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Eye On Hitting It Big In Draft

Posted Apr 4, 2014

There are limited options remaining in free agency. Players added now are largely to compete for roster spots. The focus in the NFL, for the most part, is on the May 8-10 NFL draft ...

With six picks in May's draft and the feeling that the roster is in a whole lot better shape than it was a year ago, the Eagles are looking to make every move count. They hold the 22nd pick in the first round, one that should include the requisite moving and shaking as team angle to maximize the weekend.

Where do the Eagles look to add? They're intent on sticking with the "best player on the board" approach, one that has served them well in 2012 and 2013. There aren't as many obvious needs as last year, as the Eagles have done enough in the weeks prior to free agency and then via the addition of some veterans to have shored up the roster rather nicely.

Can the Eagles improve? No question about it. Head coach Chip Kelly wants to challenge the roster. Winning 10 games and the NFC East last season was a nice taste in the turnaround year, but the only goal is the ultimate one and Kelly won't be satisfied until the Eagles accomplish that mighty victory.

To continue to expand the foundation here, to deepen the young core around which the Eagles are building, the team has to be successful on May 8-10.

"The draft is a critical weekend and everyone in the league knows it," said general manager Howie Roseman. "It's how you build your roster. You want to draft well and then develop the players and try to keep the players together for as long as you can. You want to get guys who are going to be part of your program for a long time."

This is a fascinating draft, for many reasons. The Eagles shored up their secondary with the additions of safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll in free agency, along with the retention of Nate Allen during the last month. Pencil in Jenkins and Allen as the starters, if you care to do so in early April. Carroll gives the Eagles four-deep experienced talent at the corner, with enough size and athletic ability to match up with any set of receivers in the league.

The front seven? The Eagles are relying on their young players growing even more along the defensive line. It will be important that Bennie Logan builds on his rookie season, so when he reports to the offseason conditioning program the Eagles want to take a long look at Logan. Cedric Thornton's rise was huge in 2013; where does he go from there? Fletcher Cox, of course, is the most vital piece up front. He has to continue to make progress.

The linebackers probably lack the pure pass rusher who can take over a game, but Trent Cole came on strong in the second half of his first season at the position last season, a promising development.

Coordinator Bill Davis and his coaches did a heck of a job scheming last year and helping the defense hold opponents to 21 points or fewer in 12 games, and now he has some better fits in the back end with Jenkins and Carroll on board. The defense, though, could still use some punch.

Same with the offense, although most of the pieces appear to be in place. The Eagles are deep at quarterback and the running back situation is fantastic. The offensive line has continuity, star power and some depth that is emerging. Tight end is a position of strength. Retaining Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper prior to free agency helped the wide receivers, which lost some production when the team released Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson.

It's all about the draft, and don't forget that. Free agency helps fill in some needs, but the draft provides the roster base and core.

There may be a move here or there leading into May, but know this: The draft is the focus now as the Eagles take some time to meet and get to know the draft prospects and line up their board for May 8-10.

NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT

  • Expect the 2014 regular season to be announced at the end of April. The Eagles have a first-place schedule, the NFC East certainly looks more competitive than it was a season ago, and the home schedule is absolutely fantastic. Great season ahead!

  • What do we know about Andrew Gardner, who signed as an unrestricted free agent? Big offensive lineman with some experience. Another in the pipeline of players -- now up to 8 -- who were in Houston prior to joining the Eagles roster. He's what they call a "depth guy," and those players are always valuable. Remember how much Allen Barbre helped last season.

  • Will the Eagles add a placekicker to compete with Alex Henery? Remains to be seen as the Eagles work toward building the 90-man roster.

  • How much will Davis add to his defensive scheme? He wants to be multiple and aggressive, and as well as the Eagles did not allowing the deep throws and keeping the points down, they would like to generate more pressure and get more takeaways. If there are six draft picks, how many will be used on the defense?

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