For a total of six hours Thursday and Friday nights on 97.5 The Fanatic, Tom Byrne and I tried to get Eagles fans to react passionately to their team’s draft choices. No matter what questions we asked of them, or how we tried to couch the topic, fervor and zeal were in short supply. It was odd, but everybody seemed, surprisingly, content.
Most people liked first-round pick Fletcher Cox. One unfortunate caller learned that when expressing satisfaction with the defensive tackle, it is best to mention his first and last names, but for the most part, the pick was well received. It was possible to wonder whether choosing a linebacker from the Pac-12 was the best idea, given the conference’s reputation as being a bit soft, but nobody could deny Mychal Kendricks’ production at California. And even if you knew nothing about Marshall except that Matthew McConaughey played its coach Jack Lengyel in the movie about the school, fans had to be cheered by the news that Vinny Curry was chosen because he was “the best player left on the board,” even though the Birds are strong at defensive end.
Saturday, the love-fest continued. The Eagles needed a cornerback, so they drafted Brandon Boykin. They had to build some offensive line depth. Presenting Dennis Kelly and Brandon Washington. The wideout position needs fortification. Hello, Marvin McNutt. Even if you aren’t a fan of lead-footed QB Nick Foles, it’s hard to argue the fact that Andy Reid nailed this year’s NFL Draft.
Remember that ranking draft classes is risky business. What looks good today could be hideous in three or four years. But two truly strange things happened last Thursday through Saturday: Reid appeared to heed the warning of his owner that winning now was imperative, and he actually admitted that last year’s defense wasn’t good enough to get the job done.
The latter occurrence is truly seminal, because Reid admits he is wrong as easily as Arthur Fonzarelli did. Taking Curry, a flat-out pass rusher, is an admission that the selection of Brandon Graham two years ago–instead of Texas safety Earl Thomas–was a mistake. Even if Graham hadn’t hurt his knee, it was obvious from the outset that he wasn’t a starting-caliber NFL end. Choosing Cox is more than just insurance in case Mike Patterson doesn’t make a full recovery from off-season brain surgery; it’s an acknowledgement that last year’s defense was soft up the middle and had to be strengthened.
The first step in that atonement on the second line of defense came when the Eagles traded for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. By bringing Kendricks east, Reid showed that he understood that the entire Eagles linebacking situation–not just its middle–was a mess and demanded attention. It didn’t take a football genius to know that the Birds’ front seven was weak last year when not rushing the passer. Come the season opener on Sept. 9 against Cleveland, the Birds could well have three new starters on the line and at linebacker. That’s not exactly the work of a coach who thinks last year’s 8-8 team was just a few plays away from the playoffs.
Yes, it would have been great if the Birds could have found a starting safety, because the pairing of Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett isn’t exactly Super Bowl caliber. But Alabama’s Mark Barron was the best of a weak lot, and spending a high pick on a need, even if the player wasn’t good enough, is a bad idea. Jarrett is a perfect argument for that point. Even the drafting of Foles, who makes the Kosciuszko statue on the Parkway look mobile, was atonement for last year’s ill-advised (okay, ridiculous) signing of Vince Young.
Eagles fans can argue whether Cox will be better than LSU product Michael Brockers, or if Reid should have taken a defensive back instead of Curry, but they can’t be upset with the draft on the whole. Reid was aggressive and chose players who could help the team right away, rather than projects who might be ready in two or three years. He clearly has a sense of urgency about the 2012 season, and though it’s debatable whether the Eagles (or anyone else) will ever win a Super Bowl with Michael Vick under center, Reid clearly used this draft to put the team in position for playoff contention. And, as the Packers and Giants have proven in the past two years by winning the Super Bowl from wild-card slots, once a team is in the post-season, anything can happen.
It’s fun to rip Reid for some of his previously awful picks. And it’s appropriate to question whether the Eagles’ model, which gives the head coach final say on personnel decisions, is the right one in a league where strong GMs are in vogue. It is not, however, possible to go after him now for the 2012 Draft. Reid nailed this one, at least at first glance.
If you want to criticize him on this, you might have to wait a couple years. But don’t worry, the season is only about four months away, and plenty of opportunities should arise then.
- Sixers fans should not get optimistic about Derrick Rose’s knee injury. The Bulls will just play even stingier defense and control the Sixer attack, which struggles in the fourth quarter against good teams. Maybe the series goes six games, instead of five, but Chicago will advance.
- The Flyers’ win Sunday was thrilling, but Ilya Bryzgalov had better tighten things up. He made some big saves against Jersey, but he made some boneheaded plays, too. With each successive round, the margin for error shrinks, and an inconsistent goaltender becomes a greater liability.
- Charlie Manuel’s continued tinkering shows just how pathetic this roster is at the plate. Manuel could employ every mathematical permutation this season and still not find a lineup capable of producing runs. The Phils are trotting out a collection of reserve talent and fading regulars in the hopes of finding a solution to their problems, and it shows. The electricity is gone from Citizens Bank Park many games, as fans slip further into a trance with each successive dry-socket inning.