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Should Injury Alter Draft Strategy?

Posted Mar 31, 2012

The praise for offensive tackle Jason Peters has been effusive since the announcement by the Eagles on Friday that the All-Pro suffered an Achilles injury while training in Texas.

"He was the best lineman in the NFL last year and there wasn't a close second," said NFL Network analyst and The Fanatic radio host Brian Baldinger.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski said that the Eagles lost their best player in Peters.

The Eagles have already started to work to try and fill the void that will be left by the five-time Pro Bowl selection. They agreed to terms with veteran King Dunlap on a one-year deal on Friday. The Eagles are hosting free agent Demetrius Bell at the NovaCare Complex today, according to Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. Pro Football Talk reported that the Eagles contacted the agent for free agent Marcus McNeill.

Peters was not the blindside tackle, but he kept defenders out of the face of left-handed quarterback Michael Vick. Peters typically matched up against an opponent's best pass rusher. Todd Herremans, the right tackle, could move over to the left side. He did so for a game against the Washington Redskins in 2011, and graded out his best performance all year according to Pro Football Focus. But Herremans remarked on his Twitter account Friday that, "Does everyone forget... Our QB is a lefty."

The NFL Draft kicks off on April 26. The Eagles hold the 15th overall selection and three of the top 51 picks. They have plenty of ammo to acquire an offensive tackle early if they want to. Should Peters' injury force the Eagles' hand in the upcoming draft?

"I think it will affect what they do at number 15," said Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick on NFL Network. "This really pushes them in a position where they need to look at the offensive tackles in the draft."

Can the Eagles draft a rookie and expect to plug him into the starting lineup in Week 1, especially on a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Rookies have started in Week 1 along the offensive line for the Eagles under head coach Andy Reid, most recently Jason Kelce at center last season, but not at offensive tackle.

The consensus No. 1 offensive tackle in the NFL Draft is USC's Matt Kalil. He could be selected as high as No. 3 by Minnesota as the first two draft picks are expected to be used on quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, respectively. If the Eagles do not move up for Kalil, the situation could be potentially tricky to navigate. As Billick notes, the Eagles "are kind of in that void area" with the 15th pick.

The next four tackles who could go in the first round are Ohio State's Mike Adams, Georgia's Cordy Glenn, Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Iowa' Riley Reiff.

General manager Howie Roseman's comments at the NFL Scouting Combine and more recently at the NFL Owners Meetings indicate that the Eagles want to focus more on taking the best player available rather than forcing a pick due to need.

If the Eagles stay at No. 15 and have one of the tackles graded as the best player available and decide to pull the trigger, great. If not, the Eagles could make a potentially bad situation worse. The time and money invested into a player who will have the pressure of filling Peters' shoes and maybe not the talent to be adequate could put the player in a position where he's not likely to succeed.

Even if the Eagles pass on a tackle at No. 15, the two second-round picks could get the team back in the first round if they wanted. However, Billick said that "you're not going to put a rookie on the blind side" and Jaworski thinks a veteran is the best route for 2012.

According to NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora, the Eagles still have over $16 million in cap space. The smart maneuvering has put the Eagles in a position where they can do what they want to do whether it's filling the need internally, through free agency, trade or in the draft.

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