Monday, February 25, 2013
Secondary focus in the NFC East
By Dan Graziano
As we have discussed on here a few times, it's entirely possible that the Philadelphia Eagles could feature four new starters in the secondary in 2013. Not certain, but possible. None of last year's starters -- cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman -- showed enough that the Eagles will strain to bring them back. And as the one NFC East team with salary-cap room to spare, the Eagles enter the offseason with both the need and the ability to add quality pieces to their secondary.
Zach Berman has a look at the depth of talent at safety and cornerback in this year's draft and some names to watch for as the Eagles pick in the second and third rounds. You can't rule out Alabama corner Dee Milliner as the Eagles' first-round pick, but assuming they go elsewhere at No. 4, they should be able to find good options on Day 2.
If taking Milliner with the fourth overall pick is too high for the Eagles, they will have options in the second or third rounds. Mississippi State's Jonathan Banks, Rutgers' Logan Ryan (Eastern High School), and Oregon State's Jordan Poyer are likely to be options at No. 35, and each is at least 6-feet tall.
Another intriguing option later on is North Carolina State's David Amerson, a heralded cornerback before the season who admitted Sunday he misplaced his focus on trying to break the NCAA interception record after recording 13 picks in 2011. He finished with five in 2012, and his performance also declined.
The Eagles could try to find a safety in the second or third round. The key will be identifying one versatile enough to cover and play in the box. General manager Howie Roseman has said on numerous occasions that the position is evolving and challenging to evaluate.
This is an issue division wide. While secondary help is the top need for the last-place Eagles, it's also the top need for the division-champion Washington Redskins, who have major cap problems and no first-round pick. Each of the other NFC East teams will have picked twice before the Redskins' first pick (No. 51 overall) rolls around. And while that's the residue of the very positive acts of (a) trading for Robert Griffin III and (b) winning the division, it does hamstring Washington a bit as it looks for help at cornerback and safety. Depending on what they can find in free agency among guys like Louis Delmas, Ryan Mundy and maybe Kenny Phillips, the Redskins will be looking for starting-caliber players at safety in the second and third rounds. And with DeAngelo Hall's contract situation, they're likely to be looking for cornerback help, too.
The New York Giants took cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round two years ago, but they have a contract issue with their other starting cornerback, Corey Webster, whose play declined sharply in 2012. With no obvious replacement on the roster, the Giants may look to pick a corner early to help shore up the back end of their defense. And with Phillips likely to depart as a free agent, they have to assess whether Stevie Brown is the answer as his replacement or whether they need to find a better long-term solution. Brown had a lot of interceptions, of course, but he didn't bring the same kind of all-around game Phillips does when healthy. The Giants, like the Eagles and the Redskins, will be looking for defensive backs who can start right away or very soon.
Even the Dallas Cowboys, who spent a truckload of free-agent money and draft picks on cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne a year ago, will be on the hunt for help in the secondary. They'll lose cornerback Mike Jenkins to free agency, which will hit at their depth at corner, but the bigger issue is at safety. The switch to Monte Kiffin's 'Tampa 2' style defense puts greater emphasis on safety play, and after Gerald Sensabaugh the Cowboys have a lot of question marks at the position. Barry Church was a training camp star last year, but he got hurt early in the season and they really can't know his value as a starter. Even if he comes back healthy and fits well into Kiffin's scheme (two big question marks), the Cowboys will need to add depth at safety. And while they have bigger needs on both lines, don't be surprised if they look to the early rounds of the draft for help at that position.
The Eagles aren't the only NFC East team looking for help in the secondary this spring. The good thing for all four of our division's teams is that there appears to be plenty of such help out there.