Back in 2003 or 2004, a person on the Eagles Message Board and I began tracking pre-draft interest between the Eagles and prospects. We didn’t have nearly as much info as we do today, but it was still a fun exercise and helped us to understand what might happen in the draft.
This is useful information, if you understand it.
Last year all of the Eagles picks visited Philly, with the exception of Josh Huff, who Chip Kelly knew a thing or two about. It doesn’t always work out that neatly, though.
One of the reasons I track all the Pro Day info is to know where the assistant coaches are going. They will tell you not only who the Eagles are interested in, but what positions seem to have some priority. That or you have bored coaches who love to go to Pro Days.
The fact that Jeff Stoutland ran Ali Marpet’s Pro Day workout shows special interest. The fact Stephone Anthony had dinner with Eagles staff (probably Chip Kelly & Bill Davis) prior to his Pro Day shows special interest. Neither player is a 1st round pick, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t really value them in the round where they are graded.
I’ll post some analysis on players and positions in a later piece. For now, let’s take a look at the draft prospects the Eagles have shown interest in.
We’ve seen a few changes on the Eagles offense. Let’s look at the lineup and talk about things.
WR Jordan Matthews
WR Miles Austin
WR Riley Cooper
TE Brent Celek … Zach Ertz
RB DeMarco Murray … Ryan Mathews … Darren Sproles
QB Sam Bradford … Mark Sanchez
LT Jason Peters
LG Evan Mathis
OC Jason Kelce
RG Allen Barbre
RT Lane Johnson
We don’t know for a fact Austin will play in the slot. On a conference call with the Philly media, Austin estimated he’s played the slot about half of his career, but did spend last year more outside. That was due to the presence of someone who was strictly a slot receiver.
Watch these 2014 highlights of Austin and you can see even though he played outside, a lot of his catches came over the middle. He can play in traffic. He can make catches while covered.
Austin is a solid blocker. He’s not going to dominate defenders, but has the size, strength and effort to win most of his battles. Both Cleveland and Dallas would at times walk him in close to the formation and have him block bigger guys. Andy Reid used to do this with some of his bigger WRs. You don’t expect the WR to control the LB, but just get in his way for 1.5 seconds. You do need the WR to be willing to do dirty work for this to succeed. Austin is willing to do whatever is needed.
Chip Kelly has a big set of WRs. Austin lists at 6-2, 215. He looks closer to 225. Riley Cooper is in the 225 range. Jordan Matthews is the midget, at only 6-2, 212. These guys can all deal with physical DBs. They can all block.
That’s great, but where is the speed?
Matthews is the blazer and he ran 4.46 at the Combine. That’s not going to scare many DBs. Jeremy Maclin wasn’t as explosive as DeSean Jackson, but Mac was a better vertical threat than most people gave him credit for. Can Matthews now take that role?
We do need to remember that stretching a defense is about more than just pure speed. Cooper had some success as a downfield guy in 2013. He tracks the ball very well and is big enough to fight for contested balls and win them. I certainly wouldn’t count on Matthews becoming a deep threat, but that was part of his game in college. As a rookie, he played in the slot. You don’t run many vertical routes from the slot so this is an unknown part of his game right now.
There are reports that the Eagles looked into veteran WR Mike Wallace before deciding to look elsewhere. That shows that they do have some interest in speed, but don’t feel it is an overwhelming need. They can try to find someone in the draft that is a good vertical threat and could help with that part of the offense.
The Eagles do need chunk plays. They can get them in the form of RAC gains rather than downfield throws. DeSean Jackson and Matthews both had the same number of catches of 20 or more yards last year (16). Jackson used speed while Matthews used RAC ability. The difference is that Jackson had 13 catches go for 40 or more yards while Matthews only had 2 of those.
Zach Ertz and Brent Celek form a good TE duo. Ertz is a terrific receiver. He has the speed to get deep and is a gifted downfield receiver for a TE. Celek is more blocker than pass catcher now, but still is a threat in the passing game. Ertz had more catches of 20 or more yards last year than Jimmy Graham or Jason Witten. He’s still scratching the surface of how good he can be.
I think the RB trio of Murray, Mathews and Sproles will deliver chunk plays. Murray had more runs of 20 or more yards and more runs of 40 or more yards than LeSean McCoy did over the past 2 years. Mathews has the speed to break long runs. Sproles is a threat to create a big play any time he touches the ball.
Obviously the key to all of this is having the right trigger-man. We’ve talked about Sam Bradford quite a bit. All we can do for now is speculate. If things go as Kelly envisions them, the offense will be even better. You’ll have a veteran QB with a strong and better accuracy running the show. He’ll get the ball to the open receivers and run the explosive attack at a high level. If things go as others fear, we’ll see Mark Sanchez on the field too often and being as erratic as he always has through his NFL career, meaning the offense is in trouble in critical situations. Time will tell on this.
The OL looks to be in good shape, assuming Evan Mathis sticks around. The Eagles let his agent talk to teams about a trade, but we’ve heard no progress on that front so it seems like Mathis will be an Eagle in 2015. Allen Barbre at RG should be okay (or better). The Eagles are likely to spend an early pick (or two) on OL. They know they need youth and depth up front.
It is certainly hard to believe the Eagles could have as much turmoil up front in 2015. The 4-game suspension of Johnson last year combined with constant injuries and the ejection of Peters in the first WAS game to create a non-stop shuffling of players. That was simply insane.
One thing we have to remember is that offense is Kelly’s baby. This is his offense. He made these changes. Kelly chose Byron Maxwell over Jeremy Maclin. He dealt Nick Foles for Bradford. He felt the defense needed a certain amount of attention and that the offense could still thrive even with change.
Kelly added veteran players that are smart, tough and physical.
They also have serious durability issues. And this is where Kelly loses more than a few people. He’s betting that his Sports Science program and new surroundings can help keep these players healthy. Kelly does see the risk, but he feels the risk/reward makes it worth it. As Kelly has explained, if Bradford were completely healthy, he’d have never been available in a trade.
Kelly is trusting his Sports Science and training ideas. We’re (most of us) trusting Kelly. That trust could look awfully dumb if things go horribly wrong.
One final note…Kelly is continuing to bring in high character players. WR Michael Crabtree is on the market right now. He is a gifted young player. But Crabtree has had some issues over the years. Kelly signed Austin, who is older and less talented. But Austin is coachable and can help the young players around him develop. Kelly still believes in the importance of the right football culture.
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Not everyone is on board.
I'm calling it right now: Someone from the Eagles is winning 2015 Comeback Player of the Year.
Chip Kelly loves Ryans. He values him as a player and as a leader. Now Ryans will be an Eagle in both 2015 and 2016. On the surface, this seems like bad news for Mychal Kendricks. Kelly loves Kiko Alonso and Ryans. He doesn’t seem as emphatic when talking about Kendricks.
But Kelly might be willing to keep 3 starting ILBs. The Eagles generally play the most snaps in the league on defense. You could rotate the 3 ILBs to try and keep them all as fresh as possible. And all 3 have had recent injuries. Imagine if when Kendricks got hurt last year, you had Alonso and Ryans. Or that when Ryans got hurt, you had Kendricks and Alonso.
It is possible the Eagles will deal Kendricks. I don’t want them to do this any more than you do, but my opinion apparently matter’s less than Chip’s. Kendricks is entering the final year of his deal so if you aren’t committed to him long term, this is the time to deal him. Having him play this year and then leave as a free agent…that is the worst possible outcome.
We’ll know in about 6 weeks.
Now on to the Miles Austin side of things.
WR Miles Austin and the #Eagles have agreed on a one-year deal worth $2.3M base with another $700K available in incentives, source said.
The more I think about this, the more I see Austin in the slot, like Jason Avant in 2013. Avant didn’t play on STs. He was just a solid veteran WR.
Some have asked if Austin could replace Riley Cooper. I guess that is possible, but I don’t feel that’s a likely scenario. If you get rid of Cooper, you want a clear upgrade. Austin would be more of a lateral move there.
There are a lot of good WRs in the draft. The Eagles could add one or two and have a much better looking receiver corps. You can’t count on those rookies to play like Jordan Matthews. That’s why you need someone like Austin who can be productive right away. He has limitations, but you know what you’re getting.
The one concern with Austin is durability. He’s had a lot of nagging injuries in his career, especially hamstrings. This could be the ultimate test for sports science.
It looks like the Eagles have found a veteran WR to add to the mix. Miles Austin is in town. If he passes his physical, it sounds like he will sign with the team.
I preferred Hakeem Nicks, but that was based more on talent than fit. Austin is bigger. He can play the slot or outside. I can’t honestly tell you which guy is a better blocker. That’s something I’d have to watch tape to find out. I do think Austin is more of a high character guy.
Trying to figure out where Austin would fit in is a bit awkward.
Miles Austin hasn't played special teams since 2009. Don't see him as a #4 or #5 WR, especially on team that so heavily emphasizes ST's.
You could have Matthews and Cooper on the outside, with Austin in the slot. Austin can play outside, but he’s not a guy you feed the ball to.
You still have Josh Huff and a rookie or two to add to the mix.
It will be interesting to see if there is any kind of a signing bonus or if Austin gets a minimal deal.
Do not think of this as Austin replacing Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles needed a veteran (or two) to add to the mix. Brad Smith is a free agent. We don’t know if Jeff Maehl is coming back. There was room for a veteran. With Matthews, Huff and at least one rookie, you’ll want a veteran receiver on the team to help them develop.
Hardly a compelling move, but does make some sense.
There are 2 big misses: not getting FS Devin McCourty to leave the Patriots and losing Jeremy Maclin to the Chiefs. Of course, if they had pulled those moves off, other ones might not have taken place. McCourty would have been huge because that is such a tough position to fill. Maclin would have been good for the sake of continuity.
Obviously judging the offseason centers around how you assess the Sam Bradford trade. If you think this is doomed to fail and a complete waste of time and resources, you are going to be down on the offseason.
I’m keeping an open mind with the Bradford deal. That’s the guy Chip wanted. They talked to the Rams off and on for a month. This wasn’t a casual decision. I’m trusting Chip on that one.
I do like the fact the offense will be more physical and that the defense should be improved.
There are still holes to fill. WR, OL, S and CB still need help. And the draft is about adding overall talent to your roster.
There is no such thing as a perfect offseason. You’ll always come away wishing you could have done something else. The key is to make enough good moves and not to leave any glaring holes.
Remember that moves will take place into early September. Sometimes you can find key answers down the road. Just think about the impact of Cody Parkey, who came here in a trade on August 20. Not every key move happens in early March or on draft weekend.
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I’ve got some interesting stats in the column in regard to Murray vs Shady. I was surprised at the numbers.
Bradford has been omnipresent at the NovaCare Complex since the trade and has already begun learning the offense with center Jason Kelce.
“I think he’s a guy that comes off very cerebral, very smart, very quick,” Kelce said. “He’s had a lot of bad luck in his career as far as injuries are concerned. And as far as – and I don’t want to throw any offensive lines under the bus – I think he’s much better now with us.
“I think he has a good chance to be very successful in this offense.”
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A bit more on Mariota. I seem to be confusing some people.
Marcus Mariota is one of the top prospects in this draft. I think he can be a good starting QB. I do not think he is a special prospect that only comes around once every few years. Alex Smith and Andrew Luck both went #1 overall. Luck was a special prospect. Smith was the best QB in a weak group. Big difference.
I think Chip Kelly would love to draft Mariota. He knows how talented the guy is and what a good fit he would be in this system. That said, I think Kelly understands Mariota isn’t special. He’s not someone you sell out to get.
I think Mariota will go in the Top 10. A lot of teams are now showing interest in him. Some of this is pre-draft BS, but not all of it. There are too many teams that need a QB and he is a good one. That said, it is possible he will slide. If Mariota does make it outside the Top 10, I’m sure Kelly will make calls to see what the asking price is to move up. If reasonable, he might go for it. I just think this is a highly unlikely scenario.
If you had a time machine and knew how good Mariota could be, he might be worth selling out to get. But that is the difference in being a player and being a prospect. Players are known (or somewhat known) commodities. Prospects are complete projections. Would you trade 3 1st round picks for Aaron Rodgers? Probably. You know he is a special player. Mariota could be a Hall of Fame talent or a complete bust. I don’t think even Chip Kelly feels strongly enough about him to break the bank (in terms of picks).
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