Bob Ford: Eagles may be ready to run and shoot

Posted: April 26, 2009

When you consider the Eagles' recent draft history, maybe the biggest surprise wasn't that they took receiver Jeremy Maclin in the first round last night, but that they took anyone at all.

After trading out of the opening round two years in a row, simply getting a body from the first pick is almost a reason to celebrate. That they moved up a couple of spots to do so was even more of an indication of how highly they had Maclin rated on their own draft board.

"We had him in the first round, how's that?" said coach Andy Reid, who is loath to reveal any information, even when it no longer matters.

On some draft boards and projections, Maclin, who set several records for all-around yardage in his two seasons at Missouri, was rated as high as fifth or sixth. As he tumbled through the draft, past the midpoint of the first round, the Eagles got more and more interested.

They dangled a sixth-round pick in front of Cleveland for the benefit of moving up two places and headed off what Reid described as other teams intent on getting the same bargain in Maclin.

"A couple of teams were trying to move up to get him, and that's why we snuck up there," Reid said.

In taking Maclin, the Eagles also passed up a lot, including monstrous Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who went with the next pick, and Vontae Davis, a highly rated cornerback who also fell further than expected.

What they got, however, is pretty exciting. With Maclin and DeSean Jackson together on the field, the Eagles will have the youngest, most versatile pass-catching duo in the NFL. Both players can line up in the slot position, at wideout or in the backfield. Toss in the versatility of Brian Westbrook, another multiple-position player, and the Eagles' version of the West Coast offense could morph into a run-and-shoot attack that would give opposing defensive coordinators headaches.

When the Eagles augmented the set by taking Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy in the second round - a player who lined up often as the "Wildcat" quarterback - the focus of this draft was much clearer.

If quarterback Donovan McNabb didn't deliver an ultimatum to the team during the off-season - get better or get me out of here - the moves made by Reid and the front office certainly make it seem that way.

So far, the most important thing the Eagles have done is put a protective blanket around McNabb by adding tackles Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews. If you were exasperated when the Eagles traded out of the first round a year ago, the payoff came when the pick they received in that deal with Carolina is what sprung Peters loose from Buffalo. In addition to the tackles, the Eagles gave McNabb a little more protection and another medium-range weapon with the addition of fullback Leonard Weaver, previously of the Seahawks.

And yesterday, they could have done any number of things, but they chose to take a skill-position player in the first round for the first time since drafting Freddie Mitchell in 2001. They got McNabb another real weapon, someone who, at least in college, was a very good possession receiver - a third-down specialist - as well as a fast-enough receiver to stretch the field. Then in the second round, they got McCoy, who not only is insurance against a Westbrook injury, but a potentially exciting and versatile player in his own right.

"I've been working my tail off to get ready. Doing everything I can do to be ready to play," McCoy said.

Perhaps McNabb also would like a contract extension or some other indication that the organization still loves him, but he can't complain about the off-season moves so far. If Peters is as good at left tackle as they expect him to be, the need for someone like Pettigrew isn't as vital. The Eagles can find a hard-working chip blocker with good hands to pair with Brent Celek and probably live with the results.

Reid wouldn't say whether the Eagles had been angling for a wide receiver all along, or that bolstering the offense was a priority. He merely said that Maclin was too good a value to pass up as he drifted into their range.

The coach did mention that when the first-round pick was being made, he shot off a quick text message to McNabb. If the Eagles had taken, say, a cornerback or a defensive end, maybe that wouldn't have been necessary.

The message was clear yesterday, though, and you didn't necessarily need a text from the coach to read it.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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