For just the fifth time in the Andy Reid era, the Eagles failed to get 40 sacks, finishing with 39. They had just 15 in their last eight games. Trent Cole, who had seven sacks in the first eight games, had just three in the final eight. Juqua Parker, who notched four sacks in the first three games, managed just two the rest of the season.
Last year's No. 1 pick, defensive end Brandon Graham, tore an ACL in Week 14 and still has a lengthy rehab and recovery in front of him. If the Eagles get anything from him this season, it will be a surprise. Third-round pick Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a non-factor.
Parker will be 33 next month. Victor Abiamiri is coming off microfracture knee surgery that sidelined him all of last season. The Eagles did sign Canadian Football League sack king Phillip Hunt earlier this year. That and $15 will get him a vanilla latte at Starbucks.
So, yes, they still need a pass rusher. I'm not suggesting they don't also need a cornerback. But considering that the list of first-round-worthy defensive ends is much larger than the list of first-round-worthy cornerbacks this year, and considering that there are expected to be several good corners available on the free-agent market whenever the free-agent market eventually opens, including one Nnamdi Asomugha, be prepared to hear Roger Goodell announce tomorrow night, "With the 23rd pick in the first round, the Philadelphia Eagles select defensive end . . . "
Unless of course, they draft an offensive lineman. But that's another story.
"There are other avenues [to address needs]," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "We don't want to force a particular position, a particular need if the right player is not there. The worst outcome for us is taking a player who's not a good enough player to help us."
Getting a top-of-the-line cornerback in either the draft or free agency to pair with four-time Pro Bowl ballhawk Samuel certainly would improve the Eagles' ability to defend the pass. But if they don't improve their pass rush, it won't matter. Because a cornerback, no matter how good he is, can't cover a receiver indefinitely.
"A pass rusher can help your secondary," Roseman said. "When you have a guy who can impact the time that corners have to cover, that allows corners that maybe aren't as talented to be able to play. And corners can be thrown away from."
The Eagles always have placed a high value on cornerbacks. They made rich men of Samuel and Troy Vincent. They selected Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown with two of their first three picks in the 2002 draft (around strong safety Michael Lewis). But Roseman's right. It's easier to hide the sins of an average corner than it is an average pass rush. It's also easier for an offense to negate a great corner than it is to negate a great pass rush.
"You can always throw away from a franchise corner," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "You can't run or throw away from a front-seven guy. That's why a Marcell Dareus or an edge rusher is always going to be more valuable than a corner.
"A lot of people will tell you the best way to impact the pass is to get the [pass] rush. I wouldn't disagree. There are people that I really trust and admire in the league, and that is their thought process. The best way to impact a quarterback is to get in his face and hit him as often as possible."
That's why, despite the fact that many NFL personnel people and draft analysts have him rated as the top player in this draft, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson has no shot at being the first player taken tomorrow night.
No cornerback ever has been taken first or second in the draft. By comparison, 11 defensive linemen have gone No. 1 overall just since 1970.
Since 1980, just eight cornerbacks have been top-five picks. In the last 15 drafts, 56 cornerbacks have been selected in the first round compared to 115 defensive linemen and rush linebackers. And 28 of those 56 were taken 20th or lower.
"There are a couple of corners at the top that are very talented and probably will go pretty early," said Roseman, referring to Peterson and Prince Amukamara, of Nebraska. "After that, there's a group that if you took 32 teams, you'd probably have 32 different draft boards of the next five or six guys as far as where they come off and how they have them ranked. In years past, there's been more of a consensus top five."
After Peterson and Amukamara, the Eagles don't see many corners in this draft who are better than the guy they drafted in the fourth round last year, Trevard Lindley. Maybe Colorado's Jimmy Smith, but he has enough off-the-field issues to fill a week of programming for Dr. Phil.
"I thought Trevard did a really good job as a rookie," Roseman said. "He played at a high level for a fourth-round pick."
That doesn't mean the Eagles don't plan to go after Asomugha or another top corner in free agency. It doesn't even mean they won't select another corner at some point in this week's draft.
It just means that you shouldn't throw a temper tantrum or D-cell batteries if they end up taking a defensive lineman in the first round. Because they still need one of those as well.
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