I'm not going to be in the Eagles' War Room on April 25th. I've never been in Eagles' War Room. But if I were in the Eagles' War Room on Draft Day... this is what I'd like to see on the BIG BOARD...
- Luke Joeckel: You can get fancy talking about Lane Johnson because Chip Kelly loves athletic linemen. You can outsmart yourself with Geno Smith because a new coach needs a Quarterback. But when push comes to shove (pun intended), Joeckel is the top player in this draft. His ceiling may be slightly lower than Eric Fisher's, but his floor is much higher. Joeckel is on tape playing against the best college football had to offer week in and week out and the common perception at the end of the season was.... 'this guy is the best player in the draft.' Senior Bowls and Combines and Pro-Days are nice... but they can also cause teams to question what's clear on the field. If Joeckel slips through the cracks to #4, he should be a no-brainer. Drafting a tackle gives the Eagles insurance in the case that Jason Peters' recovery never really takes, and, if Peters is fully healthy, allows Todd Herremans to move back inside and Danny Watkins to move to the bench as depth/a chance to learn the game. A front of Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, Joeckel would look awfully nice to the guy throwing the ball... whomever that is.
- Star Lotuleilei: It's a tossup between Star and Eric Fisher, here. All of the reasons for drafting a tackle remain the same as above. But, to me, Fisher is a slightly riskier prospect than Joeckel (more on that below). Star Lotuleilei, assuming all we hear about his heart between now and Draft Day is 'a ok,' is a game changer in a 3-4 defense. The NFL is a system league. Finding guys to operate within your system is difference between a team that looks good on paper and one that looks good on the field. Most of us laughed when Pete Carroll took Bruce Irvin in the top half of Round 1 last year. But coach Carroll knew what his defense would be and knew what Irvin would be inside of it. And it worked like a charm. Lotuleilei gives the Eagles a valuable piece in transitioning to a 3-4 next season. He can play 5-technique as an end and shift inside to tackle if Isaac Sopoaga proves to be more valuable as a part-time player. He and Fletcher Cox can play all 3 positions along the line in a 3-4 defense and the pair of them would give teams fits trying to run on a line filled with athletes that big/fast/agile/quick. Star is also perfectly capable (one would imagine) of playing DT in a tradition 4-3 defense. New D-Coordinator Bill Davis has hinted that both formations will be on the field in 2013. And whatever the Eagles D looks like, it looks better with a big, versatile athlete like Star Lotuleilei on it.
- Eric Fisher: Fisher is more likely to be available at #4 than the others on this list. And he's no consolation prize. He's a beast. Perhaps more athletic that Luke Joeckel. Perhaps, even, a better tackle in a year or two. The only hesitation, for me, with Eric Fisher is his lack of time playing opposite NFL quality defenders. Even at the Senior Bowl, Fisher was blocking mostly guys who were hoping to make a name for themselves come draft time. Unlike Joeckel, he just didn't have the chance to play against the LSUs and Alabamas and Floridas of the world. Most scouts believe, and I agree, that Fisher would've handled himself beautifully if he'd had the chance. But, still... he didn't. And there's some slight risk when you take a guy from a smaller program. In the top 5. Still, he gives the Eagles the same flexibility Joeckel would. And he's got the same chance to be an All-Pro for a decade to come. The Eagles could do much worse than Fisher at #4.
- Sharrif Floyd: Floyd vs. Dion Jordan is similar to Star vs. Fisher. It's a tough call, but I rank Floyd above Jordan simply because, when I look at the roster, I think the Eagles need more help up front than they do at LB. If we assume Brandon Graham is moving to some version of an OLB this year and we assume Barwin was brought in to start and we know that Kendricks isn't going anywhere... then I have to think that between Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Vinny Curry Jamar Chaney, and Jason Phillips the Eagles have a 4th linebacker somewhere. What isn't so easy to assume is who the heck is joining Fletcher Cox on the front line. There are a lot of potential names there, but very few have seen any time in a 3-4 front and almost all of the Eagles' DEs seem to project as OLBs in a new defense. Sharrif Floyd is not an ideal fit because his time has been spent in a 4-3 defense as a 3-technique DT. But he's fairly new to the position and has enough raw talent to make a quick move to being a 5-technique DE in a 3-4 front. Like with Lotuleilei, Floyd gives the Eagles punch up front. Floyd is more explosive than Star and would help more in the pass rush than against the run. But either would be a welcome addition to a defense that will look a lot different in 2013 than it did in 2012
- Dion Jordan: Jordan, Kendricks, Ryans, Graham sure looks enticing as a set of backers. Jordan, like Graham, can get after quarterbacks. Unlike Graham, he's also long enough to play well in the passing game. He is, in fact, just the type of hybrid player that this defense needs. The reason he isn't #1 or #2 on this list is simple: Might the Eagles already have such a player? Between the Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, and Clifton Geathers... do the Eagles already feel that they have enough guys who can roam around, put a hand on the ground, stand up as a joker, and play on either side of the field? If the answer to that question, once Chip Kelly has thoroughly analyzed the roster, is 'no' then I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Jordan come off the board at #4. If the answer is, 'we probably already have enough at LB' then I think the Eagles turn to a place where there's a clearer need. But if the pick is Jordan, Eagles' fans can expect a good guy and a good player who might have more impact more quickly than anyone else on this list.
- Dee Milliner: I am putting this on the list simply because he's been linked to the Eagles in so many projections. The truth is that taking a CB with the #4 overall pick is an impossibly risky proposition. Especially one who isn't also a return specialist. Patrick Peterson (who went top 5 to AZ) is considered a smart pick. But most of what he's made his mark doing is returning kicks. As a corner he still has a lot of work to do. And Milliner grades out ever-so-slightly below Peterson and Morris Claiborne (#6 to Dallas) as a pure corner. He is clearly a top 10 talent. But #4 is awfully high for a corner. And especially high for one that has questions to answer on the field... can he backpedal? Saban corners aren't asked to do it. Can he improve his ball skills? Can he handle the pressure of being 'on an island' in the NFL? Playing on an Alabama defense where your 11th man is better than your opponents best player is a nice security blanket. He'd help the Eagles from day 1. But the degree to which he's help just doesn't seem like it could make up for what the Eagles would have to pass up to take him. Not to mention the oft-said (but still true) adage that it's easy to find good CBs later in drafts. Perhaps Andy Reid wasn't too good at it... but it is possible. Just look at the better corners in the NFL and where they got picked. It's possible.
- Geno Smith: He's on this list for one reason: He plays QB. Wherever he gets picked it seems inevitable that it will be too high. And it will too high for that very reason. With the Cardinals (Palmer) and Bills (Kolb) and Raiders (Flynn) addressing their QB situations in the last few weeks, the Eagles have become a hot landing spot for Smith. It makes sense. After all, where are you supposed to get a great young QB? The really great ones tend to be drafted early... they hardly ever become free agents... teams hate to trade them away... It makes sense to go out and get a QB when you find yourself picking in the top 5. You don't want to be back in the top 5 next year. So you might not get a QB then. But for all the temptations, the risks are great. Once you hitch your wagon to a QB, as a new coach, that's your fate. If Geno is the next Donovan McNabb you might be the coach for 15 years. If he's the next Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Tim Couch, Kelly Stouffer... well then you probably aren't getting your contract renewed. The pressure on a QB going #4 overall is stifling. Much more NFL-ready guys (Alex Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington) have caved under it. Can a team that won 4 games last year afford to sit their 1st round pick all season? Anyone else on this list would be a starter from day 1. Would Smith? If he doesn't come in and earn the job... will the boo-birds begin their booing? Will Coach Kelly feel pressured to put him on the field. What if he's forced to play before he's ready. Even if he's ready, what if the questions about his ability to throw receivers open and be a leader prove to be real concerns? My point is... as nice as it would be to have a new franchise QB... the questions are many. And the answers are impossible to know. If I had to guess, Geno is no Akili Smith. But he's also no Andrew Luck. And I don't think being the next Ryan Tanehill would solve a lot of problems for the Eagles. Better to wait and take an EJ Manuel or a Matt Scott and throw him into the mix without all the pressure.
Like anyone, I have no idea what the Eagles will jot down on that card come April 25th. But I'm pretty confident that if they keep the pick... it's gonna be one of these guys. This is the board I hope they use to guide their decision.