It's time for Eagles 2010 draft picks Graham and Allen to step up

Posted: July 20, 2012

How many years does it take on average to effectively evaluate a draft class?

"Three years is a good number," coach Andy Reid said recently. "You get a pretty good idea."

If that is indeed the case, this will be the season of reckoning for the Eagles' 2010 draft class, and in particular top picks Brandon Graham and Nate Allen. If either player had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in either of their first two years then a substandard third year could carry less weight.

But Graham and Allen, after an inconsistent and incomplete first two years - partly attributable to knee injuries - enter the 2012 season with a significant amount of pressure to live up to their lofty draft positions.

"It's hard not to pay attention to what people are saying because you hear it every day," Graham said last month. "But at the same time you can do something about it."

The Eagles moved up 11 spots to grab Graham with the 13th overall pick, making the Michigan product the first defensive end taken in the draft. But they passed on Jason Pierre-Paul, who the New York Giants took two spots later, and he developed into a quarterback-sacking machine.

Pierre-Paul will forever been thrown in the face of Graham and the Eagles unless there is some miraculous reversal of fortunes.

Allen was taken with the fifth pick of the second round, the main piece the Eagles received in exchange for Donovan McNabb. Allen doesn't have a Pierre-Paul to hound him, but the Eagles could have had Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who was chosen by the Seahawks one pick after Graham.

"I know I got a lot of eyes on me or whatever," Allen said. "But I don't worry about it. I just go in and do my job and . . . make as many plays as I can."

The rest of the Eagles' 2010 draft class - general manager Howie Roseman's first - has an assortment of hits and misses and who-knows-yet. But Graham and Allen will ultimately decide the worth of the group, just as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy made sure that the 2009 class can be labeled a success.

'Everything is motivation'

Some have already branded Graham a bust. He said he even agreed with his critics when spring practices began in May. But that's not exactly fair after only two seasons - which were interrupted by a major knee injury and its aftermath.

Before the injury - a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that required microfracture surgery - Graham was having by most estimates a fine rookie season. A high ankle sprain slowed him early, but he notched three sacks and two forced fumbles in his first 12 games.

Then the injury occurred and the slow recovery.

"Everything is motivation for me because everything was negative towards me," Graham said. "I couldn't do nothing. I hurt myself, and I couldn't play last year. I heard all the negatives."

Graham spent the first half of last season on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and when he did return played sparingly and ineffectively. Of particular concern was that he came back heavier than his playing weight.

"Brandon Graham, I probably haven't seen enough of," Reid said. "Now I've seen him this offseason where he's dropped this weight and redistributed his muscle mass in different areas. . . . His knee looks healthier. There's no hesitation when he corners."

Graham will have competition for playing time with starters Trent Cole and Jason Babin getting the bulk of snaps, and rookie Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp, and Phillip Hunt vying for the scraps.

Bumpy road

Allen will have no such competition. He is the starting free safety. It is his spot to lose. Last training camp, he lost it. A week after Graham ripped up his knee, Allen ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee. The injury wasn't as serious, but the safety was clearly not 100 percent by the start of the season.

After a brief stint as a reserve, Allen returned to the starting lineup, but the road was a bumpy one. He struggled early and as late as the Nov. 27 Patriots game, was effective at Buffalo and ended the season on an up note. Reid said that he saw enough improvement to remain confident about Allen's 2012 prospects.

"You take Nate, how is Nate seeing the field? How are his instincts? How are his fundamentals, his pedal? Has he improved there? Is his reaction time greater than when he was a rookie?" Reid said. "And so, I look at that and I go, 'He's progressing.' "

Last offseason Allen rehabbed in Florida because of the lockout. This year, he spent most of the winter and spring in Philadelphia, adding considerable muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame.

"I feel 100 times better than I did this time last year, the burst, my explosion, and just the mental confidence in it because that's a big part of an injury like that," Allen said. "You kind of lose your confidence in your knee. You take more steps than usual because you're thinking, 'Don't do the same thing how you tore it.' "

Final grade?

Evaluating draft classes is a tricky endeavor, even in hindsight. The Eagles needed a defensive end in 2010 because of Victor Abiamiri's knee injury. So they got who they thought was the best of the 4-3 ends, although some analysts projected Graham as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

They passed on Pierre-Paul and Derek Morgan, who was taken 16th overall. While Pierre-Paul turned out to be a stud, Morgan has been a slow go. Jerry Hughes, chosen by the Colts at No. 31, has just one sack in two seasons.

Carlos Dunlap had first-round talent, according to some predraft pundits, but he dropped into the second round because of concerns over character. He's produced 14 sacks for the Bengals over two seasons.

The Eagles had similar concerns about Pierre-Paul, and perhaps because of their missing out on him vowed this past offseason to not let minor character issues drop a prospect's stock.

Two rounds after they chose Graham, the Eagles drafted another end, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Many called the pick a stretch at the time. The Birds released Te'o-Nesheim before last season, brought him back on the practice squad but let him walk when Tampa Bay offered a contract.

After Eric Berry and Thomas, it was a toss-up as to whether Allen or Taylor Mays was the third-best safety. Allen was considered a better cover safety and Mays the bigger hitter. Mays, taken by the 49ers 12 spots after Allen, was traded to the Bengals after one season.

The rest of the 2010 class won't likely tip the scales one way or the other when delivering a final grade. Mike Kafka enters camp as the Eagles' backup quarterback. Tight end Clay Harbor, linebacker Keenan Clayton, and cornerback Trevard Lindley, also taken in the fourth round, will be fighting for roster spots.

Fifth-round wide receiver Riley Cooper isn't assured a spot, either. Defensive end Ricky Sapp, running back Charles Scott, and defensive tackle Jeff Owens are currently out of the NFL. Linebacker Jamar Chaney and safety Kurt Coleman have 33 career starts between them and have become great values for seventh-round picks.

But the pressure is on Graham and Allen, who could help turn the Eagles' 2012 season into a special one and alter perceptions of their worth.


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

 

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