I think most people will tell you the Eagles selected a good group of players last week. One of the questions that some fans do have is about the value of the players in relation to where they were taken. I think you have to understand that the 2011 draft wasn't as deep as some others. That affected the way teams picked. This was a year to be very specific with players and go get them.
Last year, general manager Howie Roseman did a terrific job of moving up and back to take players the Eagles liked. That draft was much deeper, giving the team more flexibility to take chances. If you moved back there was a solid chance your target could still be on the board. If not, there was likely to be another target of similar interest. With less depth, the prudent way of doing things was to take players you wanted and not worry about maximizing on value. The Eagles did just that.
First-round pick Danny Watkins has the potential to be a starter in 2011. He was the top-rated guard on my board. I think a lot of NFL teams felt that way, including the Eagles. There was no question that the Eagles needed help at guard. We don't yet know the rules of free agency. If you go by the 2010 rules, the pickings will be slim. The Eagles had to be aggressive about coming up with a guard.
My only question with Watkins is his age. He will turn 27 in the upcoming season. That's highly unusual for a rookie. Here's the catch, though. If he was in his early 20s, the feeling among some scouts I heard from was that he would have been taken well ahead of the 23rd pick. There is a potential benefit to Watkins' age. He is going to have a physical and mental maturity that most rookies don't. That should help him adjust quicker to the NFL.
Watkins first jumped out at me while watching Senior Bowl practices. I had been impressed with his play as the left tackle at Baylor, but he looked really good when moved inside to guard down in Mobile. He looked natural in there. Watkins was very coachable and learned on the fly. You could instantly see that he was going to be a guard in the NFL. I actually mentioned Watkins as a potential Eagles target in a Senior Bowl column I wrote. Here's a blurb: "Watkins is a fun guy to watch. He is relentless. He finishes blocks. There are times when he looks outstanding with his lateral agility and hand punch, things the Eagles love."
I think Watkins will be a good starter, maybe right away. It wouldn't surprise me at all for him to take over the right guard spot very quickly. After all, you don't take a rookie at his age with the notion of a normal period of development.
With the 54th pick, the Eagles went for Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett. I liked Jarrett very much and had listed him to the Eagles in plenty of mock drafts I did (countless napkins and random sheets of paper). In the Senior Bowl column mentioned above, I had Jarrett as a player of interest for the team and someone for Eagles fans to watch (third-round pick Curtis Marsh was listed as well). So what made the Eagles like Jarrett so much?
A person like me can watch lots of game tape. I can watch the Senior Bowl practices and games. I can watch every second of the Combine. The one thing I can't do is the amount of face-to-face research the Eagles (and most NFL teams) do. The Eagles got glowing reviews on Jarrett from Al Golden and the Temple coaching staff. Andy Reid talked about Jarrett's ability to call the defensive signals at Temple. The coaches said Jarrett always had them in the right defense and was able to adjust to different looks by offenses. The Eagles met with Jarrett and obviously that went very well. Safety is a position where intangibles are critical. The player must be smart, communicate well and show good leadership skills. These qualities must have come through when Jarrett met with Reid and Juan Castillo.
All this talk of intangibles would be pointless if Jarrett wasn't a talented player. He has good size and is a solid athlete. He led Temple in tackles in 2008 and 2010. He was second in 2009. Jarrett picked off nine career passes and broke up 18. Reid specifically mentioned that he put a lot of value in Jarrett's ability to bring a physical presence to the secondary. That has been lacking since Brian Dawkins left for Denver. Jarrett was one of the biggest hitters in college football last year. He's a rugged run defender that will come down in the box and mix it up with anyone.
Jarrett started for three-and-a-half years at Temple. That experience and his strong feel for the game will help him to push for a starting spot this year. He is a player that the coaches really liked so they are probably excited about seeing what he can do on the field. Nothing will be given to him, but Jarrett will get the chance to show what he can do.
Cornerback Curtis Marsh is more of a project. He has excellent size at 6-1 and 197 pounds. The Eagles haven't had a talented big corner in quite a while. They spent a late round pick on Rashard Barksdale in 2007, but didn't get a chance to develop him. Back in 2004 they drafted Matt Ware, but he couldn't handle playing corner. Like Marsh, Ware was also a third-round pick. Both Ware and Marsh ran well, but there was a huge difference. Ware struggled in the agility drills. He had a short shuttle time of 4.34 and a 3-cone time of 7.23. Marsh timed 4.07 and 6.87 in those drills respectively. He's much quicker and more agile than Ware. Marsh is a guy to grab in the middle of the draft and see if you can develop. He's only got 16 career starts. He also played in the WAC against a lot of spread offenses. That means simple pass routes. Marsh has to learn how to cover receivers that run NFL routes. He was good value in the third and has a bright future. Marsh has the size, speed, and agility to be a starting NFL corner. He's not here for 2011, but rather for the future. Be patient with him.
I liked the pick of linebacker Casey Matthews in the fourth round. I love his instincts and cover skills. His run defense needs some work, but Matthews can be a tough, physical player. He is ultra-competitive and should thrive on special teams. Everybody wants to compare him to his brother Clay for some reason. Clay is a gifted pass rusher and one of the best players in the NFL. He was a high pick, going 26th overall. Casey fell to the fourth round because he's not the same kind of player. He is more of a pure linebacker. I do think he can be a good starter in time. I mentioned Matthews in several columns as a potential Eagles target. I think he is the kind of hard-nosed, driven player that Castillo really wanted.
Next up was kicker Alex Henery. I had no problem with the Eagles taking him late in the fourth round. Henery was the best kicker in college football. He's got a big leg and has made some clutch kicks over the years. David Akers' future is uncertain so go aggressively land a top-flight kicker. I've had some fans tell me that Henery would have been around late in the draft, but I truly doubt that. He was the top-rated kicker to a lot of people and that guy doesn't always last to the late rounds. Had there been a slew of highly rated kickers to choose from, the Eagles could have rolled the dice. That wasn't the case so they got their guy. We've been spoiled by the stability Akers has given us for more than a decade, but change had to come at some time.
In the fifth round, the Eagles added running back Dion Lewis and guard Julian Vandervelde. Lewis is a real interesting player. I remember watching him late in the 2009 season and being blown away by what a good runner he was. He was very instinctive and had excellent vision. Lewis didn't have as good a year this season, but still ran for more than 1,000 yards. He was extremely productive at Pitt. My biggest concern with him is how he'll handle the Eagles offense. Backup running backs get limited touches here. Lewis averaged 24 touches a game at Pitt. Can he contribute as a guy with a couple of touches here and there? I don't question his production and potential, but I'm real interested to see what the plan for him is. Obviously, the coaches have some idea of what they want him to do. As for Vandervelde, he lacks ideal size, but is a player that caught my eye in multiple Big 10 games. He had a good workout at the Combine as well. Smaller guys are fine if they are athletic and can play. I wondered throughout the past month if he would be a target. I liked him a lot, but not having seen blockers picked for Howard Mudd I was uncertain if Vandervelde was a good fit. I was happy to see that he was a Mudd guy. Watkins is so good he can play in any system. Vandervelde is more of a system-specific blocker. I was never enthralled with the huge linemen we took over the years. I look forward to watching guys like Vandervelde, the overachieving types that will battle relentlessly on every snap.
The sixth round netted the Eagles center Jason Kelce and linebacker Brian Rolle. Kelce is a lot like Vandervelde, but lighter. He only weighed 280 pounds at the Combine. He can block so don't be fooled by that. Watch him on screen passes. Kelce gets out in space and punishes defenders. Real fun guy to watch. Can he be functional in the NFL from a size and strength standpoint? The question is why he fell to the sixth round. Strength coach Barry Rubin will work with him to build up that body, while trying to keep his outstanding athletic ability. Remember the agility numbers I listed above for Matt Ware? Kelce beat them both at the Combine with a 4.14 in the short shuttle and 7.22 in the 3-cone. Good athlete and player, but he must get stronger. I wrote about Rolle a lot in the build-up to the draft. He was my favorite non-first round prospect in the draft. He jumped out at you when you watched Ohio State play. I was ecstatic when the Eagles chose him. Rolle will give maximum effort on every snap. He could be a beast on special teams with the way he runs and hits. We have to give him time to find a spot on defense. I think he can start down the line, but could play in some nickel and dime packages right away. Rolle has pretty good cover skills.
Finally, the team added linebacker Greg Lloyd and fullback Stanley Havili in the seventh round. Lloyd had a disastrous season because he wasn't healthy. He tried to play through it, but was very ineffective. Reid mentioned that the Eagles liked what they saw from him at the Shrine Game, a point where he was closer to being healthy. Lloyd did some good things in that game. He was highly productive in the past and can be a quality inside run stuffer. Lloyd is here to help with depth. The Eagles needed a few bodies at linebacker and that's why they drafted three.
Matthews is the only likely starter of the trio, but good backups can be highly important. Ike Reese was a key player for the Eagles from 1998-2004, despite not starting many games. Role players can play a big part in the success of a team. Havili is a West Coast offense-type of fullback. His blocking needs work. He can pass block OK, but isn't natural when it comes to taking on linebackers on isolation run plays. The Eagles did need to bring in some competition for Owen Schmitt at fullback. Schmitt did some nice things while replacing Leonard Weaver, but Schmitt wasn't so good that you give him the job for 2011 unquestioned. Havili is an excellent receiver and is very experienced. He was a four-year starter in a pro style offense so that should help him adjust to life in the NFL.
When you look back at the picks, they do make a lot of sense. In a final mock draft I did at Iggles Blitz I had the Eagles go with cornerback, guard, and strong safety in the first three rounds. I got that right, just not the order. I correctly pegged that the Eagles would draft multiple linemen and linebackers. The players fit the holes on the team and the new systems that we have in place. Mudd got his kind of interior linemen. Castillo got tough, instinctive defenders (instincts were sorely lacking from the last couple of defenses). Bobby April got a big-time kicking prospect and some guys that should thrive on his coverage units.