The up and down, mostly down, roller coaster ride that was the Philadelphia Eagles 2011 season is coming to a close. This wasn't the season we were hoping for or expecting, but luckily the NFL isn't ending and in a few months we get to try all over again. Before the tsunami of free agency and draft articles come crashing down I thought it'd be nice to examine our roster at every position to asses our needs. For positions of need I'll name some pending free agents/draft prospects I like but this isn't a mock draft or offseason.
Quarterback: After a rocky start filled with turnovers, Michael Vick has looked fantastic over the past few weeks. While the teams we've been playing have pedestrian offenses (Dolphins, Jets) they have very stout defenses and Vick's been making them look stupid. Welcome back Starship 7. The Eagles tried to sign Vince Young to a two-year deal but he only wanted one year. That's probably the only good thing he's done for this franchise outside of the Giants game, but I don't think he deserves as much credit for that win as our D-line does. Peace out QB Dream Team, thanks for the memories. The Eagles front office is high on 2nd year quarterback Mike Kafka, but is he ready to be a back-up on a team with an injury-prone quarterback that throws as much as we do? I don't know. He looked good in the Falcons game but he was throwing short, quick passes that are expected to have a completion rate. When he tried to air it out against the Giants in week 3 he looked horrible. Reid has always kept three QBs on the roster so we'll grab somebody. I'd like us to get somebody young who is athletic and has some upside. Two free agents that stand out to me are Josh Johnson, currently with the Bucs, and Dennis Dixon who's playing down the road in Pittsburgh. Both have athleticism in spades but are very raw. They're also young guys who could be locked into multi-year deals at a fairly low price. Maybe Andy works his magic and we strike gold with again or at the very least we get a serviceable back-up. Either way we need somebody to push Kafka in camp if nothing else.
As far draft prospects go, I'd personally prefer we don't use a pick on QB. This class that at one time looked over-loaded is starting to get thin. Matt Barkley has already stated he's staying in school for one more year and Landry Jones might do the same after looking useless without WR Ryan Broyles in his last 3 games. There are a lot of teams with a hole at the QB position and they will be reaching like crazy on draft day. A few QBs I do like in the 3rd or 4th round are Geno Smith from West Virgina and E.J. Manuel from Florida State. Both are big and fast with great arm strength but need a lot of work on their passing. They are both juniors and are un-likely to come out but they'd be worth a look if they do. Kirk Cousins from Michigan State isn't a duel-threat but he is very smart and capable. He's got game-manager written all over him. He doesn't have an elite arm but he's smart and accurate.
Running Back: LeSean McCoy made the jump year from great running back to elite. He was an absolute steal as a 2nd round pick and hopefully he's going to be here for a very long time. Dion Lewis has been a pretty awful kick returner, but he's looked good in the few carries he's had this season. He looks to be a nice back-up. How many times did this team come up short in 2nd & 1, 3rd & 1, and 4th & 1 situations this season? Too many. We need somebody who can run with force and take some of the load off Shady so he doesn't end up having a 5 year career due to wear & tear. The only free agent who really fits the bill of power back and won't cost an insane amount of money is Jason Snelling of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons seem to like Snelling though and if they make him an offer I'm inclined to think he'll stay. However, the draft does offer some nice prospects in the later rounds. Bernard Pierce (Temple) is big tough north-south runner and can pound the rock at the goal line. Marc Tyler had an iffy season that started out with him being featured on TMZ drunkenly spouting off about his team, the USC Trojans. At 230 pounds he's the biggest back in the draft class and he'll be ripe for the picking in the 5th/6th round of the draft.
Wide Receiver: The future of DeSean Jackson can turn what could be a place where we draft somebody as a luxury, to a position of huge need. If DeSean is either not re-signed or tagged and traded I'm inclined to think we use of our 2nd round picks on a wide-out. Dwight Jones (UNC) would be my first choice as a replacement. He's a big bodied player at 6'4 and has enough speed to make plays downfield. He's very hard to take down after the catch and could be the red-zone target we've needed for a few years. Kendall Wright of Baylor was RGIII's favorite target this year and is basically a DeSean Jackson clone. He has elite speed and he's got great hands. He's capable of making tough sideline catches. Mohammed Sanu from Rutgers has good size at 6'2 and good speed. He runs clean routes and makes highlight reel catches. He would be very dangerous opposite Jeremy Maclin. Tommy Streeter of Miami is a huge prospect at 6'5 who would be a mismatch nightmare for most DBs. He needs to work on his route-running and needs some polish but his potential is sky high. I've heard people discuss Plaxico Burress and Dwayne Bowe as targets. Plax has looked good in the red zone this season but he's in his twilight and we already have a lot of guys entering their 30's next year. We need to stay young. I don't think KC will let Bowe go. Baldwin has been a locker room distraction and his on field play has been decent but not anything to make you think he could be the number 1 receiver next year. I think Bowe either gets re-signed or tagged. If we keep DeSean we might grab a late round guy like Marquis Maze (Alabama) to be our kick returner and a gadget play guy.
Tight End: Welcome back 2009 Brent Celek! We missed you big guy. Vick has finally developed a rapport with Celek now that our o-line has become stable and he can actually go out and catch the ball. Clay Harbour is coming along nicely as a receiving TE. We could look to grab another tight end to be used primarily as a blocker. George Bryan of N.C. State looks like one of the better blocking TEs in the 2012 draft class. He should be available in the 5th round and at 6'5 265 lbs he could be a huge asset as a blocker.
Left Tackle: Thanks for Jason Peters Buffalo. One of the best, if not the best left tackle in the NFL right now. Outstanding. King Dunlap has been an exceptional back-up in Howard Mudd's scheme. He shouldn't be expensive to keep and hopefully Mudd will push the Eagles to make him an offer. He's a great back-up at left or right tackle.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis has been excellent this season and his tweets are hilarious. If he doesn't get re-signed I'm moving to Philly and spending my time making Howie Roseman's life as miserable as possible. Julian Vandervelde is a fine back-up and opera singer. Assuming Mathis gets re-signed, we get to keep enjoying an elite tandem on the left side of our o-line.
Center: Jason Kelce has been a wonderful surprise at C. I don't think I was alone in thinking Howard Mudd was senile for making him the starter in camp, but ole Pimp Cane was right. I look forward to seeing his continued development. Jamal Jackson will be leaving us after this season, thanks for your service pal, you'll be missed. One prospect I like as a possible back-up is T-Bob Hebert from LSU. He's played at center and guard, and you know how Andy likes lineman who can move around. He's played in big games against elite competition and handled himself well. He's got good speed for a center which is paramount for our current scheme and heavy use of screen passes, plus he's received excellent coaching at LSU. He'll be available in the 7th round and might even go undrafted so he provides good value. Also, his name is T-Bob, that's just fun.
Right Guard: Danny Watkins really struggled during the pre-season and got benched for the far below average Kyle DeVan. Since retaking the starting job I haven't heard his name very much and for an offensive lineman that's a good thing. Hopefully he takes a big leap next season after having a full camp and a year in the system, he certainly has all the tools to be elite. If we get a back-up center who can also slide over to guard we might not look to add another back-up here. If we do Austin Pasztor of Virginia will be available in the last round of the draft. He's a four year starter who could be a serviceable back-up.
Right Tackle: Todd Herremins has done great in his first year as an NFL tackle. With Mathis playing lights out at left guard I say we keep Todd at RT and let him continue to develop. I completely trust him to protect Vick's blindside and the Eagles should too. I don't know what the future holds for Winston Justice. The Eagles may look to get rid of him to free up a little cap space but they might give him another year to prove himself after struggling post-injury.
Defensive End: Trent Cole and Jason Babin have been giving quarterbacks nightmares all season. Brandon Graham will be a year removed from his injury and hopefully he'll be able to contribute early and often next season. His ability to defend the run would be a nice luxury for us. Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt have done a nice job in the rotation. We're all set at defensive end next season, especially with Jaqua "I'm just going to jump offsides real quick" Parker leaving us.
Defensive Tackle: Cullen Jenkins came in became our best defensive tackle and a leader on our team. Love that guy. Mike Patterson has gotten some pressure this season but he's been a liability in the run game. Luckily, we signed He-Man Derek Landri who has been a beast. Landri has done a great job in Coach Wash's system and if we don't re-sign him I'm pretty sure Tommy Lawlor will declare Holy War on the Eagles front office. Antonio Dixon is a RFA and I assume we'll re-sign him. A healthy Dixon could do wonders for our "questionable" run defense. Trevor Laws is also a free agent and I think he'll probably be leaving us. He's been given chance after chance to make an impact and he just hasn't done it. I hope Cedric Thornton has a place on our 53 man roster. He's a raw prospect from a small school but he's got a lot of potential to become an impact player. For what it's worth, when Bill Parcels did his 'Draft Insider' special on ESPN earlier this year he picked out Thornton as his sleeper pick.
"I'll eat your children!"
Middle Linebacker: I don't know if 2010 Jamar Chaney is dead or just on vacation, but I haven't seen him this year. He's been liability against the run and the pass and we need an upgrade here asap. If Luke Kuechly is available when we're making our first draft pick we have to grab him. He would be the quarterback of our defense for the next decade. I wont' going into detail about him because d-jackfan10 pretty much nailed it with his post about the Boston College prospect.
If we miss out on Luke or Andy decides to draft a defensive end or something with the first pick there are plenty of other options. A lot of guys on here are on the Burfict or bust train. When the season started I was pretty enamored with him as well, then I watched from Arizona State games. Burfict has potential to be great but also has potential to be a total bust. He's going to need some very good coaching and a change in attitude if he's going to become a good player, and we simply don't have the staff to develop him. Dont'a Hightower is a powerful in the box dfender who could provide a big boost in run defense but won't provide much in pass protection. I think he projects better in a 3-4. N.C. State linebacker Audie Cole is an interesting prospect. He's a tall guy at 6'5 but he's a little undersized. Assuming he bulks up in the pre-draft prospect he could be a steal in the 3rd round. He plays well in the box and has been a leader for the Wolfpack defense. He plays well in pass coverage and comes up with big plays when his team needs it. He's also a kite enthusiast.
Kevin Reddick of UNC is another solid prospect. He's overshadowed by talented teammate Zach Brown but he's a great player himself. D'Qwell Jackson is a free agent who could catch our eye if the price is right.
Outside Linebacker: Brian Rolle has been our best linebacker this season. He's gotten pressure when asked to blitz and has done well in pass coverage. Casey Matthews has improved a lot since the beginning of the season when Juan Castillo threw him to the wolves. Despite all that, we still need OLB help. UNC's Zach Brown is the top OLB in this class. He's a freak athlete with good instincts. He racks up tackles and can make plays in pass defense. If Luke Keuchly is off the board when our 1st pick comes around and Brown is there we'd be smart to grab him. He's a playmaker with off the chart potential. Travis Lewis of Oklahoma was a beast 2 years ago but he's declined since then. Injuries and character concerns will push him down to the 2nd and maybe even 3rd round of the draft. He might be worth a flier based on potential but he's far from a sure thing. Danny Trevathan (Kentucky) is a tackling machine like Kuechly who provides great value in the 3rd round. He's spent his career playing top talent in the SEC and has produced big numbers. Bobby Wagner (Utah State) is another guy who racks up tackles like crazy and shows great instincts. He plays weak competition and is on the small size which will push him to the 4th round.
Cornerback: We went out and traded for DRC and signed Nnamdi Asomugha and our best corner was the guy we had all along, Asante Samuel. Unfortunately he's still most likely going to be traded in the off season. His contract is too big and I doubt the Eagles forgot about his public spat with the front office, although they should probably shoulder some of the blame for their poor handling of the situation. The good news is Rodgers-Cromartie looked good this weekend playing on the outside against the Cowboys. He and Nnamdi should form a good tandem and hopefully Spags (hoping for the best) will utilize their abilities and run a man-press scheme where these two should excel and Nnamdi can go back to playing at an elite level. Joselio Hanson is fantastic in the nickel and I'm relieved to know he'll be manning the position all season next year. The Eagles may still look to add another CB for depth and to develop. Curtis Marsh needs a lot of work before we can give him any kind of real playing time. Every time I hear his name it's because he did something down-right idiotic on special teams that hurt us. The CB class this season is one of the deepest and we can a lot options. Cliff Harris (Oregon) has had off the field issues left and right and was finally kicked off the team this year which will drag him down to the 3rd round of the draft. Andy has been taking more and more chances on guys with character issues and Harris has tons of talent. He'd be a great back-up corner and solve our kick/punt return problems. Brandon Boykin (UGA) is fast and talented prospect who has gone up against the likes of Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery and held his own. He's also a talented return man who could be had in the 4th round. D'Anton Lynn of Penn State is a big corner at 6'1 200 lbs who does well in run support and is an average cover corner who could be had in the 4th or 5th round.
Safety: Nate Allen played a great game last year against the Packers in his first ever NFL match-up. After that he was kind of average and then he got hurt. This year he has been a tremendous liability and against New England was invisible. His play has improved over the past few games along with the rest of the defense and he's still coming back from his injury. He'll be the starter at free safety next year but if he flops again it might be his last. Kurt Coleman has been excellent against Rex Grossman and meh against everyone else. He does a good job in the box but struggles in pass coverage. 2nd round pick Jaiquan Jarret has struggled to grasp the defense and hasn't played too many snaps. Hopefully with a legit defensive coordinator to coach him he'll be able to claim the starting job next season but he might end up being another failed Andy Reid defensive draft pick. Mark Barron and Robert Lester of Alabama are both big, strong, fast, and talented. They've received great coaching and played in big games. They'll both be available in the 2nd round and the front office will have to consider them based on what they've seen from our safeties this season. A later round guy to look at is Kenny Tate of Maryland. He was moved from safety to linebacker this season and struggled, if he switches back to safety for the draft he would make an interesting prospect. At 6'4 and 220 lbs he could be an enforcer in the backfield making receivers pay for going deep over the middle.
Punter: When we signed Chas Henry I thought we hit the nail on the head. A Ray Guy winner from a big program, what could go wrong? Henry's been average at best as a punter and horrible as a quarterback, even though that's the position he played in high school. If we don't just let him go we have to bring in some camp competition. UGA's Drew Butler has been outstanding at times for the Bulldogs who has played in high pressure games.
While we have areas that we need improvement and depth at, we also have several that we're stacked at with top level talent. This season has been frustrating beyond belief but as I said at the top, the Eagles have another chance to win the Lombardi next year and I'm excited to see what this team can do when it's clicking. If anyone has any prospective draft picks or free agents please comment about it. I'm a draft fanatic but my knowledge of prospects is nothing close to the level of the professionals, especially when it comes to the small schools. Thanks and go Birds!