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Closing In: Should Eagles Go Skill Early In Draft?

Tom Heckert gives you a lot of answers that begin like this: "Not necessarily ...." Ask him about taking an offensive lineman early in the draft and he will tell you that the plan is "not necessarily" to do that. Or wonder if the Eagles must emerge from day one of the draft with a running back and he says, "Not necessarily ..."

The Eagles have options. Plenty of them. And they aren't showing their hand. Totally understood. One of the questions I want to ask here is if it matters whether the Eagles use their early draft picks on skill-position players or linemen-types. A quick glance back at February's Pro Bowl shows that the first round was well represented at running back (Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis, Ronnie Brown, Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Jones) against non-first-round picks (Michael Turner, Leon Washington). The starting offensive linemen in that game were split between first-round picks and those chosen in later rounds.

It is a small sample to be sure, and having Brian Westbrook front and center as Example A that the first-round is not a guarantee to finding a star running back needs to be considered, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the skill positions need to be a consideration in round one.

Something else to think about: Andy Reid has never taken a running back earlier than round three. Would the Eagles take a new approach and use a higher-round selection on a running back? Or is there a philosophy or an "edict" that says the Eagles don't believe in taking a running back higher than the third round?

"No, that's not it at all," said Heckert. "It's always been a situation where we've always had a legitimate starter -- at least one, maybe two -- at that position and where we thought there was a better player at a different position. Maybe we have had a need at another position and had a player rated just as high, so we went with that player at the other position."

So maybe the Eagles will draft a running back on day one, possibly even in the first round.

Then again ...

"It's a good group of running backs in this draft. There are some top, top guys and then all the way through the draft I think there are guys who can come in and play. We think, obviously, that Brian (Westbrook) is a special football player, but we do think there are some guys who can come in here and take some reps for us and, if something happens to Brian, they can come in and play."

So let's get this straight. The Eagles aren't fundamentally opposed to taking a running back high, high in the draft, but since they've had such a strong cadre of backs in the Reid era -- Duce Staley, Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter -- they haven't had the urgent need to take one at the top of their drafts. And come next Saturday, the Eagles could take a running back with one of those first-round draft picks. Then again, because of the quality of the backs in the draft, they could wait until the later rounds.

There really aren't a lot of absolutes about drafting in the NFL. Truth is, it is a huge crapshoot, and everybody knows it. Just as free agents pan out so infrequently, draft picks have a low hit rate that comfirms little.

Moving on ...

  • It seems like a foregone conclusion, at least to national experts, that the Browns will trade wide receiver Braylon Edwards to the Giants for a combination of draft picks and players that will cost New York its first-round draft pick, at least. If that happens, Eagles fans will wonder why the Eagles didn't get involved in those trade talks. It will be a fair question to ask when and if the trade is completed, and when the Eagles have shaped their roster in the draft.
  • Should the Eagles hold on to the 21st and 28th picks, they are going to face an interesting couple of decisions, if the mock drafts are to be believed. According to most of those mocks, the top tight end on the board, Brandon Pettigrew, will be there at 21 and, in some cases, 28. Would the Eagles use a first-round pick on a tight end for the first time since Keith Jackson in 1988? And what if the Eagles face the choice of both running back Knowshon Moreno and Pettigrew at 21? Which is the more valuable position to address?
  • In case you were wondering, and I've gotten this question a few times, Shawn Andrews has been a regular part of the team's off-season conditioning program and he looks great. We're going to try to catch up with him this week.
  • I think there is going to be terrific competition at WILL linebacker between Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither. Both are at the NovaCare Complex every day. Both are intent on starting this season. Gaither, for sure, is eager to get back on the field after losing his position last season. Competition is very, very good in this case.
  • I'm going to ask this question until I see it answered on the field in the late summer: Who is returning kicks this year? It is such an important part of the team. And if DeSean Jackson is the starter at wide receiver, can he return punts? Ditto Quintin Demps, who is hoping to gain a starting spot at free safety.
  • I really don't know how much of what I read I actually believe about visits and players the Eagles are reportedly interested in, so I'm going into the draft expecting to be, in some ways, totally surprised.
  • Not that it matters at all, but I think Detroit should take Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick in the draft. My two cents ...
  • Let's play the what-if game and ask: What if the Eagles address defense in the first round? Which position would they look to upgrade? I guess defensive end would be a natural spot to start, but there are already six good ends here and I'm not sure the Eagles will find anything better in the draft. Tackle? I don't see it after the team has used two first-round picks and a second-round pick the last few drafts. Linebacker? Maybe the strong side, if they want to challenge Chris Gocong. Cornerback? Clearly, this team values that position, but is there a top-rated cornerback in this draft?
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