More on the 1st Round and Danny Watkins

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , | 20 Comments »

The Eagles headed into the 2011 Draft needing a CB and RG. The Eagles had spent the offseason doing a lot of work on CB Jimmy Smith. I’ve been told by multiple sources that he was the team’s #1 target heading into the draft. I was told yesterday that the team pulled Smith off the board. Why? What happened?

Smith was a scary prospect. There is no question about that. He’s got elite talent, but has some serious character issues that made multiple teams pull him off the draft board. I’m guessing the Eagles stuck with him because he was such a player of need. After all, you are willing to take risks when you are desperate. After the recent rulings from Judge Susan Nelson it has become likely that there will be an offseason, and sooner rather than later. This had to have changed the dynamics of the Eagles plans.

For them to change their mind on Smith means the team has targeted some veteran CBs through trade or free agency that they feel can be acquired. Teams aren’t allowed to talk deals right now, but maybe there were some discussions at the Combine or owners meetings. The Eagles wouldn’t change their mind on Smith if they didn’t feel confident about landing a good RCB.

Smith was a player that I coveted for the Eagles, but not without reservations. My attitude was always that I’m okay with him if they’re willing to spend the pick on him. I’m okay with passing on him if that’s what they do. The Eagles did a lot of research.  They are as thorough as any organization out there.  I trust them when it comes to who they take and pass on because of character.  I might disagree with who they pick, but it won’t be for character reasons.  The Eagles knew Smith was a major risk. They felt he was worth it for a while, but obviously changed their minds. As long as they land a quality veteran CB, I’m fine with that.
The one thing to keep in mind about Smith is that rookie CBs struggled a lot last year. That was a concern for me as well. Kareem Jackson started for 3 years at Alabama. He faced elite competition. He played for a tough coach in an NFL system. Jackson was one of the worst starting CBs in the entire NFL last year. Kyle Wilson was also a talented, veteran college corner who struggled mightily. He lost his job as the #3 CB. Rookies don’t always handle the first year so well.

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I heard the Eagles did discuss taking Da’Quan Bowers at 23. I’m glad they passed. It was probably wise to have the discussion because of how talented Bowers is, but we’ve had terrible luck with guys with bad knees. I’m not willing to gamble pick 23 on an iffy knee. Plus, I didn’t think Bowers was a great fit for Jim Washburn’s scheme. You also throw in the fact Bowers only had 1 great year at Clemson. Too many question marks to make him a smart pick.

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Back to Danny Boy. We knew the Eagles liked him. They spent a lot of time with Danny at the Senior Bowl and showed a lot of interest. This is a player that I’m sure Howard Mudd was in love with. I never projected Danny to the Eagles because I didn’t think they would take him at 23 (due to the age) and I saw no way for him to last long in the 2nd round.

The age issue is a major downer. No 2 ways about that. Him being 26 going on 27 is something that will keep me from being in love with the pick. That said, we do have to understand something about the age. The fact he’s 26 right now is actually a good thing for the 2011 Eagles. Watkins is a man. He’s mature. He’s focused. He won’t go to Training Camp worried about his X-box or what kind of car he’s going to buy. Watkins will be all about business.

The age factor really only becomes a negative when we get to his second contract. Most players are ascending or just hitting their prime when it is time to negotiate. Danny will either be at the tail end of the prime of his career or will be descending. That doesn’t mean he can’t play and still be a solid starter, but those will be some odd negotiations.

The guy we’re getting right now is a “heckuva” player and he’s ready to roll. He will come in and compete for the starting RG spot right away. I say compete because he does have to earn the job. Nothing is given to a rookie. DeSean Jackson began as a backup. Almost immediately people could see that label wouldn’t last long. He was so good that he moved to the top of the depth chart quickly. He’s been there ever since.

The battle for RG will be between Mike McGlynn and Watkins. They are basically the same size. Mike played more in college. Mike has starting NFL experience. The difference is really talent. Danny is just more gifted. He’s very coachable so I expect him to adjust quickly to playing RG and in our system. Danny was a LT at Baylor, but played G at the Senior Bowl. He got better each day and then played well in the game. You could see him learning every day. He didn’t repeat mistakes. He listened when the coaches talked to him.

Here is my write-up on Watkins from the Senior Bowl practices:

Danny Watkins — The Ancient Mariner. He’s almost 26 1/2. Cut him open and count the rings. Still, he showed that he can play. Had to make the transition from LT to OG. Looked good, whether at RG or LG. Showed good hand punch. Moved well laterally. Still finished his blocks and had the nasty edge that he blocked with at Baylor. Can you take a guy this old in the 2nd round?

 

You can see where my mind was at with the last comment.  I really liked Watkins, but how do you factor in age?  The scout who helped me out years ago had been brought up in the system where 24 was the cutoff and only special guys could be that old and a decent pick.  Players didn’t use to take as much care of their bodies so they really broke down around 30.  Different times, different rules.  Nutrition and fitness are huge for most players these days and it gives them a chance to last longer.

Here is my write-up on him after the Senior Bowl game:

WATKINS — LG. Had a great block of Ballard on early inside run. Doubled him at first, but then stuck with the block by himself until the whistle blew. Drove Ballard away from the scrum. Paved way for Ponder to get couple of yards on QB sneak on opening drive. Got a holding call when he was beaten to the inside by McClain. Moved to RG on next drive. Had a real good block of McClain in pass pro. Gave ground initially, but then re-set. Used his hands to keep McClain off his body. Had a good block of DT on draw play to give RB a clear running lane. The guy tried to go low and Danny put him on the ground and pushed him inside. Has excellent lateral agility. Works hard to mirror DTs when they try going hard inside or outside on him. Good block of Williams on pass play. Stuck with him until the QB scrambled. Good combo block on run to his side. Helped OT turn the DT, then got on the LB. Terrific block on GL run. Fired off the ball and got to Homan quickly. Gets off the ball well, but erratic on the 2nd level. Jordan split attempted double team by Watkins and RT and got RB on a play to his side. Good block on 4th Qtr run to his side. Got on the DT initially, then got on Homan and gave the runner space to get almost 5 yds.

We had a major hole at RG. Remember watching Nick Cole vs JAX and DET? I thought maybe he was trying to get revenge on Mike Vick for the dogfighting. Nick was a speed bump in those games. Max Jean-Gilles was better, but hardly a player you could count on to consistently block at a high level. McGlynn projects to being a solid RG. Danny Watkins has the potential to be outstanding. He is a natural pass blocker, which is critical in our offense. One of the biggest problems we had at RG was reading blitzes and stunts and then handling them. Danny is a bright guy so he should see things well. He has excellent lateral agility, which is crucial when sliding in or out to pick off a blitzer or DE looping inside.

If Jamaal Jackson hadn’t missed a game in 4 years, the Eagles might have felt good enough about McGlynn to let him be the RG. Unfortunately, JamJax has had injury issues in 2 straight years. McGlynn may have to play C at some point. If so, you don’t want to rely on MJG sliding in there. Add a top shelf RG like Watkins and improve the overall group.

Also, I’ve said this all offseason, but it bears repeating…Winston Justice will greatly benefit from having a good RG next to him. By adding Watkins, I truly believe you have upgraded RG and RT, which is critical for a pass happy team with a lefty QB.

This isn’t a slam dunk pick that can’t be questioned, but there is a lot of logic to it and it does make the Eagles a better football team instantly. Our goal is to win the Super Bowl in 2011 and Watkins helps put us on that path. We need Vick healthy. He is the key to this football team. Vick has all the weapons he needs. Protection was a different story. Watkins shores up the O-line and gives us a talented blocker for Vick and also helps our depth. Keep Vick healthy and give him more of a clean pocket and the offense will do their part in competing for a championship.

The defense will get their help on Day 2, Day 3, and with pro personnel moves.


Comparing the Big 3 CB Prospects

Posted: April 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

Over at SB Nation Philly I wrote a column looking at the Big 3 CB prospects and how they compare to each other.  It would be ideal if the Eagles could land one of the trio.

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Jason at BleedingGreenNation has a post up with some info that Jimmy Smith’s character issues may be fading.   Make sure you check that out.  Hard to say if it is true or this is pre-draft mis-information being spread by teams.  Mike Mayock was on Eagles Live last week and said that Smith’s problems really concern him.  Mike talks to a lot of NFL people so that is worth keeping in mind.

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I watched some 2009 tape of Clemson while checking out a draft prospect.  I couldn’t help but watch Ricky Sapp some of the time.  I didn’t like him as a fit for our defense last year as a DE.  I thought he had to play LB.  This year is completely different.  We’ll let him get down in that track stance and fire off the ball from a wide angle.  That’s perfect for Sapp.  He looked good yesterday on the move.  I think he could really be a big help this year with Brandon Graham coming off the ACL injury.  Sapp isn’t going to start and deliver 10 sacks, but he can be a good situational rusher for us.

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I’ll answer some questions tomorrow.  Lots of draft work to do today.  The 28th is approaching fast.

Ricky Sapp gets ready for the IR.

Don't forget about me.


Monday Draft Talk

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments »

My SB Nation Philly column covered local offensive prospects and whether the Eagles might like them.   If you’ll look in the comments section, someone from the Rackley family got on me for criticizing Will Rackley’s play vs Drake.  She says he had a bum ankle.  Assuming that’s true, it helps him in my mind.  I still don’t see him as a OT prospect, but it makes me more comfortable with him overall.

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I watched lots of tape this weekend.  I’ll be doing a write-up on RB Taiwan Jones on ScoutsNotebook.  Eagles have to be fascinated.  Jones is a big play runner that might remind you of Jamaal Charles.   He’s definitely faster than Shady when you watch them run in games.

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I watched more tape of Jimmy Smith.  He played well against AJ Green in the UGA/Colorado game.  Green lit up Jalil Brown (the other Senior CB), but Smith controlled him.

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I’m really curious what Jim Washburn thinks of DL Cameron Heyward from Ohio State.  I watched the OSU/ILL game last night.  Heyward wasn’t dominant, but was definitely a factor in bottling up Mikel Leshoure.  Heyward has as much potential as any DL in the draft.  He can take over games (just watch him in the Sugar Bowl vs Arkansas).  He can play DT or DE.  He’s big and athletic.

The down side is that he wasn’t more regularly dominant.  Fair or not, comparisons to Vernon Gholston are going to happen.  It is easy to think of Vern as a bust now, but he was an elite prospect coming out.  Put on his final game tape vs Michigan and you see a dominant player.

Heyward would give Washburn an athletic inside player to help his scheme really max out.  Cam is 6-4, 287.  He’s quick off the ball and strong as well.  He can go through blocks or around them.  He’s not lazy at all, but you also can’t say he’s got a great motor.  The question is whether Washburn sees a player with great potential that he’d love to coach or whether he sees a talented guy that lacks the competitive streak to ever be a great player.   Washburn is an intense, fiery coach.  He needs players he can get after and be tough on.  I’d love to know if Heyward is a target or someone that Washburn isn’t interested in.


Draft Talk

Posted: April 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

In case you missed it, my latest PE.com column covers some Eagles draft talk.   More talk about Jimmy Smith.

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A couple of DTs are visiting the Eagles in the near future.  Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson is coming in.  He’s a local visit so this isn’t the same as someone coming from out of town.  Still, it does show interest.

I’ve gone back and forth as to whether the Eagles will like him.  Initially I thought he would be a target.  Wilkerson is a big, tall guy that moves well.  Who wouldn’t be interested?  Then I started thinking Washburn would want more of a sleek build.  As I did some research for my recent DT post I realized that Jason Jones was really the only sleek DT he had at Tennessee.  Plenty were quick and athletic, but they came in different shapes and sizes.  Wilkerson is quick enough and athletic enough to play for Jim Washburn.  I’m now back to thinking Muhammad he will be a target.  I still lean toward the Eagles going CB in the 1st, but if we can trade Kolb and get another pick…DT could be a target.

Aaron Wilson of the NFP reports that Stephen Paea will visit.  Paea (6-1, 303) played at Oregon State.  He got a lot of press for setting the Combine record with 49 reps on the bench press, but Paea isn’t some workout wonder.  He is a darn good football player.  Some scouts love this guy.  I know at least one who considers Paea his favorite player in the whole draft.

Put on the tape and you see a high motor guy.  Paea is excellent in pursuit.  His strength from the bench press translates to the field.  Paea has played down in the 280s and 290s, but he was never easy to move off the ball.  I’ve seen him handle double teams.  I’ve gotten questions about Paea and DT Corey Liuget.  I do like Paea better.  Liuget may get drafted higher, but I value Paea’s motor and track record.  He had 29.5 career TFLs and played at a high level for 3 full seasons.  Paea hurt his knee at the Senior Bowl (making him more of an Eagles target?).  It wasn’t an ACL so it isn’t a huge issue, but it has limited his ability to workout for teams.


Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , | 13 Comments »

“No, really…she will.”

Tampa CB Aqib Talib is one of the few people I know that can really say that.  For those who haven’t read the glorious details of the NFL’s best story of 2011, go here.  I’ll just share my favorite line or two.

Talib dropped the gun, Billings picked it up and took off running, and Talib’s mother pull out her own gun and fired three shots at Billings.  Aqib then allegedly grabbed the gun from his mother and fired two shots of his own.

I mention this to bring up the subject of character.  I was a huge fan of Talib’s heading into the draft a few years back.  I thought he would be a terrific pick for the Eagles.  He was big, athletic enough, and a productive ballhawk.  The Eagles traded out of pick 19 in 2008.  Talib went 20th.

I don’t know if the Eagles even had Talib on their board.  He had some character concerns coming out of Kansas.  Some teams liked him, others didn’t.  The Bucs had no reservations and took him.  Talib has rewarded them by being a good player.  He has also punished them by being a pain in the butt off the field.  Character really is the ultimate x-factor.

The Eagles have generally taken high character guys.  Freddie Mitchell was a knucklehead, but the only time he became a real distraction was Super Bowl week when cameras were on him and the team 24/7.   There are some other exceptions.  DeSean Jackson and Lito Sheppard weren’t choirboys coming out of college.  Jack Ikegwounu had some issues.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other players, but the majority have been solid guys.

Andy Reid spoke to that point in a interview with Dave Spadaro about 10 days ago.  I’m not sure if it is episode 1, 2, or 3.  It’s all worth watching.  Andy talked about the need to build a strong environment by taking high character players and then having the ability to take some chances on guys who do have issues.  No football coach in the NFL can surround himself with only choirboys and expect to win a championship.  That’s just reality.

Last year the Eagles felt they needed an infusion of the right kind of players.  They went after team leaders, good students, and high character prospects.  That foundation now gives them the freedom to take a chance on someone this year.  That’s important because a potentially key target for the Eagles does have some issues.

Colorado CB Jimmy Smith won’t be on all 32 draft boards.  He has failed some drug tests.  He’s had some other issues at CU.  To my knowledge, Smith has never been arrested or suspended.  We’re not talking about a violent criminal.  Smith is immature and makes some dumb decisions.

Smith is someone you take a chance on for a couple of reasons.  If you put him in a strong, professional environment, this is the kind of guy who might be able to change.  He played 4 years at Colorado.  That tells you he showed up for class enough to stay eligible.  He also did enough on the practice field to keep the coaches either happy or satisfied.

Also, the ceiling is very high.  He is an outstanding player.  He has a great combination of size, speed, and cover skills.  He may not have consistently played up to his potential in games, but you wonder how much of that is circumstantial.  He didn’t get many passes thrown his way.  His team was mediocre.  Put him on an NFL defense with a winning team and you might get a much better product.   If you are going to take a chance on a player, it might as well be on someone with big time talent.

Clearly no team will take him without doing a lot of research and meeting him in person to get a feel for his personality.  Smith is a risk, but the reward is enticing…a CB with Pro Bowl potential.  You wouldn’t want a team full of Jimmy Smiths, but mixing one guy into a defense with solid citizens like Trent Cole, Stewart Bradley, and Nate Allen is a risk I can live with.