"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

Last night, I was all set to fix the final installment of our draft preview, but instead, I called an audible to insist the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb. Sure, it was pure fantasy. The NFL won't allow player trades tonight (swapping picks is LEGAL however), despite the fact that the lockout ended three nights ago. Not sure what grounds they have to prevent teams from doing business now, particularly over rights to a player who is already under contract, but I digress.

The final part was supposed to be about what the team's most pressing need is entering the first round of the draft tonight, and the answer might surprise you. We talked about the black hole at cornerback, and the continued regression on the right side of the offensive line, and a day one pick on either of those positions would be one well used. I can think of one area though where adding a first round talent may have an even greater impact on the Eagles in 2011, and beyond.

Last year, the Eagles jumped up 11 spots to select DE Brandon Graham, and people wondered why that didn't solve their problems pressuring quarterbacks with the front four. Trent Cole recorded double digit sacks for the third time in four years, so why do these problems persist? Was Graham a bust? He didn't record a very large number of sacks, but these stats on hurries suggest he was having a promising rookie season before his injury. So what is it?

Maybe part of it was the technique employed by former defensive line coach Rory Segrest, and is something that will work itself under the direction of Jim Washburn.

I'm not ready to discount personnel yet... but the problem may not be at end.

In '05 and '06, the Eagles used consecutive firsts on defensive tackles, selecting Mike Patterson 31st and Brodrick Bunkley 14th. From that point on, the defense has been solid in the interior, and when they've had any respectable play at middle linebacker, very difficult to run against between the tackles. However, Patt and Bunk both have been largely disappointing as pass rushers, and their inability to get virtually any penetration is making life more difficult on the edges, and really, everywhere else.

Bunkley will be a free agent next year, and so far, he's given management little reason to consider a contract extension. Antonio Dixon was elevated to starter in Week 5 last season, and he played well, but the former undrafted free agent was more effective against the run. And just when you thought maybe the Eagles would consider adding an Albert Haynesworth in free agency, he had a pair of pretty serious criminal charges brought against him.

Everybody can probably agree this is a need position, but greater than corner or right tackle? It's certainly debateable. Still, once free agency begins, the Eagles will have a shot at a number of excellent cornerbacks, and while the offensive line has some issues, better decision making under center can negate those to an extent.

To be fair, Haynesworth isn't the only quality interior lineman that will be available when free agency opens, but there are arguably fewer difference makers there than at any other position in the NFL. With that kind of limited availability, the Eagles should be proactive and draft one... if the right player is there. With all that in mind, my hope for the Birds' pick tonight is either Illinois' Corey Liuget (6-2, 298), Baylor's Phil Taylor (6-3, 334), or Temple's own Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315).

Unfortunately, the top two tackle prospects (Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus) will be long gone before the 23rd selection, and likely even out of range in a trade up. Even Liuget could go much higher than this, as there is always a premium on defensive linemen in the draft, but the Birds should have a shot at one of the three. Admittedly, I don't know a ton about any of these players, on the count of I often work on Saturdays, and therefore don't get to watch as much college ball as I'd like. All of the above would seemingly fill the general need though.

For what it's worth, I don't think the Eagles could go wrong with either a corner or offensive lineman in the first round, or even another defensive end. However, as the old saying goes, it all begins up front. For far too long, the Eagles have been content with merely not losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. What they need are the pieces to win that fight, and finally give opposing quarterbacks that unsettling feeling when a 300-plus pounder is heading straight for them.

NBA Notes: Chris Paul to undergo surgery for torn ligament in thumb

NBA Notes: Chris Paul to undergo surgery for torn ligament in thumb

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul will undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

The Clippers said Tuesday that their All-Star guard will continue to undergo treatment and evaluation by the club's medical staff.

Paul was injured on a first-half play involving Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in Monday night's victory over the Thunder. Paul didn't return in the second half.

The Clippers are 26-9 in 36 games with Paul in the lineup this season. He is averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds, and leads the NBA with 2.25 steals per game (see full story).

Knicks: Anthony tells Jackson he wants to stay in New York
NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony still believes the Knicks can win and still wants to be in New York when they do.

Another January collapse makes it easier to wonder if either will happen.

The Knicks have fallen off the playoff pace, again proving they can win headlines but not games. It seems like the same old story in New York, even though Anthony still thinks they can change the ending.

"Yeah, we will," he said. "I still believe."

He reiterated that Tuesday in a meeting with Phil Jackson, telling the Knicks president of basketball operations that he wanted to remain with the team, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

The question is how much Jackson still wants him.

A Fanragsports.com piece by Charley Rosen last week was heavily critical of Anthony, saying his legs are "going, going, almost gone" and that "the only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York."

Criticism of Anthony is nothing new, but this came from a longtime confidant and former assistant coach of Jackson, leading to speculation that those were the same thoughts as the Knicks executive (see full story).

Hornets: Clifford blames poor defense for Hornets' losing streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team's five-game losing streak -- a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte's fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

"It starts with our ability to guard our guy," Clifford said. "When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s -- and that's what is happening."

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed (see full story).

Kings: F Omri Casspi out for up to 2 weeks with calf injury
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi will miss up to two weeks with an injured right calf.

The team said Tuesday that an MRI showed Casspi strained a tendon in his calf during practice on Monday.

Casspi is averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game this season.

Another injury, another opportunity as Sixers' PG merry-go-round continues

Another injury, another opportunity as Sixers' PG merry-go-round continues

CAMDEN, N.J. — The camouflaged tape wrapped around T.J. McConnell’s right wrist couldn’t disguise the latest hit to the Sixers’ backcourt. 

McConnell suffered a sprain on Saturday in a play against John Wall and was in a splint on Tuesday. He did not participate in practice and is listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game against the Raptors (see story)

“[I’m] trying to keep it stable and not move it around a lot. I should be good to go very soon,” McConnell said. “I’m leaving [when I play] up to the medical staff. I’ll just tell them how I feel. It’s getting a lot better each day.”

Add McConnell to the list of point guards who have battled injuries this season. Let’s start at training camp: Jerryd Bayless suffered a left wrist ligament injury that ended up requiring season-ending surgery. His absence bumped Sergio Rodriguez into the starting lineup, until Rodriguez sprained his left ankle in late December and missed three games.

That left McConnell as the team’s only healthy true point guard at that point. McConnell played so well as a starter while Rodriguez was sidelined that he remained in the lineup when Rodriguez returned. 

“I obviously want to get back quick, but I know me and my teammates won’t lose that cohesion together,” McConnell said.  

This time around, the Sixers are better equipped to handle the injury of a point guard. They signed Chasson Randle from the Westchester Knicks (NBA Development League) to a 10-day contract on Jan. 10. The team liked Randle for his combo skills that would allow him to play shooting guard in practices and give Gerald Henderson an opportunity to rest. Turns out, they need him at the one spot the most. 

Randle played 16 minutes off the bench in Monday’s win over the Bucks. He scored 10 points (3 for 6 from the field, 2 for 4 from three, 2 for 2 from the line) with two rebounds, an assist and five fouls. Randle took his first shot just 23 seconds after checking in for Rodriguez and made his first NBA bucket, a three. 

“He did a great job,” Rodriguez said. “He stepped up in the game, he made some shots, he got the rhythm of the team going. For us, it’s amazing … he’s just here for a few days and he’s talented and he showed [Monday].”

Now Randle could be the latest point guard to maximize an opportunity created by injury. The Sixers have been impressed by what Stanford’s all-time leading scorer can do on both sides of the court. 

“When you start looking at what we have access to, the physical measurements, his wingspan is elite,” Brett Brown said. “You sit him in a stance and he spreads out, he uncoils. He really can cover some ground with his width, his length, albeit from a point guard position. Some of the deflections he got and defensive plays he made, I thought were outstanding.”