With the draft exactly three weeks away, here are three thoughts on what I think the Eagles are going to do with the No. 4 pick:
1. If you asked me to project the Birds’ pick right now, I would go offensive tackle – either Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
Andy Reid and the Chiefs will likely take one of the two, and it’s possible that the Jaguars or Raiders take whichever player is remaining. But if either Joeckel or Fisher is available, I think that’s who the Eagles take.
This team’s identity under Chip Kelly will be its offense. That’s what got Kelly promoted from New Hampshire to Oregon and now to the NFL. The Eagles have made significant investments in skill-position players (LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, etc.), but as they found out last year, a leaky (or injury-plagued) offensive line can go a long way in derailing a season.
During free agency, the Eagles poked around on some offensive tackle options like Jake Long. Moving Todd Herremans inside might very well be their preference at this point. An offensive line of Joeckel or Fisher, combined with Herremans, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis and Jason Peters has potential to be one of the best in the league. Remember, the offensive line in 2011 was a major strength with four of those five same players.
A lot depends on how Kelce, Herremans and Peters bounce back from injury. That’s another reason why offensive tackle makes sense. Peters is 31, and Herremans is 30. Joeckel or Fisher would provide much-needed youth at a critical position, something the Eagles don’t currently have on the roster. In the short-term, you give yourself a starter at right tackle and a backup at left tackle. In the long-term, you have Peters’ replacement.
2013 will be about getting Kelly’s system in place. The best way to do that is to solidify the offensive line and give the team’s playmakers a legitimate chance to be successful and learn their roles. That’s why I think the Eagles go offensive line.
One wild card worth noting: The availability of Fisher or Joeckel could prompt teams to want to trade up. In that scenario, I’d expect the Eagles to consider moving back for the right compensation.
2. Let’s address the other scenario too. What happens if Joeckel and Fisher are both gone when the Eagles pick? I think they then move to the top defensive player on the board, and two names stand out: Oregon OLB Dion Jordan and Florida DL Sharrif Floyd.
The Eagles have a significant advantage over other teams in evaluating Jordan. Over on The Sideline View, Greg Peshek has a good breakdown of this class of pass-rushers. There has been a lot of talk of discussion about how Jordan was used at Oregon. He was not an every-down pass-rusher and got far fewer opportunities to rush the quarterback than the other first-round defensive ends and outside linebackers.
But even on a percentage basis, Jordan only got pressure on the quarterback once every 10.64 chances, a lower rate than the rest of the top-tier pass-rushers.
Of course, stats only tell part of the story. Jordan, who turned 23 last month, played the final five games of the season with a shoulder injury. Is that why Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro had him playing more in coverage? Or was that just what the team needed at the time?
Jordan’s versatile skill set and length will undoubtedly attract the Eagles. And Kelly seems to love Jordan from a character/intangibles perspective. But the bottom line will be what the team thinks his upside is as a pass-rusher. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock compared Jordan to Aldon Smith earlier this offseason. If the Eagles feel the same way, he could be the pick. But you don’t draft an outside linebacker at No. 4 because of his cover skills.
As for Floyd, his upside has to intrigue the Eagles. At 6-3, 297, he could play the 5-technique in a 3-4, and Floyd could be an interior pass-rusher in a 4-3 alignment. Pairing him with Fletcher Cox would give the Eagles two young defensive linemen with Pro Bowl ceilings.
And don’t forget that Floyd is one of the draft’s younger prospects. He will still be 20-years-old when his name is called in a few weeks, meaning he has plenty of room for growth and improvement. He’s about 29 months younger than someone like Utah DT Star Lotulelei. If the Eagles have both players graded closely, you would have to think they’d go with Floyd.
3. I don’t think Geno Smith is going to be the pick. Clearly, the Eagles need to find their quarterback of the future. And just because there’s no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III doesn’t mean this is a horrible class.
I could see the Eagles going QB at No. 4 for one of the following two reasons.
a.) The prospect fits the precise mold of what Kelly is looking for. Even if he might not be as polished as Luck or RGIII, if he had the athleticism and skill set Kelly wanted, I could see the Eagles pulling the trigger.
b.) The prospect doesn’t fit Kelly’s precise mold, but he’s just too good an option to pass up and worth building an offense around.
As of right now, I don’t see Smith falling into either of those two categories. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think their interest is a smoke-screen. I think they’re doing their due diligence and want to gather as much information as possible. That’s part of the process. But in the end, I think the Eagles will pass on Smith.