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Fan-Demonium: In Search Of Versatility

Posted Apr 19, 2014

Chip Kelly loves big players. He loves fast players. He loves skilled players. More than anything else, he seems to really love versatile players. Kelly wants players whom he can move around and be creative with, whether on offense or defense.

Think back to the 2013 offseason. Kelly added tight end James Casey in free agency. Casey can play tight end, fullback or H-back. The Eagles signed Connor Barwin, who could play either outside linebacker spot. The team drafted Lane Johnson fourth overall. Johnson could play either tackle spot and probably either guard spot. Bennie Logan was the third-round pick. He could play nose tackle or defensive end. Fifth-round pick Earl Wolff was a pure safety, but could play either safety spot.

The Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins this offseason. He has started at cornerback and safety in the NFL. Defensive back Nolan Carroll was added in part because he can play in the slot or out wide. The team traded for Darren Sproles because he does so many things so well. Sproles can add impact as a returner. He can run or catch passes out of the backfield. Sproles can also go to the slot and catch passes as if he's a receiver.

What is the importance of versatile players? Kelly has talked about the difficulty of trying to stop someone like Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Kelly says that lining up in the same place with defined roles is just asking for trouble. You're much better off being versatile. That way you can attack the offense with different players and in different ways. The goal is to add a second of hesitation or confusion to the offense. That second should throw off the timing of the offense and give the defense more of a chance to make plays.

The same principle applies on offense. You want to have players on the field who you can move around and be creative with.

So who are some versatile players the Eagles could target in the draft?

Most people will have C.J. Moseley and Ryan Shazier as the top two inside linebackers in the draft. Chip Kelly attended the Pro Day for each player and I'm sure the Eagles have high grades on them. That said, the Eagles could actually prefer players who might not be as highly rated, but who are more versatile. Kyle Van Noy of BYU and Christian Jones of Florida State aren't going to be first-round picks. Van Noy is likely to go in the second. Jones will probably be a third-round pick, maybe fourth.

Van Noy played mostly on the outside at BYU, but I think he would be very good inside in the 3-4. At 6-foot-3, 243 pounds, he lacks the ideal size for the kind of players the Eagles want on the edge. Van Noy can cover, blitz and play the run. He is bigger than either Mychal Kendricks or DeMeco Ryans. He is a better pass rusher than them. He would be better in coverage than Ryans. The challenge for Van Noy would be showing that he could consistently shed blocks and stuff inside runs. He has the potential to do that, but hasn't had to do it on a regular basis.

Jones is so versatile that FSU actually moved him to defensive end for half of this past season. He led the team in quarterback hurries and added a pair of sacks. Jones wasn't a trained pass rusher. He used his athletic ability to be a disruptive force off the edge. Jones is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. He's the kind of tall, rangy defender the Eagles would love in the middle of the defense. He's not as instinctive as Van Noy, nor is he as good in coverage. Jones got moved around by FSU. He played on the weak side, the strong side and in the middle, as well as moving to end.

The Eagles would love to have someone with Jones’ versatility. Imagine a play where the right outside linebacker dropped back into coverage and the inside backer looped around the end to rush the passer. Plays like that are easy to draw up, but they tend to succeed only when you have players who can properly execute them. Van Noy and Jones have the size and pass rush experience to make exotic blitzes work well.


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

If the Eagles do take an inside linebacker, don't expect the guy to start right away. The Eagles are happy with Ryans and Kendricks. Ryans is an older player so you would draft someone now to start training to be his replacement. The other bonus with Jones and Van Noy is that they could provide depth for the outside. If anything were to happen to Connor Barwin for instance, those players would be possible replacements. That's another reason that versatility is so valuable.

When it comes to safeties, we're not exactly sure what the Eagles are looking for. Two players who could be of interest are Jimmie Ward and Lamarcus Joyner. Both players lack ideal size, which makes you wonder if the Eagles are interested at all. The argument for them is that both guys have outstanding cover skills and might be considered cornerbacks by some teams.

Ward had a great career for Northern Illinois. He's 5-foot-10, but only weighs 193 pounds. To put that in perspective, Brian Dawkins was one inch taller, but almost 20 pounds heavier. Ward will likely be a second-round pick. It doesn't seem likely that he would make it to the 54th pick, so the Eagles would have to get creative if they did want him.

Joyner was an impact player for Florida State, but he is very small at 5-foot-8, 184 pounds. Put on the tape and you see an explosive playmaker and physical force. Joyner led FSU in sacks with 5.5, showing what a good blitzer he is. Joyner is an impact hitter. He can take out runners, receivers and tight ends that might outweigh him by 30 or 40 pounds. He's like a heat-seeking missile on the field. Joyner can also line up in the slot and cover man-to-man. If he was 5-foot-11, Joyner might be a top 15 pick, but you can't ignore his size. That is a concern.

The reason the Eagles might like Ward and Joyner is so that they could blitz them, move them into the slot, play them in the box or drop them back deep. If the opposing quarterback sees a defensive back that lines up deep all the time or in the box all the time, that makes his pre-snap reads easier. If the quarterback has to keep his eyes on the player because he doesn't know what to expect, that can slow the play down even by half a second. That might not sound like much time, but it can be to Trent Cole or Fletcher Cox as they're rushing. That can be the difference in a pressure and a sack. Pressure and coverage go hand-in-hand.

Speaking of pass rushers, let's talk about some linebacker targets. Auburn's Dee Ford got everyone's attention at the Senior Bowl. The more I watch him, though, the less I think the Eagles will like him. Ford played left end for Auburn. He was a speed rusher off the edge 95 percent of the time. There is very little versatility to his game. You don't dismiss him casually because he's such a good rusher, but you just have to wonder how he'd adjust to a system that required him to do different things. Also, how good is he from the right side, which is where the Eagles need more help?

Put on tape of guys like Anthony Barr or Marcus Smith and you'll see that they are much more prepared to play in the 3-4. Both guys played linebacker in college. They were up on their feet. They rushed off the edge, but also lined up in different spots and have some experience at dropping back into coverage. That's what the Eagles want. They would love to have linebackers who can do multiple things. Again, that way the quarterback can't just assume who is rushing and who is covering. The Eagles want the quarterback unsure of what's going to happen.

There are some versatile offensive players the Eagles will check out as well. The goal there is to be able to confuse the defense and help get some favorable matchups. When it comes to wide receivers, the Eagles would like players who can play in the slot or outside. There are too many guys to name here.

The Eagles could also go for some hybrid players. Dri Archer and De'Anthony Thomas are a pair of tweeners. Are they running backs or receivers? Kelly would tell you to forget labels and think of them as playmakers. Archer ran a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, one of the fastest times ever. He didn't have a great senior season, but scored 23 touchdowns as a junior. He can be a weapon when used right. You know Kelly would be interested in a guy like him.

Thomas played for Kelly at Oregon. He's not as fast, but did put up big numbers in his career and was a playmaker at the highest level of college football. I'm sure Kelly would love to have another chance to coach Thomas.

Tight ends could also be seen as versatile weapons. Eric Ebron was as much a weapon in the slot as he was a tight end at UNC. Ebron is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, but he's too athletic to be considered just a tight end. You can put him in the slot or out wide. Heck, UNC had him run the ball a couple of times. Imagine replacing Jason Avant in the slot with Ebron. They run about the same speed. I don't think Ebron will fall to No. 22 so he'd be a player the Eagles would have to move up for. I don't anticipate that, but never say never. You see the impact Jimmy Graham has on the Saints offense.

In just a few weeks, we'll stop speculating about the NFL Draft and start talking about who the Eagles actually selected. I think we're all ready for that to happen.

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