I think the Eagles may have gotten the formula right. They were very aggressive on Day One of free agency, but chose the targets in a careful, measured way. There were no Blue Chip additions. The Eagles went and signed high quality players that fit the roles they’ll be asked to fill. No player got mega-bucks. No one will be coming to town blowing kisses into the mirror. These guys have talent, but not the kind of pedigrees that will have denizens of the Milky Way galaxy blowing sunshine up their skirts.
Let’s talk about the new Eagles.
CB Bradley Fletcher – 6-0, 200 — You may look at the stat sheet and see that Fletcher wasn’t a full time starter in 2012 and wonder what the Eagles were thinking. Watch the tape. I wrote a few times about this guy recently. He had the best pure cover skills of any CB on the market. Is there risk in signing him? Only in the sense that he hasn’t started at CB for 16 games in his 4-year career. Before you get fired up about durability, Fletcher played in 16 games in 2010 and 2012. He started 15 in 2010. He started 4 last year. Why just 4? Because the Rams spent big money on Cortland Finnegan and an early pick on Janoris Jenkins. Fletcher was coming off an injury and they made him the #3 CB. The twist here is that STL put one of the other guys in the slot and Fletcher played LCB. He faced top flight competition. I watched him in several games. Fluid player. Good speed. Good coverage instincts. I wanted the Eagles to get him because Fletcher was the best cover guy available. Simple as that. He gives us a very talented starting CB.
Note from ProFootballFocus: “FWIW Bradley Fletcher gave up 0.52 yards per snap in coverage last year. Lowest of any CBs with at least 250 snaps in coverage”
TE/H-back James Casey – 6-3, 240 — In a word, versatile. Casey can line up at FB on 3rd/1 and open a hole for the RB. He can line up as an H-back on 3rd/4 and catch a short pass in the flat to move the chains. Casey can line up in the slot on 3rd/10 and catch a pass downfield. This is a talented, versatile guy. He never came close to fulfilling his potential in Houston. Here is a tweet from Lance Zierlein, who covers the Texans:
“I really hate seeing James Casey leave Houston for Philly. The Texans showed me what was possible w/ Casey & then failed to follow through.”
Casey allows Chip Kelly to be creative on offense. You run the no-huddle with him on the field and you can go I-formation, 2 TEs, or to a spread look. Kelly loves that kind of flexibility.
S Patrick Chung – 5-11, 210 —I’m curious if the Eagles project Chung at SS or FS. I think he can handle both spots. Good hitter. He can come down and lay the wood on a runner or receiver. Has okay ball skills. Picked off 6 passes over his 3 years as a starter. I love the fact he’ll turn 26 in August. This is a guy with lots of good football ahead of him. Durability is a concern. 3-year starter, but only played in 34 of 48 possible games. That’s the one reason I was hesitant with him. I love the fact that Chung is coming over from the Pats. If you start for Bill Belichick for 3 years, you understand a complex gameplan and different coverage schemes. The Eagles liked Chung going back to before the 2009 draft. They had him in for a visit at the NovaCare Complex.
NT Isaac Sopoaga – 6-2, 330 — 2-down NT. Run stuffer. Veteran player who can anchor vs the run and help keep the LBs clean. Without him eating up blocks, Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman aren’t nearly as impressive. Sopoaga played in about 35 percent of the Niners snaps in 2012 so he is somewhat of a role player. Still, that is a critical role. You must be able to control the LOS on key run downs. Antonio Dixon has potential, but Sopoaga has been a 3-4 NT and knows what he’s doing. Dixon will learn from him.
LB Jason Phillips – 6-1, 249 — Funny, I’ve been after Jason for a while. I had him as a 3rd round target of the Eagles back in the 2009 draft. He was cut before the 2009 season began and I had interest. He was cut by the Ravens in 2011 and I had interest. Always seemed like a good STer and backup ILB. Let’s be honest about the current backup ILBs. I don’t trust Jamar Chaney or Casey Matthews. Phillips will likely take one of their jobs. The other two can battle it out for the other spot.
I’ll keep it short for now. I’ve got lots more reading/writing to do.
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Here’s something kind of cool. Here’s part of a mock draft I did for PE.com back on 4-15-09.
4 – 121 – CB Bradley Fletcher – Iowa
The Eagles secondary could use a cornerback with some size. Fletcher is just over six-feet tall and weighs more than 190 pounds. He’s no Troy Vincent or Bobby Taylor, but that is pretty good size. One thing that I like about Fletcher is that he can play man or zone. A lot of big corners need to press. They struggle when playing off. Fletcher played a lot of zone at Iowa and is comfortable pressing or playing off the ball. He has excellent awareness and good ball skills. Fletcher picked off three passes this year and was credited with 10 passes defensed. He hits and tackles well. Fletcher has the potential to be a starting corner.
5 – 141 – WR Brian Hartline – Ohio State
Interesting player. Looked like a star on the rise after his sophomore season of 2007. Hartline caught 52 passes, six for touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a score. OhioState really struggled with the passing game in 2008, mostly due to a freshman quarterback. That killed Hartline’s production. He only caught 21 passes. Hartline decided to leave school early. I didn’t agree with the choice. Hartline redshirted in 2005, so he had four years at OhioState and wanted to move on to the NFL. He finished his career with 90 catches and 12 touchdowns. He lacks top speed, but has excellent quickness and agility. He runs good routes and has good hands. Hartline can play in the slot or outside. One of the things I think that makes him a good fit is that he had to fight for playing time in college. He was a standout on special teams as a freshman. He had no problems doing the dirty work until he was able to get time as a returner and receiver. Reggie Brown had a hard time getting activated for games in 2008 because the Eagles needed a receiver to help on special teams. Hartline will do whatever is asked of him. The Eagles do well with guys like that.
5 – 153 – DT Terrance Knighton – Temple
Knighton had a good career at Temple, finishing with 26 tackles-for-loss. He then played very well in the Texas vs. The Nation all star game. That really got him noticed and earned him an invite to the Scouting Combine. Knighton displayed good athletic ability at the Combine and his pro day. He has excellent size at 6-3 and 321 pounds. He needs some coaching, but has very good potential. The Eagles defensive line doesn’t have any massive players. Knighton would change that. I’m not sure if he would ever be more than a role player, but big defensive linemen can be valuable even coming off the bench.
5 – 157 – FB Quinn Johnson – LSU
Leonard Weaver signed a one-year deal to handle the fullback job. The future is uncertain. Johnson would have a year to learn before having a shot at being the starting fullback. He is an outstanding lead blocker. Johnson played in an offense that ran out of the I-formation most of the time. He knows what he’s doing, hits with real power, and can adjust to moving targets. Johnson isn’t a great athlete or receiver. During the season I saw him catch some passes, but handled others like he was dealing with a live grenade. Johnson caught the ball very well at the Senior Bowl. The Eagles offense needs someone to pave the way for Westbrook and company more than they need another receiving threat. Johnson also played on special teams at LSU. Reid prefers that his fullback be productive on special teams.
5 – 159 – SS Otis Wiley – Michigan State
Quintin Demps looks like the free safety of the future. That leaves an opening for a young strong safety to be added. Wiley should be a player of interest. He doesn’t stand out in any area, but is good against the run and in coverage. He has good size at 6-1 and 212 pounds. Wiley had nine career interceptions. He can play zone, but is also effective in man coverage. He does a good job when taking on tight ends. Wiley is a good tackler. He has punt return experience as well.
6 – 194 – LB Victor Butler – Oregon State
Butler played defensive end at OSU, but has the size and skill set to move to linebacker. He would play on the strong side for the Eagles. Chris Gocong is set as the starter, but will be a free agent at the end of the 2009 season. Butler is 6-2 and 248 pounds. He runs pretty well and has good agility. Butler can rush the passer (26 career sacks), but would have to develop cover skills. He has the agility to cover well. He has the motor to succeed at linebacker. Butler got to play linebacker at the Shrine Game and handled himself pretty well.
6 – 195 -WR Brooks Foster – North Carolina
I know a lot of fans would love the Eagles to add Hakeem Nicks or Brandon Tate, the other UNC wideouts. Those guys will go much earlier. Foster is a really intriguing guy. He has a muscular build at 6-1 and 211 pounds. He ran in the 4.45 range at his pro day. Foster did 27 reps at the Combine, making him the strongest receiver there. He never was “the man” at Carolina, but did catch 97 career passes. He was very clutch. Foster caught a lot of passes on third downs as well as late in the game. The Buffalo Bills drafted a similar guy last year, Steve Johnson from Kentucky. They took him in the seventh round and he is a player they are very excited about. Foster also played a lot on special teams. He’s another guy that will gladly do the dirty work. I don’t know if he could ever develop into a starting receiver, but I think Foster is one of the hidden gems in this draft class.
7 – 230 – TE John Nalbone – Monmouth
Nalbone was a 4-year starter who caught 101 passes in his career. He has pretty good size at 6-4 and 254 pounds. He could challenge for a roster spot as a rookie or spend a year on the practice squad. Nalbone faced I-AA competition. You never know how those players will adjust to the NFL. Receiver Miles Austin of the Cowboys played at Monmouth so they have had pro caliber talent. Nalbone showed good strength, speed, and quickness in his workouts