As NFL teams embark on the annual offseason process of evaluating their existing personnel and identifying team needs, the landscape will be different this year. With the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, teams will need to do it the old fashioned way.
Specifically, filling team needs will mostly have to come through trades and the draft since free agent movement will be very limited. Considering that NFL GM's have largely displaced the art of trading in a world cluttered with caponomics and combine rankings, it would be unreasonable to expect very many player for player trades.
Accordingly, this leads clubs back to the draft to fill current and future voids on their particular team. This becomes even further refined for the Philadelphia Eagles, who like their brethren across the street, are likely staring at a relatively finite window of opportunity.
Barring a trade, Donovan McNabb is currently the team's starting quarterback- and at the age of 33 projects to have 3 or 4 more years of prime production.
Additionally, as I detailed a few weeks ago in The Philadelphia Eagles: Seven Semi-Controversial Steps to a Super Bowl Title, despite a disappointing and revealing season ending, it seems that a handful of reinforcements could put the Eagles back into the Super Bowl mix.
So, simply put- the time is now. With the clock ticking and the fanbase becomingly increasingly restless, the Eagles would be very wise to avoid projects in the draft and set their sights on players who can make an immediate impact.
Certainly, this equation could change significantly if the team decides to move McNabb and install Kevin Kolb as their starting QB. But, with this situation yet to unfold, the assumption here is that McNabb will be behind center come September.
Right now, the team has the following picks: 1st round (24), 2nd round (23), 3rd round (6), 3rd round (23), 4th round (23), 4th round (29), 6th round (31)
Considering team needs and the current scenario, here are the players that the Eagles should target in the upcoming draft.
1 Taylor Mays S USC Round 1
6' 3" 231 pounds 4.45 40 Time
A few weeks ago, Taylor Mays looked tailor-made for the Eagles, but likely out of their reach at the 24th slot in the first round. Subsequently, due to a somewhat lackluster showing during Senior Bowl week, many concerns arose about his pass coverage ability and Mays has dropped in many rankings.
This could prove to be a win-win for the Eagles as he fills the teams greatest need and might now fall to them at 24. Mays is one of those rare freaks of nature that combines size, speed and athleticism. And, importantly, he brings the wood by delivering the type of bone jarring hits that was sorely missing with the departure of Brian Dawkins.
After being revered by scouts a year ago, the buzz started to surface and then hit a full crescendo at the Senior Bowl that Mays did not possess the instincts or footwork to cover NFL receivers.
For Philadelphians though, he may represent the closest facsimile to the beloved Dawkins and would appear to be a great fit for their defensive scheme. "Dawk" was never known for his pure cover skills, and proved in recent years, that a hard hitting free safety with the versatility to support the run, blitz the quarterback, force some turnovers, and intimidate pass catchers across the middle is most important.
2 Sean Weatherspoon OLB Missouri Round 1
6' 1" 241 pounds 4.54 40 Time
The Missouri outside linebacker is the type of highly athletic, scheme diverse player that the Eagles lacked a season ago. With the absence of Stewart Bradley, opponents took advantage of the team's need to rotate personnel to mask deficiencies.
At season's end, the Dallas Cowboys took this to an entirely different level by simply using the personnel to read the defensive play call and adjust accordingly. Tony Romo repeatedly called audibles to exploit the formations and weaknesses of the Eagles players on the field.
Sean Weatherspoon fits the Eagles 4-3 scheme, possessing the size and athleticism to defend the run, drop into coverage and still rush the passer off the edge. He also has the bulk to slide into the middle if necessary should Bradley be delayed in his recovery.
Weatherspoon is also the type of vocal, fiery leader on the field that has been lacking since Dawkins left town. Scouts see him as football smart with a knack for being in the right position, which Eagles fans did not always witness with last year's linebacking corps.
The Eagles can ill afford to repeat last year's mix and match approach at linebacker. They also would be very wise to alter recent protocol of sacrificing size for speed.
3 Navorro Bowman OLB Penn State Round 1-2
6' 1" 232 pounds 4.65 40 Time
Football pundits are mixed in the assessment of Navorro Bowman and project him going anywhere from late in the first round to the end of the second round. Most everyone agrees, though, that he is probably a mid-first round talent.
So what's the rub? Bowman has had some brushes with the law and been on probation a couple times over his stay in Happy Valley, so his character and maturity are in question.
If the Eagles staff can get comfortable that these incidents relate to a kid making some bad decisions, but will not be an ongoing problem, Bowman would bring similar skill sets as Weatherspoon. Similarly, he has the potential to be a defensive stalwart for years to come with star potential.
The junior linebacker has already completed his degree and feels that he is ready for the NFL. His size, speed, instincts, and big play capability would be a great addition to the Eagles defense.
4 Nate Allen S South Florida Round 1-2
6' 1" 205 pounds 4.50 40 Time
South Florida's Nate Allen has been moving up the rankings, perhaps as teams consider him with Mays moving in the opposite direction. There is growing sentiment that Allen has better all around skills than Mays, but does not have the same high ceiling.
Although he does not quite possess the same stature, Allen does have ample height and bulk to fill the Eagles needs. He has also been a playmaker with ballhawking abilities and the range to play "centerfield."
Like Dawkins, he was a team captain, vocal leader, and a physical tackler. Having flown a bit under the radar, the Eagles could potentially move down into the last first or early second round and pick up a very solid player for the important free safety position.
5 Donovan Warren CB Michigan Round 2-3
6' 0" 185 pounds 4.40 40 Time
Could the Eagles use another Donovan? Absolutely, if it is Michigan's cornerback Donovan Warren.
Warren is still a potential value pick as he has been somewhat underrated and had once been slotted in the third round. Some scouts expect his stock to rise further once he gets more exposure at the Combine, so the likelihood of grabbing him in the third round appears to continue to drop.
The cornerback is fast, athletic, and physical— equally adept at playing the run and pass. Many love his intangibles as he is highly confident and competitive.
Grabbing a true stud safety would be ideal for the Eagles, but Warren would provide options if that does not happen. Either Sheldon Brown or Warren could slide over to play the safety position. Of course, adding depth at cornerback is never a bad thing.
6 Chris Cook CB Virginia Round 3-4
6' 2" 185 pounds 4.45 40 Time
Virginia's Chris Cook impressed scouts during Senior Bowl week. He displayed a great deal of raw talent with substantial upside.
Cook is lanky, but scouts are impressed with his smoothness and ability to maneuver. His size will allow him to play press coverage and would fit the Eagles scheme, especially with Asante Samuel lacking in that capability.
If he were to drop to the fourth round, Andy Reid would have to think hard before passing him up with one of the team's two picks.
7 Myron Rolle S Florida State Round 3-4
6' 2" 218 pounds 4.60 40 Time
Most scouts did not know what to expect with Myron Rolle when they assembled for Senior Bowl week. He elected to forego his senior year at FSU to study abroad as a Rhodes Scholar, so there was a great deal of skepticism whether he would return in shape or truly interested in an NFL career.
Most everyone was pleasantly surprised to see that he had remained in top physical condition and overall showed well throughout the week. Most teams still see him as a gamble due to being away from the game for a year and his interest in becoming a neurosurgeon.
Conversely, he is obviously very intelligent as well as an excellent physical specimen. Rolle has the size and strength to defend the run and range from sideline to sideline. While at Florida State, and during Senior Bowl week, Rolle showed excellent cover skills as well.
If the Eagles do not grab a safety earlier in the draft, Rolle might be a steal in the third or fourth round. His combination of athleticism, intelligence, character, and leadership are very rare—and would do well in midnight green.
8 Eric Berry S Tennessee Round 1
5' 11" 195 pounds 4.40 40 Time
This might be a pipe dream, but stranger things have happened. This scenario would have the Eagles trading Kevin Kolb and their first pick to the St. Louis Rams or Cleveland Browns in exchange for their No. 1 pick— then take Eric Berry.
With a little luck, Berry could drop to the seventh slot, and if he does, the Eagles should jump on this opportunity. The scenario with the Rams might be an even longer shot since they have the first pick overall, but considering that there is not a clear consensus top player who stands above the crowd, it might be doable.
The Rams would get a starting QB to build around and another first round talent to plug into one of their many holes. Meanwhile, the Eagles would get a true difference maker on defense who would fill a glaring void.
Many scouts and pundits compare Berry to Ravens All-Pro Ed Reed in terms of style of play and impact. If the Eagles could pick up a player with Reed-like impact, they could be a top ten defense for year's to come— not to mention a Super Bowl participant next February.
The Final Word
The Philadelphia Eagles have rarely stood pat on draft day in the Andy Reid era. They have either traded up or down based on their value board, so it is reasonable to expect a similar approach this April.
With six picks in the first four rounds, the Eagles have a good chance to grab at least two or three of these players. Their most pressing needs are clearly free safety and outside linebacker—and it is critical that they come away with talented players ready to step into the roles immediately.
Beyond that, need positions to address in the draft are cornerback, defensive end, and running back. You can add quarterback and move it up to the No. 3 spot if the team trades Kolb.
Lastly, this is not the year to draft an offensive lineman. The Eagles should look to fill any need this season by signing an aging veteran, even if it means releasing the Andrews brothers.
For many reasons, this year's draft is one of the most important for the Eagles in the past decade. If they sign one or two impact free agents and they play their cards right here, they could come away big winners with a team prepared to compete for a title.