Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eagles NFL Draft 2007: Defense

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

Donovan McNabb injuries and Terrell Owens intrusions included, the biggest factor in the Eagles' recent fall from supremacy has been a decline in play on the defensive side of the ball. And the main reason for the recession has been poor performance in the last four NFL Drafts .

The Eagles' 2002 strategy may have caused a lot of head scratching at first, but it produced a strong defensive backfield with the additions of Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown.

Since then, the organization has completely whiffed with their high draft picks from a defensive perspective, taking the likes of Jerome McDougal (15th overall), Matt Ware (third-round) and Jamaal Green (fourth round). Names like Broderick Bunkley, Matt McCoy and Chris Gocong are also littered across the landscape -- players who are too early in their careers to pass full judgement on, but that certainly did not leave good first impressions.

And so the Eagles sit just hours away from another chance to infuse some much-needed ability into the area that is normally the source of strength -- their defense.

Here's how they might do it:

Safety: Undoubtedly the most pressing need for this team right now. Sean Considine is a flat-out liability, Lewis is gone and there is no back-up plan in place for Brian Dawkins, who can't be counted on forever despite is heroic performance in the second half of last season. Several sources from within the NovaCare complex have intimated that the Birds are not high at all on Florida's Reggie Nelson, and two experts whose opinion I highly value have suggested that Texas' Michael Griffin is not a first-round player, no matter what the mock drafts may tell you. By all accounts, though, the Eagles are enamored with Miami's Brandon Meriweather. They were pleased with one-on-one discussions, which apparently quelled any fears that his sometimes questionable behavior produced. Expect the Birds to take Meriweather if he's available, and possibly even move up to get him.

Cornerback: This is a position that looks like a strength at first glance, but is razor-thin upon further inspection. Once you get past Brown and Sheppard, William James is next and line -- a thought that should scare any Eagles fan. A nickel back and emergency starter is desperately needed, so expect the Eagles to address the position early. Depending on how things fall, they may snag Texas' Aaron Ross in the first round, and possibly Arkansas' Chris Houston. Cal's Daymeion Hughes and Maryland's Josh Wilson are two other names to look for in the second round.

Linebacker: Not a big need for the Eagles in the grand scheme of things. Could they use a reliable building-block, given Jeremiah Trotter and Takeo Spikes' age and injury concerns? Absolutely. But with those two and Omar Gathier providing a serviceable starting corps and Matt McCoy and Chris Gocong as backups, the Birds likely won't pick up an LB until the fourth round or so -- assuming there isn't a steal out there.

Defensive line: Like the LB position, the defensive line could certainly use a boost but isn't a primary need. The Eagles have spent their last two first-round picks on the interior line (Bunkley, Mike Patterson) and shelled out good money for starting defensive ends Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse. That, coupled with decent reserves in Juqua Thomas, McDougal and Trent Cole, will prevent them from going for a D-lineman until the third round or later. Utah's Paul Soliai, Ohio State's Quinn Pitcock and Texas' Brian Robison are possibilities there.

***Coming Friday: The Phanatic Magazine Staff selections***

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