Linebacker is by far my preferred first-round draft choice for the Eagles. Given the severe dearth of talent at that position, it’s not even a particularly close decision in my mind.
That said, teams should never reach too far for need. You should attempt to select the best player available, lest you end up with another Danny Watkins.
With that in mind, I could easily see the Eagles going with a different position in the first round, perhaps cornerback after they trade Asante Samuel, or, more likely, defensive line.
Whether or not it’s the first round, defensive line coach Jim Washburn could use an infusion of youthful talent along the front four. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are both Pro Bowl-caliber ends, but they’re both closer to the end of their prime than they are to the start -- and the situation behind them is murky. Brandon Graham is coming off a serious injury and a lost season. Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt have had their moments in the Wide 9, but neither can be trusted to take over as a starter if needed.
The defensive tackle spot is in a similar situation, but I’m just going to look at defensive ends at this time. The question is, what kind of end does Washburn want? And the answer to that question suggests that there may be more turnover than we think.
At right are the defensive ends selected in Tennessee in the 12 years Washburn was coaching there. He must have had tremendous input into which players were taken. In theory, these are players that are prototypical for what Washburn wants to do at the position.
The thing that jumps out at me immediately is their size. Washburn’s only drafted two defensive ends shorter than 6-foot-4. And his free agent picks have all been in that 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 range too: Kyle Vanden Bosh, Dave Ball, Kevin Carter, etc.
It’s just an interesting piece of trivia until you look at the Eagles current group of ends. Tapp is only 6-foot-1. Hunt is 6-foot. Graham,at a generously labeled 6-foot-2, would (given the opportunity) be the smallest defensive end who’s ever started for Washburn. Now, this doesn’t rule them out completely. If they’re good enough, they’ll play, regardless of size. Both Cole and Babin -- listed at 6-foot-3 -- are still on the small side of Washburn’s range.
(Note: Washburn’s tackles have been on average 6’-foot-3. Only Cedric Thorton and Antonio Dixon currently fit that mold.)
But, with that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if those two and Graham are the only players at defensive end who return in 2012.
Tommy Lawlor, the authority on all things Eagles draft, mentioned some of the defensive ends scouting consultant Phil Savage talked to at the Senior Bowl. Based on Washburn’s preferences, I would be surprised if the Eagles selected the relatively short Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw. Cam Johnson, a player Tommy likes a lot, would a more natural fit at 6-foot-4.
Come April, the Eagles have 10 draft picks. I could easily envision a scenario in which they spend four of them on the defensive line, and at least two at end. And when you’re shuffling through prospect profiles for a preview of players who might end up in Philly, keep your eye on height as a key factor.