Eagles' potential secondary draftees

Posted: February 22, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - Statistics don't always tell the whole story, but they tell more than enough of it as far as the play of the 2012 Eagles' secondary is concerned.

The Birds gave up 33 touchdown passes, which not only was the most in the league, but also the most in franchise history.

Their eight interceptions were the third fewest in the league.

Their 99.6 opponent passer rating was the second-worst in the NFL and their 104.7 third-down opponent passer rating was the bottom of the barrel.

So, yeah, the secondary definitely stunk up the joint in a big way. And while we've spent the early part of the offseason wondering what wonderful offensive innovations Chip Kelly has brought with him to Philadelphia and who's going to be his starting quarterback, the organization's most pressing task in the coming months is going to be fixing the back end of its battered defense.

In the four seasons since Jim Johnson's death, the Eagles have given up 118 touchdown passes, an average of 29.5 per year. In the 10 seasons that Johnson was their defensive coordinator, they averaged 17.3.

Free agency begins March 12, and the Eagles will have the cap space to be players if they so choose. But given how badly they got burned on cornerbacks 2 years ago with the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha and the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, they might be a little wary of seeking veteran help.

Then again, they haven't had much luck lately finding good DBs in the draft, either. They've drafted seven corners and safeties in the last 4 years. Just four of them were on their 2012 season-ending roster, and only one - 2010 seventh-round safety Kurt Coleman - was a starter.

The Eagles' coaches and scouts will get an up-close-and-personal look at the draft's top safeties and corners in the coming days at the NFL scouting combine.

"This is one of the best safety classes I've seen in years," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think the Eagles are going to get a chance to get a [good] safety in the second or third round, and that's important. Because they need a safety badly. They could also use a corner.

"But they'd better find a safety at some point, because all the rest of it isn't going to matter if they don't get help from the back end."

The Eagles have spent second-round picks in two of the last three drafts on safeties. One - Jaiquawn Jarrett - was released before his second season. The other - Nate Allen - also has not lived up to expectations and was benched late last season.

The Eagles finished last season with the undersized Coleman and Colt Anderson, whom they picked up off the Vikings' practice squad, as their starting safeties. Neither is an every-down player. Both should be earning their keep as core special-teamers.

The best safety in the 2013 draft class is Kenny Vaccaro, of Texas. He's a 6-1, 215-pounder who can cover and play up in the box. Mayock expects him to be a top-15 pick, but unless the Eagles trade down out of the fourth spot, they won't be drafting him.

"The more tape [of Vaccaro] I watched, the more I liked him," Mayock said. "They played him closer to the line of scrimmage this year. He covered a bunch of slot [receivers]. I watched him cover [West Virginia's] Tavon Austin. That's rare. In today's world, that's rare and it's important.

"The key to his coverage ability is quick feet. He's tough as nails. He tackles."

After Vaccaro, Mayock's top-rated safeties are Matt Elam (Florida), JohnathanCyprien (Florida International), Eric Reid (LSU), Zeke Motta (Notre Dame), Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) and J.J. Wilcox (Georgia Southern).

Elam could go later in the first round. Cyprien is a potential second-rounder. Reid, Motta, Thomas and Wilcox all are likely third-round picks.

"I think Elam is kind of a late-one to mid-two," Mayock said. "Cyprien had a great Senior Bowl week. I think he's a guy that's going to go somewhere in the middle to end of the second round. I think he could start immediately.

"After Vaccaro, Elam and Cyprien, there is a little bit of a dropoff."

The Eagles' cornerback situation is as unsettled as safety. Both Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are coming off dreadful seasons.

Collectively, they gave up 10 touchdown passes, allowed completions 61.2 percent of the time they were targeted, and gave up an average of 14.9 yards per reception, according to Pro Football Focus.

Asomugha, who will turn 32 in July, clearly has lost a step. Unless he agrees to a dramatic restructuring of his contract - he is scheduled to earn $15.3 million next season - he won't be back. Even if he is willing to restructure, he still might not be back.

The 6-2, 182-pound Rodgers-Cromartie is an unrestricted free agent. He has a lot of talent, but is inconsistent and undependable. Given the way he played last year and the lack of effort he often showed even in his contract year, it's unlikely the Eagles will offer him much in the way of guaranteed money.

Rookie Brandon Boykin played pretty well as the nickel corner. The Eagles could possibly move him outside. But with wide receivers in the league getting bigger and bigger, would they be willing to move a 5-9 corner outside? Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, has size (6-1), but played just 62 defensive reps last season.

The cornerback position in the draft doesn't appear to be quite as deep as safety. Alabama's Dee Milliner is the cream of the crop. Probably will be a top-10 pick if he runs a decent time at the combine or his Pro Day.

Several early mock drafts have the Eagles taking him with the fourth overall pick. At this point, Mayock thinks that might be a little high.

"I really like him," he said. "I think he's a heck of a football player and I think he'd be safe. But I don't think he's that explosive 4.35 kind of 40 [-yard dash] guy. If they took him, I'd be OK with that because he's a solid football player. But I think it's a little high for him."

After Milliner, there is no consensus.

"Nobody knows who the second corner is," Mayock said. "That's one of the questions the could be answered this weekend. Who is going to run fast? Who is going to look the best? The question on most of the corners after Milliner is about pure speed."

Going into the combine, Mayock had Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) rated as the second-best corner, followed by Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Desmond Trufant (Washington) and Jordan Poyer (Oregon State).

"Almost all of the top corners this year are boundary corners," he said, referring to corners who line up on the short side of the field and are able to use the sideline as a coverage aid. "Typically, that means a tough, smart guy that can tackle, but is speed deficient.

"Depending on what happens with these corners, if you don't get Milliner and somebody runs fast - Rhodes, Banks, Trufant - if any of those guys runs 4.4 at the combine, who the next corner coming off is going to be really intriguing."

Banks is an intriguing prospect. He is listed as 6-2. His measurements, including his arm length, and his 40 time will go a long way in determining whether he moves into the first round.

"He's not an elite corner, but he's just a notch off of that," said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. "He's just a really good all-around player.

"At 6-2 and 185 pounds, my guess is he's going to check out really well in Indy. But there still are questions about his ability to turn and run, and be a guy you trust on an island in man-to-man coverage."

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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