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Draft Buzz: Eagles' Defensive Targets

Posted Apr 25, 2013

Yesterday, we provided the latest buzz on draft prospects around the country on the offensive side of the football. What about the defense? Never fear because we once again consulted our panel of NFL Draft insiders around the country to get the latest on some of the most intriguing players in April's draft as the draft process comes to a close...

Defensive End:

Head coach Chip Kelly spoke to the media during minicamp a week ago and said there will be times the team employs a three-man front with the need to have a nose tackle and a defensive end that can "two-gap" along the defensive line. DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline highlights some of the players who could fit that role for the Eagles:

"With the fourth overall pick, I don't think you're really going to target a prospect that will purely be used as a two-gap defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. However, later in the first round you have a player like Datone Jones from UCLA who probably won't last until the top of round two. Margus Hunt, however likely will be. The former discus thrower from Estonia is a great athlete, and he's garnered interest around the league. He's still learning to be a football player and has a ways to go but I think Hunt in the top of Round Two is a player you would have to consider.

"On the last day of the draft, either in the fourth or fifth round, William Gholston could be an option. Much like his cousin Vernon, a former first-round pick, he has a world of talent but he doesn't always apply it, which is a danger. But again, if it's the last day of the draft and he's there, and you're looking to roll the dice and maybe hit on somebody big, you can't go wrong in that area by taking a chance on Gholston. Another possibility could be Josh Boyd as a defensive end though he's more of an inside player. He could provide that type of presence as well if you're looking for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme."

Defensive Tackle:

Despite the addition of Isaac Sopoaga in free agency, the Eagles have been linked with multiple defensive tackles in the front end of the draft, notably former Gator and Philadelphia native Sharrif Floyd as well as Utah's Star Lotulelei. For more on Lotulelei as well as another nose tackle prospect for Eagles fans to keep an eye out for, we bring in CBS Sports' Dane Brugler ...

"There has been a lot of talk about the Eagles targeting Star Lotulelei in the first round at fourth overall. Lotulelei, 6-2, 311, will wear himself out at times and I think his snaps will have to be monitored in the NFL because I think that really affected his motor. He has smooth hips, nimble footwork, and the overall strength to really make a difference up front regardless of what scheme he plays in. For the Eagles, he'd be a great fit in a 3-4 front but he would also be able to line up wherever Chip Kelly needs him in his sub-packages. Lotulelei plays well in space and has no wasted movement. He's not consistently dominant though, and I think that's somewhat of a red flag with him, though I think that can also be attributed to his high snap-count at Utah. He has the potential to be more than just a quality player in the NFL, and a guy who can make a great impact.

"I think Jonathan Hankins out of Ohio State is an interesting prospect because here's a guy who was considered top-10 material a year ago. His junior year at Ohio State, however, he took a step back. Hankins showed that he likely isn't an every-down player but he will be a really good two-down defensive tackle. At 6-3, 320, Hankins can play the nose, but he can also kick out and play the five-technique in a 3-4. He can play in space if you need him to. He has very nimble feet for his size. He can do a lot of things. He showed fatigue in the fourth quarter late in games, so, like Lotulelei, I think Hankins will need to have his snaps monitored to get the best production at the next level. That said, Hankins has that rare combination of size, strength and foot quickness to be an effective two-gapping zero-technique nose tackle in the NFL. He actually reminds me a lot of Dontari Poe (Kansas City Chiefs) who was a first-round pick a year ago, as a guy who is that quick and that big that won't last long on draft day. I think Hankins could be a target for the Eagles in the second round if they're looking for a young tackle."

Linebacker:

Keeping in mind that more linebackers will be needed to serve in a scheme with occasional 3-4 principles, it was a given that the team would add a couple of players to the position via free agency, which the Eagles did with Connor Barwin and Jason Phillips. But could we see even more new names in the middle of the defense? If so, who would be the best fits? For more we hear from Rotoworld and NFL.com draft analyst Josh Norris ...

"Well since everyone is talking about Dion Jordan (Oregon) with the fourth overall pick, I'll pass over that discussion and move along to a bit later in the draft and Southern Miss outside linebacker Jamie Collins. Collins is an athletic freak. He's really long and has a great frame that a lot of teams will like. He has great closing speed too. He played more of a defensive end role, though at times would stand up and move around in college. To me, though, he projects much more as a pure pass-rushing outside linebacker. The only trouble with him, in my opinion, is the inconsistency on first contact. He needs to be more stout on the edge and force things back inside. He made some really nice flash plays.

"Now if you're looking for somebody who doesn't necessarily have the athletic talent but has the technical upside, I would go with Chase Thomas from Stanford. Everyone always buzzes about workouts and bench presses and 40-yard dash times, but Chase Thomas is just a football player. He can stack and shed at the line of scrimmage. He's got great hand usage to create separation and work on the edge. He's either going to be a good player in that role as a pass rusher, or he's not going to have the athletic prowess to keep up with everyone. I wouldn't drop him back in coverage, I'd only let him pass rush, but I think Chase Thomas would be a decent fourth- or fifth-round selection."

Cornerback:

The Eagles will be featuring a new-look secondary in 2013, with Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips all brought into the fold through free agency. Will this group get even deeper through draft weekend? What kind of players can we expect the Eagles to target? For answers on that we consult Yahoo! Sports columnist Doug Farrar ...

"It's hard to know exactly what a team likes in its cornerbacks without actually seeing them in action, so with new defensive coordinator Billy Davis it's difficult to tell who could be a target in Philadelphia. Some teams like to run a lot of "two-man" coverage like Seattle, Green Bay or Chicago, while some play a lot of off-coverage such as the Atlanta Falcons. So assuming that the Eagles will want more aggressive corners who can tackle, we will go with that presumption in terms of evaluating possible options on draft weekend.

"One guy who I think might be the best corner in the draft, and Greg Cosell and Mike Mayock would agree, is D.J. Hayden from Houston. Hayden had the artery injury which almost killed him, so teams will obviously have to be conscious about that. However, if you look at the pure cornerback attributes such as back pedal, transition, ability to turn and run, and the ability to come down and be physical in the run game, I think Hayden, if he passes all the medicals, checks all the boxes at the highest level, even more so than Dee Milliner.

"Milliner is an even more aggressive corner, but Nick Saban has a few schematic oddities that make it tough to evaluate a transition to the next level. He likes to run blitz his corners from linebacker depth, blitzing from the boundary. One thing he also teaches, and I saw the same thing a year ago with Dre Kirkpatrick (a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals), is that he doesn't have his cornerbacks back pedal. What he wants to do is bring them up all the way to the line of scrimmage and trail receivers immediately from the snap of the ball. That type of scheme almost pigeon-holes Milliner as more of a boundary-type corner, so I don't know how much he'll play in off-coverage at the next level.

"The Eagles could attempt to target Xavier Rhodes from Florida State, a big kid at 6-2, 210. Rhodes tackles like a linebacker at times and even drew some personal fouls because he is often hyper-aggressive, but he's almost the prototype of what teams look for these days at the cornerback position. A big, press corner who's really aggressive, Rhodes could potentially fit that role on the outside in Philadelphia.

"After round one, keep an eye on Darius Slay from Mississippi State. At 6-0, 192, he's still putting his game together, but he has a lot of physical talent. He's a guy you could watch in the second or third round. Also, Blidi Wreh-Wilson from Connecticut really impressed me at the Senior Bowl. The guy I really keep hearing about is Leon McFadden from San Diego State. At 5-10, 193, he probably projects as more of a slot corner, but if you want a safer option at that spot than Tyrann Mathieu, McFadden could be your guy, especially in the early third-round area."

Safety:

The opinion here, echoed many times elsewhere, is that this is one of the deepest crop of safety prospects in some time. Will the Eagles decide to dip into that pool this year, even with Chung and Phillips already in tow? Are there players late in the draft for us to watch? We talk to Draft Countdown's Shane Hallam to find out ...

"To me I think that the Eagles could look at a safety really at any point in the draft after adding Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips in free agency. I think that they can definitely add one early if they want to bring someone in to compete for a starting role with the players on the roster. To me, in this class, there's sort of a ‘Big Four' at the top of this safety group and that includes Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Eric Reid (LSU), Johnathan Cyprien (Florida International) and Matt Elam (Florida). I think that, obviously, a couple of those players will go in the first round but with the Eagles picking relatively early in the second round they might get a shot at a player like Elam. He could be a possibility for them especially considering that he is productive not only as a deep safety but also in the slot and on special teams.

"If they wanted to go later in the draft, J.J. Wilcox out of Georgia Southern is a really interesting player to me. He's not someone that, when I watch him, I say ‘Wow he's going to be a star', but you can see the athletic upside with him. He was playing on the offensive side of the ball up until last season so he's still very raw, but he had a solid Senior Bowl week and has great measurables. I think he's someone who has moved into that ‘Top 100' range, so if the Eagles are looking at someone in the third or fourth round, Wilcox could be an option as a prospect with upside.

"Around that same range, I think there are more players who fit that bill. Earl Wolff from NC State is gaining some buzz. He ran a 4.44 at the Combine at 5-11, 210, but he doesn't have the best game in the world. He missed some tackles on tape pretty regularly and isn't very technically sound, but he has some athletic upside. Baccari Rambo from Georgia is another one in that range as well.

"In terms of late-round prospects who you can develop early on special teams, I think Josh Evans from Florida fits in that role. He caught my eye early in the process. I actually like him in some ways more than Elam because he's a player who does everything well, but nothing great. He runs in the 4.5-range and he can play in that centerfield role, though he doesn't necessarily lay the lumber like Elam does.

"One of my favorite players in this draft is actually from around my hometown of Pittsburgh -  Rontez Miles from California-PA. He's a four-year starter who is a leader on and off the field. He's someone who has special teams value who, even if he doesn't end up being a starter in the NFL, should have some success in that area of the game. He's not a great athlete, but I think he's more of a box safety who can cover tight ends at the next level as a physical presence at the line of scrimmage. "

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