Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Philadelphia Eagles

Here it 'tis at last, my look at the Philadelphia Eagles 2011 draft class, and thanks to some wheeling and dealing by the Eagles we've got eleven picks to get through. Starting with...

Danny Watkins, OT/OG, Baylor. He's listed pretty much everywhere as a guard, despite playing left tackle in college, so it remains to be seen what the Eagles will ultimately do with him. Watkins is an odd kid, on the principle that he's a 26 year old "kid".

Don't let that detract from what he is on the field though, which is a strong and technically sound pass blocker. His run blocking in college was a little limited due to the offense, but this is the Eagles under Andy Reid that we're talking about here. Running the ball isn't exactly the Eagles priority.

Watkins uses his hands well, shifts his feet well and works hard to stay on his pass rusher, keeping the pressure on until the whistle blows and keeping his QB safe. You really can't argue with his ability in this regard. If he does transition to Guard then there may be a bit of a blip while he gets the hang of dealing with more power style rushers versus the speed rushers he's used to, but I think he'll make be fine.

In round two the Eagles went with Jaiquawn Jarrett, safety, Temple. Or "Scrabble" as I'm going to refer to him. Can I first of all start by saying that the sooner that kid gets his first name legally changed the happier I'll be. It is without doubt one of the most difficult and annoying names to spell I've seen in a long time. Writers annoyances aside though, what's he like?

The answer is good. Very good. If there is anything that "Scrabble" loves more than hitting people then I'd like to know what it is, because he certainly seems to love nothing more than putting a shoulder down and taking guys out. His tackling form is very good and he displays no fear coming down hill to make the hit, speed and impact be damned.

Against the pass he shows pretty good speed and thus range, able to cover a fair amount of ground while the ball is in the air. His talent suggests he'd make a good strong safety, but on reflection I think his size might not be enough for that particular role so he'll probably end up at the free safety spot. He has talent though; raw physical talent, courage and good instincts.

On to round three and the Eagles went with corner Curtis Marsh, Utah State. Marsh isn't bad in coverage, but sometimes you get the feeling that he leaves a bit too much of a cushion for the receiver. His ball skills clearly demonstrate why he ended up as a corner and not a wide receiver, but as long as he breaks up the pass I guess that's all that matters.

Overall I think Marsh might struggle a little in the Eagles scheme, unless new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo makes major changes. I say this because the Eagles are very much a zone team, leaving guys like Asante Samuel free to play underneath a receiver and make plays on the ball, and I don't think that really suits Marsh all that well. I think he'd be happier if given room to drop back and play a little deeper with maybe a linebacker sliding into the zone underneath.

On to round four and we start with Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. Yes, the brother of Clay Matthews in Green Bay.

Now frankly I haven't got a damn clue how Matthews made it out of the second round. Looking back now, I'm a little surprised he made it out of the first. This has nothing to do with the Matthews name, legendary as it is, and everything to do with the fact that Casey is a straight up beast.

He's quick for his size, he's strong, he's determined. You get him on a pass rush and he'll find a way to get through the traffic and get to the quarterback. You make him drop back in a zone and he'll keep his feet alive and find the ball. He'll chase the play wherever it goes and he'll arrive at the ball carrier with some attitude.

Looking at some of the people that went before him and the talent that he has, I absolutely believe he would not have been a wasted pick in the first round. The only question I have is this; what are the Eagles going to use him for? In college Matthews played in a 3-4 as a middle linebacker, while the Eagles these days are more of a 4-3 Defense really.

With linebacker Stewart Bradley potentially on his way out through free agency, maybe there is a spot for Matthews in the middle? Maybe they'll stick him on the edge and make him a defensive end? Who knows. It is a bit of an odd pick for a 4-3 team to make, but given what I've seen I have no worries about Matthews and how he'll get on. Excellent player.

Which was followed by kicker Alex Henery from Nebraska. Before you ask, no, no I didn't watch any film of Henery. And I still haven't.

On to round five and running back Dion Lewis from Pittsburgh. I must warn you at this point; if you have an aversion to someone going on a fan boy trip, gushing shamelessly about one of their favourite players, then look away now. Just scroll down.


This kid is sick. He is just nuts. It's outrageous. He should be banned from being this good and the more I watch him, the more I wish him all the success in the world at the next level. He can just straight up play.

The key to this is his agility. Now technically speaking agility is defined the ability to rapidly change velocity vectors. To me and you, that means the ability to rapidly change direction, decelerating in one direction and then accelerating in another. It combines balance, reflexes, strength to weight ratio, and at least in football, the ability to see and anticipate holes, then get your butt into them.

That is exactly what Dion Lewis brings to the table and boy does he bring it. Lewis has an amazing talent for picking his way through the wash of players, stopping, starting, following his blockers and using patience to work his way through the holes.

What strikes me the most as well is his down to down consistency. Unlike a Chris Johnson he doesn't produce many massive runs, but I'm happy with that on the principle that also unlike Johnson he often turns what look like dead plays into good yards. Despite being a little on the slight side, he also has pretty good power and some great moves up his sleeve for breaking tackles.

Lewis is a first down machine and a run first coaches dream come true (which is why I like him so much). This however does bring up the question again of why did the Eagles take him? I mean, I mentioned this earlier, Andy Reid is not exactly in love with running the ball. It's another case of picking up a great player who I don't think fits the Eagles system very well.

So will Lewis live up to the hype I've placed on him? I hope so. For all I've said about the Eagles, they do run the ball occasionally and I think when they do they will get a great look at the skills of Dion Lewis. Hopefully that will prompt them into giving the kid more touches and I honestly believe he can make a great contribution to an offense that is already loaded with play makers.

Next in the fifth round we have Julian Vandervelde, guard, Iowa. Now if you skipped down here to avoid me shamelessly piling the praise on Dion Lewis, you might want to keep going for a bit. Because I'm going to pile praise on Vandervelde as well.

See I must have watched about 180-200 snaps of Vandervelde, over and over, and I don't think I saw him whiff a block or miss an assignment. Not even once. I think he might have come close maybe twice, but he always got his guy. That's why I'm excited about what Vandervelde brings to the league.

He's a brilliant interior linemen; Strong, stout, keeps his feet moving, uses his hands well, great leverage on the defenders, exchanges blocks excellently with his fellow linemen to handle twists and stunts. His run blocking is something else, especially when he's asked to get up to the next level and grab a linebacker.

I think you will have a tough time trying to find a better guard in this entire draft than Vandervelde. You might have a tough time trying to find a better overall blocker than Vandervelde. Certainly I think he can achieve what Maurkice Pouncey did for Pittsburgh last year.

Which is a shame in a way, because Pouncey was a first rounder and honestly I think Vandervelde is on the same kind of talent level, at least from a pure blocking perspective. As a fifth rounder however, Vandervelde's wallet will be considerably lighter than Pouncey's this season.

Four more picks to go now and as we enter round six we start with Jason Kelce, center, Cincinnati.

Finally I can stop gushing about players and those of you who have skipped down can relax and have a read again. I'm not a Kelce fan. I think he lacks balance which is a serious concern when you're an offensive linemen, along with a weak punch that is related somewhat to the lack of balance, (for a fun experiment, try standing up on your toes and trying to push something reasonably solid. Try not to fall on your ass).

Skipping forward then we come to Brian Rolle, linebacker, Ohio State.

Now Rolle is kind of the good with the bad, with a bit more bad on top for good measure. The good is speed, of which Rolle has in buckets for a linebacker. The bad is his strength, which is kind of a big issue for a middle linebacker.

The bad on top for good measure is the complete lack of mental awareness. He always seems to be a second or two behind everyone else, which is a defect in his game that even his speed can't overcome. He just always seems to be standing around waiting, waiting and waiting to get a good look at the play before making a decision. By the time he does make a choice it's often too late.

The question then becomes; what will the Eagles do with him? If they can find a way to fit his speed in, perhaps rushing the quarterback somehow, maybe as a blitzing linebacker on third down, then there is hope for Rolle. Otherwise I see a winter of discontent on the unemployment line for Rolle.

Finally into the seventh round and the end is in sight. Two more players left. It's 3am, my coffee is getting cold and I've been at this for about three days now (it's not the typing so much, it's watching the games). so next up is linebacker Greg Lloyd Jr. from Connecticut.

This brings the tally of linebackers to three and I'm beginning to think that Andy Reid is trying to build a 3-4 defense. So what about Lloyd? Well... you tell me. My Connecticut drawer appears to be empty so I'm afraid you're gonna have to flip a coin and make your own mind up.

That only leaves Stanley Havili, fullback, USC.

Now, Fullbacks are not usually very high on peoples draft boards, so the fact that one made it into the seventh round is something of an achievement in itself. But this full back is something special. Watching Havili is probably some of the most fun you can have watching football.

Standing 6ft tall and weighing 230 pounds, Havili doesn't immediately strike you as a fast and elusive player. To be honest, he's not. Some how though, some way, Havili manages to dodge people like they weren't there. It seems he has just enough speed to make people take and angle on him, and then just at the last second he slows almost to a dead stop and cuts back inside.

It's mesmerising. It's like watching a pair of fish in a bowl dance around each other at the last second; you can see it happening, but you have no idea how they do it. That's the impression you get watching Havili. You can see him cutting inside the defenders and then leaving shorter, faster secondary players in his wake, but you just can't believe he's doing it.

Two plus points as well that he brings to the table for the Eagles are his pass blocking and his catching ability. He blocks using the shoulder which isn't ideal, but it seems to get the job done. Critically though, he is a good receiver out of the backfield. He runs his assigned routes very well and has great hands, then becomes a good runner with the ball.

So what's the down side? Well, as a full back he's often called on to be a lead blocker. And he sucks at lead blocking. I don't know what it is, but he just doesn't seem to have the hang of it. He is a rubbish run blocker. It's not that he's afraid to get stuck in, far from it (he actually seems like quite a physical player at times). He just seems to lack that run blocking ability.

Overall I think he's a good fit. The Eagles run a lot of of the shotgun anyway, so he's probably more likely to find himself alone in the backfield with Michael Vick than leading LeSean McCoy through the hole. His pass catching ability and pass blocking also mesh well with what the Eagles do.

So that's it. That's all eleven new additions to the Eagles.

Generally speaking I think Eagles fans should be really happy with this draft. There are a lot of really good players in it. Some aren't perhaps the best fit for the teams style, but conversely there is a lot of raw talent on show. For all his faults, Andy Reid seems to be a good technical coach and has a good collection of coaches around him to help him extract that raw ability and turn it into production on the field.

I think if I was doing alphabetical grades, I'd give this group an A.

So that's the Eagles done. Redskins are up next and then that is the NFC done and dusted. If I can bang out the AFC teams at a decent rate then I might even be able to get all of these done before training camps start.

Why are you all laughing?

On a final note, I was watching Stanford earlier, for reasons I can't actually remember and wide receiver Doug Baldwin stood out from the pack. He's an undrafted free agent so keep an eye out for him. He showed outstanding hands and concentration at times.

Oh, one last thing as it happens.... click the old facebook button at the bottom and lets start building a nationy, cult, thingy together. If you see what I mean. Go on. It's just a button click, it's not like I'm asking you to climb Everest.

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