Heading Into NFL Draft, Eagles Have Tremendous Flexibility

Heading Into NFL Draft, Eagles Have Tremendous Flexibility

The first round of the NFL Draft is little more than two weeks away, and the Eagles find themselves in a unique position at the 15th pick. Despite the fact they are coming off of a disappointing 8-8 season that fell far short of expectations, the roster astonishingly lacks the type of gaping holes you would expect from a .500 team. There are spots that can be improved upon, a few areas that lack depth, but what you see right now is a close approximation of what the final product will be come September.

What that means is "best player available" isn't just a cliche this April. Unlike most clubs, the Eagles won't feel obligated to target a certain position or positions in the first round. The front office will have almost unlimited options once the clock starts ticking, because the top of the depth chart is basically set across the board.


Quarterback
Arguably the biggest question mark on offense, and that's with a four-time Pro Bowler under center. Whether or not Michael Vick has what it takes to win a Super Bowl is still up for debate, so coming away from this draft with a quarterback of the future should be on the table. Vick is under contract through 2015 though, which means there's not necessarily any sense of urgency to find his successor. More importantly, there's no need to reach for somebody in the first round.

Running Back
Building on an impressive sophomore campaign, LeSean McCoy emerged as a premier back last year. Over the past two seasons, Shady compiled 3,296 total yards from scrimmage on 606 touches for a 5.4 average and 29 touchdowns. He's looking for a new contract, and running backs can decline rapidly, but McCoy will only turn 24 in July, and there's no reason to believe the Eagles wouldn't reward that kind of production.

Wide Receiver/Tight End
Few teams have embraced the concept that the NFL is a passing league more than Reid's Eagles. The organization has invested heavily in receivers, so it's no surprise the roster would be well-stocked with dynamic pass catchers. The front office could opt for some DeSean Jackson insurance, and it should be noted Jeremy Maclin can become a free agent next year, but all the pieces are in place for this to be an explosive offense once again in 2012.

Offensive Line
O-line was thrust into the spotlight after the hard luck injury to Jason Peters, but the Eagles acted fast and addressed the loss by signing Demetress Bell. The rest of the group is intact, with Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis reaching long-term deals, and Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce each entering their second season in the league. Depth has become a bigger hot-button issue since the Peters scare, but the starters appear to be cemented in place for years to come.

Defensive Line
The front four was responsible for 46 out of the Eagles' NFL-leading 50 sacks last season, and between free agents Juqua Parker and Trevor Laws, they are only losing 2.5. Jason Babin is scary-good at rushing the passer from the wide nine, Trent Cole is an anchor on the opposite end, and Cullen Jenkins was a Pro-Bowl alternate on the interior. The rest of the rotation is a deep bunch of prospects (Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt, Antonio Dixon) and consistent vets (Mike Patterson, Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp).

Linebacker
The Eagles believe they solved their primary off-season need already by trading for DeMeco Ryans last month. If Ryans is the three-down MIKE he was before rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2010, the coaches can probably mix and match around him with the guys who are on the team now. It's still a position we expect the team to address in the draft, but outside linebackers can be found after the first round, so it's no longer an absolute must on day one.

Cornerback
For now, the defense carries three Pro-Bowl corners, but by the time the draft is complete, they should be down to two. That's still better than 90% of the league, so it's not like they'll be hurting. Behind Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles have a traditional nickel corner in Joselio Hanson, and a couple of prospects in Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes. However, DRC is a free agent in 2013, so they might be looking to the future -- but clearly it's not an immediate concern.

Safety
After using second-round picks in consecutive drafts, you would hope the Eagles don't feel compelled to chase a safety for a third year in a row. Nate Allen looked great in some games in 2011, not so much in others, but he should improve with a full season removed from a torn patellar tendon. Jaiquawn Jarrett wasn't ready to play after the lockout-shortened offseason, but Kurt Coleman looks serviceable at least. It sounds like a veteran could join this group to provide additional stability, but the guys who are here will get more opportunities.

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Considering all of the above, what would you say their biggest need is in round one? Should they move down if the price is right, and try to gain picks in future years, or should they target an elite prospect, and possibly trade up to get him, no matter whether or not it's at a position of great need? The beautiful thing is they seem to have to multiple options -- or would you even go so far as to disagree with that assessment?

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez pitched seven innings and appeared to avoid a serious injury when he tweaked his right leg on his final pitch Wednesday night, helping the Miami Marlins beat Kansas City 3-0 to snap the Royals' nine-game winning streak.

Fernandez (13-7) pulled up after striking out Christian Colon to end the seventh, and rubbed his right knee before limping to the dugout.

The Marlins pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh, and no injury was announced. Fernandez was laughing with teammates in the dugout in the ninth inning and joined in the postgame celebration on the field.

His nine strikeouts increased his season total to 213, breaking the Marlins record of 209 set by Ryan Dempster in 2000. Fernandez ended a career-worst three-game losing streak.

He also had the Marlins' first two hits, hiking his average to .286, and improved to 27-2 at Marlins Park.

Fernando Rodney pitched around two singles and walk for his 25th save and eighth with Miami.

Dillon Gee (5-7) took the loss (see full recap).

Cardinals tag deGrom in win over Mets
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty homered off Mets starter Jacob deGrom, powering the St. Louis Cardinals past New York 8-1 Wednesday night.

Carpenter set the tone, hitting a leadoff home run in the first inning. The Cardinals went on to win for the seventh time in nine games.

Piscotty and Yadier Molina each had three of the Cardinals' season high-tying 19 hits.

Carlos Martinez (12-7) gave up one run and four hits over eight innings. He also got two hits himself.

Roughed up for the second straight start, deGrom (7-7) allowed five runs on 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He was tagged for a career-worst eight runs and 13 hits in his previous outing against San Francisco (see full recap).

Rays overcome Ortiz's 30th HR in comeback win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- David Ortiz hit his 30th home run in the first inning, but the Tampa Bay Rays came back from a three-run deficit to beat Boston 4-3 in 11 innings Wednesday night and prevent the Red Sox from taking sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Luke Maile doubled with two out in the 11th and scored after Red Sox pitcher Heath Hembree (4-1) dropped a throw to first base on Kevin Kiermaier's grounder.

Brad Boxberger (2-0) got the win after one inning of relief.

Boston has won 10 of its last 13 games and remained tied in first with Toronto after the Blue Jays lost 8-2 to the Angels.

Bidding to become the majors' first 18-game winner, Rick Porcello allowed Evan Longoria's tying homer in the eighth before leaving with 7 2/3 innings pitched. It was Longoria's 30th homer (see full recap).

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

After three straight years in or near the cellar of the NBA standings, the Sixers may be gearing to start moving up.

And people are taking notice.

The Sports Illustrated staff graded each NBA team's offseason moves and gave the Sixers a grade of A for their moves. And it was well-deserved.

Sixers fans haven't had much to celebrate in the past few years, but seeing the team draft Ben Simmons and watch his stunning passing ability in summer league was enough to get many fans excited about the upcoming season. The article noted the Simmons pick as the Sixers' best move, saying taking him over Brandon Ingram, who went No. 2 overall to the Lakers, showed they're ready to take the next step.

Jeremy Woo, one of the contributors to the article, went on to describe their other important moves this offseason:

With Joel Embiid presumably ready to return, Dario Saric coming over from Turkey and Simmons here to anchor the franchise, the future in Philadelphia is bright for the first time in years. Brett Brown can mix and match and the front office can decide which prospects to build around. Some of these guys are inevitably going to get traded, and some of them likely won’t pan out. But at least Philly is moving forward, finally.

Yes, finally.

The Sixers should have three first-round level talents making their NBA debuts this season with Simmons, Saric and Embiid, all of whom represent a separate and long wait. With Simmons, it took three years for the Sixers to finally get the first pick in the draft. With Embiid, it was waiting two full seasons for him to return from a foot injury. And with Saric, it was the agonizing wait for him to come over from Turkey after the back-and-forth reports over what he was ultimately going to decide.

The article makes note of the change in power from Sam Hinkie to the Colangelos, one that could've runied "The Process," but instead helped it continue to flourish. It also said the Sixers' worst move was that they didn't make any big gambles in free agency, whether by choice or because of lack of interest from the actual players. But this criticism is much nicer than what some of the other teams in their division received.

The Knicks received a D grade after signing injury-prone Joakim Noah and trading for Derrick Rose, both of whom have large salary cap hits for their recent production. The Nets received a C- for trying to go after too many restricted free agents and ending up with Jeremy Lin as their top acquisition, who is a good player, but isn't going to turn this subpar team around. And the Raptors got a C for essentially doing nothing other than re-signing DeMar Derozan and letting Bismack Biyombo walk in free agency.

But while the Sixers may have had a better offseason than any team in the division, this by no means suggests they'll move up in the standings too much in the immediate future. They still have to see how the new young talent meshes together and develops. But continued development has a chance to show why this offseason was such a success.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Phillies got a nice start from Jerad Eickhoff, mostly good bullpen work and plenty of timely hitting in posting a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in interleague play Wednesday night.
 
The Phils had been outscored 18-1 in losing their previous two games to the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
 
The Phillies are 59-68. They are four wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff (9-12) pitched six innings of two-run ball and left with a 4-2 lead after throwing just 71 pitches. Eickhoff scattered four hits, walked nine and struck out two. The sixth inning has been a problem for him this season. He has allowed 26 earned runs over 19 innings for a 12.32 ERA in the frame. Eickhoff did hold it together and limited the damage to two runs in the sixth before handing off to the bullpen.
 
Eickhoff’s ERA in the first five innings of a game this season is 2.64.
 
White Sox right-hander James Shields gave up four runs over six innings. He is 5-16 with a 5.98 ERA.
 
Bullpen report
The trio of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out for the Phillies.
 
Gomez survived a run in the ninth for his 34th save.
 
Ramos and Neris both pitched a scoreless inning.

Since the All-Star break, Neris has pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two walks while striking out 26.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph had a nice game with a double, his 17th homer and two runs scored. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Dioner Navarro smacked a two-run homer off Eickhoff in the sixth.
 
Trade talk
There’s interest in Carlos Ruiz (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — LHP Adam Morgan (1-7, 6.21) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (11-7, 3.36)
 
Saturday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-7, 3.60) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (11-7, 2.61)
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00).