Philadelphia Eagles' 8 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways
With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, the real meat and potatoes of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason are one step closer to being under way. We’re talking about free agency and the draft.
The Birds are already back to work, making moves to extend left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and wide receiver Riley Cooper. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is also rumored to be close to a new deal to remain in Philly, per Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly.
Of course, traditionally when we think of the combine, it’s all 40-yard dash times and bench presses. The indelible aspect of the event is how it can shape teams’ viewpoints on certain players or position groups.
We’ll examine both angles, as the combine impacted the Eagles’ ability to sign so many of their own players so quickly, too.
Most of our observations have to do with the incoming draft class, though. Let’s close the book on the combine with a few more notes on the prospects and look ahead to what it all could mean for the selection process this May.
Note: All combine results via NFL.com.
Safeties on the Rise
The Eagles need safeties in the worst possible way. Unfortunately, it’s looking like a coveted position around the league this year both in free agency and at the draft.
The Buffalo Bills are determined to keep All-Pro Jairus Byrd, even if it means using the franchise tag on him for a second year in a row. Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler T.J. Ward is also a likely candidate for the tag, which would take the consensus top two safeties off the market for this year.
Meanwhile, prospect rankings and mock drafts continue to indicate Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are on the rise. It’s possible neither player will be on the board when the Birds are on the clock with the No. 22 pick.
Given the impressive showing by Washington State’s Deone Bucannon at the combine—top three at his position in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill—he could be climbing big boards as well, at least higher than Philly’s second-round pick.
That’s why you hear Eagles general manager Howie Roseman talking about a potential stopgap at safety. The team wants to solidify the position as much as anybody, but it might not be as easy as everybody seems to think.
Big Cornerbacks Carry Same Risk/Reward as Ever
The Eagles will be searching for tall, physical cornerbacks in the draft as part of an organizational directive under head coach Chip Kelly. Unfortunately, they can’t all be as dynamic as Seattle Seahawks superstar Richard Sherman.
The big corners at the combine were a mixed bag this year, which is nothing unusual. Size can be a great equalizer in coverage, but usually it comes at the risk of high-end speed or agility.
Sure enough, Utah’s Keith McGill ran well for 6’3”, posting a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash, but he had the worst time of any corner in three-cone drill at 7.29 seconds, indicating stiff hips.
Likewise, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste demonstrated a lack of quickness even for 6’3” with a 4.33 in the 20-yard shuttle, but he made up for it somewhat with a top vertical jump of 41.5 inches.
There’s a reason most tall cornerbacks don’t become Sherman, much less make it at the next level. It’s hard to find one that’s the total package. There is usually some glaring deficiency.
Prospects such as McGill and Jean-Baptiste are still enticing, though. The Eagles won’t know if either one can play until the coaching staff gets its hands on one of them. They could be busts or impact players.
Pass-Rushers Won't Blow Competition Away
Buffalo's Khalil Mack solidified himself as a potential top-five pick at the combine. UCLA’s Anthony Barr didn’t do anything to hurt his draft stock, either. Both are expected to be gone before the Eagles pick at No. 22.
Philadelphia needs pass-rushers who fit its 3-4 defense, and plenty of them will be available in the draft this year. However, after the consensus top two, the rest did very little to stand out during workouts.
For example, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy and Stanford’s Trent Murphy had their ups and downs. Auburn’s Dee Ford and Missouri’s Jeremiah Attaochu were unable to participate in drills due to injuries. All four are thought to be potential targets of the Birds in the first two rounds.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Eagles have a need at outside linebacker, and combine results and participation certainly are not gospel. Nevertheless, this group didn’t generate a lot of buzz over the last week.
Plenty of Wide Receiver Talent in Draft
Not that it matters as much now that the Eagles have agreed to a long-term extension with Riley Cooper and are said to be close to a pact with Jeremy Maclin as well, but this is shaping up to be a strong draft for the wide receiver position.
In fact, general manager Howie Roseman told CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank that the team likes a receiver in every round: "When you look at this class and you compare it to classes in the last few years, we’re going to be sitting there in every round and there’s going to be a receiver we like."
Just because the Birds are expected to have Cooper, Maclin and DeSean Jackson all under contract doesn’t mean they won’t or shouldn’t take a receiver at some point. Maclin’s deal is likely to be only one or two years, and Jackson has three years remaining but already sounds ready to open up negotiations again.
Having those three players under contract means the Eagles can be patient and let their man fall to them. They should still come away from this draft with a receiver—just not necessarily a first-round pick.
Interest in Johnny Manziel Likely Not Serious
Tucked away in a Peter King story about Johnny Manziel for The MMQB was a little nugget about the Eagles being one of the teams to meet with the polarizing Texas A&M quarterback at the combine. It’s probably not what it sounds like, though.
Contrary to Phil Sheridan’s story for ESPN.com that this signifies the team is seriously considering Manziel with the No. 22 pick or even trading up, there is a third possibility. Interviewing as many quarterback prospects as possible is part of an organizational philosophy.
The most pertinent example available may be in 2012, when the Eagles held the No. 15 pick in the draft yet spoke to Robert Griffin III at the combine even though he was going second overall. It was unlikely they would have the firepower to trade up that high over other interested parties, so what was the point?
“Due diligence” turned out to be the answer then. It’s almost certainly the answer now.
Reuben Frank for CSN Philly writes that while the Eagles would like to add competition throughout the roster including at quarterback, general manager Howie Roseman threw his full support behind Nick Foles as the team’s signal-caller:
There’s not an opportunity for a starting spot here.
I think that we have tremendous support for Nick. I think we’ve been unquestioned about Nick. Even when we talk about Mike Vick, that there’s not an opportunity for a starting spot here, I think that’s a reflection on Nick Foles and where he is in his career.
That doesn’t mean the Eagles would pass over Manziel if he were available at No. 22. Roseman has also stressed the team will take the best player available in the draft regardless of position.
Lots of Progress Made with Own Players
Of course, the combine isn’t just about dissecting the incoming draft class. With representatives and executives for virtually every player and team in the NFL descending upon Indianapolis, it’s also a hot-stove period of sorts.
Apparently, the Eagles used their time wisely, because a flurry of signings followed. Since the combine concluded, the club has announced long-term extensions for left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and wide receiver Riley Cooper.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is also rumored to be close to a new deal to remain in Philadelphia.
The Eagles appear to be intent on rewarding the core responsible for a 10-6 season and NFC East title in Chip Kelly's first year on the sidelines. No doubt, those meetings with the players' agents at the combine went a long way toward getting the deals done.
Offensive Line Is Set for Years to Come
With left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce agreeing to long-term extensions, the Eagles are blessed with a unique situation along their offensive line. All five starters are signed through at least 2016.
Peters is the most dominant left tackle in pro football. Left guard Evan Mathis was finally invited to his first Pro Bowl this season. Kelce was awarded the highest cumulative score for a center by Pro Football Focus (subscription only). Right tackle Lane Johnson was selected fourth overall in the 2013 draft.
Of the five, the only player the Eagles might consider replacing before his contract runs out is Todd Herremans at right guard, who was more than adequate last season.
It’s comforting to know the unit that paved the way for LeSean McCoy’s rushing title and gave Nick Foles time to throw 29 touchdowns to two interceptions will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Eagles Will Select Best Player Available at Draft
Now that the Eagles have Jason Peters locked up through 2018, there’s no reason to take a tackle in the first round of the draft, right?
The Eagles are not going to target a certain position in this draft, and they shouldn't. As Roseman has taken to saying, that’s how teams start reaching for talent, using the Birds’ own class of 2011 as a prime example. Roseman told reporters, per Brandon Lee Gowton of SB Nation:
You have to take the best player and you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your franchise and for your football team. [You] don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment and I think, for us, when you look at the difficulty of getting good players in the draft, it becomes increasingly difficult when you narrow it down to a particular position that you have to get, not taking into account the strength of the draft.
Would it be ideal to wind up with a safety in the first round? Yes, but if somebody doesn't warrant a first-round selection, the Eagles can’t force it. Remember Jaiquawn Jarrett?
There’s no reason to shoehorn the Eagles into any one player or position in the draft, because ultimately, passing on superior talent in order to fill a specific need isn’t going to make the team stronger.