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Fan-Demonium: Off The Beaten Path

Posted Apr 26, 2014

Instead of another discussion about who the Eagles might take at pick 22, I thought it would be more interesting to analyze some players who are a bit off the beaten path. Some of these players you will know. Some you won't. I think the Eagles could have interest in them in the mid to late rounds of the NFL Draft.

Defensive Back

One player who could actually go as high as the second around is cornerback Phillip Gaines from Rice. He has good size at 6-feet and 191 pounds. He has great speed, running a 4.38 at the Combine. Gaines has good game tape as well. He loves to press, which is something the Eagles prefer to do. Gaines won't jam receivers on a regular basis, but he's able to keep them from getting a clean release by lining up right on them and then mirroring them at the snap.

Gaines looks like a future starter at cornerback. He has the size, speed and skills you need to play that position in the NFL. The big question is when he gets picked. Most people saw him as a mid-round target, but this isn't a great group of corners so it is possible that Gaines could be a second-round target for some team.

One of my favorite late-round targets is Avery Patterson from Oregon. Obviously, Chip Kelly would know Patterson from having recruited and coached him. Assuming Patterson is a good guy, that should work in his favor. Patterson is a good player, but he doesn't have the measurables the NFL is looking for. Patterson is only 5-foot-8 and 191 pounds. He played both corner and safety at Oregon so he's the kind of versatile player that can adapt to different roles. Patterson could be a backup safety and slot corner for the Eagles. He also would be good on special teams. He might not make it in the NFL, but he jumped out at you any time you watched Oregon play.

Dontae Johnson didn't have a great senior season. He was a full-time corner for N.C. State, but they primarily played him in off-coverage. Johnson is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He is built to be a press corner. Johnson is at his best when jamming receivers and keeping them from getting a clean release. Some people see Johnson as a mid-round target. Others feel he will go late. I do think the Eagles will have interest. They like big corners who can play press and they talked to Johnson down at the Senior Bowl. The question would be how much do they like him.

Tight End

Cal tight end Richard Rodgers has good size at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, but he didn't post good workout numbers at his Pro Day. Rodgers only ran in the 4.85 range. That's not terrible for a big guy, but if you put on the tape you see an athletic player. That is one reason it surprised me to see pedestrian workout numbers.

Rodgers was used creatively by Cal. He played some tight end and some wide receiver. He lined up in the slot quite a bit. He can go downfield and catch the ball or run shorter routes. Rodgers has good hands. He's also dangerous after the catch. I don't think the Eagles would look at him until the fifth-round area. Rodgers isn't a polished player who had a great career. He is talented and has good potential, though. If the Eagles have interest in adding a tight end, he could be a player they target.

Marcel Jensen from Fresno State is a player the Eagles have shown some interest in. I can't say I'm his biggest fan, though. The Eagles' interest would be due to the fact he has ideal size at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds and he is a talented receiver. I'm frustrated with him due to his lack of physicality and poor blocking. Big guys need to play big. Jensen doesn't. He can line up in the slot, run downfield and make a tough catch. But he will struggle when playing in traffic or when trying to block someone, whether in traffic or out in space. That can be coached up, but it just bothers me. Jensen should be a late-round prospect, so he's not someone to get too fired up about.

Another late-round target could be Cincinnati's Blake Annen. He is definitely raw, having only caught 19 career passes. Annen is a gifted athlete. He is 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, but ran 4.41 at his pro day. He also posted a 34-inch vertical jump and did 25 reps on the bench press. Annen is a solid blocker. He has NFL size, strength and athleticism, but needs a lot of coaching. With guys like Brent Celek and Zach Ertz in front of him, Annen would have time to develop. I'm sure Celek would be okay with adding another tight end from the University of Cincinnati. Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Jason Kelce might approve as well.

Lawlor

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

Linebacker

You can watch UCLA to check out Anthony Barr, the star pass rusher. At some point, your attention will turn to inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. He is one of those players you can count on to do something that will get your attention. He might make a big play. Or he might do something that generates controversy. UCLA opponents considered Zumwalt to be a dirty player. Fans loved him. They saw an aggressive player who was tough and physical.

I loved watching him play. I want linebackers who play with some attitude. There will be times that those guys cross the line. That's part of sitting in the middle of the field and attacking anything that comes near you. One thing going against Zumwalt is that he doesn't have long arms or big hands. The Eagles prefer players who have both. You want long arms to keep blockers away from your body and you want big hands so you can do a better job of taking on blockers.

Several years ago, Ronald Powell was the top defensive end coming out of high school. He went to Florida as a star recruit, but things didn't pan out as he hoped. Powell showed promise in 2011, but then tore his ACL and missed 2012. He was back for 2013 and played pretty well, but never became the star that many expected.

Powell is physically gifted. He's 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds. He ran 4.65 at the Combine and had a 35.5-inch vertical jump. You see that athleticism on tape. Powell is a talented pass rusher. He can fly off the edge and get around blockers. He needs to bulk up to play outside linebacker in the 3-4, but that's fixable. He's got the frame to carry 250 pounds and still be a good athlete. I'm thinking Powell goes in the fourth- or fifth-round area.

Offensive Line

Matt Patchan started his collegiate career at Florida, but he had some bad luck and decided to transfer. Patchan missed the 2010 and 2012 seasons due to injury. Obviously, that's a concern that NFL teams will have to check thoroughly. He went to Boston College and started at left tackle for the 2013 season. Patchan played well and helped Andre Williams have a great season and become a Heisman finalist. Patchan has the kind of frame that Kelly likes in his offensive linemen. Patchan is 6-foot-6 and 302 pounds. He is a good athlete, running 4.97 at the Combine. Put on the game tape and you'll have fun watching him play. Patchan is an excellent run blocker. He explodes off the ball and punishes linebackers. He moves very well on the field. Patchan needs work as a pass blocker. If he checks out medically, Patchan could make sense as early as the fourth round. I don't know if he can play left tackle in the NFL, but he certainly could play on the right side or at guard.

Brandon Linder from Miami isn't a gifted athlete, but he is a polished, durable player. Linder started 42 games at Miami. He played guard and right tackle, doing a good job at both spots. He has terrific size at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. Linder has long arms and big hands, which are critical for offensive linemen. I thought Linder played well down at the Senior Bowl in January. Unfortunately, Linder is a limited athlete and that will push him down in the draft. He projects to guard. I don't think he has the footwork to play tackle in the NFL. I don't know if the Eagles will have interest, but I am a big fan of Linder's play. I see him as one of those guys who will be picked in rounds 5-7, but will play in the league for a while.

Wide Receivers

The Eagles have reportedly looked at a lot of big receivers this spring, but one of my favorite players in the draft class is Robert Herron, the small receiver from Wyoming. Herron is 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds. He ran 4.48 at the Combine, which is good, but not great speed. Put on the tape and Herron plays like he is 6-foot-2 and runs a 4.3. He is a really impressive player.

Herron has good hands. He will make some incredibly tough catches. He might be small, but he's not afraid to play in traffic. Herron will work the middle of the field. He's fast enough to stretch the defense when they do send him deep. Herron is very good after the catch. He is elusive, but also runs hard and won't go down on first contact. You could think of him as a poor man's Steve Smith. Herron projects to being a slot receiver in the NFL, but it wouldn't surprise me for him to become a starter on the outside.

Jeff Janis would be a coveted prospect if he went to a big school. He is 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds. He ran 4.42 at the Combine. He had a vertical jump of 37.5 inches. His agility drills were amazing. He did the 3-cone in 6.64 seconds and the short shuttle in 3.98 seconds. Those are exceptional times for a player who is 219 pounds.

Janis was a star wideout for Saginaw Valley State so that makes it harder to quantify how good he is. He did go down to the Senior Bowl. Janis was impressive, but not overwhelming. My guess is that he's a late-round pick, but you do wonder if some team will have him rated more highly than others. I could see Janis sneaking into the bottom of the fourth round if some team just loved him. Janis was a dominant player at his level. That's all you can ask when checking out someone who played against lesser competition.

Defensive Line

The Eagles need some depth on the defensive line. Shamar Stephen from UConn would be an interesting target because of his ability to help at defensive end and nose tackle. Stephen is 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds. He might remind you of Cedric Thornton. Stephen is a good run defender. If you single block him, he will drive that guy backward. Stephen will hold his ground against double teams. He can anchor. Stephen is limited as a pass rusher. He uses his hands well when trying to shed blocks, but lacks the athletic ability to beat blockers consistently. He will push the pocket and try to knock passes down when he can't get by his blocker. Stephen played defensive tackle in the 4-3 in college, but could handle both the nose tackle and defensive end roles in the Eagles' system. He would be a late-round target.

Khyri Thornton from Southern Miss would be an ideal player for the Eagles. He played defensive tackle for USM, but is another guy who could handle either the nose or end spot in the Eagles' scheme. Thornton is 6-foot-3 and 304 pounds. He can fire off the ball and make plays in the backfield. He can also take on blockers and hold his ground. He uses his hands very well and will knock the crap out of blockers at times. Thornton played in a one-gap scheme so he is used to attacking. He would need coaching so that he could adjust to playing in a two-gap system. I think he could do that because of how well he uses his hands and how athletic he is. Thornton has quick feet. He moves well laterally. He also has a great motor. You will see him chasing the ball all over the field. Thornton isn't a household name, but he should be a third- or fourth-round pick.

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