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Thursday, February 20, 2014
Combine prep: Edge rushers

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Mayock, the Philadelphia-area native and NFL Network analyst, made some waves this week by touting Auburn defensive end Dee Ford as a possible first-round pick for the Eagles this year.

Ford had a terrific Senior Bowl, and the Eagles do have a history of drafting players who show up in Mobile. But the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ford is often compared to Trent Cole, a very good pass-rushing defensive end who was forced into the uncomfortable role of 3-4 outside linebacker last season. Do the Eagles, who also have 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham playing out of position, really want another 6-2 defensive end learning how to drop into coverage?

The answer will depend on just how effective GM Howie Roseman and his staff believe Ford will be at getting to NFL quarterbacks. It remains a valued skill, which is why an edge player -- whether it’s an outside linebacker or defensive end -- has to be near the top of the Eagles’ list of offseason needs.

With that, here are some players the Eagles could be looking at during this week’s combine in Indianapolis:

Barr
Anthony Barr is rated as the second-best outside linebacker in the draft by Scouts Inc.
Anthony Barr, UCLA linebacker. A lot of early evaluations had Barr in the top 10 of draft-eligible players. He seems to be dropping, which could say something about the utility of early evaluations or something about the find-the-flaw nature of film study.

If the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Barr drifts into the teens, could the Eagles find a way to trade up and take him? It depends on how much they like him, of course, and they will get a much better feel for that this week.

Kony Ealy, Missouri defensive end. Everybody is talking about his teammate, Michael Sam, but Ealy is the Mizzou player most likely to go in the first round. At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Ealy is closer to Chip Kelly’s physical specs.

Mayock has Ealy as his second highest-rated defensive end, behind only Jadeveon Clowney. But NFL Network’s Nolan Nawrocki says Ealy “could also draw looks as a 3-4 rush linebacker.” The combine will give Roseman, Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis a firsthand look at him.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame defensive end. At 6-foot-6, 303 pounds, Tuitt is not going to be a linebacker. But he is described by ESPN’s scouts as “Ideal fit as a 5-technique for a base 3-4 scheme.” The Eagles have Fletcher Cox at one end. They like Cedric Thornton at the other. But a strong, deep defensive line can only make the rest of the defense better. A long shot, but interesting.

Trent Murphy, Stanford. Murphy lined up as an outside linebacker in college. He was used as a defensive end in the Senior Bowl, and Mayock has him as his fifth-best end.

If the Eagles have interest in the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Murphy -- who had 14 sacks last season -- it would be as a linebacker. He could be a second-round option.

Dee Ford, Auburn. His big-game production is compelling. Ford had two sacks in the national championship game and two of Johnny Manziel when Auburn beat Texas A&M.

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Shazier looks more like a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but his coverage ability is hard to overlook in today’s game.

Kyle Van Noy, BYU linebacker. Another second-round name to watch. Van Noy is 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds -- a little light but a versatile player who could potentially add a little upper-body weight and strength.