After looking at the best offensive fits for the Eagles in the first three rounds, it's time for our final Draft Buzz, focusing on the defensive players who could find themselves as new Eagles by the end of Friday night's round three. Thanks go out to all our Draft Buzz contributors, and to you for reading throughout the pre-draft process. Without further ado, enjoy draft day ...
Defensive End (Tommy Lawlor - Scouts Notebook):
The Eagles have a good set of defensive ends already in place, but will be tempted to add another one in today's draft. There are some players who could thrive in the wide-nine scheme. Marshall'sVinny Curry is an athletic, relentless pass rusher who had 26.5 career sacks. He was deadly in 2011, with 11 sacks and seven forced fumbles. I think he goes late in the first or early in the second. Another player the Eagles could be interested in is West Virginia star Bruce Irvin. He doesn't even weigh 250 pounds, but Irvin has blazing speed and racked up 22.5 sacks in just two years. Jim Washburn loves sleek, speedy rushers and that perfectly describes Irvin. Another player who could be of interest is Virginia's Cam Johnson. He had an up and down career, but is very talented. He looked dominant at the Senior Bowl. Johnson could be great value in the third round.
Our Take: All three of those players present good value at the defensive end position. Curry is a high-motor player who was incredibly productive during his career at Marshall, and getting him in the second round would be an absolute steal if he lasted that long. Irvin is one of the more dynamic pass rushers in this class, and while he has a plethora of off-field issues, he is still an intriguing prospect. Johnson had a good week of practice in Mobile, and presents value as a potential prospect as a nine-technique.
Defensive Tackle (Josh Norris – RotoWorld):
NFL outsiders know very little about what will actually happen on Thursday, but we do know Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox will be the first defensive tackle selected. The tenacious penetrator never lets up, shooting gaps to penetrate while keeping offensive linemen off balance after attacking their shoulder. Cox has plenty of natural ability, specifically his burst and solid anchor in one-on-one situations, which is a great foundation to build from. He needs to learn some technical skills in terms of hand placement, specific pass-rush moves, and an understanding of when his opposition is overextended. But for someone who is just scratching the surface, there is certainly already a lot to like about Cox. His pass-rush attempts seem like a check list at times, attempting one after the other instead of recognizing which technique would work in a certain situation. The complete package is there, especially when Cox uses his length for separation then releases past with an outstanding closing burst. His relentless motor will help Cox turn his potential into ability. In the NFL, Cox projects as an upfield defensive tackle in a four-man front with experience on the edge. He will not get out of the Draft's first 10 picks.
Our Take: Cox has been on Eagles fans' radar since before the NFL Scouting Combine, and for good reason. Unforunately, it seems to be a long shot that he will last to the 15th overall selection now, and will likely require a trade-up for the Eagles to get him somewhere in the top 10 selections. He is no doubt the best fit for the Eagles defense at the position, and would be a great addition to the roster.
Linebacker (Eric Galko – Optimum Scouting):
The Eagles' focus in this draft will be on adding depth, and ideally a few starters, to their front seven on defense. The linebacking corps was very inconsistent and lackluster much of last year, and despite the addition of DeMeco Ryans via trade, the Eagles still need at least one starter. With the Eagles looking for athletic yet aggressive zone linebackers, bothLavonte David of Nebraska and Sean Spence of Miami (FL.) seem to be solid fits. Both are smooth athletes with great instincts and quickness, likely valued in the second round as weakside linebackers. Also, while he doesn't have ideal instincts and lacks developed coverage ability now, Texas's Keenan Robinson could be a worthwhile value for the Eagles looking for more size and physicality to go with Robinson's high ceiling as a linebacker.
Our Take: David is my favorite 4-3 outside linebacker in this draft, and while he isn't the biggest prospect, he is a ferocious tackler and a playmaker in coverage as well. If he were two inches taller, he would likely be a lock for the Top 20 selections, but he has great value in the early stages of the second round. Spence is a similar player, and as a four-year starter from a program known for producing linebackers, the pedigree is there for NFL success. Spence is a good fundamental tackler, and while he wasn't always the greatest playmaker during his time at "The U," he has the ability to be a reliable starter.
Cornerback (Sigmund Bloom – FootballGuys.com):
South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore will probably be gone before the Eagles pick, but he is an ideal fit in Philadelphia. He is big, fast, and physical, with top notch quicks and terrific feet. He can probably push Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and give the Eagles the ability to let "DRC" walk in free agency next year. Virginia Tech'sJayron Hosley is small, but battle-tested and hard-nosed. Hosley is a ballhawk who might fit inside in the nickel and dime packages. He should be available when the Eagles are on the clock twice in the mid-second.If they don't take a corner in the first two rounds, the Eagles could go bargain shopping at corner with Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard in the third round. Once considered a possible first-round pick, Dennard had a bad Senior Bowl week and was recently arrested for assaulting a police officer among other things. As long as he doesn't have to turn and run with a receiver downfield, his skills are useful.
Our Take: There are many out there who suspect the Eagles could use their first-round choice on the cornerback position, with Gilmore being the likely target. His abilities in man coverage, as a blitzer off the edge, and as a run defender make him an ideal candidate for the slot cornerback position if he is willing to take on that role. His abilities as a returner would fill a huge need as well. Hosley had a very good career with the Hokies, and while his numbers were a bit down in 2011, he is one of the better "finishers" in this cornerback class, and is a true playmaker in the secondary. Dennard had a down week in Mobile, to be sure, but is still a quality prospect who is battle tested and could fit as an outside cornerback in a year or two. I expect Hosley and Dennard to come off the board sometime during the second or third round.
Safety (Scott Wright – Draft Countdown):
Safety is one of the weakest positions in the 2012 NFL Draft, so if you want one it's probably best to pull the trigger early. Personally, I only have three true safeties with Top 100 grades and they are Mark Barron of Alabama, Harrison Smith of Notre Dame and George Iloka of Boise State. Barron is the cream of the crop by far and may not even make it to the Eagles' choice at 15th overall. Barron isn't flashy but his blend of solid physical tools and top-notch intangibles will make him a very hot commodity on Draft Day. Smith is a smooth, rangy athlete who can play free or strong safety, plus offers a lot of potential on special teams, although he wasn't much of a playmaker in coverage. Iloka is a rare physical specimen at the position at 6-4, 225, with extremely long arms. But some may feel he's actually too tall, and there is a reason you don't see many starting safeties in the league with that sort of build. One final name to keep an eye on is Brandon Hardin of Oregon State, who played cornerback in college but is shooting up draft boards after an eye-opening workout in which he ran a 4.43-seoncd 40-yard dash at 6-3, 217.
Our Take: Barron is a better athlete than people give him credit for, making his offseason hernia surgery very unfortunate as he was really unable to display that athleticism in front of the nation at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's a very good player, the top safety in most people's mind, and seemingly is a lock for the top 20 selections. Smith and Iloka were both at the Senior Bowl, and had up and down weeks. Both are rangy athletes, and while Iloka can get a bit leggy, you have to like his positional versatility. I expect both of those players to come off the board at some point in the second or third round.