Defense, defense, defense. That was the theme of the Eagles draft. We needed help on that side of the ball and the Eagles delivered. I loved the way Howie Roseman and Andy Reid handled the situation. They brought in players who could challenge for starting roles right away as well as adding plenty of role players. I also loved the balance between athletic prospects and productive players.
Let's start with defensive end Brandon Graham. This draft class was short on 4-3 pass rushers. If you wanted them you had to target certain players and be aggressive. The Eagles moved up to the 13th pick and took Graham. They did give up a pair of third-round picks, but were able to keep both of their second round picks. That was crucial.
I know some fans and some in the media think that the Eagles reached in going after Graham this early. Not so, from what I've heard. I did some digging over the weekend and word in NFL circles is that several teams would have taken Graham or moved up for him. The Eagles obviously knew teams were interested and decided that the trade-up for Graham had to be done if they truly wanted him. They did, and now he's an Eagle.
I am not ready to project him as a starter yet. I think Graham will play a good amount of snaps from day one, but the Eagles won't force him into a starting role. Darryl Tapp is a guy the team wants to see on the field. If Graham wants to be a starter he will have to earn the job. We also have Juqua Parker still in the mix. He's started the last two years for us and won't give up his job without a fight.
Graham is a good fit for our system. He's both quick and fast. He plays with good leverage. He is relentless in pursuit of the quarterback. He can make plays based on talent and effort. Graham can play either left or right end. He occasionally slid inside to tackle for Michigan. He was extremely productive. He led the nation in tackles-for-loss in 2009. Graham faced good competition and still made plays. He beat Bryan Bulaga for a pair of sacks in the Iowa game this past season. Graham got by Rodger Saffold to get a tackle-for-loss in the Indiana game. Both offensive tackles were taken in the top 35 picks of the draft. Graham dominated at the Senior Bowl, in practice and the game. I expect him to come in and help out right away.
The other player we took that can challenge for a starting role in 2010 is free safety Nate Allen. I was nervous about whether someone would take him before our pick in the early second round. Luckily, the other teams went elsewhere and Allen was there for the taking.
I've written about Allen a few times this off-season. He is a complete player. He has good size, athletic ability, experience and playmaking potential. The thing I like most about him for us is that he knows the position of free safety. He started 39 games at safety for South Florida. He understands the position. Allen diagnoses plays quickly and is able to get in good position. He takes good angles when pursuing a runner or receiver. We don't have to teach Allen how to play safety. We have to teach him our scheme and how to adjust to the NFL.
I think the coaches will give Allen a chance to start right away. Macho Harris is reportedly moving back to cornerback. That leaves Quintin Demps and Marlin Jackson as competition for the free safety job. Allen doesn't have their NFL experience, but he's a more polished player than Demps and is healthier than Jackson. Allen seems like a very bright guy. I think he'll bury his nose in the playbook and keep it there until he knows the scheme inside-out. Few rookies have a chance to start for a team that was in the playoffs the previous year. Allen has that chance and I'm sure he'll want to take advantage of it.
The other players we took were more of the role player variety. One or two could become starters in time, but will likely offer us impact this year off the bench and on special teams. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim can be a good situational rusher. He has good size and a very good motor. He was a very effective inside pass rusher at Washington. I think he could help in that area since Darren Howard is now gone.
We didn't land a top flight cornerback, but did add Trevard Lindley from Kentucky. I don't have a good feeling for how he'll adapt to the NFL. Lindley doesn't stand out in any way as a prospect, but he also doesn't have any major deficiencies. He's OK in every area. He does have good feet and good coverage instincts. If he takes well to Dick Jauron's coaching I do think Lindley has a chance to be a starter. I am very curious to see how he looks in the mini-camps and passing camps over the next couple of months. Did the Eagles get a steal or is he just a project?
Linebacker Keenan Clayton is a really gifted player who could be a big help. He's a former safety that grew into a good coverage linebacker while at Oklahoma. He picked off three passes and broke up 15 more in his career. Clayton has bulked up to 6-1 and 229 pounds, but still kept his defensive back-level of athletic ability. He runs, jumps and cuts like a safety. He has functional size and strength for linebacker.
The two former Eagles I compare him to are Ike Reese and Tracy White. The difference is that Clayton is much more athletically gifted than either of those guys. I think he could be a very good nickel linebacker and special teams player. Clayton covers a ton of ground with his speed, quickness and agility. He isn't a finesse guy, though. He will hit and tackle. He forced eight fumbles over the last two years. That is really impressive.
Mike Kafka is clearly here for the future. I like the pick. He has our kind of size and skill set. He will take time to develop. He only got to be the full-time starter for one year and ran the spread offense. There will be bumps in his adjustment to the NFL.
Tight end Clay Harbor is an intriguing pick. I wasn't sure if the Eagles would go for a tight end. This was a deep class of tight ends with a lot of talented prospects. I guess Harbor was just too good to pass up. Harbor had one of the best Combine workouts of any tight end. He is a gifted athlete. He is also a solid receiver. He has good hands and very good run-after-catch ability. I would love to see him used on some tight end screens. That was one play where L.J. Smith was really effective. Harbor is every bit the athlete that Smith was. He has big-play potential. Harbor also offers us insurance in case there are any problems with the recovery of Cornelius Ingram. Harbor can be a very good special teams player and could develop into a starter over time.
I was shocked to see Ricky Sapp last to the fifth round. I'm interested to see what the coaches do with him. Over at ScoutsNotebook we listed Sapp as a linebacker. I didn't think that he had the functional strength to be a starting end in the NFL. I watched him over the years at Clemson and Sapp was always at his best on the run. He is a fluid athlete with very good quickness, agility and balance. Ask him to shed blocks or hold the point of attack and he's in trouble. Ask him to chase down a quarterback or runner on the move and he'll look like a star. I think he can play in the 4-3 defense as a situational rusher and role player. I think he is an ideal candidate to take over the Chris Clemons role of pass rusher, linebacker and Joker.
Wide receiver Riley Cooper was also great value in the fifth round. I was going to include him in a mock draft as a fourth round pick several weeks back. I discussed the situation with a fellow draftnik and he just didn't think Cooper had a chance to fall that far. I think Cooper is a real good piece of the puzzle for our offense. We have a trio of real talented young receivers. None of them is a big guy. Cooper is 6-3 and 222 pounds. He eats up press coverage. He runs fine for a big guy (4.5 range). He can make spectacular catches.
Watch his highlights and you'll be blown away by some of the grabs he pulled off. Cooper is a good special teams player. He will block on returns and cover kicks. He did that at Florida as a star. Why did he fall? Cooper only had one big year in college. He caught 30 passes in his first three seasons before hauling in 51 this year. I think people are nervous about him as a one-year wonder type. He also drops more passes than he should. Cooper will make a highlight grab that will blow you away and then drop a simple pass over the middle. I think with reps and coaching you can work the drops out of him. He gives us a receiver with good size and some potential in the red zone.
I loved sixth-round pick Charles Scott. He is the downhill power runner that our offense needs. He is nimble enough to make a cut and get extra yards, but he won't dance around. He will hit the hole, even when it isn't there. You want big backs to play big. Scott does that. Injury concerns hurt his value. I also thought he was a little stiff at the Combine compared to the other runners. That's OK. A guy with his size and skill set needs to run north-south and not worry about making juke moves. Always play to your size. Scott is a better fit than Tony Hunt was a few years back. Scott had to share carries at LSU. He played some fullback this year. Hunt was a power guy that needed the ball 20 times a game to be effective. Scott can handle 20 carries, but also be effective with less than 10. I don't know if he will play much this year with Mike Bell here, but Scott is a good long-term fit with LeSean McCoy.
Linebacker Jamar Chaney is a player we traded to get. We dealt a 2011 sixth-round pick to get an extra seventh-round pick this year and took him. Chaney is a versatile guy. He is 6-1 and 245 pounds. That's big enough for middle linebacker, where he played at Mississippi State. He's athletic enough to play on the weak side, where he started out at MSU. We needed good competition for Joe Mays and Akeem Jordan. We had a ton of injuries last year and guys didn't step up as hoped. We now have competition across the board at linebacker and hopefully can find six to eight good players.
Jeff Owens isn't the playmaking, disruptive tackle that some wanted. He is a short, squatty guy with excellent strength and power. He did 44 reps on the bench press at the Combine. Owens is 6-1 and 304 pounds. He is able to take on double teams and hold his ground. He can shed blocks and control the middle of the line. Owens does have some athletic ability. He ran the 40-yard dash in just under five seconds. Don't expect him to be a playmaker, but he can push Trevor Laws for his roster spot.
My favorite Eagles pick was Kurt Coleman in the seventh round. I love Coleman as a prospect. He stood out to me during the year and I was really impressed with him. Coleman struggled with some of the drills at the Senior Bowl. Those drills focus on raw athleticism. Coleman is OK in that area, but hardly stands out. After watching him in Mobile, I put on some more game tape. He was terrific for Ohio State. Coleman stands out when you watch his game tape. You can tell he knows the defensive scheme thoroughly. You can also tell he knows the opposing offense. He's able to jump routes and make plays because film study has given him tips on what to look for.
I think players like that are gold. He's willing to do the preparatory work off the field and then it shows in the on-field results. In the last two years Coleman picked off nine passes, forced four fumbles and had two sacks. He can cover, play the run and even blitz. I think he slid because he lacks ideal size (5-10 and 192 pounds) and he's not an elite athlete. I think Coleman is one of the steals of the entire draft. In my pre-draft write-up, I had him rated as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. I think Coleman will eventually be a starter in the NFL.