For a team with a well-documented history of whiffing on defensive players in the draft, the Eagles appear to have done very well this year.
Instead of reaching (Jaiquawn Jarrett) and over-drafting (Macho Harris) and putting too much trust in stopwatches (Daniel Teo-Nesheim) and family names (Casey Matthews), the Eagles took an old-fashioned approach this time.
They stocked up on players who were fast and physical, players with a solid resume and film reel. They stayed away from long shots (Rashad Barksdale), no shots (Jack Ikegwuonu) and shots in the dark (Bryan Smith).
They identified and drafted good football players. And you know what? I think it worked.
The four defensive players they drafted tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, end Vinny Curry and cornerback Brandon Boykin all fit a similar profile. They werent drafted on the basis of potential; they were drafted for their production. If there is less guesswork, there is less chance of error.
Obviously, no draft pick comes with a guarantee of success, but if you keep it simple, I think you are better off. That appears to be what the Eagles did in this draft, at least on defense.
The Eagles needed playmakers and they got them. They needed players who are explosive coming off the ball and they got them in Cox and Curry. They needed a versatile linebacker and found one in Kendricks. They needed a cornerback who can play both zone and press coverage. They got one in Boykin.
With each pick, I went through my scouting reports and noticed the same terms kept popping up.
Aggressive and competitive.
Clearly, these were things the Eagles were looking for in their draft picks. The tackling had to be a point of emphasis given the fact that the Eagles might have been the worst tackling team in the league last season.
The four players they drafted all are good tacklers. Even Boykin, a smallish corner at 5-9 and 180 pounds, shows no hesitation at coming up to force the run. There is only one way to become a more physical team and thats to add more physical players. The Eagles have done that with this draft and the trade for linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
The Eagles also were unable to cover slot receivers last season. Players such as the Giants Victor Cruz tormented them. The Eagles had corners but none of them could play the slot effectively. In Boykin, they have a corner that is physical and played man coverage in the slot where he jammed receivers and knocked them off their routes. So he fits there.
The Eagles only recovered nine opponents fumbles last season so it isnt a coincidence they drafted a player such as Curry who forced seven fumbles last season and ten in his career at Marshall. They didnt get many big plays from their linebackers last season so that is why they drafted Kendricks, who had 15 sacks and 41 tackles behind the line at Cal.
It is easy to see how these pieces fit into place. Last season, the Eagles used a third round pick on Curtis Marsh, a cornerback who still was learning the position after two years at running back. He hardly saw the field with the Eagles last season. This year, they drafted Boykin who was a starting cornerback for three seasons at Georgia. He should contribute immediately.
It started with Thursdays trade to acquire Cox, an artful bit of draft board chess that brought the Eagles a defensive tackle with the size and skill to shore up their Wide Nine front. Then came Kendricks and Curry in the second round and Boykin in the fourth. It was quite a haul.
The Eagles are getting high marks from most draft analysts and rightly so. They had a clear vision of what they wanted to do and how they wanted to fix what was broken in their defense and when you factor in the acquisition of Ryans along with the four new faces, the Eagles do appear improved.
We wont really know until they go on the field, of course. We all remember the fanfare that surrounded the team this time last year and we know how hollow it proved to be. But with this draft, the Eagles have the leagues attention once again.