Here's everything you need to know about the Eagles' situation heading into this weekend's NFL Draft. If somehow, magically, good-karma-reward-for-not-killing-TO-while-he-was-here, the Eagles were awarded the number one pick in the draft, they would be selecting a player who wouldn't start this year.
The consensus best prospect in this year's draft is Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, a 6-5, 239-pound freak of nature who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He's the evolutionary Terrell Owens, but without -- so far -- the team-killing attitude. He's a broad side of the barn can't-miss prospect.
And if the Eagles took him, he'd be starting the season on the bench behind Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis while he learned the intricacies of the West Coast offense.
So if the Eagles had their pick of every player in the land and wouldn't be looking for an immediate starter out of that position, how much of a chance do you think there is that the #26 pick is going to yield immediate dividends? Somewhere between zero and Bunkley, I'm guessing.
One mistake fans often make is assuming their team will draft in order of need. Like, say, the team's biggest needs are #1 linebacker, #2 safety, #3 running back, so clearly they'll draft a linebacker in the first round, a safety in the second and a Westbrook in the third. That's not how these things actually work. And for a team like the Eagles, where there aren't that many holes, they can't just take the best available player at each position and then let training camp sort it out.
Most people are probably familiar with Bill Parcells' "planet theory" of prospect evaluation. (Short version: there are only so many people on the planet with the combination of size/speed needed to be a dominant offensive or defensive lineman in the NFL; if one is available, you better take him.) But there's a "junior" corollary to that theory that applies to NFL defensive backfields, where it's easy to find big guys who can hit (Michael Lewis) and small guys who can run (Sean Considine), but not so easy to find guys who can do both.
Eagles GM Tom Heckert made that point earlier this week in an interview with the Inquirer:
"I think right now, everybody believes you have to have a safety that can cover . . . and those guys don't exist," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said last week. "The guys that can cover are 185 pounds and play corner, but they can't stop the run. To get a guy that's 200 pounds and can cover, it's tough to find those guys."
What that means is that -- even though the safety position may be the team's third or fourth priority this year -- the Eagles can't wait around to the third or fourth round (or fifth, since they don't have a fourth-round pick) to select a guy who can eventually replace Brian Dawkins. None of big/fast guys will still be around by then.
Unfortunately, the draft's top safeties will likely be gone by the time the Eagles pick, which means they are going to have to look elsewhere if they want to fill that need. One possibility from that same article:
According to the Eagles' general manager, some of the players who were cornerbacks in college may make the transition to safety in the NFL. "There are a lot of guys who are playing corner that we project as safeties," Heckert said. "That's an added bonus if a guy has corner skills and can play safety. I think we have five guys projected like that."
There's another advantage to that idea. We all know how difficult the Eagles' defense can be to learn, but if they draft a CB/FS tweener, they can get him on the field immediately as the nickel cornerback this season. Rather than rotting away on the bench, he could contribute immediately and either learn the safety position over the next year or two, or eventually move to the outside if the Eagles instead decide to convert Sheldon Brown to safety to take Dawk's place.
Now I don't think that's the only possible outcome this weekend. If for some reason Penn State stud linebacker (and personal man-crush) Paul Posluszny were to fall to the Eagles' pick at #26, I truly believe they would select a guy who could lock down the MLB and defensive team leader position for the next 10 years. They could also make a move at defensive end, if something unforeseen happens there as well. But I'm guessing the CB-to-safety scenario is the most likely possibility in the first.
There's no cute theory -- or much mystery -- about the rest of the draft. The Eagles should be looking for a running back to replace Ryan Moats (and Reno Mahe, whose days in Philadelphia are probably coming to a close -- look for him to end up in Seattle or Green Bay or one of those other places where Reid has connections). William James is not a long-term answer at cornerback, so another DB should be in the mix. A defensive end to knock McDougle out of the rotation is also likely. And, of course, tight end LJ Smith is entering the last year of his contract, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Eagles pick someone up there (most likely a physically gifted, but raw talent, rather than a more polished prospect who could contribute more quickly -- tight end is another "planet" position, at least in this offense).
I've already said before that I want the Eagles to either draft a first-round linebacker or avoid taking one at all (we have enough bodies at that position, talent is another question). But a low-round guy who could catch on to the practice squad wouldn't be bad. The same thing goes for fullback.
Of course, my dream scenario has the Eagles going 1&2 with Poz and Tony Hunt. I can already see the Eagles using Westbrook to soften up defenses for the first three quarters and then bringing Hunt in to destroy their will in the fourth. It's a beautiful vision. Given that Hunt is already accomplished in the passing game (catching and blocking), there's at least a chance of this coming true.
And since Hunt already played in an offense where they didn't hand him the ball enough, he should be perfectly comfortable playing for the Eagles.