Every well-run company does a yearly inventory check. In this eight-part series, I will break down, position-by-position, where the Eagles stand, how long-term their current situation is and the likelihood of a draft pick being spent on that position.
Finally: The Special Teams, followed by a Roundup
The Kickers: Alex Henery is the starting Kicker. Is it safe to say spending a 4th rounder on him was yet another disastrous pick from the 2011 Draft? Probably not. But Henery hit just 82% of his FGs in 2013, his career low and just 22nd in the NFL. The biggest concern with Henery, however, seems to be that for a former 4th round pick, he doesn’t really have the leg strength to hit FGs over 50 yards. The Eagles will bring in a leg to challenge him, but I don’t think they’ll spend a draft pick to do so.
Meanwhile, the Punter situation is as strong as it’s been since Sean Landeta was wearing Midnight Green. Donnie Jones stuck a career high 40% of his punts inside the 20 and booted the longest punt of his 9-year career. Jones repeatedly came up big when the team needed a big kick and he should remain a strength in 2014. There will be competition in training camp, but it will purely be a camp body. Grade: B-
The Returners: The return game hasn’t really been a weapon for the Eagles in a while. The team finished just 25th in Kick Return Average and 27th in Punt Return Average. Brad Smith, Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin returned Kickoffs last year, but none were very successful, and only Smith has ever really succeeded in that role.
Returning punts, Johnson was utterly unspectacular. And while Desean Jackson has been a dangerous returner in the past, he only averaged 5 yards per return last year and isn’t with the Eagles anymore anyway. Overall, a rookie needs to be added to the mix here. Given Chip Kelly’s propensity for strong Special Teams, I’d expect at least two players to be added to the mix who can return kicks. Grade: D
The Gunners: The coverage units were okay in 2013, ranking 19th and 11th in Kickoff- and Punt Return Coverage. However, those numbers were a steady increase from previous years. Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman were brought in to bolster the Special Teams, while Boykin, James Casey and Najee Goode return as solid contributors. Grade B
Draft Likelihood: Expect a returner or two to be added. One of those will likely be a drafted player. Also, expect Henery to be challenged by a UFA or journeyman. The Eagles are set at Punter. Grade: B
Conclusion: From my 8-part series, here are the Eagles draft needs, based on my grades on “Draft Likelihood”.
Wide Receiver – A+ – Immediate need. Both starters and backups need a bolster. 1st rounder could easily be a WR.
Linebacker – A – Team needs to add pass rushers while long-term viability at ILB is a concern. A lot in flux here.
Offensive Line – B+ – Need to groom Herremans’ replacement and depth is a concern. Mid-round OL pick is likely.
Secondary – B – A team weakness, but starters appear to be in place. Maybe a mid-rounder here? Check back in 2015
Special Teams – B – Bottom-8 return units are unacceptable. Rookies can step right in and help.
Running Back – C – Could use another player to compete with Brown and Polk, but probably just a Late Rounder.
Defensive Line – D+ – A lot of young players with promise already on the roster. Doesn’t seem like an immediate need.
Quarterback – D – Late Rounder, maybe, to compete with Barkley
Without trades, here’s a my prediction as to how the picks will fall, as well as likely targets:
1. OLB – Ryan Shazier (Ohio St.), Jeremiah Attaochu (Ga. Tech), Dee Ford (Auburn)
2. WR – Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Martavis Bryant (Clemson)
3. ILB – Chris Borland (Wisconsin), Yawin Smallwood (UConn), Andrew Jackson (W. Kentucky)
4. OL – Michael Schofield (Michigan), Seantrel Henderson (Miami), Charles Leno (Boise St.)
5. CB – Jemea Thomas (Ga. Tech), Victor Hampton (South Carolina), Deion Belue (Alabama)
7. RB – Antonio Andrews (W. Kentucky), James Wilder (Florida St.), Marion Grice (Arizona St.)
Enjoy the Draft everybody!