Philadelphia Eagles: Stan Jean-Baptiste

PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL scouting combine is about a month away. So Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is your last chance to eyeball some of the players the Philadelphia Eagles could select in the draft in May.

Based on a number of sources and a little logic, here are five players to keep an eye on:

Cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska. As Jimmy Kempski of philly.com noted, the Eagles' staff spent a good deal of time chatting with defensive players after the practice sessions this week. Jean-Baptiste, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound converted wide receiver, has the size and the cover skills the Eagles are looking to add to their secondary. Watch Jean-Baptiste with an eye on whether he’s willing to tackle, especially when playing the run.

Safety Deone Bucannon, Washington State. You may have heard the Eagles have had a tough time filling the safety position. The 6-1, 216-pound Bucannon plays with a “nasty edge,” according to Greg Bedard of MMQB.com. That’s an element the Eagles have lacked since Brian Dawkins, and is probably a more pressing need than corner right now.

Outside linebacker Trent Murphy, Stanford. Could he be the defensive equivalent of tight end Zach Ertz, the Stanford tight end the Eagles took last year? Chip Kelly definitely remembers those who played well against his Oregon teams. Murphy is 6-6, 261 pounds. The Atlanta Falcons' coaches have him playing defensive end this week, but that should be seen as a testament to Murphy’s versatility. He had 15 sacks as a linebacker during his senior season.

Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech. Sheil Kapadia over at Eagles 24/7 did a piece about how the 6-3, 252-pound Attaochu might fit in the Eagles’ scheme. Unlike Murphy, Attaochu could be around in the second round if the Eagles go for a defensive back or wide receiver in the first round.

Wide receiver Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt. It is considered a deep draft for big-bodied wide receivers, and it would make perfect sense for the Eagles to grab one in the first round. Texas A&M’s Mike Davis and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin won’t be on the field Saturday. The 6-3, 210-pound Matthews will.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles’ coaching and personnel staffs are in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl practices. In the past, the annual all-star game as featured many of the players the Eagles would go on to draft.

That may be changing, however.

In the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Eagles selected 19 players who appeared in the Senior Bowl. They included Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Danny Watkins, Riley Cooper, Brandon Graham and Nate Allen.

Last year, though, the Eagles took just two Senior Bowlers, first-round pick Lane Johnson and seventh-round pick, Jordan Poyer. In the second and third rounds, they took tight end Zach Ertz and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, two of the record 73 underclassmen who declared for the 2013 draft.

This year, that record has been shattered again. A total of 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible for the 2014 draft.

There is a reason for the trend. The NFL’s newest collective bargaining agreement, carved from the lockout of 2011, was not especially kind to incoming rookies. There are limits to what teams can pay their draft picks, and players are stuck with those rookie contracts through at least the first three seasons.

That is why Foles, for example, can’t receive a contract extension until after the 2014 season, at the earliest.

For players, that means coming into the league earlier makes more financial sense in the long term. The real money is now in the second contract, even for high first-round picks. If the player can get that second contract at 25 instead of 26 or 27, that means adding a prime earning year or two to their careers.

For teams, it means adding a year or two of prime performance. Running back LeSean McCoy, for instance, turned 21 in July before his rookie season in 2009. He’s only 25 after completing his fifth season. That means the Eagles can get a full 10 years of McCoy’s best before he hits the dreaded 30 barrier.

McCoy is only two years younger than Johnson and Matt Barkley, two of the Eagles’ 2013 rookies, but he has four more seasons of NFL experience and earnings.

All 98 of the underclassmen who declared this year won’t get drafted. Using last year’s numbers – 52 or 71.2 percent of the 73 underclassmen were selected – would translate to about 70 sophomores and juniors being taken in the May draft.

That’s nearly a third of the typical draft class. The NFL isn’t at the point reached by the NBA, where seniors are suspect because most of the really elite players come out early, but it is heading in that direction.

So the Eagles will work the Senior Bowl as always. Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com noted a few of the players they seemed interested in talking with Monday, notably Nebraska cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t draw as heavily from this talent pool as they have in the past.

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