Big decisions loom for Eagles in the NFL Draft
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
People always say in life to do what makes you happy and not what appeases the concerns of others. It doesn't matter what other people feel about who you are or what you do; it's about doing what makes you feel good. There's no person who gets this message better than Chip Kelly.
The head coach and director of player personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles has orchestrated one of the most radical and mind-boggling offseasons that football fans, let alone Eagles fans, have ever seen. The most recent of these moves happened this week when the Eagles signed quarterback Tim Tebow, who has not played in the NFL since 2012 with the New York Jets.
Not surprisingly, the always-cordial Philly fan base has been less than thrilled and rather confused at the moves Chip has made. By looking at the volatility of players coming and going this offseason, it's perfectly reasonable for Eagles fans to be scratching their heads at what Chip is trying to do. Just tune in for no more than a half hour of sports talk radio in the City of Brotherly Love and you'll know what I am taking about.
And, as stated above, Chip could care less about what Eagles fans or the city of Philadelphia think about his plan to build a championship-caliber football team at Lincoln Financial Field. Sure, many fans are starting to doubt his strategy, but football people call Kelly a mad scientist for a reason because he is naturally an unorthodox coach who goes against the standard. That's what makes Chip Kelly so good at what he does.
I went into great detail about the Eagles' roller coaster offseason here so feel free to take a look at that when finished reading here. For the purpose of this piece, I want to focus primarily on what Chip Kelly will look to do for the Eagles in next Thursday's NFL Draft.
As stated, the draft is just a week away and is sure to be full of craziness as it always provides. Of course, many debates still to be settled between now and then are "Should Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota go No. 1 overall?" and "Which position player other than quarterback will go off the board first?" These questions are above my pay grade and will not be discussed here, so go watch Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay and see what they have to say about that.
The primary needs for the Eagles coming into the draft are at wide receiver and in the secondary; no question about that. The already-strong offensive line could use some help too by trying to get younger, but the Eagles' inability to trade Evan Mathis yet probably means Philly will look at improvement on the line as third to wide receiver and the secondary. However, this should in no way mean that the offensive line should not be looked at for improvement. Without question the offensive line of the Eagles will decide how well the team does this season, especially with a crop of oft-injured quarterbacks and running backs who have benefited in the past from strong offensive lines.
Despite having one of the highest-flying offenses in the league last season, the Birds have a big hole to fill at wide receiver in the draft after veteran and No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin left in free agency for the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, I am still angry about this and yes, I do believe the Eagles should have paid up to keep his services in Philly.
Nevertheless, the Eagles supposedly "replaced" Maclin with veteran wide receiver Miles Austin who Philly fans will unfortunately remember from his days with the Dallas Cowboys. For those who didn't know yet, Austin is in no way an adequate replacement for Maclin. In addition, Riley Cooper's so-so 2014 campaign is giving Eagles fans upset stomachs at the thought of him being the No. 1 wide receiver on this team. Rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff showed a ton of promise and excitement in their first season and should be even better in year two, but the Eagles still need more at the wide receiver position to help out (insert "quarterback your lovely heart desires to see start" here) do his job in Kelly's up-tempo offense.
The wide receiver group in this draft is deep with talent, highlighted by Amari Cooper of Alabama and Kevin White of West Virginia. While Cooper appears to be the most pro-ready wide receiver, White's athleticism and size is something that cannot be taught or taken for granted. If the Eagles were in much more desperate need for a wide receiver in a class that was not so deep, Philly trading up for either guy would not be ruled out. However, for this year's group of talented wide receivers, the Eagles would be unwise to trade up for either Cooper or White unless either falls all the way down to No. 20.
Two other wide receiver prospects who are charging up the mock draft tables as of late are DeVante Parker of Louisville and Breshad Perriman of Central Florida. Like White and Cooper, Parker is moving further out of the Eagles' range and it is very likely he will get picked in the first half of the opening round. However, many experts have the Eagles taking Perriman at No. 20 if he remains available. The same can be applied to Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, a popular name who many feel the Eagles could snag as well in the first round. Both Perriman and Strong are quick, big wide receiver targets who could fit very well into Kelly's offense. In a strong group of wide receiver prospects, it is reasonable for the Eagles to look at Perriman and Strong as viable first round options.
One of the big reasons the Eagles failed to make the playoffs last season despite winning 10 games was because of a lousy secondary that was torn to pieces down the stretch. Chip wasted no time in dumping Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher off the ship and bringing in (and overpaying) Byron Maxwell of the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" to completely reshape the secondary. In addition, the Eagles signed cornerback Walter Thurmond away from the New York Giants to fill the other defensive back position. Thurmond missed pretty much all of last season due to injury, so depending on Thurmond to be a full-time starter is a serious risk.
While Brandon Boykin is sure to see more opportunities now, Boykin is best at covering opposing wide receivers in the slot rather than on the outside. And it will be really interesting to see if Philly is willing to give Nolan Carroll more opportunities at corner this season. The Eagles are set at free safety with the dependable playmaker Malcolm Jenkins, but a big hole must be filled at strong safety. The Eagles will have to decide if Earl Wolff is the answer at strong safety, and it seems to me that Philly would like to add a safety in the draft rather than start Wolff.
Since safety is of highest priority for the Eagles' secondary, Landon Collins of Alabama is by far the best available in the draft and would be a perfect fit at strong safety for the Birds. Best of all, Collins is projected to go around No. 20 and should be on the board when the Eagles are up to pick. Needless to say, passing off on Collins would be unwise in a draft class that is rather short on talent at the safety position.
On the other hand, the defensive back position is deep with talented prospects in this draft. Therefore, the Eagles may not need to go after one right away in the first round. Trae Waynes of Michigan State is projected by most to be the first corner to go in the first round and will most likely be off the board when the Eagles are up to pick.
However, there are many other excellent defensive back prospects that should be available when the Eagles are up at No. 20. The one guy that the Eagles seem to really like is Byron Jones of Connecticut, whose stock is rising rapidly and might have the most size of any defensive back in this draft. Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest is another talented corner who should be available for the Birds, as well as Marcus Peters of Washington. But Peters' extensive attitude problems should be cause for concern when being considered by the Eagles. From the looks of it, both Collins and Jones should be the primary targets for the Eagles in looking to improve the secondary through the draft next week.
Before I conclude, you know that I could not talk about the NFL Draft and the Philadelphia Eagles without addressing the elephant in the room that is Marcus Mariota. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the Eagles' current quarterback situation is confusing, concerning, and risky with the injury-prone Sam Bradford, turnover-friendly Mark Sanchez, and well...Tim Tebow. As a friend of mine pointed out to me recently, the Eagles' quarterbacks pretty much all peaked in college. I'm not going to lie; that's a really good point. Take us back to 2008-2009 with our current quarterbacks and the Eagles are a team bound for the Super Bowl.
Anyway, with the manner in which Chip makes his decisions combined with the overwhelming concern Eagles' fans have right now about the current quarterback situation, trading up for the junior quarterback out of Oregon should not and cannot be ruled out. Kelly coached him for a season in Eugene and knows exactly what Mariota can do. Not to mention, Mariota has run a very similar form of Kelly's offense at Oregon for the past three seasons. With his understanding of Kelly's complex, high-octane offense combined with his overall high football IQ and pro-ready skill, trading up for Mariota is not at all out of the question. Why? Because Chip Kelly will do it if it means this football team will be better.
We all know that the move would make Eagles' fans and the City of Brotherly Love very happy. Chip would probably get a statue in Center City and beat any other candidate running for mayor of the city this coming November. And of course, any previously held doubts about Kelly's plan for the franchise would be gone in a heartbeat.
The arrival of Mariota to Philly would be the second Hawaiian star to take the City of Brotherly Love by storm. Phillies fans will be quick to remember the glory days of Shane Victorino (aka the Flyin' Hawaiian) playing center field at Citizens Bank Park. However, trading up for Mariota would require Chip to give up A LOT. In order to get Mariota, Chip will probably have to trade several draft picks, the Liberty Bell, and the Rocky statue. To put it simply, mortgaging the whole future on one potential superstar quarterback is a high risk, high reward situation. Safe to say it will be very interesting to see what happens.
Next weekend's draft should not fail to give us a flare for the dramatic, as we will know a lot more about the Eagles after it all. Some very big and important decisions on the Eagles future await us next week.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He covers Villanova Athletics for his school newspaper The Villanovan and school TV station VillanovaTV. He also has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph