While much of the attention regarding the Eagles' offense following the Chip Kelly hire has focused on the quarterback, it would be a mistake to overlook the urgent need to fortify the offensive line. Because that unit was unable to withstand massive setbacks in recent years, the end of the Andy Reid era came to pass in 2012. At their best under Reid, the Eagles enjoyed the luxury of playing with a line that was anchored at the tackle spots by rock solid veterans Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Trips to the NFC title games and one Super Bowl were largely due to the continuity up front.
Now in 2013, Kelly faces the challenge of establishing his own firm foundation. The new head coach inherits a line that has been ravaged by injury as well as unfulfilled expectations. Without a strong line in front of Michael Vick, or whoever starts at quarterback, Kelly’s best-laid plans for an impact offense could be compromised. That’s why, with the fourth overall pick on April 25th, I predict the Eagles will elect to go “fishing.”
Eric Fisher is a gifted left tackle from Central Michigan. In addition to passing the eye test (6-7, 306), he is as light on his feet as any first-round pick at his position in years. I expect Fisher to be the second offensive tackle off the board after Reid’s Chiefs draft Luke Joeckel No. 1 overall.
Truth be told, Fisher is not far behind Joeckel in skill, and he may even challenge the Texas A&M star for top billing on draft day. For my money, however, Joeckel is a more well-rounded player right now. But by no means is that a slight on Fisher. Fisher will need to get stronger and develop more nuances, such as consistently gaining leverage and handling outside speed rushers. Given Fisher’s talents, these are simple improvements that should come naturally with his ascension to a professional environment. As a pass blocker, he sets a strong base, uses his hands well and shows the ability to adjust quickly when he makes a misstep. Overall, Fisher has the makings of a standout pro.
I expect Reid and Kelly to do something similar in this draft. Both the Chiefs (franchise player Branden Albert) and Eagles (Jason Peters, rehabbing a torn achilles) have made major commitments to their left tackle, and face the unusual prospect of using an extremely high pick on a player that could be targeted for the right side of the line. But, remember, in the Eagles’ case, that right tackle protects Vick’s blindside. If Peters is healthy, Kelly could keep him at LT, insert Fisher at RT and move right tackle Todd Herremans back inside to guard. Those three players, plus rehabbing center Jason Kelce (knee), would go a long way toward setting in place a formidable offensive line.
In the event both Joeckel and Fisher are off the board when the Eagles make their first selection, then Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson (6-6, 303) would be a nice consolation. He has experience at both tackle positions and plays with a “to the whistle,” hard-nosed mentality that easily could make him a top-10 pick.