Anything could happen for Eagles in this draft

Posted: May 09, 2014

When the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft still remains a mystery despite a player of Jadeveon Clowney's caliber being there for the Houston Texans' taking, you can be certain no one - let alone Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman - knows whom the Eagles will select with the 22d overall pick in the first round Thursday night.

Far too many variables are at play, including the possibility of trading up or down, for anyone to get a grasp on the Eagles' plans. But that hasn't stopped the team's followers from guessing whom Kelly will take in his second NFL draft.

And there are enough clues to at least narrow the Eagles' first-round decision down to this: defense or wide receiver? Do Kelly and Roseman address a defensive unit that allowed almost 400 yards a game last season and is aging in several key spots, or do they fill a glaring hole after the removal of DeSean Jackson?

"Here is the premise I'm operating off of: They made the playoffs last year with an offense that was No. 4 in the league in points scored," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I give [defensive coordinator] Billy Davis a ton of credit for bringing a defense along that in August was horrific, and they got better and better every day. But they didn't have a whole lot of talent."

Other than adding safety Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles did little to address Davis' unit in free agency. Most of the starters for this season are in place, but the defense is still without an all-pro-quality playmaker and young talent waiting in the wings at safety, linebacker, and cornerback.

The Eagles, though, insist they will select the best available players with their six draft picks, and there might not be a top defensive prospect at one of those positions sitting on their board when pick 22 rolls around.

Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor have first-round grades from many NFL scouts, but a handful of safety-needy teams will select before the Eagles.

Anthony Barr of UCLA is the only 3-4 outside linebacker who should be available after the top 10, and although there have been rumblings that he could slip into the 20s, premium pass rushers usually go earlier than expected.

Roseman said the draft is deep at cornerback, especially tall and rangy ones who fit Kelly's particulars for the position. But the top three - Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard - could all be snatched before the Eagles pick.

The Eagles are said to be hot for Fuller, a versatile defender who was a team captain for the Hokies. Mayock said he had the 6-foot, 190-pound corner slotted to the Eagles in one of his early mock drafts. But Fuller isn't likely to get past the Steelers on the 15th pick.

The question then for the Eagles would be: Are they willing to trade up for a defensive player they covet even though they don't have much draft-pick ammunition?

"Would we look at that?" Roseman said. "No question."

If they can't find a trade partner and stay put, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby could be appealing. Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could go as early as the top 10, but he doesn't play at a premium position and could slip. The Eagles need an heir to DeMeco Ryans.

Ryan Shazier of Ohio State is probably the most athletically gifted linebacker in the draft, and he should last into the 20s, but does he rank ahead of the receivers who should still be on the Eagles' board at 22?

There has been plenty of speculation about the Eagles' interest in trading up into the teens for Louisiana State's Odell Beckham Jr. or even into the top 10 for Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans. But why would they trade up for a position they freely admit is as deep in the draft as it has ever been?

"There are 17 underclassmen wide receivers in this draft, and before they came out, it was a good wide receiver draft," Roseman said. "When we look at our board, it's a position of strength."

Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Marqise Lee of Southern California could be the best available receivers when the Eagles are on the clock. Cooks is Jackson-size (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) and as fast (4.33-second 40-yard dash), and he's tougher. Lee is a little bigger (6-0, 192) and not as fast (4.52) as Cooks, but he may be the most polished receiver in the draft.

And don't forget: With Kelly, there's always the potential wild card. If he was willing to release Jackson, the thinking goes, why couldn't he draft a quarterback and try to move Nick Foles, another of his Pro Bowl players from 2013?

Johnny Manziel, whom Kelly recruited to attend Oregon, would seem the most likely candidate. Opinion seems split on the free-swinging Texas A&M quarterback, but many analysts expect him to be drafted in the top 10.

If Manziel drops, would Kelly pull off the shocker of the draft? It seems unlikely, but anything seems possible this year.


>Inquirer.com

Get all the latest Eagles news as it happens during draft weekend on Twitter @Jeff_McLane @zberm, and on The Inquirer's Eagles blog, "Birds' Eye View," at inquirer.com/bev


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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