Eagles Draft Predictions: McManus Vs. Kapadia

It’s time for the first annual Birds 24/7 Draft Predictions, where Sheil and I lay it all on the line in a fight for bragging rights. Kapadia is still stinging from his sound defeat in our 53-man projections battle back in training camp. Let’s see if he can get on the scoreboard.

Q: Will they draft a quarterback? If so, who?

Sheil: It just feels like they have to. I don’t think Geno Smith is going to get out of the top-15, and I don’t think EJ Manuel is going to be available at No. 35. So where does that leave the Eagles?

Two names to watch: Zac Dysert (6-3, 231) out of Miami (Ohio) and Matt Scott (6-2, 213) out of Arizona. I’ll flip a coin and go with Scott. At the very least, he can replace Dennis Dixon on the roster and give you someone who can run the spread option.

By the way, McManus, I don’t think we can have Manuel continue his diary entries as a member of the Jets, Bills or Jaguars. That just won’t fly with our audience. You probably want to get on the phone with Scott or Dysert and set up something new.

Tim: Who needs a Dysert diary when we have Nicky Foles?

I think the Eagles would pick either Smith or Manuel if the price is right, but the draft will likely fall in such a way where they’ll end up taking a quarterback in the latter rounds instead. My guess is they grab Scott, especially if he’s available in the fourth round. He needs some work, but he has a skill set that Kelly may be drawn to, and he can hang in the background while Foles and Mike Vick run the show for now.

Sadly, we agree.

Q: What will they do at No. 4?

Sheil: I’m going to pull a bit of a surprise here and say they draft Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. My guess is that the top of their board looks like this: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan. The problem? I think all of those players are going to be gone by the time the Eagles are on the clock.

The Eagles will be deciding between guys like Floyd, Lane Johnson, Ziggy Ansah and Star Lotulelei. If they really are committed to taking the best player available, I think it’s Floyd. He brings versatility to the defensive line, is only 20 years old and can team up with Fletcher Cox to form the core of your defense for years to come.

I can’t wait to re-read this around 8:30 tonight and realize what a dope I am.

Tim: You don’t have to wait until tonight to figure that out. (Rimshot.)

My pick is Jordan. I agree Fisher and Joeckel are gone. Then the Raiders are on the clock (assuming they stick at three) and will likely do something insane. I’m betting on Jordan being there, and the Eagles pulling the trigger.

Here is what I find interesting, though, Sheil: There is a chance that both Jordan and Johnson are there at 4, and one of them is guaranteed to be available. There have been serious rumblings about the Birds trading back. So out of Jordan and Johnson, they must not like one enough to grab at 4, right? Which one is it?

If they do move back, I change my pick to Star.

Q: Should Tavon Austin be a consideration?

Sheil: Well, I know you believe the Eagles’ receiving corps is the worst unit assembled in the past 25 years. But I also know you’ll probably slam your head against your desk if they add another target who is under 6 feet. Man, tonight is going to be fun.

I think we are probably over-thinking things with Austin. He’s fast (4.34 40), can line up anywhere (out wide, slot, backfield) and was ridiculously productive in college. In other words, of course Kelly is going to want to consider him!

And the truth is, he makes sense on many levels. Jeremy Maclin is in the final year of his contract, and Jason Avant (who is 30) doesn’t seem to possess the skill set Kelly covets.

If the Eagles think Austin can hold up (and he has said he’s never been injured in the last eight years), they’ll absolutely consider him in the first round. Size is the issue. Austin is 5-8, 174. Wes Welker was 21 pounds heavier when he came out of college. Percy Harvin was 18 pounds heavier. I don’t think the Eagles will take him at No. 4, but if they trade down, he should be near the top of the list of possibilities.

Tim: How about all the late Eagles-Austin buzz?

Loving it. Yes, Austin should be a consideration. He is the automatic front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, yes? This crop of talent lacks sure-fire studs, right? I think Kelly would have a ball with him. One connected person I talked to thinks the receiver goes in the 8-12 range. Would I be shocked if the Eagles trade back, and the Commish calls out Austin’s name when they are on the clock? Nope.

Q: Name one Day 3 prospect who will be an Eagle.

Sheil: Ready for this one, T-Mac? Joe Kruger, DE, Utah. Philadelphia continues its tradition of getting the lesser-known brother! Sure, the Browns signed Paul, but the Eagles were just waiting to pounce on Joe. The 6-6, 269-pounder has long arms (34 3/8-inches) and ran a 4.83 40. He’s projected to go somewhere between Rounds 4 and 6.

Tim: Look at you going with the Kruger. I’ll throw you two tight ends. I could see them taking Florida’s Jordan Reed in the third round. A late-round name to watch is Pittsburgh’s Mike Shanahan. He is a wide receiver converting to tight end. The Eagles have apparently shown a little interest.

Q: What’s one bold Eagles prediction?

Sheil: The Birds will draft a wide receiver or tight end in the first three rounds.

Free agency was spent building up the defense (aside from James Casey), but it’s time for Kelly to start adding his kind of guys on offense. I mentioned the team’s wide receiver situation above. Chances are they don’t take Austin in the first, but the team could certainly address the position in the second or third rounds.

Tight end is also an option. It seems like the Eagles have worked out every tight end prospect in the draft. There are plenty of versatile options who can line up in different spots and stretch the field. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles grab one on Friday evening.

Tim: I am not so sure the experiment of moving Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to linebacker (particularly Cole) is going to work all that well. They are going to need some ‘backers that can play in space. That’s part of my thinking in picking Jordan. If not him, they’ll try to address outside linebacker somewhere along the line.

Also, I think they grab two corners.

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Eagles Draft Cheat Sheet: Offensive Options

Back for the second straight year is the Eagles’ first-round cheat sheet (with some slight tweaks).

I’ve put together a list of 40 potential first-round prospects. Yes, I know, there are only 32 picks in the first round, but we don’t know exactly who those 32 are going to be. Since the Eagles also hold the 35th pick, I thought rounding up 40 prospects would make sense.

The idea is simple: How would each guy fit with the Eagles, and what is the likelihood of each guy landing in Philadelphia?

We’ll start with the offense (17 prospects) and move on to the defense (23 prospects) in the next post.

Update: Here’s the post on the defensive prospects.

QUARTERBACKS

Geno Smith, West Virginia – He’s easily been the most talked-about prospect in this class. The Eagles have done plenty of homework on Smith, but there are two reasons why I don’t think they take him at No. 4. One, he was not a classic spread-option quarterback in college. Two, he’s not so good of a prospect that you dismiss point one and take him anyway.

My guess is there is plenty that Chip Kelly likes about Smith. He’s athletic (4.59 40), has decent size (6-2, 218) and has an NFL arm. Smith also played in an up-tempo offense at West Virginia. If he slips in the first round or makes it to No. 35, he’s certainly an option, but I would be surprised if he was the pick at No. 4. The important thing to remember is the only man whose opinion matters is Kelly’s. He’s in charge of finding this franchise its best option at QB.

EJ Manuel, Florida State – From a physical stand point (6-5, 237, 4.65), he would appear to be a nice fit. But Manuel’s production didn’t always match his talent in college. If he’s there at No. 35, I think the Eagles take him. And it’s possible Kelly likes him so much that the Eagles trade into the back end of the first round to take him, although that would be at least somewhat surprising.

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse – He’s generated some buzz as potentially the top QB in the draft, but I don’t see the Eagles being a fit, especially since he’s expected to go in the first round or early in the second.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M -One of the “cleanest” prospects in the draft. The 6-6, 310-pounder started three years before deciding to leave early. He projects as a high-end left tackle, even though Joeckel has not shown elite-level athleticism. He played in an up-tempo offense in college, and the Eagles would love to have him, but it would be a pretty big upset if Joeckel somehow made it to the fourth pick.

Eric Fisher, Central Michigan – There has been a growing buzz that Andy Reid could choose him over Joeckel with the top pick. At 6-7, 306, he’s got the size and length to be a Pro Bowl left tackle. Given his level of competition in college, the pre-draft process was important for Fisher, but he answered any lingering questions at the Senior Bowl and Combine. If he stays on the board at No. 4, the Eagles will feel really good about taking him, or they could receive some enticing trade offers from tackle-needy teams.

Lane Johnson, Oklahoma – The most athletic of the top-three left tackles. Johnson started his career as a junior-college quarterback. He then joined the Sooners as a tight end before switching over to defensive end. The 6-6, 303-pounder kept getting bigger and was eventually moved to the offensive line. He played right tackle as a junior and left tackle as a senior. He’s not considered as polished as Joeckel and Fisher, but might have the most upside, given his off-the-charts athleticism. Johnson could certainly be an option for the Eagles at No. 4. If they move down, they’ll probably lose out on him. The Lions (No. 5) or Cardinals (No. 7) could take him. A team could also trade up once Joeckel and Fisher are off the board.

D.J. Fluker, Alabama – Does not seem like an ideal scheme fit for the Eagles. Fluker (6-5, 339, 36 3/4-inch arms) is more power than athleticism and is considered a right tackle prospect. It’s unlikely that he lands in Philadelphia, although new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland coached Fluker in Tuscaloosa. With teams desperate for tackles, don’t be surprised if Fluker goes off the board in the top half of the first round.

Chance Warmack, Alabama – Seems to universally be considered a can’t-miss prospect (although we know that those don’t really exist). The Eagles have a glaring need at right guard, but my guess is if they were going to spend a first-round pick on the position, they would want a special athlete. Like Fluker, Warmack (6-2, 317) is considered more of a power player. He might be talented enough to play in any scheme, but I don’t see him landing with the Eagles.

Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina -If the Eagles are going to take a guard in the first round, my guess is they’d have Cooper (6-2, 317) ranked ahead of Warmack. Greg Cosell of NFL Films recently called Cooper the most purely athletic guard he’s seen since he started watching college tape (the last eight or nine years). I still think it’s unlikely the Eagles go guard in the first round, but if they trade down from No. 4, I wouldn’t rule Cooper out completely.

Justin Pugh, Syracuse – There’s a chance he could be available when the Eagles pick at No. 35, but my guess is he’s going to sneak into the first round. Pugh (6-4, 307) brings positional versatility, having gotten looks at tackle, guard and even center. Pugh played tackle in college, but the knock on him is he only has 32-inch arms. The local product (Council Rock South) would be a fit for the Eagles, but like I said, they probably won’t be in position to draft him.

Menelik Watson, Florida State – From a physical standpoint, there’s a lot to like. Watson is 6-5, 310 with 34-inch arms. Even though he didn’t test great at the Combine, Watson is considered an excellent athlete. The issues? Experience and age. Watson hails from England and has a basketball background. He played one year of football in junior college and one more at right tackle for the Seminoles. He’ll also turn 25 in December. My guess? Watson will get taken towards the end of the first round. But if he’s still there at 35, the Eagles could give him a look, depending on what they perceive his learning curve to be.

Kyle Long, Oregon – His story isn’t that different from Watson’s. In fact, the two played together at junior college. Long (6-6, 313) played baseball at Florida State before trying his hand at football. He only has one year playing at the D-1 level and turns 25 in December. Then again, Long is versatile (has played both guard and tackle), athletic and has experience playing in Kelly’s system. For those reasons, he made our list of possibilities at No. 35.

WIDE RECEIVER

Tavon Austin, West Virginia – Sometimes, we tend to over-think things with the draft. Would Kelly be interested in an explosive playmaker who can line up anywhere in the formation and has blazing 4.34 speed? Of course! Think about what Kelly’s offense is about: Getting to the line of scrimmage quickly, assessing the defense, moving versatile pieces around the formation and putting points on the board. No player in this class embodies those principles more than Austin.

Don’t forget the whole “best player available” mantra. Jeremy Maclin is on the final year of his contract. Jason Avant just turned 30. And Austin is different than DeSean Jackson. He’s far more than a vertical threat and has the ability to score in a variety of ways. At the very least, he’ll provide consistent matchup problems as a slot receiver. The major question is obviously size. Austin measured in at just 5-8, 174 at the Combine. He’s drawn comparisons to Wes Welker and Percy Harvin, but Welker was 195 coming out of school, and Harvin was 192. Austin said he never missed a game due to injury in high school or college, but that’s unlikely to alleviate concerns about his size. I don’t think the Eagles will take him at No. 4, but I can’t say I’d be shocked if they pulled the trigger. And if they trade down, he’s absolutely an option.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee – Has one of the best size/speed combos in the draft (6-2, 216, 4.42). In his mock draft on Yahoo Sports, Cosell pointed out qualities in Patterson that Kelly could find appealing: the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands and the versatility to line up anywhere in the formation. Patterson is not considered a polished receiver, and he’ll likely be a first-round pick, so while the Eagles might like his skill set, I doubt they’ll be in position to take him.

DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson – Doesn’t have top-end speed (4.52), but if we’re talking about complementing what the Eagles already have, Hopkins would be a nice option. Has good size (6-1, 214) and scored 18 touchdowns last year alone. But again, he’ll probably go in the first round in a spot where the Eagles are unlikely to draft him.

TIGHT ENDS

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame – Seems to have become the consensus top tight end on the board. Eifert has size (6-6, 251) and athleticism (4.68 40). This is a deep tight end class, and given that the Eagles already have Brent Celek and signed James Casey, I don’t expect them to go that route in the first round. But from a skill-set standpoint, Eifert appears to be a fit with pretty much every team in the league.

** Note: It’s certainly possible that more than one tight end goes int he top-40, but I had to narrow my list somehow, so am only including Eifert.

RUNNING BACKS

Eddie Lacy, Alabama – I’m not sure he’s going to go in the first round, but Lacy has a good chance of being the first running back off the board. With LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown in the fold, this is the one position we can pretty much say definitively that the Eagles won’t use a pick on before Day 3.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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More On the Eagles And Tavon Austin

Tavon Austin had only carried the ball 14 times over the first nine games heading into West Virginia’s matchup up against nationally-ranked Oklahoma, which boasted one of the top defenses in college football last season.

On this day the decision was made to move the diminutive receiver to running back. Austin responded with a school-record 344 rushing yards and finished with a staggering 572 all-purpose yards, seven shy of the NCAA record.

“Our plan was off against Tavon Austin, they kind of caught us with our pants down,” said Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, “and we didn’t have really an answer.”

As we mentioned a couple weeks back, Chip Kelly has to be intrigued by Austin. How could an offensive junkie not be drawn to a playmaker who has caught over 100 balls each of the last two seasons, and finished his senior year with almost 2,000 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns? Kelly wants versatile players. Austin lines up all over the field, and returns kicks and punts as well. Kelly wants guys that can create matchup problems. Austin, as Stoops can attest, can do just that.

The question is: Would the new Eagles coach use his first-ever draft pick on the 5-8 wideout?

This is what Sal Paolantonio had to say on 97.5 The Fanatic this week:

“Here is what a general manager told me [on Monday]: ‘I know the Eagles want a tackle.’ And if those are all gone, he said, ‘Don’t be shocked if Chip Kelly takes Tavon Austin No. 4,'” said Paolantonio.

“He’s a little guy but the NFL now is a spatial relations league. Open space. What are you doing with a lot of space and how are you filling it? Which to me is the way to go right now because you can’t touch these wide receivers between the hash marks.”

The Eagles had not visited with Austin as of last week, from what we understand. But they were apparently in contact with him recently.

So what does it all mean?

Kelly is a complete wild card. He is unconventional in a lot of respects, and he has no history on this level to reference when looking for guidance. Could he see Austin as a perfect match for his offense? Sure.

If Austin is the selection, it likely won’t be at 4. One league insider we spoke with predicted that he will go somewhere between picks eight and 12. Some project him to be taken later than that.

There has been a good deal of buzz about the Eagles looking to move back in the first round. That could certainly be the case if the top tackles are off the board when they go on the clock. Would they slide back a few spots and roll the bones on Austin?

It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. And this is not your ordinary coach. We don’t know enough yet to rule it out completely.

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Draft Buzz: Manuel Likes His Chances Of Landing In Philly

With the draft now just eight days away, the talk is starting to pick up. Let’s get to it:

EJ Manuel was on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday, and was asked which teams he feels have shown him the most love during the pre-draft process. The first team out of his mouth?

“I feel really good about the Philadelphia Eagles,” Manuel replied. “I feel really good about the Buffalo Bills. I feel really good about the New York Jets. Those are some of the teams that I feel really confident in. I know they need quarterbacks, I know they want quarterbacks, figuring they have brand new coaching staffs and things like that so they may want a fresh start and a new, energetic quarterback to come in and play.”

If the Eagles do in fact have eyes for Manuel, the question becomes: how do they land him? The closer we get to April 25, the more analysts seem to think that Manuel could be taken in the first round. The Florida St. QB was asked if he thinks he will be taken on Day 1.

“I do. Yes sir. I’ve heard some really good things,” said Manuel. “I think teams need quarterbacks, and I think the teams that really need quarterbacks brought me in for invites and meetings and things like that, and I know that I impressed those teams, so I think at least one will take a shot. You only really need one team to fall in love with you, man, in this whole deal.”

The Eagles likely won’t spend the No. 4 pick on Manuel. Would they trade back? Package the No. 35 pick and move into the back end of the first round? Stay tuned.

A couple Tavon Austin notes

West Virginia’s Tavon Austin visited the Lions on Wednesday, and likened himself to a current player on Detroit’s roster.

“Another type of player like Reggie [Bush]. Me and him would probably be twins back there,” Austin said, via PFT.

Some see the dynamic playmaker as a perfect fit for Chip Kelly‘s offense. Jon Gruden, for one, is a really big Austin fan.

“He’s my favorite player in the draft.  I’m sensitive to him because he’s 5’8″ like myself.  When you watch the kid play, he’s magnificent.  He’s a great return man, punts, kicks.  He lines up at tailback, and he plays like a tailback.  He looks like Darren Sproles at tailback and he looks like Wes Welker in the slot,” said Gruden in a conference call.

“I’ve seen him be magnificent after the catch, all-purpose yardage, look, he’s tough.  Tremendous stop and start quickness and flat‑out finishing speed.  I’ve seen quick guys, fast players, but I’ve never seen very many that have the combination of speed and quickness like Austin has.  He ran for 8,000 yards as a high school tailback in Maryland, and he averaged 7 or 8 yards a carry this year when they handed it to him.  He’s just a fun, deluxe joker to have on your football team.  He’s going to make an impact, I believe, big time.”

More draft visits

Add a couple more names to the list of players who have met with the Eagles. Utah defensive lineman Joe Kruger and LSU running back Spencer Ware have both been brought in for visits, according to Pro Football Scout.

Kruger (6-6, 269), the younger brother of Browns linebacker Paul Kruger, has experience all across the defensive front.

Ware (5-10, 228) had a down year last year after leading the Tigers in rushing the season prior. He did not participate in the Combine due to a hamstring injury.

You can find all of the Eagles pre-draft visits and workouts here.

Twitter Mailbag: Pondering A Tavon Austin Pick

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @heemy224:  each year the Linc has that huge photo of a player on the stadium symbolizing the face of the team.Who is the face of the Eagles now?

Funny you should mention that. I was driving past the stadium with my wife recently and we noticed that there is only one of those long, vertical images attached to the outside of the Linc at the moment. I believe the jersey number was 25 but it didn’t have a real likeness to LeSean McCoy. From what I gather those are designed to be generic and not represent any specific player, but didn’t one just recently closely resemble DeSean Jackson? Am I crazy?

Anyway, I think the answer is that no player is the face of the franchise right now. And the Eagles aren’t trying to force one, either. They’re focused on selling the name on the front, not the back, at least until a clear-cut leader emerges (likely in the form of a franchise quarterback).

Consider their three top-selling jerseys from 2012:

1) McCoy
2) Jackson
3) Michael Vick

McCoy is coming off that ugly Twitter exchange with the mother of his child, Jackson is a risky bet, and Vick has not been guaranteed the starting job (plus he has one year left on his deal). There is no reason to try and heavily market any of those players right now.

What I also found interesting is that Brian Dawkins‘ jersey was very competitive this past season in terms of percentage sold. Yes, he had his number retired, but it also speaks to the connection fans continue to feel with No. 20, and maybe the lack of connection they had to last year’s team as well.

With no player standing above the rest, the face of the team has to be Chip Kelly. There is a freshness and an excitement surrounding the new head coach, and I fully expect the Eagles to embrace that.

From @aerelorn: I’ve seen more than one person mock Tavon Austin to the Eagles at 4 or after trading down. How likely do you think that is?

So Kelly has gone through the game tape of all these potential picks by now, you would imagine. Picture him in a dark office. The projector comes on. Up flashes cut-ups of Austin. Darting through traffic. Cutting, stopping, starting. Embarrassing Division I athletes. Lining up in the backfield. Returning punts. Returning kicks. Scoring touchdowns.

It’s enough to give an offensive junkie the shakes, right?

I am sure the powers-that-be have talked about him, and I’m sure I am not the only one that wonders if he can be Kelly’s NFL version of De’Anthony Thomas.

The Eagles have been adamant that they plan on taking the best available player. It is not inconceivable that they have a very high grade on Austin. If they stay true to the plan, maybe they would take a skill position player over, say an offensive lineman,  if they truly felt he was best available. (Would anyone be shocked if Austin won Rookie Of the Year, by the way?) It all depends on that top-secret draft board of theirs.

While this draft in particular is difficult to project, it seems likely that the Eagles could trade back a bit and still snare the West Virginia receiver if that’s their target. I am not predicting it happens, but I can’t say I would be shocked.

From @Barltrop19: if a team offers the Eagles enough for them to trade down to mid 1st, who do they take? Hope OT Johnson or DT Star falls?

Even if Austin is not their man it is certainly possible they trade out. (Sheil has a good breakdown of what they could potentially get in return.)

The most likely scenario to me would be if Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are both off the board by the time they are on the clock. They might be able to move back a few spots at that point and grab OT Lane Johnson or a player with a similar grade. Star wouldn’t be a bad bet, either.

My sense is that teams feel there is a drop-off after the first 11 or 12 picks, so I don’t anticipate the Eagles moving too far back if they decide to give up the No. 4 spot.

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