Most of the draft talk to this point has focused on seniors, but with the Scouting Combine getting closer, it is time to take a look at some of the underclassmen who might be of interest to the Eagles. I won't cover all of them. That's impossible since there are 98 underclassmen in the draft this year. Let's focus on the most interesting prospects.
Dion Bailey is a safety from USC. He has great size at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds. Bailey was a linebacker in 2011 and 2012 before moving to safety this past season. He wasn't totally new there, having played safety in high school and in 2010, when he was a redshirt freshman. Bailey has the size of a linebacker, but also has defensive back skills. He is comfortable in man coverage. He plucks the ball naturally and had five interceptions in 2013. Bailey is a good hitter and tackler. He has special potential because of his size and athleticism, but is far from a polished player due to playing different spots. Chip Kelly values versatility so that could work in his favor. Kelly had to coach against Bailey a couple of times and should have a good feel for him.
If the Eagles want a more traditional safety, Alabama junior Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be of interest. He is best playing deep. Clinton-Dix has good range and excellent ball skills. He's able to play in the box as well, but isn't a standout in that situation. He is a good hitter and tackler. Clinton-Dix had seven interceptions over the last two seasons and was a key player in Alabama's great defense. He has pretty good size and should be able to challenge for a starting role early on.
The Eagles already have a pair of big corners in
One player who I get a lot of questions from fans about is Kony Ealy, the stud pass rusher from Missouri. Ealy wasn't as dominant as teammate Michael Sam, but Ealy is the better pro prospect because he's bigger and more athletic. Ealy was mainly the right defensive end for Missouri. He sometimes slid inside to defensive tackle. Occasionally, they would stand him up as an edge rusher. He had 9.5 sacks in 2013 and there is no question that he's a gifted pass rusher. I'm just not sure he's a good fit for linebacker in the 3-4. Ealy lists at 6-5 and 275 pounds. That's ideal for the 4-3, but is a bit of an awkward build for the 3-4. I don't think he's special athletically. My guess is that Ealy won't be a player the Eagles covet, but I'm still figuring out what Chip Kelly and Bill Davis want so I fully admit that's just an educated guess on my part.
Let's turn to the offensive side of the ball for a minute. Eric Ebron was a special player for UNC. They listed him as a tight end, but he played in the slot and out wide as much as he did the traditional spot. UNC runs a spread offense and liked moving Ebron around to get him the ball creatively. Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards in 2013. Not many tight ends average 16 yards per reception, but that's the kind of big-play ability he has. To put things in perspective, Ebron passed Vernon Davis for the most receiving yards by a tight end in ACC history. I know many people think spending a first-round pick on a tight end would be nuts since the Eagles just took
The Eagles could go for a wide receiver early. LSU has a pair of junior receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. Both guys have size and speed. Both can make tough, contested catches. Both were productive. Beckham is more dangerous after the catch and can help the return game as well. That might make him a better fit for Kelly's offense and the Eagles. Landry has an advantage due to his route running and ability to beat press coverage. Both players have serious NFL potential and LSU has put out some good receivers in recent years.
One really interesting offensive prospect is Colt Lyerla. He was a star tight end for Kelly at Oregon, but had some off-field issues and left the team in 2013. Lyerla is a big, talented tight end. All 32 teams had interest in him after a successful 2012 season, but all 32 have to be scared by him due to leaving the Ducks prior to this past season. That's never a good sign. After Lyerla's first two seasons, he had a total of 32 receptions. That's a pedestrian total. But 11 of them were for touchdowns. That's a crazy ratio. Kelly recruited and coached Lyerla. He'll know him as well as anyone. If Kelly thinks the character stuff can be managed, Lyerla could be a late-round target.
I think the Eagles will stick with
Arguably the best safety prospect in the draft is Calvin Pryor from Louisville. He hits like a ton of bricks. Pryor had nine forced fumbles in his career. He can separate the ball from the runner/receiver. Pryor also had seven interceptions and showed pretty good ball skills. Pryor isn't the most instinctive player, but if you want someone to attack downhill and hit with authority, he's your guy. Kam Chancellor showed the value in that with his performance in the Super Bowl. If you want a great cover safety, Pryor isn't your guy. He did play the slot at times, but also lined up like a linebacker at times. Pryor finished his career with 13 tackles for loss so he's comfortable playing in the box and attacking into the backfield. Pryor doesn't always take great angles to the ball, which is a legitimate concern. I think teams will love his ability to be an impact hitter.
If he were a bit faster, Penn State receiver Allen Robinson might be a first-round pick. Watch the tape and you see a lot to love. Robinson is big and physical. He has good body control. He can make terrific catches. Robinson is a weapon on quick screens and downfield passes. He would be an ideal fit for Kelly's offense in that regard. I just don't think Robinson has ideal speed and that will hurt his value. That said, it won't shock me if he goes in the second or third round and ends up having a better career than several of the guys picked before him.
There are times when Bradley Roby looks like an elite corner. Then you watch Ohio State go up against Wisconsin and Roby struggles with Jared Abbrederis in a major way. There were some bad moments in the Cal game as well. I absolutely loved Roby based on 2012 game tape. There is plenty of good tape from this past season as well, but the bad games will hurt his value. Roby broke up 30 passes over the past two seasons. That is an incredible total. He's also a very active tackler. Roby aggressively plays the run. Ohio State has put out some great cornerbacks over the years. Roby could be the next one.
Roby's teammate Ryan Shazier is another player the Eagles could target. Both guys are fast, active defenders. The Eagles need more speed on the back end. Shazier would be an inside linebacker in the 3-4. He lacks ideal size for that, going only about 230 pounds, but Shazier is a playmaker. He had 22.5 tackles for loss in 2013. That's a freaky number for a linebacker who doesn't rush the passer every down. Shazier also had four forced fumbles. He is one of those guys who just makes things happen. Shazier can cover and will take on blockers in the run game. He'd need to get stronger to deal with pro offensive linemen, but the toughness is already there.
If the Eagles decide they want another young quarterback to add to the mix, Wyoming's Brett Smith would be a possibility after the first few rounds. Smith ran Wyoming's spread offense very well for the past three years. He threw for 8,834 yards and 76 touchdowns. He can also run the ball. Smith had 1,531 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Smith probably should have stayed for his senior season, but he is a prospect with some potential and he shows the physical characteristics to succeed in the Eagles offense. I need to study him more before saying anything definitive about his decision-making.