Thursday, April 29, 2010

Post-draft minicamp: What to watch for

Tomorrow kicks off the Eagles first mini-camp of the off-season. These camps are rarely exciting, and even less revealing, but nevertheless there are some interesting stories to keep an eye on:

  • Ricky Sapp - A first-round talent snatched up in the fifth round, Sapp has a chance to make an immediate impact on the team. The question is: will the Eagles give him that chance? I'd put him on the field as the strong-side LB, then let him rush from the DE position on third downs. He played the Joker in college, so he has experience dropping back in coverage, and shouldn't be nearly as lost as their latest conversion project, Chris Gocong. At 252 lbs, he's not going to be an every-down DE, so his best chance to get consistent playing time is at SAM.
  • Stacy Andrews - We're going to quickly find out if Andrews needed additional time to come back from his knee injury, or if he was one of the worst free agent signings in Eagles history. With no OL draft picks, the Eagles are clearly betting on the former. Of course, they were betting on him and his brother last year, and you see how that worked out.
  • Mike McGlynn - Depending on the Andrews situation and how quickly Jamaal Jackson returns from his injury, McGlynn could see major playing time at center early in the season. The Eagles like him and think he's ready, but he's shown very little so far in his career. It's make-or-break time for McGlynn.
  • Trevor Laws, Quintin Demps, Macho Harris - These three players were expected to make major contributions last year and all were disappointments (actually, Macho did ok for a fifth-round pick thrust into the starting lineup, but he certainly wasn't a strength of the defense.) They all needed to get stronger, and this will be our first chance to see how hard they hit the off-season weight program. If they do not carve out major roles with their performance in the preseason, they are all likely to be cut.
  • Clay Harbor and Riley Cooper - I expect to read at least one story saying how good these two looked in the minicamp, quicker than expected, etc. I don't see a big impact from either as a rookie (Cooper is destined to be a special-teams gunner and 5th WR) but both could be quality long-term additions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Andy Reid is smarter than everyone

If there's one thing we've learned about Big Red over the years, it's that he doesn't change. His core set of beliefs have served him well - he is indisputably the best coach in Eagles history - and he will never waver from those beliefs, even when presented with evidence to the contrary.

The perfect example is the Eagles third-round pick, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. An undersized DE with a sixth-round grade, he fits the profile exactly of previous Eagles busts like Chris Gocong and Bryan Smith. Fourth-rounder Keenan Clayton fits the mold of former flame-outs Barry Gardner and Quentin Caver. Both of these players were there for the taking in the sixth round, neither fits a need, and neither will make an impact with the Eagles.

But instead of a pick-by-pick bashing of the Eagles, I'm going to just redo the first three rounds of the draft how I would have done it (without all the goofy trades). In a few years, I'll compare my draft below with Big Red's picks and we'll see who turns out better. I'm going to take picks from my recommendations post whenever possible.

I'm not going to dig into the lower rounds, because frankly I've lost track of what picks the Eagles had originally before all of their draft day trades. I did like the selection of Ricky Sapp and Riley Cooper, and maybe those guys wouldn't have been available if the Eagles don't trade for a dozen extra fourth-round picks, but I'd rather have second- and third-round talent. I really want to be wrong, but it sure looks like the Eagles outsmarted themselves again. By staying put and taking the best players available, they would have added quality at positions of need, instead of reaching for positions they didn't.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Brandon Graham?

When the Eagles traded up to #13, I breathed a sigh of relief. Mike Mayock and I were positive that the Eagles were about to land their man, and we were right.

The only problem is that we believed their man was safety Earl Thomas, not defensive end Brandon Graham.

The good news about Graham is this: he led the FBS (Div 1A to us old-timers) with 26 tackles for loss last season, including 10 1/2 sacks. He was a second-team All-American selection. He threw the 225lb bar up 31 times at the combine, and ran a 4.71 40. Tremendous numbers, all.

He is a relentless pass-rusher with outside speed and an inside spin move that is reminiscent of Dwight Freeney. He was disruptive and sometimes unblockable in college. He was the MVP of the Senior Bowl, proving that he was at his best when facing the best competition.

The bad news is that he's a 3-4 OLB, not a 4-3 DE. What the Eagles needed was a 290-lb anchor on the left side of their line, not another undersized pass-rusher that will be knocked five yards downfield by NFL tackles on every running play. And the Eagles gave up two third-round picks in a deep draft to acquire him.

Rookie DEs average under 4 sacks in their first season in the NFL. Because Graham is undersized, he won't be a first- and second- down player. So they gave up two thirds to move up 11 spots and grab a situational pass-rusher. Instead of drafting Earl Thomas (who was selected with the very next pick) who would have been on the field for every defensive play, they get a guy who's looking at 20 snaps a game and will be extremely lucky to pile up a half dozen sacks. Call me underwhelmed.

The Eagles could have stayed right at 24 and picked Kyle Wilson, who I thought was a perfect fit at a position of dire need. Given the choice between Brandon Graham or Kyle Wison and two third-round picks, I'd take the latter every time. I sure hope I'm wrong, and Graham turns into a dominant pass-rusher that makes me forget all about Earl Thomas and Kyle Wilson, but I doubt it. Then again, my only hope for a Big Red firing is that he continues to bungle personnel moves, so maybe there is a silver lining to this trade.

Meanwhile, Baby Belichik out in Denver took the plunge with everyone's favorite man-crush, Tim Tebow. I'd love to make fun of him more, but my heart's not really in it today. Hard to throw stones when my team is standing in a glass house.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Andy, pick one of these guys

The Eagles are in an enviable position this (extended) weekend, with 5 picks in the first three rounds. With the first three picks, I'm expecting two DBs, probably a corner and a safety. Here's a list of players I'd like to see in Eagles green this fall:

Earl Thomas - Safety, Texas - Often listed as a hybrid corner/safety, which is exactly what the Eagles need on the back end of their defense. Loose hips, good ball skills, and an ability to blitz make up for his lack of ideal size. May not make it to 24, I'd like to see the Eagles trade up if he drops into the 18-20 range.

Kyle Wilson - Corner, Boise St. - A physical, press corner and sure tackler, would make a perfect complement to Asante Samuel. Another player who may not drop all the way to 24.

Nate Allen - Safety, South Florida - If the Eagles don't get Thomas at 24, Allen would be a nice consolation prize at 37. Again lacks ideal size for a safety, but has elite cover skills, which the Eagles value over size anyway.

Kareen Jackson - Corner, Alabama - Solid and disciplined, could be selected at 24 or 37.

Chris Cook - Corner, Virginia - At 6'2", many NFL scouts see him as a safety, but he's fluid enough to cover wide receivers. I'd love to see the Eagles target him with the 55th pick.

Sean Weatherspoon - Linebacker, Mississippi - I know Andy Reid has never taken a LB in the first round, but this is the kind of guy who might shake things up. Able to line up at all three LB spots and play effectively in space, Weatherspoon is an ideal fit for what the Eagles need from their LBs. Initially, I thought there was no chance he'd be available at 24, but he is reportedly sliding down some draft boards so could be there when the Eagles pick. Unless Earl Thomas or Patrick Wilson was staring me in the face, I'll run to the podium and select Weatherspoon.

Daryl Washington - Linebacker, TCU - An outside LB with good speed and the frame to bulk up to 250. Might be a nice fit at SAM, where the Eagles are weakest, with one of their second-round picks.

Sean Lee - Linebacker, Penn State - Another versatile LB who has been effective both blitzing and in space, he would be a nice addition for the Eagles in the second round. As a PSU fan, I've watched him for three years, and I'd take him on my team anytime.

Jason Pierre-Paul - DE, South Florida - No idea where this guy will be picked, because he's such an intriguing player. Only played a single season of football, he was a basketball player who made the switch late in his career. At 6'5", 270, he has the size and athletic ability of a Jerome Kearse, but almost no experience to draw on. He has displayed a relentless motor and passion for the game, which many believe will propel him to reach his limitless potential. Could be a top-10 pick or a second-rounder. Not really in the Eagles mold, but if he's staring them in the face at 24, they'll have to think hard about passing.

Derrick Morgan - DE, Georgia Tech - The ACC defensive player of the year, might be the best all-around 4-3 DE in the draft. With half the league playing 3-4 defenses now, there's an outside chance he could fall to the Eagles. If he's there, I suspect they run to the podium and select him.

Everson Griffin - DE, USC - A huge DE (over 300 lbs) who displayed unbelievable pass rush ability for someone his size. Not really in the Eagles mold for DEs, but maybe they are sick of having teams run all over their undersized defense, and will go against the grain with this selection. He'll definitely be able to set the edge, and can pressure the QB as well. Would be a surprise pick at 24, but could possibly fall to 37, where they'd have no choice but to take him.

A lot of mock drafts have the Eagles selecting an offensive lineman in the first round, and I can't argue with the sentiment. The problem is that there are no tackles rated near the bottom of the first round (Rodger Saffold from Indiana is the lone exception, depending on who you listen to, and he's the fifth-best OT prospect.) And Reid has only picked one OL with his first pick, and that was Shawn Andrews, who played tackle. Mock drafters who select G Tony Iupati or C/G Markice Pouncey for the Eagles are simply not doing their homework. For interior lineman, the Eagles have had tremendous success picking them later in the draft (Todd Herremans 5th, Jamaal Jackson undrafted, Nick Cole undrafted, Max Jean-Gilles 4th), and I don't see Iupati or Pouncey as special enough to break that pattern. They are both solid, and if the Eagles pick one I won't necessarily complain, but there will be better value at other positions.

Another contingent of draftniks has the Eagles trading way up to grab #1 safety Eric Berry, or trading as high as #10 to select Earl Thomas. While I believe the Eagles love both, I don't see this as a wise move. This year's draft has a group of players between 20 and 45 who are very strong. The Eagles are unlikely to trade both their picks from this range to select a single guy. For instance, I'd much rather have Kareen Jackson and Nate Allen than just Eric Berry. The most likely scenario for a trade-up would be something similar to last season, when they gave up a fifth-rounder to move up two spots. At most, they'll give up a third to jump to 18, but I'd be shocked to see them give up a second in any deal.

The first round starts tonight at 7:30, and I can't wait.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Morality Police

Sexual assault is a serious crime. It's not something to be sneered at or brushed aside. But sexual assault requires a victim, and when that victim refuses to press charges, and the DA in the case announces there was never enough evidence to build a case anyway, then the accused is innocent, because there was no crime.

Regardless of what actually happened in that night-club bathroom, and who might have been paid off afterward, we must presume Ben Roethlisberger's innocence...if we wish to be protected by the laws of the land, we must respect when they exonerate others.

I am not a Steelers fan or a Ben apologist. I don't think he's exceptionally bright, and he doesn't always make good decisions. But I'm sick of the "where there's smoke, there's fire" finger-wagging of Generation Scold. Ben's going to be punished by either the NFL or the Steelers, and by all accounts he'll continue to apologize and take his punishment without complaint. He'll lose millions of dollars in game checks, and be publicly admonished by every talking head and sports talk-show host, and he hasn't even been charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Does this bother anyone else?

When famous athletes have sex with lots of women, even 20-year-olds in nightclub bathrooms, why should any of us be surprised? Why should we sit in judgement over them, demanding both public humiliation and financial loss? When 60% of the population is cheating on their spouse, how pathetic is it that we punish others for their promiscuity? How well would an average Joe resist the beautiful temptations that follow money and power, when most of us can't resist the mediocre charms of a dumpy co-worker or Facebook friend?

As far as I'm concerned, Ben should fuck every hot 20-year-old in the country if he can. As long as he's staying within the bounds of the law, there's no reason to avoid college bars at 2am. When liking pussy becomes a crime, they're going to have to build a lot more jails...but until then, Ben can be my QB anytime.

Monday, April 05, 2010

McNabb to the Skins

So many thoughts, I don't even know where to start.

First, the compensation was exactly right. Here's what I said it would take to get a McNabb deal done: I would gladly take two draft picks: a second-rounder to start along with a conditional pick...let's say it starts as a fourth and can move up to a second if he leads his new team to the playoffs. What did the Eagles get? A second- and a fourth-rounder that could become a third. So, pretty much dead on.

Second, trading McNabb to the Redskins speaks volumes about what the Eagles front office actually thinks about #5. You don't trade a Pro Bowl player to a division rival, unless you're absolutely sure he's in decline and you can beat him twice a year. Hypothetically, if McNabb and the Skins go 5-1 against the Eagles over the next three seasons, you can be sure that either Reid or Roseman will pay the price with his job. So in spite of all the accolades that they've heaped upon McNabb, they are not scared of playing against him at all.

Third, I've said numerous times before that McNabb's weaknesses were magnified by both Reid's system and his playcalling. He's not the kind of QB that excels at dropping back, scanning the defense, and making a quick, decisive, accurate throw. His strengths - mobility, cannon arm, a decent deep ball - will be accentuated by the system that Mike Shanahan is running in Washington. John Elway, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler all were much better QBs (both W-L and statistically) under Shanahan than without him. They were all strong-armed, mobile QBs like McNabb. And other than Elway, they couldn't read a defense or make accurate throws. Shanahan will pound the rock, and call that half-roll play-action off the run, and allow the QB to make one read over just half the field. It doesn't require exceptional accuracy or timing, both of which McNabb lack. He could have three more Pro Bowl seasons in Washington, and that will expose Reid for the stubborn and predictable offensive mind that he is.

Fourth, if Kolb is ready - and that's a big if - the Eagles are set for another decade of playoff participation. There's hardly an old guy remaining on the team, and the Eagles hold more 2010 draft picks in the first four rounds than any other team in the NFL. The Eagles can continue to restock a defense with young players in one of the deepest drafts in years.

The Eagles could have avoided all this by not drafting Kolb three years ago. Seemingly on the precipice of a championship, they traded out of the first round and passed on a number of players who could have helped the team right away. Instead, Andy's man-crush got the better of him, and they decided to draft for the post-McNabb future. Once Kolb played a little and looked decent, they were stuck...they couldn't sign both to long-term contracts, so they had to pick. In Reid's offense, I like Kolb better, so this is the right choice. But trading McNabb to Shanahan and the Redskins is a dangerous gamble. The Eagles are either going to cement their reputations as shrewd talent evaluators, or Big Red will be run out of town. It's a win-win for me, and I can't wait to see how it plays out.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eagles pull another head-scratcher

Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong for...a fourth, a fifth, and Alex Hall?

Sheldon is 31, coming off an up-and-down year, and has made some complaints about his it's not like he has tremendous value. But he was a solid starting CB who would have made the Pro Bowl if not for a couple lousy games (where he played through a significant hamstring injury.) And he was under contract for two more years, so frankly, I don't care if he was complaining. look at how Lito Sheppard performed last season (he was just released by the Jets) and it makes you wonder, maybe the Eagles know a lot more about their own corners than the rest of us. I certainly thought Lito would be a solid player for the Jets if he could stay healthy, but that wasn't the case. Could it be that the Eagles blitz package, combined with a coached tendency to sit on routes, creates INTs for the DBs, making them look better than they really are?

Even if Sheldon is not as good as he thinks, I don't see the point of dumping him for a fourth-round pick. He was a solid tackler, a team leader, and a decent player making an affordable salary. Still, I'll withhold judgment for now, since the Eagles have a solid track record in picking the end of a player's productivity.

But it does leave a rather large hole in the secondary...after Asante Samuel, who generally hurts himself at least once a game attempting a "tackle", they've got Ellis Hobbs returning from a neck injury (and who didn't play as well as Sheldon last season anyway), Joselio Hanson (who was awful after his suspension), and then a couple practice-squad types. Not exactly a lot of depth. If the Eagles made this move because they're about to complete a trade to the Raiders for Nnamdi Asomugha, well then I'd say it makes a lot of sense.

But if there's no trade on the horizon, then it sure looks like another brick in the rebuilding project the Eagles have suddenly become. If you're already giving up on 2010 because you're planning to give Kolb the reins, then maybe it makes sense to cut your losses with aging vets like Sheldon and get what draft picks you can for them. You certainly wouldn't bring back McNabb to shepherd a bunch of fresh-faced kids through an 8-8 season, right?

As for Gocong, I think he makes a lot more sense as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme, so he should find some success in Cleveland. He seems like a hard-working guy that just never fit in to what the Eagles were trying to do: pretty much what I said the day the Eagles drafted him.