Friday, April 27, 2012
Eagles drafting like a confident team
By Dan Graziano
The Eagles added versatile LB Mychal Kendricks and pass-rusher Vinny Curry in the second round.
When you watch the NFL draft, what impresses you is a team that appears to be in control of the process. You see some teams flapping around, reacting to other teams, doing crazy things like taking Brandon Weeden in the first round and selling their hair to a wig shop. (Don't sell your hair to a wig shop.) And you see other teams that appear to be biding their time, sticking to the smart plans and decisions they made in the sober months and weeks prior to the draft and making picks that clearly make sense for them.
The Philadelphia Eagles, during this 2012 draft, have fit into that latter category. The Eagles are not carrying themselves like a team that went 8-8 and has all kinds of holes to fill before next season rolls around. They have drafted with the cool confidence of a team on top -- a team that doesn't have to reach and flail to fill needs or amass as many picks as possible so it can rebuild.
That's the way the Eagles have been carrying themselves since the end of their disappointing 2011 season. Rather than mope and wonder and second-guess the complex plan they put together last summer to change so much about their coaching staff, their defense and their blocking schemes, the Eagles have insisted -- to themselves and to the outside world -- that the plan was a good one all along. They believe that they were done in by a poor start that featured very close losses and an absurd number of turnovers, and that if they can correct those aspects of their 2011 failures they have a good enough roster to contend for a playoff spot and make a run at the Super Bowl. They may be right and they may be wrong, but the Eagles made a plan in 2011 and they continue to believe in it.
This draft is the latest manifestation of that. Yes, first-round pick Fletcher Cox addresses a 2011 weakness. The Eagles were one of the worst defenses in the league against runs up the middle, and Cox adds size and meanness to their rotation at the interior defensive line spots. But he also fits that new defensive scheme they installed last summer -- the one that relies on the front four to pressure the quarterback and assigns unique gap responsibilities to the defensive tackles because of how wide they like to line up their ends. They believe Cox is a perfect fit for that scheme, and they'd likely have taken him, if available, even if they'd been coming off a successful season.
Yes, they needed help at linebacker, even after the DeMeco Ryans trade, and second-rounder Mychal Kendricks is a linebacker. But he's also an Andy Reid kind of linebacker -- fantastic speed and the ability to fly to the ball from wherever he's lined up on the field. Reid told Philadelphia reporters Friday that they'd use Kendricks on the strong side to start but that he can play any of the Eagles' three linebacker positions and is versatile enough to fill whatever role they need. The Eagles like versatile linebackers. Yes, it so happens they need them too, but they took one they might have taken in any other season, based on the way they like to build their defense.
Their second pick in the second round was a defensive end, Vinny Curry, and that's the kind of pick a very good team makes -- a luxury pick. The Eagles are strong at defensive end with starters Trent Cole and Jason Babin having helped tie for the league lead in sacks last year, and they have Darryl Tapp and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham as backups there. But Curry was a good value pick at No. 59, and pass-rushers are not a commodity of which you can have too much in 2012's NFL. The Eagles made one of their strengths stronger, which is something good teams do.
With their third-round pick they took a quarterback, Arizona's Nick Foles, which may have been the most Andy Reid pick of the draft so far. No, they don't need to add a rookie quarterback to their mix. But Reid believes strongly in the value of depth at that position, and if the worst-case scenario is that they eventually develop the guy and trade him away for something good, then so much the better.
This draft is going just about exactly the way the Eagles would have wanted it to go before it started, and they continue to carry themselves through a so-far-successful offseason with the confidence of a team that finished much better than 8-8 last year. That's because they believe they were better than their record, and they are eager to get to the regular season so they can prove it. The way they've performed so far in the draft will only help them follow through.