Philadelphia Eagles: Earl Thomas

The only player evaluations that matter, as far as the Eagles are concerned, are the ones done by general manager Howie Roseman and his staff.

The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.

Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.

Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.

Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.

Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.

PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.

Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the NFL combine in full swing and free agency creeping up on us, it’s a perfect time for speculation and discussion about the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Let’s get right to this week’s Twitter conversation (and please: it’s never too early to jump into next week’s convo by tweeting me @SheridanScribe with the hashtag #espneagles):

 
PHILADELPHIA -- Unlike the first two categories in our NFL Nation survey, the Philadelphia Eagles' results were markedly different from the national totals when it came to naming the most respected player in the NFL.

Nationally, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was the runaway winner. Although he beat Philadelphia 52-20 early in the 2013 season, the 10 Eagles polled did not name Manning.

Indeed, they didn’t show much of a consensus on anyone. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was the only player to get two votes from the Eagles. One player said he had the most respect for the guys who play special teams and run the scout team in practice.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick got one vote. So did London Fletcher, Calvin Johnson, Tamba Hali, Andre Johnson, Ed Reed and Earl Thomas.
PHILADELPHIA -- Bad drafts don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither do good ones. The Eagles’ 2013 draft class is an example of what it looks like when everything -- scouting, drafting, coaching, development -- works the way it is supposed to.

The Eagles took tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick in the draft, tight end Zach Ertz in the second round and defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the third. All three were contributors in their first season and look like very good choices.

[+] EnlargeZach Ertz
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsZach Ertz and the other top picks in the Eagles' 2013 draft class were valuable contributors during their rookie seasons.
But what if they had taken defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who excelled in Carolina, in the first round, then took linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round and either cornerback Tyrann Mathieu or offensive tackle Terron Armstead in the third?

The point isn’t that, with hindsight, the Eagles should have done that. The point is that there are different ways to assemble the puzzle pieces for a good draft. And the larger point is that a draft class can sink or rise depending on the coaching that it gets.

For a number of reasons, the Eagles under Andy Reid lost that hands-on teaching and development element. Were the 2010 (Brandon Graham, Nate Allen) and 2011 (Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett) draft classes really as bad as they looked? Or were all those players undermined by the dysfunction that had crept into the NovaCare Complex – constant change at defensive coordinator, Jim Washburn’s wide 9 defense, Howard Mudd’s idiosyncratic offensive line approach, etc.?

Case in point: If the Eagles had taken safety Earl Thomas or defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul instead of Graham in the 2010 first round, would they be the players they became in Seattle and New York? Or would they have the same lost look on their faces that became common among Eagles defenders in the Juan Castillo era?

The Eagles weren’t alone in ranking Watkins as a first-round pick. Was everyone in the NFL that wrong, or was Mudd precisely the wrong guy to coax the best out of a raw rookie from Western Canada? Maybe a little of both.

Chip Kelly and his coaching staff helped make this 2013 class look good, and there’s proof. Kelly’s staff also made the 2012 class better. Fletcher Cox improved steadily as he made the transition to the 3-4 defensive techniques. Mychal Kendricks grew into a turnover machine. Vinny Curry may not really fit the new system, but he was productive when used as a pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ defense. Brandon Boykin was a revelation playing nickel cornerback.

You might have heard that Nick Foles had a pretty good year.

Like Reid, Kelly brought in a bunch of smart, energized teachers for his position coaches. Over time, Reid’s group aged and moved on. Kelly’s staff is just about to hit its stride here.

“Now that we've got at least a year of experience, it'll be a little bit different here in the offseason,” Kelly said. “We're all not living in a hotel and spending basically 20 hours a day here because we've got nowhere else to go. There's a lot of differences to it. ... I think we've laid a foundation, but you've got to build something upon that foundation.”

A little later, a look at the 2013 draft class.

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