I'm still leaning toward the Eagles going after a cornerback in the first round. We still don't know anything about when offseason moves will happen. Because of that uncertainty, I think you have to focus more on need with the early picks. The Eagles are high on Trevard Lindley and have to be excited by what they saw from Brandon Hughes in the regular season finale, but corner is a premium position and I think you need premium talent.
Two names that get mentioned the most are Jimmy Smith of Colorado and Miami's Brandon Harris. Smith is easily the better of the two. I don't have Harris rated as a first-round pick. Harris is outstanding against short passes. He's quick to the ball, plays the ball well and is a very good tackler. He would be terrific in a Cover 2 system. I've seen him struggle on some downfield routes and that is a concern. He did have a great workout at the Combine, but always go back to the game tape. He was a good player, but not someone I would take with the 23rd pick.
Smith has some character concerns that teams have to check out, but he was never suspended or arrested. He played for four years at Colorado. His issues have more to do with maturity than anything else. What happens when he's out of college and you put him in a building with coaches like Andy Reid and Juan Castillo and players like Trent Cole and Nate Allen? I think that environment would have a profound effect on Smith. There isn't much question about his talent and potential. Smith is big and fast. He can cover as well as any player in the draft. He has Pro Bowl potential. That's the guy you take in the first round.
Here is a look at some other players to keep an eye on with the draft less than a month away now.
SS DeJon Gomes, Nebraska
Nebraska player DeJon Gomes is being reported as a prospect of interest for the Eagles. This is a guy who is flying under the radar. He went to the Combine, but isn't getting talked about much in the press or by fans. Gomes is an unusual guy. He is 6-0 and 208 pounds. That sounds like a solid build for a defensive back, but Nebraska used him as a linebacker much of the time. Gomes thrived in the role and had no problem with playing in the box and having to deal with blockers and lots of traffic. He finished second on the team in solo tackles with 55. Gomes covered slot receivers and tight ends in some sets. He has good coverage ability and totaled seven interceptions in the last two years. Gomes could develop into a starting strong safety in time, but would be a very good special teams player and role player for his first couple of years. He is a late-round target, but definitely an interesting guy.
SS DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson
Safety DeAndre McDaniel is a player I've gotten a lot of questions about. He is a real impressive ballhawk, finishing his career with 15 interceptions. McDaniel is a big hitter. He will come up and really flatten targets. I've really soured on him, though. McDaniel is a bad tackler and at times doesn't seem very interested in playing the run. He stands and watches. That drives me crazy. Cornerbacks can get away with that. Safeties must be willing to stick their nose into the scrum and get in on tough tackles. At one point, McDaniel was a player I really liked, but now I'd be disappointed if the Eagles took him.
RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
It really is important to watch players in multiple games and over the course of the whole year. DeMarco Murray is a running back for Oklahoma that I've been interested in as a backup for the Eagles. Murray is a terrific pass catcher. He has great hands. He's got a bigger frame and different running style than Shady McCoy so I thought he'd make a good complementary addition. Early in the year, I was concerned with Murray because he wasn't running hard in traffic. He's had injury issues in the past and I wonder if that affected him. As the season went on, he became tougher and more physical. You'd see Murray lower his shoulder and fight for yards up the middle when there was no hole for him. That's what you want from a runner. I think Murray will go earlier than the Eagles want to spend a pick on a runner, but if he does slide, I think he would be a good fit.
OL Clint Boling, Georgia
I've been looking for offensive linemen who could be of interest. We don't know exactly what Howard Mudd wants so there is some definite guesswork. With Castillo running the line we knew what kind of players he wanted. Georgia lineman Clint Boling is a player that makes a lot of sense to me as an Eagles target. During the year, I wasn't enamored with Boling. You'd watch a Georgia game and he wouldn't really stand out. Boling then went to the Senior Bowl and had a great showing. He was very impressive, mostly at guard. He had a good workout at the Combine. Boling's postseason performance forced me to go back and re-watch tape. He was a much better player than I had given him credit for. One of the problems is that the Bulldogs moved him around a lot. He played both guard spots and left tackle. I'm not referring to the season as a whole, but most games during the year. Georgia had a slew of linemen they wanted to play and Boling got moved around based on who else was coming in. That made it hard for me to appreciate how well he was playing. It does show great versatility.
Boling will go in the late second or early third round. He is a four-year starter. He started at least nine games at three different spots on the line (both tackles and right guard). Boling could come in and provide instant depth at right guard. He could play right tackle in an emergency situation. I know most people are looking for a right tackle first, but I don't see any player in the second round that would come in and be starting material. In my mind, you take a guard to solidify that spot and hope that the stability helps Winston Justice get back on track. You also have Austin Howard and King Dunlap already in place to challenge for the right tackle spot so there will be competition.
MLB Casey Matthews, Oregon
The more I think about what the Eagles will do at linebacker, the more I think Castillo will be a huge fan of Casey Matthews. There are some concerns with Matthews, but his intangibles are off the charts. Castillo will love his non-stop motor. He will love the intensity that Matthews plays with. Matthews would be a backup primarily at middle linebacker, but could also help out on the outside. He covers well enough to get a role in the nickel or dime units. He could also be a great special teams player.
My big concern with Matthews is his ability to handle inside runs. He's not the biggest or strongest guy. Sometimes he looks lost in traffic. There are times when I want to dismiss him as an inside linebacker, but I have this nagging thought that pops up. Back in 2005 there was another undersized middle linebacker from a Pac-10 school that I had doubts about. He was picked in the second round and I thought the team that took him was unbelievably dumb. Oops. I think the Seahawks are pretty happy with Lofa Tatupu and the career he's had. It is hard to quantify instincts. Tatupu rated highly in that area and so does Matthews.
QB Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
What's up with the Eagles reportedly checking out Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Is there a chance they could go for him? Never say never when it comes to Reid and quarterbacks. If Reid sees a prospect that he feels can be special, that player has to be of interest. Most of the quarterback prospects are overrated or highly flawed this year. Kaepernick is one guy that is genuinely worth checking out.
He was incredibly productive in college. He is very experienced and is a high character person. He's coachable. Kaepernick went to the Senior Bowl and handled the new offensive style pretty well. He is still very much a project, but there is a lot to like. Kaepernick is big, athletic, and has a very good arm. I think all offensive coaches are fascinated by this guy. I don't think Reid will go after him in the first round. If the Eagles end up with a pick in the early second round through a trade or by moving up or back, Reid could have interest. Reid isn't going out looking for a quarterback to draft. It would happen because Kaepernick turned out to be a player that Reid and the Eagles simply thought was too good to pass up.