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Fan-Demonium: Sleepers On Defense

Posted Apr 19, 2013


The Eagles have the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft and most of the focus has been on what the team will do with that selection. Focusing on the early pick is understandable since the Eagles rarely have such a high pick. If you get the right player, it can significantly impact the organization for the next five years or more. 

Still, the draft is seven rounds for a reason. You never know when you'll find an impact starter like Trent Cole in the fifth round. Maybe you "just" get a good role player like Ike Reese in the sixth round. There is value throughout the draft.  With that in mind, let's analyze some of the draft targets outside of the first two rounds. Last week, we focused on offense so this time out we turn to the defense. 

Defensive Line – We don't know for sure what system the Eagles will use, but there will be some elements of the 3-4 and we know there will be more of an emphasis on size. The team could use a defensive end.  This won't be one of the Andy Reid fastballs. Expect a player between 275 and 330 pounds.

John Jenkins is anything but a fastball. He is 6-4, 332 pounds and that is after he shed 40 pounds. Amazingly, he played end for Georgia. They had another huge guy to be the nose tackle.  Jenkins would offer versatility in that he could play the nose or end. He had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl and is probably a third-round target. 

Last summer, William Gholston was being looked at as a possible first-round prospect.  He is now a mid-to-late round guy. Gholston never became much of a pass rusher. He was a two-year starter on a good Michigan State defense and finished his career with just 10 sacks. Gholston is 6-6, 281 pounds. That is a great frame. He is a solid run defender. He can set the edge or fire upfield. He had 30 career tackles-for-loss, an impressive total. Gholston showed his athletic limitations with a poor workout at the NFL Scouting Combine.  

Utah's Joe Kruger left school early in what seemed like a questionable decision. He's only got 14 career starts. Kruger does have NFL talent. Despite not being a full-time starter, Kruger had 6.0 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and an interception in 2012. Kruger is a player you take for his potential. He won't turn 21 until this summer. Kruger did have a good workout and you can see his athleticism in games. Kruger is 6-6, 269 pounds and that would seem to be a build that Chip Kelly would love. I could see Kruger as a late-round target.  

Rufus Johnson was a disruptive force for Tarleton State and is getting NFL attention. He would be a late-round project. Johnson is 6-5, 266 pounds. He would need to bulk up and get stronger to handle the NFL. Johnson was able to dominate FCS competition, but NFL blockers are a whole different story. I don't think he's got the agility to play linebacker so bulking up for end seems like the best bet.

The Eagles signed Isaac Sopoaga to be the nose tackle in 2013, but he's an older guy and is not expected to be a long-term solution. The team would love Antonio Dixon to handle that role. If the right player is available at the right time, the Eagles could add a nose tackle.  

Brandon Williams played collegiately at Missouri Southern, but showed at the Senior Bowl that he could hang with the big boys. Williams is 6-2, 335 pounds. He is able to anchor against the run, but can also shoot gaps and be a disruptive player. He could be a target in the third or fourth round. 

Last year, the Eagles drafted Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State and that worked out well. They could go back to Starkville, Miss. and get Josh Boyd, his former teammate. Boyd isn't huge at 6-3, 310 pounds, but will do the dirty work. He can take on double teams and battle against the run. He has some athleticism and a good motor.

The state of Georgia has a pair of massive nose tackle prospects.  T.J. Barnes played at Georgia Tech and is 6-6, 369 pounds. Kwame Geathers played at Georgia and is the shrimp, at just 6-6, 340 pounds. These are the kinds of players you put over the center and expect to be the foundation of your run defense.   Neither guy really jumps out at me on game tape. You draft them largely because you love their size and want to develop them.


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.

Outside Linebacker – Remember now that outside linebackers need to be pass rushers.  Michael Buchanan played end for Illinois, but would project to linebacker with the Eagles. Buchanan had a strong season in 2011. Unfortunately, head coach Ron Zook got fired and Buchanan's production fell in 2012. His inconsistent play will hurt his draft value, but Buchanan is 6-5, 255 pounds. He is athletic. He can get into the backfield and make plays. There is risk, but he's worth a fourth-round pick due to his potential.  

Chase Thomas is very different. He had a strong career at Stanford, but isn't a gifted athlete.  That will hurt his draft value. Thomas is also small at 6-3, 244 pounds. Kelly may like him from the Oregon-Stanford games of the last four years. Thomas lacks the kind of speed and explosion you want, but plays with a great sense of urgency. He goes full speed all game long. Thomas is also smart and tough. He could be an interesting prospect in the fourth round. 

Mike Catapano had a terrific career at Princeton and NFL teams know all about him.  He is 6-3, 271 pounds. I watched tape of him and think he would be a linebacker for the Eagles, but that is just an educated guess. It is possible the team could look at him as someone to bulk up and play at end. Catapano is a good athlete.  He produced on the field, racking up 12 sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to being the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. I think Catapano would be a target in the fifth or sixth round. 

Johnathan Cyprien is the Florida International prospect that gets all the attention, but Tourek Williams has NFL ability as well. He is 6-3, 260 pounds. Williams is more fast than quick and lacks ideal agility. He would be a seventh-round target. Williams played end for FIU. He might fit better there in the NFL, but has linebacker potential.

Inside Linebacker – Kiko Alonso played for Kelly at Oregon and had a terrific season in 2012. Alonso is 6-4, 238 pounds. That's a big frame and he could bulk up to 250 with ease. The thing that jumps out about Alonso is the fact he plays so aggressively. He brings a lot of attitude to the field. You want that in an inside linebacker.  I'm guessing Alonso is a third-round target. 

A.J. Klein had an incredibly productive career for Iowa State. He was in on 361 tackles, had five interceptions and 20 tackles for loss. Klein has a great motor and good instincts. My big knock with him is that he doesn't shed blocks as well as I'd prefer. He is short and thick at 6-1, 250 pounds, but that's a good build for an inside linebacker.  Klein should be a mid-round pick. 

Cornerback –  Tharold Simon isn't on the same level as former LSU stars Patrick Peterson or Morris Claiborne, but he is a good corner prospect. Simon is 6-2, 202 pounds. He lacks ideal speed, but has good cover skills. In the last two seasons, he picked off six passes and broke up 19 others. I think he'll go in the third or fourth round.

Georgia's Sanders Commings is a big corner at 6-0, 215 pounds. Some people think he needs to play safety in the NFL. Since the Eagles added big corners in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, I'm guessing they are focused on drafting big guys. Commings is a tough, physical corner who runs well, especially for his size. He lacks ideal agility and that will hurt his value. I think he'll be a fourth-round target. 

Marc Anthony really stood out to me at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, the former Cal Golden Bear went to the Combine and ran a poor 40-yard dash (4.59). Based on game tape, Anthony has NFL ability. Based on what he showed at the Senior Bowl, Anthony has NFL ability. That 40 time is a major issue, though. He could be worth a seventh-round pick. Anthony does have good size and played well at Cal. In recent years, there have been some slow corners who were able to play in the NFL. 

Terry Hawthorne of Illinois could be another late-round target. He is 6-0, 195 pounds and runs well. Hawthorne wasn't a big-time playmaker in college, but NFL teams love big corners that have speed and will also hit and tackle.

Safety – The safety class is loaded, but remember that I'm trying to focus on players who will go outside the top two rounds. Phillip Thomas from Fresno State led the nation in interceptions with eight. He had 13 for his career. Thomas also had six forced fumbles. He knows how to create turnovers. The knock on Thomas is that he's an inconsistent tackler. Put on a Bulldogs game and you'll love his playmaking ability, but cringe once or twice a game when he just got sloppy with open-field tackles. This is something that can be fixed, but it is a legit concern. Thomas should go in the third round. 

T.J. McDonald never became a great player for USC. He had a good career, but expectations were sky high. He's now almost flying under the radar. McDonald is big at 6-2, 219 pounds. He has very good hands for a big guy. He can be a big hitter. McDonald was too aggressive at times and that hurt him. He also lacks great cover skills. I think McDonald could develop into a solid NFL starter. He should be a target in the third or fourth round.   

Don Jones is a small school player to keep in mind. He was a star for Arkansas State. You can't look at the stats and see anything great, but put on the game tape and Jones will stick out to you. He's only 5-11, 191 pounds. That's small for a safety. He plays big. Jones isn't afraid to play the run and mix it up with blockers. He lines up in the slot quite a bit and can cover. Jones is also a good blitzer. There's a lot of buzz on him now. I don't know if that means he'll go before the fifth round, but some team will take him.  

Cooper Taylor is a huge safety. Ray Rhodes would draft him to play SAM linebacker. Taylor is 6-4, 229 pounds. He began his career at Georgia Tech before transferring to Richmond. Taylor played well there and impressed scouts at the East-West Shrine Game. I've watched him play and there are times when he jumps off the screen. He can be big and physical against the run. Taylor has good speed and range. He covers tight ends well. I don't have a good feel for his cover skills in regard to receivers. Taylor will go somewhere between Rounds 4-6. 

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