After this weekend’s games we know where the Eagles will be picking … #22. I’d prefer that to be #32, but we’ll have to dream about that for now.
It is hard to know what the Eagles will draft since the team has to go through free agency and pro personnel moves first, but I’ll go ahead and say the most important area for the team is OLB. The Eagles need an impact LB.
I know many people will focus more on the secondary. The Eagles need to get better at Safety and CB, but if you watched the games this weekend you saw blown coverages all over the place. Offenses are so ahead of defenses that even with good DBs you have no guarantees of shutting someone down. Go put on the September game between the Texans and Seahawks. Matt Schaub threw for 355 yards in that game. He had guys running wide open down the middle of the field. And Seattle has unquestionably the best secondary in the league.
It seems more and more to me that the best solution is to win up front. The Eagles have young talent on the D-line. I know those guys were way too quiet in recent games, but I’ll share some thoughts on that in another post. I think an impact LB would help more than anything.
The Eagles could go for someone like Brian Orakpo in free agency, but I’m not sure they’d think he is worth paying huge money for. There are some interesting targets in the draft. Instead of focusing on names, let’s start with a key question…can you find an impact LB at #22?
Obviously you’d rather have pick #2 or #12, but you can still find really good OLBs outside of that range. Clay Matthews was pick 26. LaMarr Woodley was pick 48. Anthony Spencer was pick 26. Shaun Phillips was pick 98. Tamba Hali was pick 20. Justin Houston was pick 70. As you can see, the Eagles could even wait to the 2nd round and try to get a LB there.
I don’t know what the plan for next year will be. The Eagles could draft an OLB early, but still keep Trent Cole around as the projected starter and have the LB work into the lineup. The team could throw caution to the wind and cut Cole. They would still make the rookie earn the starting job, but the plan would be to push the player aggressively. The team will have some options.
And you must keep one thing in mind. Drafting a LB in the 1st or 2nd round doesn’t guarantee immediate results. Matthews was freaky good as a rookie. Woodley didn’t start as a rookie, but had 11 sacks in his 2nd year. Spencer didn’t develop into a force off the edge for several years. His first double-digit sack season came in his 6th year.
I know Cole had a solid year. He was outstanding vs the run. He had 8 sacks and was able to get pressure on a regular basis. Cole still plays hard and he is everything you would want in a guy in the locker room. Great work ethic, perfect attitude. The problem is that the 3-4 defense really is best when an OLB can take over games. You need someone who requires double teams and can be a force off the edge. Cole will beat single blocking from time to time, but he’s rarely drawing double teams. He will get chipped. And he does go against the LT, generally the team’s best blocker. But Cole is no longer a guy that offenses fear. They know he’s dangerous, but they expect the LT to keep him under control most of the time.
That’s just not good enough for the 3-4. There is logic to keeping him around so that you could work a rookie into the lineup. Cole is due a high salary and the Eagles may prefer not to pay that. There is always the possibility they think another year in the system can bring out even better results. Still, he’s not the long term answer. The Eagles must add a young edge rusher with big time potential.
The mystery guy is Brandon Graham. He had some good moments this season, but never played so well that he was going to push Cole for his job. The Eagles might consider trading him if they don’t think Graham will take a big step forward this year. The team needs to add a young ROLB. Would Graham slide over to LOLB? That position, called The Jack, is more of a complete LB. Graham did improve with his cover skills, but it still isn’t anywhere close to being a strength for him. I’m definitely interested to see what the Eagles do with Graham.
You guys may disagree about going for a LB over a DB. Speak up and share your thoughts. I’ll keep an open mind. Hopefully we’ll get some good clues from the Eagles as to what they think in the next few months.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Eagles have enough holes on the roster that they need to stick to the best player available theory. If you have a shot at a playmaking WR or stud OL, don’t pass on them for a pretty good LB. You are always one injury away from having a hole in your lineup. Don’t pass on talent.