9.2 avg) and five touchdowns.  Another important characteristic that Doucet has is his ability to return kicks. We will have to wait and see if he can top his former teammate and last year’s Chiefs sensation Dwayne Bowe (15 starts, 70 receptions for 995 yards and 5 TDs as a rookie in ’06) in terms of production, but he is definite upgrade to the Birds receiving corps. 

3rd Round (80) – Duane Brown, Virginia Tech, OT, 6-5, 310, 4.9

The Eagles need more than one offensive lineman in the draft and I believe a nice Day 2 O-lineman will be Brown.  After coming to Virginia Tech as a tight end, this athletic player converted to left tackle and was dominate.  Some scouts I talked to love his long arms, good feet, and his ability to move (ran a very good sub-5.0 40).  Though he is still raw and learning this potential bookend tackle has everything a coach is looking for in a top-flight O-lineman. He has a good punch coming off the ball, good footwork, and large wingspan. Was All-ACC in ’07 as a left tackle and second team All-ACC in ’06 as a RT.

4th Round (115) – Craig Steltz, LSU, SS, 6-1, 210, 4.59                                

The safety position on the Eagles needs a shot in the arm with Brian Dawkins getting older.  Steltz is another leadership player from the National Champion LSU Tigers.  A tough in the box Strong Safety, who has a nose for the ball.  Took over for first round draft pick Laron Landry in 2007.  Not the athlete that Landry is in coverage, but Steltz is a smart tough football player.  As a senior in ’07, started all fourteen games for the Tigers producing a career-high 101 tackles (64 solos), 1 sack, 5 Tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.  Led the Tigers and finished third in the SEC with a career-high six interceptions.

 

4th Round (131) – Jermichael Finley, Texas, TE, 6-5, 250, 4.62

The Eagles have been active in the off-season at this position bringing Kris Wilson, but Finley is an intriguing player.  The redshirt sophomore is raw, but he may be the best athlete among this year’s Tight Ends. The big athletic player had 45 receptions for 575 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.  At this point in his career the 21-year old maybe a pass catcher only due to his fluid hands, but he is also a willing blocker.  Since Finley probably needed another year, he is still learning the game but in a couple years from now he has the upside to be a field-stretching tight end in this class.  Did have a great combine running in the 4.8 range, but recently ran a 4.62 at Texas’ Pro Day and I have been told he has put on 14 pounds of muscle moving from 236 to 250. Finished his brief college career with 76 catches for 947 yards receiving and 5 TDs.

 

5th Round (152) – Curtis Johnson, Clark Atlanta, DE/OLB, 6-3, 242

With the Eagles looking for another pass rushing “fastball”, Johnson maybe the right player.  The small school phenom reminds me a lot of former Eagles pass rusher Hugh Douglas coming out of college — HBCU Pass Rusher with people wondering if he can bring the same kind of heat into the NFL.  The All – Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) defensive player of the year is a disruptive force with great up field closing speed.  An excellent athlete with quickness, strength, and power.  Likes to hit and delivers a blow in a forceful manner.  Though he may be a ‘tweener in some books look for Johnson to contribute first on special teams and in pass rushing situation. In 2007, Johnson in 11 games produced 112 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks.   The Division II player held his own nicely against the big boys in the East-West Shrine game and in the All-Star game’s practices. Had 39.5 sacks in his college career.

 

6th Round (184)  – Jacob Hester, LSU, FB, 5-11, 230, 4.63                                                                                           

Hester is a versatile high character running back that played halfback and fullback for the National Champion LSU Tigers.  He led the Tigers in rushing with 1,103 yards on 225 carries (4.9 avg) with twelve touchdowns.  He is the tough leadership type of player that the Eagles need to bring in.  He can do it all out of the backfield (strong inside runner, go hands catching the ball, and a willing blocker).  At the Senior Bowl he showed off his “can do” attitude and ability to play on special teams. Eagles’ fans will love his ability at the goal line where he will not stop until hitting pay dirt.  During his impressive career at LSU the former captain had an impressive string of 310 consecutive rushing attempts without a fumble.  Reminds me of St. Louis Rams combo back Brian Leonard.

 

6th Round (191) – Brian Witherspoon, CB/KR, Stillman College, 5-10 3/8, 178, 4.33

 Everyone knows about Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after the Senior Bowl, but there is another rising HBCU prospect in Witherspoon.  Would be a much-needed addition as a nickel corner and return man for the Eagles.  One of the fastest players in the ’07 draft is an accomplished sprinter (has run in the 10.3 range in the 100 meters), who was a preseason All-American by d2football.com.  The SIAC player from Stillman — Not Cosby’s Hillman — announced his presence at Alabama’s Pro Day stealing the show from his SEC counterparts. The cover corner is credited with a 4.33 seconds forty, 40-inch vertical, 4.36 seconds in the short shuttle, and a cone drill of 6.86 seconds at Alabama. Witherspoon is a fluid athlete with good change of direction, but it is his speed everyone wants to harness (said to have posted a 4.16 in a workout according to an internet report).  Should contribute right away on special teams and in the return game.

 

6th Round (200) – Joe Fields, FS, Syracuse, 6-0, 205, 4.49                  

Could be a great “find” for the Eagles as a combo safety and special teams contributor.  When Fields entered Syracuse he was supposed to be the next Donovan McNabb at quarterback, but he developed into an NFL worthy free safety playing the position in his final three seasons (25 consecutive starts) for the Orange. The 2007 All-BIG EAST Second Teamer finished the season tied for sixth in The BIG EAST Conference with 97 tackles (53 solo), he also had four interceptions and one fumble recovery.  Fields is a tough senior leadership type player, who will do anything the coach asks of him.  Was the first true freshman quarterback since Todd Norley in 1982 to start the season opener in ’04.  Reminds me of former Houston Texans player and former Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord. 

 

6th Round (203) – Dennis Dixon, Oregon, QB, 6-2, 185, 4.79                

With the Eagles already having McNabb, Feeley, and Kolb on the roster, I thought this pick would be a good on to use on a developmental quarterback.  There has been talk that Colt Brennan is Andy Reid’s pick to be the developmental candidate, but I like the multi-faceted Dixon better.  Dixon is a tough dual threat leadership type quarterback who reminds me of McNabb coming out of college. Seemed on his way to playing the National Championship game, the Heisman and possibly a high round draft grade when he tore the ACL in his left knee this past December.   The Oregon Senior has attacked his rehab and in talking to his agent, he is ahead of schedule.  Great athlete who also played baseball for the Atlanta Braves organization.  In 2007, the All PAC 10 passer threw for 2,136 yards while completing 67.7% of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also ran for 583 yards and nine touchdowns as well. He will need to bulk up his thin frame in the NFL.

 

7th Round (230) – Jayson Foster, Georgia Southern RB/WR/KR, 5-7 1/4, 173, 4.45

Despite his smallish size this mighty mite is explosive, elusive, and speedy.  Foster had a rather eventual college career as three different coaches bounced him around playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver and kick returner.   In 2007, college football’s ultimate utility man stepped under center producing 1,844 yards and passing for 1,203 as a senior, joining the rare 1,000 yards passing and rushing in the same season club. Scored twenty-four total touchdowns plus passed for six more while winning the 2007 Walter Payton award in the FCS Division of college football. The first-team All-Southern Conference player is one of few players in the nation who has run, thrown and caught touchdown passes and taken back both punts and kickoffs for touchdowns. He definitely will get a long look in his rookie season as a “Slash” type return man due to his versatility and the success in 2007 of Joshua Cribbs (Cleveland Browns).  Had 50 catches for 661 yards and two touchdowns during his college career, which should help in his development as a receiver.  Also is the holder on field goals/extra points and is great on trick plays.  People I have talked to say he is a quick learner who should have no trouble digesting an NFL playbook. Was exceptional at his Pro Day lifting 225 pounds an amazing 11 times, running a reported 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard, producing a 37-inch vertical jump, and not dropping a pass or punt despite a tricky wind.

 

Sleepers

Every year around draft time I am asked whether it is by friends or on the radio to identify a “sleeper”.  Well everyone I am here to tell you that there are no longer true “sleepers” in the NFL Draft process.  Trust me, if you have talent the NFL will find you with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scanning the country for players.  With the emergence of small school guys like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Ravens DB David Pittman (Northwestern State), Colts DB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others the NFL finds players everywhere.

San Diego QB Josh Johnson – The Oakland, California native is from the University of San Diego and not the bigger San Diego State. But Johnson (6′3, 215) is extremely well known going into the draft after a senior season where he tossed a school record 43 touchdowns (only 1 INT) while ranking first in the nation in total offense (4,040 yards) and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (176.7).  His post season has been even more noteworthy as he was the MVP at the East-West Shrine game and ran an eye-popping 4.55 seconds in the forty at the Combine.  At the Combine after his blazing time he was hurt by back spasms that affected his throwing, but at his March Pro Day workout he got redemption.  In front of about 20 NFL team evaluators including head coaches Norv Turner of San Diego and Carolina’s John Fox, Johnson threw the ball much better than he did at the combine hitting almost all of his throws in stride.

Delaware RB/KR Omar Cuff – After a stellar senior season including rushing for an amazing 7 touchdowns versus William & Mary watch for this stick of dynamite in the NFL.  Cuff  (5-9 7/8, 195) amassed 4,363 rushing yards and a school-record 73 total touchdowns as Blue Hen and at his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.55 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.86 cone drill, and 16 reps at 225.

HBCU players to watch include: Bethune Cookman DB Bobbie Williams (6-0, 214), Jackson State WR Jaymar Johnson (5-11, 180, 4.41), Delaware State WR Shaheer McBride (6-1, 199, 4.50), Hampton University DE Kendall Langford (6-5, 294, 5.03), South Carolina State OL James Lee (6-4, 303, 5.30), Bethune Cookman LB Ronnie McCollough (5-11, 225, 4.65), Tennessee State DE Shawn Richardson (6-4, 299, 5.12), Hampton OLB/DE Marcus Dixon (6’5, 260, 4.6) and Tuskegee University DB Johnathan Harris (5-10, 185, 4.44)

UTEP QB/WR Lorne Sam – Every year there are former quarterbacks making their mark in the NFL at other positions — Think Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs, a former outstanding college quarterback at Kent State.  I always like these players since they have been leaders going back to peewee football. Sam (6′3, 215) is my number one conversion candidate in the ’08 NFL Draft. The jack-of-all-trades player transferred from Florida State looking to get noticed and he did producing numbers in 2007 of 12-19 for 144 yards w/ 2 TDs passing, 60 rushes for 339 yards w/ 3 TDs, and 42 catches for 589 yards (14.0 ypc) and 1 TD receiving. He followed his season up by shining at the combine catching the ball well in drills, posting 23 reps at 225 pounds (great for a receiver), and running a 4.55 in the forty.

Chadron State RB Danny Woodhead (5-7 ½. 197) – Two time (2006 and 2007) Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the Division II College Football Player of the Year.  Broke the NCAA all-division’s career rushing record with 7,962 yards and his 9,479 career all-purpose yards is second best in college football history. Among his numerous other NCAA all-division’s records are marks for most consecutive games to score in ( 38 ) and most career 200-yard rushing games (19). His 37 career 100-yard rushing games is a Division II record.   In 2007, rushed for 1,876 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry while scoring 24 touchdowns. He also caught 53 passes for 562 yards and three TDs. He helped lead Chadron State to a 12-1 record, a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship and a spot in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Showed the big boys that he is ready by ripping it up at the Nebraska Pro Day. The record-setting small-school player ran the forty in 4.38 seconds, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.03 cone drill, and 20 reps of 225.

Michigan State Tight End Antonio Smith – The big tight end prospect (6-7, 260) like former college basketball player and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is trying to make the leap from the hardwood to the NFL at the surprising age of 32. The brother of current Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith certainly looked the part of an NFL tight end posting good numbers at Michigan State’s Pro Day with times 5.19 and 5.14 in the 40, a 32½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot, 7-inch long jump, and 18 reps in the bench press.

Grand Valley State CB Brandon Carr (6-0, 207) –  Probably the best small school DB in the draft besides Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  A start for the last three years that possess superior man to man skills.  Carr has the size/speed combo to excel in the NFL. Had 5 Ints and 14 Pass break-ups in 2007. At his Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.43, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 4-inch long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.80 cone drill, and ran well in drills at his workout.

Midwestern State QB Daniel Polk – Was the only quarterback in college football to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in 2007. Polk ( 6’1, 2002, 4.58 ) is a 3-time All-Lone Star selection and is Midwestern State’s all-time leader in rushing yards and total offense (8,276 yards). Maybe looked upon as a developmental type that will need to help on special teams first, but he is a tough athlete.

Bloomsburg RB Jamar Brittingham – I have watched this kid play since high school (Neshaminy in the Philadelphia Suburbs) and he is something special.  Brittingham (6’1, 208, 4.53) has the ideal size/power combo that NFL scouts are looking for in a back. Has a physical running style and likes to use the stiff arm. The tough senior does need to watch injuries, but the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division Player of the Year is the PSAC’s all-time career leading rusher with 5,689 yards (14th all-time in D2). Played in the Cactus Bowl all-star game.

West Texas A&M TE Kolo Kapanui – The USC transfer Kapanui was a two-time all-Lone Star Conference selection and two-year starter.  Kapanui (6’3, 271, 4.9) catch 65 passes for 767 yards and nine touchdowns. Twice made game-winning catches, including one in a 2007 playoff game against Washburn that led to a 40-39 come-from-behind win. Has good size and is a tough blocker.  Was a participant in the Hula Bowl.

 

Other Sleepers

  • Eastern Kentucky OT Sean Dumford (6′5, 302) was impressive at Kentucky’s Pro Day outshining his SEC brethren by running a respectable 5.15 in the forty and posting 27 reps pressing 225 pounds.

 

  • Washburn tall corner Cary Williams (6-1, 187) made the radar at the University of Kansas Pro Day producing a 4.43 forty, 32½-inch vertical jump, 4.34 short shuttle, 6.94 cone drill, 8 reps in the bench press, and looking smooth in drills.

 

  • Weber State O-lineman David Hale (6-5 5/8, 310) followed up a solid combing by producing a 29-inch vertical jump, 4.63 short shuttle, 7.51 cone drill, and 25 reps at his Pro Day.