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Eagles Improved Through Draft

Eagles On The Mark With Draft

By Lance Epstein

Handing out grades for the 2010 NFL Draft is crazy because none of the players have taken the field for a single snap at this level yet. However, the Eagles did manage to improve themselves dramatically on the defensive side of the ball and even on offense by selecting 13 players.

While the Eagles did not necessarily fills all their needs, mainly at cornerback and center, like many thought they would, they still upgraded a few key positions on defense, which were in desperately needed of retooling.

One position that has been a thorn in the side of the Eagles over the last few seasons was left defensive end. When the Eagles selected Victor Abiamiri out of the Notre Dame, they thought they were getting their starting left defensive end of the future. They envisioned him reeking havoc along with Trent Cole to have a defensive line that could establish enough pressure from their front four, so they would not have to blitz as much. Many experts compared his skill to that of former Irish alum and Giants player Justin Tuck.

However, that did not happen and Juqua Parker became the default starting left defensive end. While Parker is an adequate rotational and situational end, he does not possess the talent to be a elite stud on the outside or prevent Cole from being double teamed.

This year, in a surprise move, the Eagles traded up 11 spots with the Denver Broncos to snatch coveted pass rusher Brandon Graham. Most predicted that the Eagles had moved up to get playmaking safety Earl Thomas of Texas, but the player the Eagles craved was Graham.

Graham (6-1, 268) was a monster at the Senior Bowl, where he dominated offensive linemen and won the MVP of the game. More importantly, Graham is built very similar to Cole and former Eagles great Hugh Douglas. He is short, but exceptionally strong player with long arms and is widely considered the best pass rusher in the entire draft. In fact, the Giants wanted him so badly that they were ready to select him at No. 15. His nonstop motor and passion to play the game of football, will vault him into the starting lineup and free up Cole to get even more sacks.

Despite getting Graham in the first round, the Eagles did not stop trying to upgrade their defensive end rotation. They decided selected Daniel Te'o-Nesheim out of Washington in the third-round and the ultimately sleeper in Rick Sapp in the fifth-round.

At Washington, Te'o-Nesheim set the Huskies all-time sack record with 31 sacks, but he was still a bit of a reach for the Eagles. He was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round of the draft. Plus with a huge gapping hole at cornerback, the Eagles should have taken Perrish Cox, Brandon Ghee or Akwasi Owusu-Anash, who could have contributed right away at the right corner position.

Regardless, Te'o-nesheim comes from a tough background, so fans can anticipate him work his tail off to make this team. He might never be a star end, but he gives the Eagles a very nice rotation along the d-line.

As for Sapp, some analyst graded him as a first round pick, but most had him with a second round grade. After his free fall, the Eagles decided to take a chance on a kid that has enormous upside.

Sapp (6-4, 252) has the athleticism, speed and agility to be a premiere pass rushing threat at the next level. In fact if he did not tear his ACL at the end of the 2008 season, he probably is not available for the Eagles in the fifth round.

This pick may be the best pick the Eagles made in the entire draft considering his value and potential. Also, he has had experience dropping back into coverage at Clemson, so he can play the "joker" position like Jevon Kearse did in his short stint with the Eagles.

Besides just defensive end, the Eagles took a pair of safeties who could turn out to be great contributors in their rookie season. Last year, the Eagles went into the season counting on Quintin Demps to be the starting free safety. They even allowed Brian Dawkins to leave via free agency to Denver due to how highly they thought of Demps.

Nevertheless, Demps fell into Andy Reid's doghouse and rookie corner Macho Harris was thrown into the fire. Harris did a respectable job for a rookie transitioning from corner to safety, but he clearly showed a lack of instincts for the position.

Instead of counting on Harris or Demps to improve over the offseason, the Eagles used the No. 37 pick in the draft, which they acquired in the Donovan McNabb trade, to get free safety Nate Allen. Allen is a big, strong kid at 6-foot-1 and 207-pounds. Of course, he is not Thomas or Eric Berry, which Eagles fans dreamed about, but he has a chance to start from day one. Not only start, but also make a difference in the secondary.

At South Florida, he made countless plays in coverage, guarded the slot receiver and was a playmaker, which should help out Quintin Mikell. Mikell had a down year last year due to taking on too much responsibility and trying to be superman to counter mistakes by Harris. Additionally, Allen was the leader for a strong Bulls defense and the Eagles sorely lacked leadership last year.

In the seventh round, the Eagles selected a diamond in the rough and the heart and soul of the Ohio State Buckeye defense in safety Kurt Coleman. Coleman is a mere 5-foot-10, but he plays much bigger than his frame entails. Certainly, Coleman needs to add some bulk so that he can help out in run defense, but can be a player to groom behind Mikell. Mikell is entering the last year of his contract and will be 30 years old at the season's end.

One way Coleman can make the squad is by being a special teams ace. Although, he still may eventually take over down the line for an aging Mikell. Do not understatement Coleman just cause he is seventh-round pick, the fact of the matter is Mikell was a undrafted free agent that made his way onto the roster after scouts said he did not have the bulk nor the covers skills to be a NFL caliber safety. Yet his leadership and determination permitted him to become one of the best strong safeties in the NFL.

Another pleasant surprise for the Eagles was the two other seventh round picks in Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens and Mississippi inside linebacker Jamar Chaney. In Chaney's case, he is an undersized middle linebacker, but he has the speed, athleticism and coverage skills to be a good backup. Chaney was projected as a third-round player that could eventually be coached up into a starting middle linebacker. While he probably will never overtake Stewart Bradley, he is a much better option as a backup than the grossly undersized and substandard Joe Mays.

Owens is a big run stuffing defensive tackle at 305 pounds. Like Chaney, he was projected to go much earlier in the draft, but durability issues knocked him down to the last round. If Laws struggles in training camp, he could possibly come in and replace Trevor Laws since he has been a great disappointment for the Eagles since being drafted in the second round in 2008. This is a make-or-break year for Laws, but Owens unseat him earlier than expected.

In the fourth round, the Eagles had four selections and seemed to be on the clock every five seconds. Before the draft and during the three-day extravaganza, the Eagles made it a point to collect and stockpile picks in the later rounds because they felt that was where the value was in this particular draft. If that turns out to be true, then the Eagles might strike gold with their fourth-round selections.

With their first pick in the fourth-round, the Eagles tried to address their cornerback dilemma. They selected Trevard Lindley out of Kentucky, who has been plagued by injuries this past season. Despite those injuries, Lindley is a big-time playmaker at the cornerback position (mirrors Asante Samuel’s game—even selected in the same round), but needs to add strength to compete with physical receivers.

After the selection of Lindley, the Eagles again decided to focus on their defense as they selected Keenan Clayton, a linebacker out of Oklahoma. Clayton received high honors from ESPN's Todd McShay, who said he could become the steal of the draft.

Still, Clayton is a ‘tweener strong safety/weak side linebacker and he has stiff competition to make the team considering Ernie Sims and Akeem Jordan are slotted ahead of him. However, his athleticism, high energy and sideline-to-sideline play could earn him a spot on special teams and he perhaps can develop into a solid starter at the WILL linebacker position.

Following the selection of Clayton, the next four out of five picks were offensive players (Sapp the only defensive play selected in that span). First the Eagles took quarterback Mike Kafka form Northwestern. Kafka does not enjoy the strongest arm, but he fits the Eagles west coast offense very well.

Also, the Eagles needed to take a quarterback sometime in this draft because Michael Vick is a free agent at the end of the 2010 season and will bolt for a starting gig. This selection might be an afterthought to fans, but Kafka's mobility and accuracy will make him a very adequate backup to Kevin Kolb in the near future.

The next pick was a little bit of a shocker bearing in mind the Eagles have Brent Celek and that the team has been extremely high on Cornelius Ingram coming back from his torn ACL. Nonetheless, Clayton Harbor is a small school product out of Southwest Missouri State that could pay off big dividends for the Eagles. He has the quickness to stretch a defense and is a good blocker as well.

Harbor is very confident player who thinks very highly of his abilities. Moreover, he is a workout and film room junkie, so it would surprise no one if he becomes another weapon in the Eagles’ offense.

The last two offensive picks were a pair of SEC players in Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper and LSU running back Charles Scott. Even though the Eagles do not have a need for a wide receiver with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant locked in as the starters, they still took a tall and athletic possession receiver that the team really does not have on their roster.

Certainly Hank Baskett is supposed to be that type of player, but he is only under contract for one more season. Cooper runs very precise routes and uses his body well in traffic to make difficult catches.

Like many predicted, the Eagles took a power running back. Scotts is the type of running back that the Eagles have not had in Reid’s era as the head coach. Of course, he does not have the elite speed to get to the outside, make defenders miss or become a cream of the crop running back, but he is a short-yardage/goal-line back. Over the last few seasons, one-yard or even inches have cost the Eagles four games. With Scott in the fold, the Eagles should not have that problem.

All in all, the Eagles still did not address the two biggest needs heading into the draft, which were a center and a corner to compete with Ellis Hobbs for the starting right cornerback spot. It is possible that Reid and Roseman are banking on Jamaal Jackson returning to form and being a contributor by week one.

Or they strongly believe that with a full offseason at under his belt that Nick Cole can be a starting center. Another possibility is Mike McGlynn is the new starting center; the Eagles have been exceptionally high on him since drafting him out of California.

At corner, the Eagles have a ton of depth and a much improved pass rush, so they could trust that the pass rush allows the secondary to be much enhanced as well.

Philadelphia might not have addressed all of their needs, but they did vastly improve a defense that was in dire need of playmakers, heart and speed. More importantly, they got a baker's dozen of players that love the game of football, are leaders and all have relentless motors.

Here is the best pick, steal, questionable pick and most ready to contribute to come out of this draft class:

Best Pick: Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan

Graham is thought to be the best pass rusher in this entire draft. Furthermore, the Eagles prevented him from going to the New York Giants and causing them headaches for the next decade.

Steal: Ricky Sapp, DE/OLB, Clemson

Why is this the best pick of the Eagles draft? Well, Sapp had a second-round grade and might be as good of a pass rusher as Graham when all is said and done. Unquestionably, he needs to add some bulk onto his 252-pound frame. However, he his ability to guard running backs and tight ends in coverage and rush the passer gives the Eagles a player that can play the vital "joker" position.

Questionable pick: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washinton

This is not to say Te'o-Nesheim cannot become a very good player at the next level, but there was a ton of talented corners available where he got picked. Those corners could have come in and played right away. Te'o-Nesheim's career will always be compared to Ghee, Cox and Owusu-Anash's careers.

Most ready to contribute: Nate Allen, FS, South Florida

While the easy choice would be to go with Graham, Allen has a chance to start immediately since there is no one capable or healthy in front of him. Of course Graham should start, but the Eagles like to rotate a lot of players in at defensive end. Plus he has more of an up field battle at his position with the number of quality bodies at DE. Allen is already locked in as the starter and he has the athleticism and cover skills to surprised a lot of people next year. Do not be astonished if Allen becomes the best pure safety in this class.

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