April 23rd and 24th, Javits Center, Manhattan. The Green Machine looks to add depth through the NFL Draft.
This is where Andy Reid and his team of assistants will begin their march back to the Super Bowl. With Philadelphia owning five of the first 94 picks in the NFL Draft, and potentially 13 overall, April will see the Eagles continue to grow into the NFC’s most unstoppable force.
Although the team has lost guard Jermane Mayberry to New Orleans, linebacker Ike Reese to Atlanta, and defensive end Derrick Burgess to Oakland, the team has no pressing needs and will be able to simply select the best players available. The Eagles will look to add depth across the board and here are the likely positions they will target:
Free safety Brian Dawkins and strong safety Michael Lewis are entrenched as the starters, but the team could use some depth here. Backup J.R. Reed, also the club’s main kick-off returner, injured his knee in a freak fence-climbing accident and his status for training camp is uncertain. Quentin Mikell is a special teams demon, but will be challenged to make the roster, and Reid will likely turn to the draft. Oklahoma’s Brodney Pool is fast and versatile, two qualities needed to play in coordinator Jim Johnson’s defense.
Two things are certain about the Eagles’ tight end situation: L.J. Smith will enter camp as the starter and long snapper Mike Bartrum will be the third tight end. Who Philadelphia adds as a number two is anybody’s guess. While there is speculation that Cowboys’ castoff James Whalen will be picked up, look for Alex Smith of Stanford and Kevin Everett of Miami to be closely evaluated before draft time.
Brian Westbrook is a restricted free agent in the last year of his deal. Correll Buckhalter was re-signed, but is surrounded by question marks after a second missed season, and Bruce Perry spent his rookie year on injured reserve. Potential injuries will force Philadelphia to add another running back. Minnesota’s Marion Barber III is big, fast, and a good receiver; he’d fit the West Coast offense well. Kansas State’s Darren Sproles is a smaller version of Westbrook, and will also be considered.
Terrell Owens and Todd Pinkston are the undisputed starters. Greg Lewis showed in the playoffs he’s a playmaker and worthy of the three slot. Freddie Mitchell may have played his last game in Eagle-green and Billy McMullen, a former third round pick, has had trouble cracking the active list. The Eagles will most likely draft a receiver by the third round. Fred Gibson of Georgia and J.R. Russell of Louisville are both big, fast receivers and will be looked at.
Since the Eagles have re-signed middle Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and weak-side Linebacker Keith Adams, this is not a major position of need anymore. Dhani Jones played well in his first year with the team and Mark Simoneau will compete with Adams on the weak side. Mike Labinjo, an undrafted rookie last year will replace Ike Reese on special teams. If another backup is needed, Cornelius Wortham of Alabama would be a nice fit.
The starting five seems set for next season with left tackle Tra Thomas, left guard Artis Hicks, center Hank Fraley, right guard Shawn Andrews and right tackle Jon Runyan. Steve Scuillo proved to be an invaluable pickup last year and will end up as a 6th man. Backup Alonzo Ephraim also stepped up last season. Although the depth on the O-line appears solid, Andy Reid loves drafting versatile offensive lineman and Runyan is a free agent after this year. It’s not unfathomable to see the Eagles using their first pick on an offensive lineman, maybe Jammal Brown from Oklahoma.
The Eagles currently have ten defensive lineman under contract: ends Jevon Kearse, N.D. Kalu, Jerome McDougle, Hugh Douglas, and Jamaal Green, and tackles Corey Simon, Darwin Walker, Hollis Thomas, Sam Rayburn, and Paul Grasmanis. No reason to worry here. But still, the Eagles believe you can never have enough linemen and will add one in the draft. Defensive end Justin Tuck of Notre Dame is a speedy edge-rusher type the Eagles prefer and Missouri’s C.J. Mosley’s stock is rising. If they’re around in the third or fourth round of the draft, look for Philadelphia to swoop.