In this next installment of the early offseason preview, I wanted to highlight possible QB and OL targets in unrestricted free agency. Plus a look at Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher, the ultra-gifted yet relatively unknown first-round draft prospect.
First off, I know lots of fans are rooting for the Eagles to lose out in order to maximize their draft position, but it would be such a sweet ending to a bitter season to dash the playoff hopes of two division rivals in consecutive weeks. Hopefully Sunday is Andy's last home game as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and hopefully the crowd gives him an exultingly heartfelt sendoff. As for what happens on the field against the Redskins and Giants, here's to the young guys continuing to show glimpses and giving us reason for future optimism.
Now, on to the stated topic. Joe Flacco's the most notable name among potential free agent quarterbacks, but he probably still believes he deserves to be paid as one of the league's elite. He's done anything but secure himself that type of contract with his uninspiring play this season. Besides, I've decided I want Nick Foles as the Eagles' starting quarterback in 2013, and it's not like I see any other free agent options enticing enough to change my mind. Before watching him over the past six games, I thought signing Alex Smith (who I'm guessing gets traded or released) or Matt Moore for a few years would be an acceptable stopgap option. Not anymore. With no significant upgrade available, I've seen enough from Foles to conclude he deserves the chance to further develop in the starting role.
I imagine Demetress Bell will be cut, and I don't expect the Eagles to re-sign King Dunlap. The most important development will be whether please-be-fully-healthy-again Jason Peters goes back to playing left tackle or gets shifted to right tackle. Either way, a likely popular subject of discussion will be who to pair with him as bookends on the offensive line. Potential candidates on the market like Ryan Clady, Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer and Jermon Bushrod are all highly regarded left tackles. Just keep in mind that, at the very least, each of these players' incumbent teams can assign them the franchise tag. The same could be said for the Vikings and right tackle Phil Loadholt, an aptly-named run-blocking maven who has been starting since he was a rookie (2009). He clears out the right side for Adrian Peterson and has been instrumental in what could be a record-breaking season. Other recognizable names scheduled to be on the market: Gosder Cherilus, Andre Smith, Will Beatty.
I remember Brandon Albert from his draft year but haven't exactly watched, well, any of him in the pros because the Chiefs aren't appointment viewing. Hey, Winston Justice is out there. All he needed to blossom was to leave Philadelphia. Ryan Harris, too! Remember him? Turns out he's starting at right tackle for the Texans. Yeah, I didn't know either until watching the Monday night football massacre against the Patriots.
Low risk/high reward targets:
Massive right tackle who used to be a mainstay along the Buccaneers' offensive line and started 84 of 101 career games. Lost his starting job in training camp, fell out of favor with the new coaching staff, then was benched for good before eventually being put on IR last month with a shoulder injury. Turns 30 in May.
Is that a football surname, or what? Legursky has been a super sub for the Steelers, filling in at guard and center when called upon. Athletically limited but strong as an ox, he's a classic mauler who plays with a snarl. As we saw this season, you can never have enough depth along the offensive line. I'd certainly inquire about Legursky's services due to his dependability and versatility.
I don't care about signing Kevin Boothe, but I have to point out he's got the biggest, oddest-shaped, most-hilarious-to-look-at butt in the league.
As for the other part of the offseason...
Draft update: Instead of going through a full mock draft, I decided to focus on Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, the top-rated senior left tackle prospect in the draft and a projected first-round pick. Yet playing for Central Michigan means he gets little exposure and is overshadowed by his peers who play for major programs. Fisher has remained something of an unknown to this point, but he's about to become the topic of a lot more discussion once the NFL season ends and draft season begins. I also added two late-round prospects who pique my curiosity.
(One minor draft note: In the midst of doing research for the past two articles, I neglected to include the 2013 conditional 7th round pick acquired from the Colts as was part of the trade for Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd. I apologize for that oversight.)
As of this past weekend, I didn't know that Draft Breakdown existed. How this happened is a complete and utter mystery to me, it doesn't make any sense. I owe the discovery to Twitter, which, like an idiot, I hadn't truly begun utilizing as a resource until a few months ago. DVR-ing games only became a personal practice in 2010, and in the past when researching the draft I had to rely on real-time viewing, YouTube clips and torrent files mined from the depths of NFL Draft message boards. It was cumbersome, it sucked. I'm ecstatic Draft Breakdown was brought to my attention. I can't believe I've been DVR-ing games and fast-forwarding through certain parts like a chump. Watching video cutups provides a much better flow, a new viewing experience really. This site gets, like, all the gold stars and is a must for draft junkies.
Thanks to Draft Breakdown, I decided to watch all the video they had of the consensus top offensive tackles one right after the other, side-by-side, so I got a better feel for comparing and contrasting -- instead of compartmentalizing -- their play. The whole endeavor took hours and was the first time I had ever done anything like it. I had seen Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan all in game action before, but this was my first opportunity to watch some of Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher, who's been getting buzz all season and fascinated me on paper. I reviewed his performances against Michigan State and Iowa, and while it was only two games, I do put stake in first impressions. Suffice to say I wish I'd watched Fisher before writing last week's article because I like him so much more than Taylor Lewan*, it's not even close. Now, again, I know it was only two games, but I think I might even like Fisher more than Joeckel and Matthews, as good as they are. Am I crazy? Maybe. I'll reserve final judgment until I see how he fairs at the Senior Bowl against top-tier talent, but I think he'll more than hold his own. Remember the adage about offensive linemen being the smartest players? Fisher's major is Mechanical Engineering. Oh, and in the photo on his bio page he's got this pissed-off, I'm-going-to-kick-your-ass look to him, like he's staring deep into your soul. It jives with his style on the field, a style we so desperately miss on the Eagles.
*[Speaking of Lewan, it just so happens his Draft Breakdown page contains six of seven games I hadn't seen (excluding first-game struggles against Alabama, which is what I had on my DVR along with his solid play versus Michigan State and Minnesota). As I went through each cutup in succession, I noted shoddy balance, slow feet, struggles with quick defensive ends coming around the edge, a propensity for leaning and lunging (which led to getting tossed aside), whiffing on blocks. "Clumsy" is the adjective that kept popping into my head. There were flashes of NFL ability and for the most part I liked how he got to the second level and located defenders, but consistency was an issue, especially in pass protection. While Lewan has definitive limitations and is a better run blocker than pass blocker who plays with a nasty demeanor, overall, it didn't take long before I felt like a jackass for initially having read about him more than watched him. It led me to opine from a relatively uninformed perspective, which is something I try not to do. He's going to get worked by Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. Forget what I wrote last week, I wouldn't take Taylor Lewan in the top-10, probably not in the top-20.]
Back to Eric Fisher. Aside from level of competition, I couldn't come up with any reasons why he isn't considered a lock for the top-10. I've seen Joe Staley comparisons thrown around, and I imagine it's not only because they're both Chippewas. Without being able to watch any of his games, here's what I knew of Staley in his draft year (2007): He was a converted tight end and a generational athlete for the position with off-the-chart measurables. We're talking about a guy who, at nearly 6'6" and 306 pounds, ran a 4.78 at the Combine. Yes, a 4.78. Without doing extensive research, I feel fairly confident saying that's one of the three fastest 40-times for an offensive tackle ever recorded. If you watch the 49ers, you see that speed on display pretty regularly when Staley pulls and gets out in front to clear the way on running plays. He's made himself into one of the best left tackles in the league, and it's not absurd to think Fisher could develop similarly when evaluating his skill set.
Now, I don't foresee Fisher running anywhere even close to a 4.78, but I'll be more interested in his 10- and 20-yard splits than his 40-yard dash time. At 6'6.5" and 305 pounds, he is an exceptional, rare athlete for his size, displaying the necessary balance and quick, light feet to combat NFL defensive ends. I'm simply blown away by his agility, how effortlessly and nimbly he moves. I love that he plays mean and to the whistle. Fisher bends well and has long arms that he uses to routinely keep pass rushers from getting into his body; if he does get beat, he's able to push defenders wide and redirect them away from the quarterback. While lauded primarily for pass protection, I think he's being underrated as a run blocker, as those long arms, combined with how he fires off the snap, consistently enable him to initiate contact and drive defensive linemen backwards. Fisher excels when asked to pull and is a natural, decisive blocker in space, though sometimes his aggressiveness leads to overextension and lunging. I also thought he anchored really well in pass protection; was able to stand his ground and not get pushed back when defensive ends attempted to get under pad level and create leverage. In other words, Fisher was never put on those dreaded "roller skates."
I've admitted that scouting offensive lineman from a technical standpoint isn't a strength of mine, but even I can notice when a player looks ugly (Lewan) or showcases special ability, which is the case with Eric Fisher. While his current weight suggests he'll need to add strength (has the frame to do so without sacrificing skill), his size, length, athleticism, balance, quick feet and fluid movement make him an ideal left tackle. Fisher missed the final two games of 2011 because of a knee injury, but if his medicals check out he profiles as a long-time starter and potential Pro Bowl player at the position, thanks to physical characteristics and elite athleticism that simply cannot be taught. If the Eagles choose to trade down, he is the kind of player they could target in the 10-20 range. You can watch Fisher yourself on Wednesday, December 26, when Central Michigan takes on Western Kentucky in the Little Ceasars Bowl. Unfortunately, he won't be attempting to block fellow draft prospect Quanterus Smith, defensive end for Western Kentucky, who tore his ACL last month.
Two late-round prospects:
Bojay Filimoeatu - OLB - Utah State - 6012 / 258 - 4.72
The first time I ever heard of or saw Bojay Filimoeatu play was by accident. It was a Friday night, September 7, and I was sitting in the living room while a few friends were getting ready to go out. Not content to pound shots indiscriminately like REAL MEN, they wanted to devise a fun way to do it. Naturally, they decided the drinking should involve whatever football game was being televised. The only game on the tube was Utah's version of the civil war, pitting Utah against Utah State. As soon as we turned on the game, Filimoeatu made a play. And then another. And then another. Here's what I wrote:
Another guy who passes the name test. Elite ability to diagnose plays and get to the spot, head on a swivel/aware of everything going on, beats blockers with ease, disciplined, strong tackler, all over the field and made what seemed like every play/stop for Utah State defense in win over Utah, which was the first time I'd ever heard of or watched him. Filimoeatu's size and first step quickness alone are enough to intrigue, but it's his feel for the game and inspirational leadership that add to his overall appeal. During the Utah State/Utah game, the announcers alluded to Filimoeatu having an injury history, but he played all of last season, and, as far as I can tell, was healthy both years in junior college. So... yeah, I don't know.
I watched Filimoeatu again against Toledo in the esteemed Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last week and -- surprise, surprise -- he was all over the place, finishing with 11 TT (8 solo), 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PD. I almost felt like I was watching a copy of his performance against Utah. Hard-nosed, physical player who's an effective blitzer and always hovering around the line of scrimmage. Filimoeatu appears to have something of a, um, doughy build (which perversely makes me like him even more), and I wonder how well he'll test athletically. No matter, I doubt it's going to matter much to me in the end. I think he shows the skills to be a strongside linebacker in the NFL and represents a shrewd value pick somewhere in the 4th-7th round.
If anybody could hook me up with tape of Utah State/Wisconsin (September 15) so I can see how Bojay performs against AQ-conference competition, I'd be forever appreciative.
Dexter McCoil - FS - Tulsa - 6032 / 222 - 4.62
I didn't discover Dexter "McPoyle" McCoil (bonus McPoyle fun) until a few weeks ago, but his measurements jumped out at me immediately. The only game tape on his Draft Breakdown page is the 2011 Bell Helicopter and Armed Forces Bowl against BYU, when he recorded 10 total tackles (almost always looks to wrap up ball-carrier's legs), two interceptions (plus a third that was nullified by a penalty) and a pass deflection where his long arms made up for not taking a good angle to the ball. McCoil has a big, long frame and wiry, gangly build; could bulk up a bit and retain athleticism, strides like a gazelle and shows incredible range. He's aggressive and unafraid to come up from the defensive backfield to stop ball carrier; good, solid open field tackler, much better than I expected actually. Like a true play-making free safety, McCoil patrols the middle of the field and flashes great ball skills, having finished his college career with 17 interceptions. 2012 season stats: 85 TT (56 solo), 4 INT, 9 PD