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Eagles Roster Coming Together After Solid Draft

By C.J. Hecht

                With the departure of Brian Dawkins, William Thomas, Lito Sheppard, and Jon Runyan this offseason, Andy Reid has never faced more pressure to put together a stellar draft class. After years of Eagles fans scratching their heads with numerous trades down and first picks such as QB Kevin Kolb in the 2007 draft and DT Trevor Laws in the 2008 draft, fans finally got a draft that was not only more predictable, but one that was also filled with top of the line talent.

The Eagles made perhaps the best move of the draft according to ESPN.com’s Matt Mosley by trading up two slots to select WR Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri. The 6’0 198 pound Maclin fell much further than the Eagles front office thought, and they aggressively made a move with the Browns to make sure they could get him. The Browns and the Birds swapped 1st round picks and the Eagles threw in a 5th round pick to complete the deal. ESPN.com’s NFL Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay predicted Maclin going to the Raiders as the 7th overall selection. Profootballtalk.com thought Maclin would go at #13 to the Jaguars. You get the point, the Eagles got tremendous value with the pick and add another weapon for Donovan McNabb. Adding Maclin to a receiving crops that includes DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, and perhaps Reggie Brown certainly improves the receiving unit. However, it’s still not perfect. The corps still lacks a true number one receiver; someone with big game experience and height that be a threat in the red zone.

                Luckily, the Eagles were able to address their receivers’ lack of height by adding Florida TE Cornelius Ingram. Ingram, who the Birds selected in the 5th round, tore his ACL prior to the 2008 season and was forced to sit the entire season out. If he were able to play his senior season, he likely would have wound being a first or second round selection. Regardless, the 6’4 235 pound Ingram, who came to the Gators as a quarterback, brings tremendous athleticism to the organization where it is needed most.  If all goes according to plan, Ingram will back up starting TE Brent Celek and be not only another target for McNabb, but a big time red zone threat as well.

                Although Eagles fans may have expected the Birds to address their need at running back in the first round, their patience paid off as Pittsburgh’s hard running LeSean McCoy was available for their selection in the 2nd round. McCoy, who at one point had some experts believing he had a chance of being a first round selection, will be the Birds’ second running back this season barring any sudden roster changes. While at Pittsburgh, McCoy averaged 4.8 yards per carry and rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons with the Panthers. Also noteworthy is his surpassing of Larry Fitzgerald’s record for the NCAA’s most touchdowns after a sophomore season with 36. McCoy fills a need for the Eagles with the departure of Correll Buckhalter, and likely will develop into a NFL solid running back.

But as much as I like the Birds’ first two selections, I am worried about their size and their similarity to other players already on the roster. The organization tends to draft well, but if they do have a reoccurring weakness it is that of drafting  too similar of players. Jeremy Maclin at 6’0 and 198 is bigger than DeSean Jackson at 5’10 175 pounds, but is still the same mold of player. He was known for his speed in college, his playmaking on punt and kick returns, and the ability to stretch the field. Now, both of them together will be even better, but when will the Eagles go out and make a play at a possession receiver? Hank Baskett and perhaps the dwindling Reggie Brown are the only receivers which may fit that mold currently on the team.

                Next, let’s take a look at LeSean McCoy at 5’10 198 pounds next to Brian Westbrook at 5’10 203 pounds. They are near clones of each other with slightly different attributes. For example, BWest has a tendency to run a more like a speed back compared to McCoy who tends to run a bit more down hill. Although I do believe McCoy will provide a second legitimate threat in the backfield for the Birds, they may have been better off selecting a big bruiser to help in short yardage conversions that the Eagles struggled so much in last year. Perhaps Leonard Weaver will help to fill that void. We saw what drafting Ryan Moats was like a couple of years ago; a solid player, but there was no role for him on the team because Westbrook was simply better than him at the things he did well. At least Tony Hunt had a potential role on the team by filling the team’s void at power back. Nevertheless, the Eagles organization and fans have to be thrilled with having as talented of a back as McCoy to complement Westbrook. If he can acquire an understanding of the offense early on, look for a bunch of carries for him this season; especially when considering the Birds’ consistent philosophy of never overworking Westbrook, as well as his injury plagued past.

                Perhaps the move the Birds made that may have the most immediate impact is the acquisition of CB Ellis Hobbs from the New England Patriots for a pair of 5th round picks. Hobbs, who is a solid corner and kick returner, will help the Eagles fill a sudden void following Sheldon Brown’s request for a trade. Hobbs at 5’9 195 pounds holds the NFL record for the longest kickoff return in history at 108 yards. He should be able to compete for the 2nd starting corner position and for some time on special teams. The Birds also selected CB Victor Harris out of Virginia Tech to add depth to the secondary. Harris at 6’0 186 pounds was an all 1st team All-ACC selection in 2008, and could be moved to safety for two reasons. The first being that the Eagles most certainly lack depth at the safety position, and second being that Harris’ 40 yard dash time was a surprisingly slow 4.68. It will be difficult for him to compete in the NFL at corner, especially with the abundance of speed most teams now possess at receiver. Something to keep an eye on the secondary is Jack Ikegwuono’s first year with the franchise after being selected in the 4th round of last year’s draft out of Wisconsin, and being forced to miss the entire season with a torn ACL. A likely first round draft pick before the tear, he is the wildcard in the Eagles secondary as the organization continues to monitor his recovery. Regardless, I expect him to be a part of the Eagles 53 man roster when the season beings. With or without Sheldon Brown, the Eagles’ secondary, although young, contains enough chemistry, youth, and athleticism to be serious force in 2009.

                The Birds also added some intriguing undrafted free agents with the signings of RBs Marcus Thigpen out of Indiana and Walter Mendenhall out of Illinois State. Thigpen, a back similar to Westbrook, has excellent speed and can be a dangerous threat in the return game and in the open field. Mendenhall, the brother of Steelers’ first round pick last year Rashard Mendenhall, played three years at Illinois before transferring to the Red Birds. He may be the most intriguing due to his size and power running ability at 6’2 225. Another noteworthy free agent signing is DE Josh Gaines out of Penn State. Gaines adds some depth to the defensive line and is able to make plays against the run as well as pressure the quarterback. While at Penn State, Gaines proved that his durability is no problem as he played 589 snaps during his junior season and 696 during his senior campaign. He could turn out being a practice squad player this year along with either Mendenhall or Thigpen.

                Despite a rough start to the offseason, the Eagles suddenly have made solid additions to improve their football team. It started on the offensive line with the free agent signing of Stacy Andrews and continued with the acquisition of Bills Pro Bowl Guard Jason Peters. A solid offensive line may be the most important component to a successful football team. The addition of FB Leonard Weaver will also greatly improve the amount of time Donovan will have in the pocket next year. The Birds then proceeded to use the draft to improve on the offensive side of the football. Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy will absolutely improve the offense and its ability to make big plays. In my opinion, the offense is solid. On defense the Eagles added safeties Sean Jones and Rashard Baker via free agency, Ellis Hobbs via trade, and LB Moise Fokou and CB Victor Harris via the draft. Although the defense may not be star struck, this young group came together last year to become one of the NFL’s best down the stretch. 

1 comment:

  1. It's definitely easy to get excited about the Eagles, especially after the offseason they've had. The only thing I'd like to see is the same run/pass play ratio as was called when Garcia was QB. Run the ball, Andy!