Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eagles NFL Draft 2007: Offense

The Phanatic Magazine dives into full-scale Eagles NFL Draft coverage, starting with an extensive look at the Birds' needs on the offensive side of the ball.

By John McMullen
The Phanatic Magazine

With the 26th pick of the 2007 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles might take a safety. Or the Birds might take a cornerback. They might even select a defensive end or a linebacker.

OK, stop chuckling, maybe not a linebacker but you get the point. Few things in life are certain. Death, taxes and the fact that the Eagles are going defensive at the top of this year's draft are.

That makes things a little less interesting on the offensive side of the ball but knowing Andy Reid, he will get antsy at some point and pull the trigger for some offensive help.

So let's take a look at where the Eagles stand heading into the weekend.

Quarterback: When you look at the injury history and the fact that Donovan McNabb is now on the wrong side of 30, some believe that the Eagles should select a young quarterback to groom. But, the decisions for 2007 have already been made. The Eagles extended A.J. Feeley and, in doing so, waived goodbye to one of the league's best backups in Jeff Garcia.

Despite the bravado it took to make that move, the team was far from sold on Feeley, who has already flamed out in both Miami and San Diego, and acquired another veteran with some starting experience -- Kelly Holcomb -- in the Takeo Spikes deal.

"We think Donovan is coming back healthy, he looks great, and we have A. J.," said general manager Tom Heckert in a recent roundtable with reporters. "Even last year, he played great until he got hurt. He's still a heck of a player."

No argument but it's also fair to say, you can't count on Donovan suiting up 16 times a season and it's really hard to believe Reid or Heckert could be comfortable going with Feeley or Holcomb for an extended period of time so it would be prudent to start looking for McNabb's successor now, while you actually have the luxury of time to groom a young quarterback. A first day signal-caller is out of the question so forget about guys like JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Trent Edwards, Kevin Kolb, Drew Stanton and John Beck. A project with some upside on the second day may be hard to pass up so look out for names like Jordan Palmer of UTEP (Carson Palmer's brother) or Jared Zabransky of Boise State.

Running back: Despite persistent questions regarding durability, Brian Westbrook finally proved he could carry the load and be the focal point of the Eagles offense last season. Meanwhile, Correll Buckhalter re-signed after actually staying healthy and doing a solid, if unspectacular job as the No. 2 back.

Still, it's not exactly like Westbrook is Earl Campbell is his prime or Buckhalter has turned the corner as a consistent threat so a back has to be in the Eagles thinking. The fact that Thomas Tapeh isn't exactly a top-tier fullback makes a guy like Brian Leonard of Rutgers, who can play either running back position, that more appealing.

But, you can't justify Leonard at No. 26 especially with the holes on defense and there is simply no way he will be around for the Birds in the second round. Unless the Eagles trade up in Round 2, forget about Leonard. Taking a chance on a guy like Michael Bush, who has first round talent but injury concerns will push him to the second day, might be worth the gamble.

Wide receiver: You really couldn't question the Eagles reluctance to get in a bidding war for a guy who was nicknamed "Street Clothes" by the New Orleans media. And, if you are being honest, Donte Stallworth did little to change his reputation in Philly last season but after seeing the deal he got from New England you have to wonder why Philly didn't bring him back.

If you break it down, the team's braintrust simply chose Kevin Curtis over Stallworth and while Curtis did a nice job as the No. 3 receiver in St. Louis and doesn't bring the baggage that Stallworth does, he also doesn't offer the same upside. Understand that Curtis played in the shadow of two Hall of Famers while with the Rams. He has never seen a double team in his life and the Eagles brought him in to be a No. 1 receiver? Anyone remember Az Hakim? It's just not going to happen, Curtis doesn't have the size or strength to beat press coverage from the league's top corners. That leaves Reggie Brown as the top option and the jury is still out on whether he has the skills to be a No 1.

The Eagles have gone out of their way to talk up Hank Baskett and Jason Avant as options for the third and fourth spots but there is no deep speed to stretch the field there. Wide receiver is clearly the deepest position in this year's draft so the Birds might be able to snag a player with speed but I can't see them making a move here until the third round at best. At that stage you should keep an eye on names like Jason Hill of Washington State or Fresno State's Paul Williams.

Tight end: L.J. Smith is what he is: An average blocker who is a solid receiving threat that will always drop more than you would like. Since Smith is a free agent after next season and Matt Schobel failed to impress, some have speculated the Eagles may be looking for a replacement and Delaware's Ben Patrick is a name to look out for. The Eagles brought Patrick in for a pre-draft workout and would likely invest a fourth-round choice on the former Blue Hen. Since most have Patrick rated as the third best tight end in the draft, I can't see him lasting until Sunday. If he's off the board, 6-foot-7 Matt Spaeth of Minnesota would be a nice option.

Offensive line: The offensive line played great for the Eagles down the stretch last season but it's a bit overrated in this town with the exception of Shawn Andrews, who is probably the second best guard in all of football. Jon Runyan and William Thomas are both aging on the outside and Jamaal Jackson and Todd Herremans are a tad overvalued in the interior. That said, the Eagles addressed this situation last season and will likely stay away from the offensive line unless a player they love is on the board late. Winston Justice and Max Jean-Gilles didn't get on the field last year and there is never a guarantee they will be able to step in if needed but both players are still considered top-tier prospects with a nice upside.

***Coming soon: Tim McManus' look at the Eagles' defensive needs.***

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