Draft may not yield ideal pass rusher for Eagles

If the Eagles were to draft a pass rusher at No. 22, Auburn's Dee Ford (6-21/2, 252 pounds, 327/8-inch arms) might be one who could measure up.    Getty
If the Eagles were to draft a pass rusher at No. 22, Auburn's Dee Ford (6-21/2, 252 pounds, 327/8-inch arms) might be one who could measure up.    Getty
Posted: February 24, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS - When the Eagles arrived at the NFL scouting combine a year ago, their defensive scheme remained a bit of a mystery.

Chip Kelly and Bill Davis wanted to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but they weren't going to push forward if they didn't have the necessary pieces up front. They eventually acquired a nose tackle and outside linebacker to help with the changeover, but they still lacked a prototypical 3-4 edge rusher.

Many thought the Eagles would get that outside linebacker in the 2013 draft - or at least one to develop. But the Dolphins drafted Dion Jordan one spot ahead of the Eagles with the No. 3 overall pick, and Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman never took a linebacker.

A year later, they still need an edge rusher - possibly two, depending upon what they plan to do with Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. But the free-agent market isn't rife with 3-4 outside linebackers, and the draft's best prospects might not be around for the Eagles in the first round.

They could attempt to move up for Buffalo's Khalil Mack or UCLA's Anthony Barr, but jumping from No. 22 into the top 10, where both could go, would require surrendering additional picks in what is considered a deep draft.

Mack and Barr are intriguing not only because of their obvious talent, but for their size. Mack was 6-foot-31/2, 251 pounds, and Barr came in at 6-4, 255 when measured at the combine on Saturday. Both have long wingspans.

Kelly, of course, prefers length. He has given 10-minute dissertations on the value of long arms, especially on defense.

"Ideally, you would love to have 6-foot-4 guys who are 255 pounds, who have 35-inch arms, who have 101/8 hands, and who run 4.55 [40-yard dashes]," Roseman said Thursday. "But there aren't a lot of those in the NFL, let alone the world."

Jadeveon Clowney, who projects as a defensive end, measured out at 6-51/4, 266 pounds with an 83-inch wingspan. He predicted that he would run a 4.4 or 4.5. But the South Carolina product is unlikely to be available when the Eagles pick and could go first overall.

So that leaves the Eagles with really only one option if they were to take a pass rusher at No. 22, but Auburn's Dee Ford (6-21/2, 252 pounds, and 327/8-inch arms) doesn't quite have Kelly's desired size and wasn't asked to drop into coverage much in college.

"He doesn't have as much length as you might like . . . [but] he's a guy with some real edge burst, and he's a guy that would fit what the Eagles do," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said.

Ford had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl in January. One NFL scout who focused on the SEC said Saturday that he had the necessary athleticism to drop into coverage. But another scout who watched his senior film questioned whether he could make the transition after playing primarily downhill at Auburn.

The NFL is loaded with 3-4 outside linebackers who played 4-3 defensive end in college, and the Eagles have scouts, such as former Steelers GM Tom Donahoe, who specialize in finding those prospects.

"Certainly you're looking for athletic ability," Roseman said. "You look for people who can play on their feet, who can move, who can play in space, who are strong enough to set the edge."

Asked to compare Ford to one current NFL player, Cole was mentioned by one of the two scouts mentioned above. Despite concerns about Cole's adapting to outside linebacker after eight years as a 4-3 end, he had a solid season starting opposite Connor Barwin.

"It's not easy for a lot of veterans to switch schemes when they've played in the league and have had success," Roseman said. "The great part about Trent is he wanted to work at it, wanted to be really good at it. It's a hard transition."

Cole played multiple spots along the line, but he ended up dropping into coverage on 18.5 percent of pass-rushing opportunities. He has four years left on his contract but is slated to earn $5 million in 2014 before his base salary jumps to $10 million.

So it's feasible that the 31-year old returns for one more season. Graham had more difficulty making the change and has said he wants an opportunity to start. As Cole's backup, Graham played 26 percent of the defensive snaps last season and delivered pressure but had trouble playing in the open field.

The Eagles' approach to free agency, which starts March 11, could influence how they handle Cole and Graham. Barwin isn't going anywhere, and the Eagles would prefer to have outside linebackers who have comparable skill sets to keep offenses guessing which one will rush the quarterback.

The Redskins' Brian Orakpo dropped 27 percent of the time last season, but the 27-year-old might cost more than the Eagles are willing to spend on one free agent.

Jason Worilds of the Steelers might be more affordable. He dropped only 21 percent of the time last year, but the 25-year-old tallied eight sacks. He's not especially long at 6-2, 262 pounds.

But the Eagles may not have the luxury to be picky in both free agency and the draft.

"I think you've got to be open-minded to everything," Roseman said, "and then look at what your ideals are and try to find them as well."


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|