Harmony at Eagles Training Camp

All rookies and veterans reported to training camp at Lehigh this year. That makes it only the third time in the last decade that the Eagles have had everyone show up.

A brief rundown of your holdouts and no-shows:

2012:
2011: DeSean Jackson
2010: Brandon Graham
2009: Jeremy Maclin
2008: Shawn Andrews
2007:
2006: Broderick Bunkley
2005: Brian Westbrook*
2004:
2003: Jerome McDougle

*Terrell Owens actually reported on time. But it was worse than if he hadn’t.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Wide Receiver

What the Eagles did: The Eagles love to load up on wide receivers in the offseason, mainly (I assume) to take up all the tiring practice repetitions running up and down the field, working on routes with the quarterbacks. Right now they have 14 wideouts on the roster, most of whom we probably don’t need to worry about learning their names.

There are really only six receivers who, barring injury, are competing for regular season jobs, and the top three are already set. Dave Spadaro reports that DeSean Jackson is acting Iike a totally different man at the NovaCare complex now that he has a new contract. Prorated over the three games he missed due to injury, Jeremy Maclin would have had 78 receptions for 1,057 yards and 6 TDs last year. Hopefully a healthy offseason will allow him to top those numbers. Meanwhile, Jason Avant posted his best numbers at age 28 last season, so you can pencil him in the slot once more.

However, this great core group of wide receivers still has a major weakness: red zone production. All three are at their worst in that area of the field — which is why, not for the first time, we’re looking to some bigger wideouts to step up in that area.

First up is the holdover Riley Cooper. Due to injuries, the Eagles actually gave Cooper a lot of snaps last year, 330 according to Pro Football Focus. Yet ‘Sunshine’ did little to justify those extra looks. So in the draft this year, Howie Roseman added some competition for that big receiver job we’ll affectionately call the honorary Hank Baskett role. Marvin McNutt, the Eagles sixth round pick out of Iowa, has a similar build and athleticism as Cooper. It will be interesting to see if he can displace the other big man.

What I would have done: Bringing on another big wide receiver was necessary, considering Michael Vick’s strengths and Cooper’s lack of production. But I would have also liked to see the Eagles draft a multidimensional threat to supplant the bland Chad Hall. Hall has value on this team as a trick play threat and backup kick returner, but the team could have found someone with more speed and explosiveness to fill that role. Brandon Boykin will have a lot on his plate at cornerback in his rookie year, but I wonder if he could fill in on offense as well, like he did in college.

Way-too-early prediction: The Eagles might be able to stretch their roster to accommodate six receivers, as they did last year due to injury. If not, I’m unsure which of the three backups could see the door. McNutt would certainly have trouble being worse than Cooper as a wide receiver, but he’ll have to replace him on special teams as well, which might be harder to do. Then there’s Chad Hall, whom Andy Reid just can’t seem to cut loose. My prediction would be that Cooper is let go, but that’s not one made with very much confidence.

Plax Wants Philly, Philly Should Want Plax

Plaxico Burress

I find it hard to mount any case why the Eagles shouldn’t sign Plaxico Burress. Sure, he’ll be 35 by the time the season starts, and he’s certainly not a role model. But at this point I wouldn’t mind seeing Andy Reid sell a bit of his soul for better red zone production.

2011 was the first year since 2006 that the Eagles have even nudged above average in red zone touchdown percentage. And they haven’t been in the top ten since 2004. That’s a historic stretch of poor red zone play, and it spans three quarterbacks, two running backs, and two generations of wide receivers.

It’s clear that outside of LeSean McCoy, whatever’s going on down by the goalline isn’t working. The speed-beats-all mentality that has made the offense so explosive in the first 80 yards of the field isn’t getting it done where it counts. It’s obvious even by the play calling. Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have long since abandoned the normal offense in the red zone. They’ve resorted to tricking their way into a touchdown with shovels and screens.

The data proves this out. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, despite game-breaking speed in the middle of the field, are both below average in scoring touchdowns per target and reception. Even at age 35, Burress is the opposite. He’s a touchdown machine.

With the Jets last year, Burress scored a touchdown on nearly 18 percent of all his receptions. That’s more than Calvin Johnson, and good enough for third in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. Eagles fans will remember Burress constantly beating one-on-one coverage in the end zone for Eli Manning, and he could do the same for Michael Vick.

Where all of the Eagles wide receivers become distractions at best and liabilities at worst down in the red zone, replacing one of them with Burress doesn’t just provide a different set of physical strengths (if so, Hank Baskett and Riley Cooper would have filled this role). Plaxico brings the experience of 63 career touchdowns — more than all of the Eagles current receivers combined.

Burress wants to be an Eagle. He did last year too, but the front office picked Steve Smith instead. Time to correct that mistake.

Photo from Getty.

Extend LeSean McCoy’s Contract Already

LeSean McCoy

One of the most worrisome characteristics of Eagles front office in the last couple of years has been its seeming reluctance to hand out early contract extensions to their young players.

Now, there have been extenuating circumstances. For starters, the drafting has been poor overall, so there haven’t been many players since 2008 that have been worth extending. Additionally, the collective bargaining agreement drama delayed some contract talks.

However, the Eagles now have three young offensive stars who are/should have been prime candidates for extensions. DeSean Jackson, obviously, is the most urgent name. He’s scheduled to be a free agent in just a few weeks and the team is reportedly far apart in negotiations. Perhaps Jackson has been asking for a salary that’s too high, but in any case this could be a failure the Eagles front office hasn’t seen since Jeremiah Trotter left after the 2001 season.

On the flip side, Jeremy Maclin still has two years on his deal, so it’s not quite an emergency for him. If the Eagles are still operating with the same principles they did a few years back, though, he would be a prime candidate for a below-market value extension this offseason.

The middle case is LeSean McCoy, the Eagles All-Pro running back, who is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract. An extension with McCoy has to happen as soon as possible, lest the Eagles risk another DeSean situation. If an extension is worked out, we may be able to write off that problem as one special to, if not created by, Jackson.

Besides, McCoy has said publicly that he doesn’t want to end up like DeSean:

“Let me be honest with you, I never want to be in that situation,” McCoy said. “Everybody’s situation is different. [An extension] would be a blessing if that happened because I don’t want to go anywhere else or play anywhere else. I love it here. I’m a Pennsylvania guy – from high school to college to here.”

(Read what you will into McCoy twice firing and and re-hiring Drew Rosenhaus during the season.)

Still, the Eagles have already hurt themselves by failing to lock up McCoy a year ago. Back in October, I wrote about what that potential contract could look like. Here, again, are the most recent running back deals:

2011- Chris Johnson (25): 6 years, $55 million, $30 million guaranteed
2011- Adrian Peterson (26): 7 years, $96 million, $36 million guaranteed
2011- Frank Gore (28): 4 years, $26 million, $14 million guaranteed
2011- DeAngelo Williams (28): 5 years, $43 million, $21 million guaranteed
2010- Jamaal Charles (24): 6 years, $28 million, $10 million guaranteed
2009- Maurice Jones-Drew (24): 5 years, $31 million, $18 million guaranteed
2008- Steven Jackson (25): 6 years, $45 million, $21 million guaranteed
2008- Michael Turner (26): 6 years, $35 million, $15 million guaranteed

At the time I suggested McCoy’s production put him in line for a similar deal to the one signed by Jamaal Charles, who had comparable stats through his first three seasons. However, McCoy’s monster 2011 dwarfs Charles’s top production so far. That one year still doesn’t get him up to Peterson-Johnson stratosphere, but I’d be surprised if isn’t looking more at the Jones-Drew range.

A complicating factor is the pending free agency status of Ray Rice and Matt Forte. Both young, complete running backs are likely candidates for long term extensions in the coming weeks. The Eagles and McCoy may choose to wait until the running back market is set by those players before getting serious about negotiations.

It’s not ideal, given the opportunity the Eagles had to lock him up at a lower rate, but as long as a contract extension happens this offseason I don’t think any fans will complain.

Photo from Getty.

Maclin vs. Jackson: Who’s More Valuable?

DeSean Jackson Jeremy Maclin Philadelphia Eagles

After the high-flying success of the 2010 Eagles passing attack, this past season represented a large drop off in passing production. Michael Vick regressed from his MVP-caliber season, and his young wide receivers did as well.

Even with fewer sacks, Vick’s net yards per attempt (which includes sacks) went down in 2011, as did his touchdown percentage. Meanwhile, his interception rate doubled. DeSean Jackson caught more passes, but had fewer yards and touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin suffered a similar decline across his numbers.

However, it was an especially trying season for Jackson, who played with the weight of failed contract negotiations on his shoulders. Unfortunately, instead of keeping business and football separate, Jackson admitted after the final game that he let the contract issues distract him.

So, as we enter the offseason, the question remains as to what to do about Jackson and his pending free agent status. Do you let him test the market, or do you franchise tag him? Do you try to work out an extension, or let him walk/trade him?

These outcomes are all on the table. The correct answer lies as much in how you view Jackson as a player, and how he fits into the Eagles offense. Is he a legitimate number one receiver, or do his personal foibles and inconsistent hands make him expendable?

Relatedly, if Maclin is the real number one wideout, maybe you build the offense around him instead. After all, he has more receptions and touchdowns than Jackson the last two seasons, and (for what it’s worth) wide receiver DVOA stats tend to rank Maclin above Jackson.

I thought a good place to start with all of this was with the final piece: an analysis of Maclin and Jackson against each other and, notably, without each other.

Here are the stats for the two receivers in games they both played, over the last three seasons (from Pro Football Focus):

Maclin Jackson With

Looking at this data, you can see that pass distribution has been almost equal; Maclin has a slight edge in targets. However, Maclin’s catch rate is much higher, resulting in more than an extra reception per game. Jackson catches more of the longer passes, however, so the yardage works out almost equal.

Both have been good receivers, but in different ways. Jackson is more explosive, Maclin is more reliable. Two reasonable people might disagree over which is more useful, and I’m not sure it’s worth debating at this time.

But those stats are only when the two play in the same game. If we want to know who is more valuable or, more to the point, what the prospects are without Jackson, we need to look at games they played without their counterpart (highlighted green for improved performance and red for decline against the baseline):

Maclin Jackson Without

Let me just start by stating plainly the small sample size here. In the last three years Jackson has played only 6 games without Maclin, and Maclin only 3 without Jackson. That said, the numbers might still provide insight.

In both cases their pass targets went up by one — but that’s really the only similarity. In almost every other statistic, Jackson’s numbers actually improved without Maclin in the lineup. He had a higher catch rate and higher yards after the catch. Slightly fewer touchdowns, but that’s so hard to project over a limited number of games.

Meanwhile, things haven’t gone well in Maclin’s few tries without Jackson. While his targets went up, his catch rate dropped dramatically to less than 50 percent. He had fewer yards per catch, fewer yards after the catch, and no touchdowns. All in all, surprisingly poor results.

Once again, small sample size, but this is the only evidence we’re going to have before the Eagles make a long-term decision on their mercurial young star. And the evidence certainly suggests that Jackson’s not only a fine receiver himself, but his deep threat makes his running mate look better as well.

Take away Maclin, and Jackson benefits from the increased attention. Take away Jackson, and Maclin suffers despite it.

Some fans might be willing to move on without Jackson, should that come to pass. But this data reads like a warning. In a full season without DeSean, Maclin might look a lot more like Reggie Brown than Mike Quick.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: What an Embarrassment

Eagles Fan

There were a number of awful parts to the latest Eagles debacle. But by far the worst, to my mind, was the utterly embarrassing play of Michael Vick.

Eagles fans are used to Andy Reid refusing to run the ball. They are used to seeing a wide receiver corps that consists of a bunch of 3rd stringers. At this point, the inability of the back seven to provide any deterrence in coverage or protect yet another fourth quarter lead is commonplace and expected.

Vick had his legs yesterday, and made some typically great scrambles. But his passing was atrocious on a number of levels. Certainly the defense deserves a lot of blame today, but a $100 million quarterback cannot be outplayed by John Skelton. That’s inexcusable.

47.1% = Michael Vick’s completion percentage. That was the second-most inaccurate performance Vick has had since he returned to the NFL, and it contributed to his worst quarterback rating since 2006. I know he was missing his two favorite targets, but I’m not sure they would have helped much. Vick kept making terrible decisions, throwing into double coverage more than once. Truthfully, he’s lucky to only have two interceptions.

6 = LeSean McCoy carries in the second half. The second half playcalling was perhaps the worst by Marty Mornhinweg since he assumed those duties in 2006. Vick was having a poor day and was missing both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. McCoy was his typical self, running at a 5.8 yard per carry average — much higher than Vick’s 3.8 passing yards per attempt. And yet, with a touchdown lead, the solution was to pass?

8 = Punts by Chas Henry. He only had 20 total through the first 8 games.

3/4 = Cardinals red zone touchdown efficiency. Same as last week.

146 = Receiving yards for Larry Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald lined up against Nnamdi Asomugha last year against Oakland, the cornerback held him to only 2 receptions for 26 yards. This year, whatever Juan Castillo’s plan was, it didn’t involve copying that successful formula. Both Asomugha and Asante Samuel had key interceptions, but Skelton continued to find Fitzgerald in mismatches against linebackers and even rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett.

30th = Cardinals’ Football Outsiders DVOA rank prior to this week. They are a bad team. And they didn’t even have their starting quarterback. So what does that tell us about the Eagles? They are truly disgraceful.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Season Over

Eagles Bears

The Eagles are indisputably less than the sum of their parts. Not that those parts on their own are all great, but any team with this type of talent should be better than that.

That’s coaching.

35% = Completion percentage on passes to Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Brent Celek was the Eagles leading receiver for the second straight week. On one hand, it’s a welcome change to see Celek finally becoming an offensive weapon again. But Celek’s emergence has come in part because defenses have largely shut down the Eagles best receiving threats. Last week that wasn’t a problem, but it’s tough when your top two wideouts only get the ball six times total.

0 = Sacks and hits on Jay Cutler. Jim Washburn’s pass rush has been stellar for most of the season, but it didn’t show up last night. The Bears came into the game ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate. Everyone expected the Eagles defense to get pressure on Cutler, but it didn’t happen.

2 = Bears Pro Bowl linebackers. It’s amazing what some competent linebacker play can do.

3/4 = Bears red zone touchdown efficiency. You can’t win if you don’t do better in the red zone. The Eagles defense was worst in the league last year in the red zone, and Sean McDermott was shown the door. The team is just as bad this year.

133 = Rushing yards by Matt Forte. Same old, same old. The Eagles won two games, and people pushed  the problems we had seen for weeks to the back of the bandwagon bus. But they never went away.

1/2 = Eagles red zone touchdown efficiency. The offense right now is like a thoroughbred with asthma. You can see the potential, especially when Michael Vick does something no other quarterback can do, or when LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters tag team the defense. But at the end of the day they just can’t keep those moments coming. You know an untimely interception or a dropped pass is just waiting to sideline them again.

3-5 = Eagles record through eight games.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Why the Eagles Lost

Michael Turner Falcons Eagles

Last night’s loss was cruel. The Eagles showed extended stretches of dominance on both offense and defense, but made vital mistakes, suffered awful injuries, and came up just short in the end. Let’s break it down with some basic statistics:

14 = The number of targets by Matt Ryan to his wide receivers, for a meager 71 yards.

14 = The number of targets by Ryan to his tight ends and running backs, for a much-less-meager 123 yards. The Eagles defense stifled the wide receivers once again, keeping them to only 5 yards per target. But the linebackers (and Jarrad Page) proved they can’t be trusted to cover at all. They let an aging Tony Gonzalez and “No Afterburner” Michael Turner rack up a ridiculous 9 yards per target, a completion percentage of 71 percent, and 3 touchdowns.

4 = Tackles for a loss by Trent Cole. It’s a testament to the Eagles ineptitude at linebacker that Cole could have such a beast of a day and the defense could still struggle to stop the run. I couldn’t see them on every play, but Casey Matthews especially took horrendous routes to away from the ballcarrier.

222 to 98 = Number of first half yards gained by the Eagles compared to the Falcons. If you’re ever asked how it’s possible to out-gain an opponent by more than twice the yards and still be down going into the half, there’s only one answer: turnovers. Take away one of those fumbles by Michael Vick, the Eagles run away with the game.

1 = Helmet-to-helmet roughing the passer personal foul on Todd Herremans. If Vick doesn’t come out of the game with a concussion at the end of the third quarter, there’s no question in my mind that the Eagles win. On that drive, the Eagles extended their come-from-behind lead to 10 points, having scored 3 touchdowns in the last 4 possessions. Meanwhile, Atlanta was foundering. On their three possessions prior to Vick’s injury, the Falcons ran 7 plays for 0 yards, an interception, and 2 punts. After, they had 2 drives with 19 plays, 170 yards, and 2 touchdowns to retake the lead. That’s called “new life.”

And yet, despite everything, if Jeremy Maclin catches that 4th and 4 pass from AJ Feeley Mike Kafka, the Eagles still might have won this game. What does that tell us? That the Falcons were lucky to sneak out with a win. If Vick comes back healthy and Andy Reid benches his in-over-his-head rookie middle linebacker, I’d make them a two touchdown favorite in a playoff rematch.

Photo from Getty.

Ten Reasons to Excuse Last Night’s Eagles Stinker

  1. It’s only the preseason. 

  2. Michael Vick had a horrible preseason last year, and that turned out alright (endorsed by Spuds).

  3. No Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith, or Jason Avant (came out with minor contusion) meant Vick had to force his throws.

  4. Both of the Eagles run-stopping defensive tackles - Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon - never played.

  5. The Steelers did go to the Super Bowl for a reason.

  6. It’s Will Leitch’s fault.

  7. Having some humble pie might be good for them right now. Good chance for Andy Reid to kick this “dream team” in the rear end.

  8. After a radical defensive makeover, the Eagles are going to need some time to learn how to play as a unit.

  9. At least there were no major injuries.

  10. LeSean McCoy looked good. And Mike Kafka. And Dion Lewis… until he fumbled.

One Reason to be Concerned About Last Night’s Game

  1. That was &@$%ing awful.

Risk, Reward, & Injuries: Why Sign Steve Smith?

Just when you start to think that the Eagles are done making free agent moves, they go out and get former Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. It was an addition that was as confusing as it was surprising.

Andy Reid’s public explanation was predictably simple: 

"Like I’ve said many times before, Howie Roseman and I are always keeping our eyes open for good football players and players that we think can help our football team win, and Steve Smith certainly fits that category. He’s a Pro Bowl-quality receiver that we will work into our offense as soon as he is ready to go. We feel very good about our current group of receivers, and Steve adds another dimension to that position. He’s played very well against us in the past few years and we’re happy to have him on board."

I don’t think Reid was lying, per se. All of the above is true. But I find it hard to believe that the move had nothing to do with Jeremy Maclin’s injury.

In the abstract it’s nice to add a player of Smith’s caliber at the low price of $2 million, especially from your division rival. But his microfracture surgery seems to have scared off most other teams, including the Giants. There’s no reason to take on that risk if you’re confident all the pieces from one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL last year will return. DeSean Jackson, Maclin, and Jason Avant crowd out any need for another starting-caliber wideout.

Again, unless you’re worried that they won’t all be ready to play this season. If Maclin can’t play, suddenly you have a concussion-prone star, a good slot receiver, and nothing but potential and promise. Riley Cooper hasn’t shown that he can start in the NFL. Neither has Chad Hall or Sinorice Moss. No one wants to count on them making a big leap.

To me, signing Smith reeks a little bit of desperation. Obviously the contract isn’t particularly expensive, and thus the risk isn’t too great. But when a guy of Smith’s talent can be bought at such a low price and his former squad chooses not to match it, you have to wonder if the beachfront property you just purchased really exists. 

The Eagles are saying on background that they hope Smith won’t have to miss any games. Hopefully that’s true for Maclin as well, and Smith ends up being just a shrewd insurance policy. But let’s just say I’m less optimistic about that likelihood than I was yesterday.

Photo from Getty.

Odd Similarities: Are the Eagles the New Colts?

Michael Vick Peyton Manning Post Game Embrace Eagles Colts

There’s been one NFL team for most of the last decade that employed steady stars across the offensive skill positions, including a top five quarterback with special intangibles, two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers, and a cadre of complementary weapons for their pass-heavy system. This team had a speed-oriented but relatively simple 4-3 defense with lots of player turnover. And the overall system, touted for years by a steady veteran coach, was in place for season after season as the team won multiple division titles and always pushed closer to the Super Bowl — before finally making it over the hump.

I’d ask you readers what team I’m referring to, but my title probably gave it away. The Indianapolis Colts, with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and others were one of the best teams of the 2000s. After 10 victories in Tony Dungy’s first year as coach in 2002, the Colts won 12 or more games for the next seven years.

Perhaps this is a stretch (and feel free to call me out on it if so), but in many ways haven’t the Eagles become a mirror image of those Colts teams?

Start on offense. Clearly, Michael Vick isn’t the same type of quarterback as Manning, but both are dominant stars at the position that make defenses adjust to them. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the new Harrison and Wayne. LeSean McCoy can be Edgerrin James and Brent Celek can grow into Dallas Clark’s shoes. Along the offensive line the Eagles now have the same “genius” position coach in Howard Mudd — so presumably that unit will start looking similar.

On defense the Eagles are apparently moving away from the complex blitzes of Jim Johnson to the opposite read-and-react style that marked Dungy’s defenses for years. New defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has praised Lovie Smith’s work in Chicago, and the Bears defense is derived from Dungy’s Tampa Two. That new philosophy should fit the Eagles personnel fine since the Colts have cycled through young linebackers at almost the same rate.

NFL teams are built in all sorts of ways, and it would have been difficult in the past to characterize these two teams as particularly similar. Suddenly though, there are these similarities and coincidences. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I’ve always admired the Colts from afar for their strategy, as well as for the consistency of their success. Part of that success comes from an adherence to one of Football Outsiders’ basic principles: “Offense is more consistent from year to year than defense, and offensive performance is easier to project than defensive performance.” Colts GM Bill Polian built a consistently above average offensive unit from Manning on down, and then allowed the defense to shift around and eventually luck into a few good games in a playoff run.

Intentionally or not, the Eagles front office seems to have replicated that formula. Over the last few years they’ve focused on building a formidable offense for the foreseeable future and then started searching for defensive solutions. While the past is written for those Colts, it remains to be seen what kind of future this team has going forward.

Photo from Getty. Originally published at NBC Philadelphia.

On Steals, Reaches, and Senseless Draft Grades

Andy Reid Philadelphia Eagles 2011 NFL Draft Grades

If you so desire, you can read instant draft grades written by numerous experts around the NFL world. Many scouts and reporters throw out their opinions immediately following the conclusion of the draft, telling fans what picks they love or hate and which teams made the most of their draft picks.

Unfortunately, most of this analysis is entirely worthless. Obviously, it’s impossible to judge any of these players before they take a single NFL snap. If we could, no one would have wasted tens of millions of dollars on guys like JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf.

But draft grades also bother me because most of the grades are based on silly determinations that a player is a “steal” or a “reach.” It’s common to read analysis about how a team was lucky that X player dropped to them in the draft, such as Jeremy Maclin to the Eagles in 2009. Conversely, people will argue that teams picked a player too early. This year, Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News chided the Eagles for prematurely drafting safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and kicker Alex Henery.

What are these assertions based on? These reporters and scouts certainly don’t have some omnipotent knowledge that eludes NFL organizations. Perhaps the teams even know more than these backseat-driving writers. For example, many observers laughed when the Oakland Raiders picked safety Michael Mitchell out of Ohio University, whom few had heard of before, in the second round of the 2009 draft. Then later that day it came out that the Chicago Bears had been targeting Mitchell only two picks later. While teams may be largely in the dark about their opponents’ intentions, they most likely have more information than the so-called “experts.”

Furthermore, every draft pick is a “reach.” Read up on auction theory, specifically so-called Dutch auctions, in which the auctioneer starts with an expensive price and slowly lowers it. The first person who is willing to pay for the item gets it. This is analogous to the draft, where the team that values a player the most will pick him the highest. Especially with a lot of bidders (32 teams in the draft), the "winner’s curse" can be substantial — essentially, everyone is overpaying.

I don’t mind if you want to talk about who you like, who you don’t, and who you wish the Eagles had drafted. But let’s move on from this draft grade talk about steals and reaches. It’s just misguided.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Eagles Draft Night: Playing the Predictions Game

Roger Goodell NFL Draft Eagles Predictions

Let me preface this post with a reference to last year, when I predicted that the Eagles would trade back out of the first round. Turned out the Eagles did the exact opposite and traded up 11 spots to grab defensive end Brandon Graham. Howie Roseman, Andy Reid, and the rest of the Eagles front office are pretty unpredictable. So why try? Because it’s fun.

Tonight the draft will kickoff with the first round in prime time. Before you sit down to watch, check out my predictions and sound off if you have other opinions:

  • The Eagles will not take Jimmy Smith. Despite his talent, Smith has a whole host of behavior issues. “Two abortions, aggravated assault, two minors in possession, three failed drug tests… that’s a little excessive,” an anonymous NFL personnel man told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Eagles have never drafted a player with that much criminal history. Yes, they took a chance on Michael Vick, but only after weeks of due diligence and a very low-risk contract. I don’t see the front office taking that chance with their number one pick. Plus, I think if the team were interested in Smith, they wouldn’t have let all these rumors stand about him being their top interest. The media have largely anointed him as the Eagles pick, and I think the team is content to let that smokescreen stand.
  • But the Eagles will take a top cornerback in the top few rounds. I have my eye on the second round crop, where the team could draft a player of similar caliber to Nate Allen, who they snatched with the 37th overall pick last year. Virgina’s Ras-I Dowling sticks out as a possibility. Lots of talent, senior year lost to injury — he’s tailor-made for the Eagles.
  • The Eagles won’t pick at 23rd overall. They haven’t gone with their assigned spot since 2006, which not coincidentally was their highest pick in a long time. With the Eagles consistently drafting in the latter half of the first round  (26, 19,  21, 24 over the last four years), it makes sense to either move up to snatch a truly valued player (Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Graham) or drop back into the second round and get similarly value at a lower price (Kevin Kolb, DeSean Jackson).
  • At least two more linebackers in this year’s draft plans, after the team snatched Keenan Clayton and Jamar Chaney in 2010. As I wrote about last week, there are only three linebackers who will definitely be around in 2011 — Clayton, Chaney, and Moise Fokou. Even if you assume Stewart Bradley returns, that’s just four players for six or seven spots.
  • Less than 10 rookies. After taking 13 players last year and seeing three of those never take a single snap in 2010, the Eagles won’t use all of their selections this year. Some of those picks will be packaged to move up in this draft or get future picks in 2012.
  • No quarterback. Sorry conspiracy theorists, it just doesn’t make sense for the Eagles to add another quarterback this year with Mike Kafka in place as a back up and plenty of veterans on the market. Plus, drafting another quarterback before trading Kevin Kolb takes away some of that leverage the Eagles have by arguing that they could just keep him.
  • Correll Buckhalter 2.0. With Brian Westbrook admirably replaced by LeSean McCoy, the Eagles need a running back who they can develop to be the long term back up. Neither Jerome Harrison nor Eldra Buckley is that guy, but mid round prospects like Hawaii’s Alex Green, Cal’s Shane Vereen, Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray, or Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter could be.
  • Ignoring the defensive line? After heavily targeting pass rushers in last year’s draft, the Eagles have a glut of young players along the defensive line. Outside of Trent Cole, none of them really stand out (especially with Graham’s ACL injury). But you can’t address every weakness and if the Eagles don’t add a top d-lineman early, I could see them passing entirely in favor of additions along the offensive line and elsewhere.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

2011 Eagles Offseason Guide: Wide Receiver

DeSean Jackson Jeremy Maclin Jason Avant Eagles Wide Receivers

This is the third in a series of posts breaking down the Eagles position by position in advance of the upcoming draft and (hopefully) free agency. We’ve already looked at quarterback and running back. Today we’ll examine the wide receivers.

2010 Recap:  I already explored wide receiver performance in a previous post — so go check that out. Jeremy Maclin led all receivers in targets and DeSean Jackson had the highest yards per target, with Jason Avant retaining his premier slot position role. Because the top three guys are so talented, there was little left in the pie for the large rookie Riley Cooper or tiny Chad Hall. The duo combined for only 17 receptions the whole season.

Who’s Leaving:  No one has to leave. They’re all under contract for next season, although Hall’s roster spot certainly isn’t guaranteed. He didn’t do a whole lot to impress in limited action.

2011 Depth Chart: Everything seems to be set except for the last spot, unless Riley Cooper makes big enough strides in year two to challenge the elder statesman Avant (who’s only 27 years old) for playing time. I expect the Eagles will draft another late round wide receiver to compete with Hall and the practice squad fodder on the roster like Sinorice Moss, Rod Harper, and Jeremy Williams.

Potential Additions: If the Eagles are going to dress a fifth wideout, the player is going to have to offer something else. That something extra is probably on special teams, where the Eagles are still looking for a reliable kick returner. Look for someone like that in a late round. I’m certainly no draft expert, but reading some of the scouting reports guys like Ronald Johnson from USC, Dwayne Harris from East Carolina, or Jeremy Kerley from TCU could fit.

Future Outlook:  Future is brighter here than perhaps anywhere else on the team, assuming the Eagles can lock up DeSean Jackson to a long term deal. Once all this lockout nonsense is behind us, that should happen fairly quickly and the reign of explosive young wide receivers will continue.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.