Mock Draft Roundup: With the Fourth Pick, the Eagles Select

Mock Draft Roundup: With the Fourth Pick, the Eagles Select

Today is the day. What will
the Eagles do with the fourth-overall pick in the NFL Draft? We checked with
the wisdom of crowds for answers, where we found only more staggering
uncertainty.

Most years experts can predict
the first five or 10 picks of the draft with a fair degree of probability. This
is not the case in 2013. The mock drafts are so wildly varied, there is no
consensus at all beyond the number one selection – and even that has only been
narrowed down to a position (offensive tackle), not a name.

Luke Joeckel and
Eric Fisher are considered by many to be prospects 1A and 1B in this draft, and
it’s said to be so close, the Chiefs could go either way with the first pick. For
that reason, I don’t believe either player will be available by the time the
Eagles are on the clock, so therefore we largely ignored any mocks that indicated
otherwise. My guess is either the Jags will take whichever one of them falls to
two, or a tackle-needy team such as the Lions or Cardinals will trade ahead of
the Birds.

So on that note, let’s jump right into our first
batch: the third-best tackle in the draft.

Mike Mayock (NFL.com): Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

He's the
freakiest tackle I've ever seen in my life. And because of what Chip Kelly does
-- up-tempo, maximize snaps, throw the bubble screens, throw the tunnel screens
-- he needs a great athlete at left tackle.

Charley Casserly (NFL.com): Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

Both of the
Eagles' starting offensive tackles are coming off surgery.

Evan Silva (Rotoworld): Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

NFL Network's
Mike Mayock suggested Tuesday that the Raiders might select Johnson at the
third pick. I just don't think they'll have Johnson highly rated because
Oakland is transitioning to a power-run scheme and Johnson is more of an
athlete than mauling run blocker at this stage. The Eagles could really use
Johnson's quick-twitch athleticism and second-level movement skills in Chip Kelly's
up-tempo offense. His addition would allow Philly to move Todd
Herremans
to right guard, with Jason Kelce
at center, Evan Mathis at left guard, and Jason Peters
back at left tackle.

Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

The offensive
tackles are going to fly off the board fast and even if both Joeckel and Fisher
are still available at the fourth pick, Johnson might be the best fit for Chip
Kelly and his offense. Johnson is just scratching the surface of his potential
at tackle.

Jeff McLane (Philly.com): Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

If it’s Johnson, it’s safe to speculate that Chip Kelly wrestled control and made the first pick.

The “just scratching the
surface” bit makes me a little leery that Johnson is more of a project than
Joeckel or Fisher. After last season’s debacle on the offensive line, I doubt too
many people will mind. Besides, it’s not like they need him to take over for
Jason Peters at left tackle from day one.

Jared Sherman (CSN): Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher

Fisher is big and athletic - both traits Chip Kelly wants to see in his linemen. With Todd Herremans possibly kicking back inside to guard, there's a hole at right tackle. And with Jason Peters coming off Achilles surgery, Fisher is a pretty good backup plan at left tackle too.

Well, you never know I guess...

Switching gears, there are several
different defensive players being tied to the Eagles. Somewhat surprisingly, there
were virtually no mocks that had Philadelphia native Sharrif Floyd coming home,
although that’s probably because most of them have him going in the top three.
Defensive tackle was a popular pick however.

Don Banks (Sports Illustrated): Utah DT Star Lotulelei

Again, if
Lane Johnson remains available, the Eagles should have trade options, or could
even take the athletically freakish ex-Sooner themselves. But Philly has been
focused on finding talent to make the transition to a 3-4 defense work, and
Lotulelei is the best available Vince Wilfork-type cog among the defensive
linemen.

Rob Rang (CBS): Utah DT Star Lotulelei

Chip Kelly is
known for the fast pace of his offense, but if the Eagles are to improve in the
NFC East it is their defense that will need to improve the most. With
Philadelphia expected to make the transition to a 3-4 scheme, it needs help up
front, which the powerful Lotulelei can provide. The Eagles are one of three
teams currently picking in the top 10 who have both worked out Lotulelei and
invited him to visit their facility, NFLDraftScout.com has learned.

Josh Norris (NFL.com): Utah DT Star Lotulelei

Don't pigeonhole
Lotulelei as a nose tackle; he can win from multiple spots along the front
three.

Pete Prisco (CBS): Utah DT Star Lotulelei

They can't
pass up on this power player.

From a pure need standpoint,
Lotulelei might make the most sense for the Eagles. Whatever Chip Kelly and Billy
Davis has in mind for the defense, we know it’s not going to be a pure 4-3, but
they are lacking some of the big bodies up front that make those other schemes
work. Lotulelei is versatile, and unlike Floyd, available – at least according
to most of these things.

Geoff Mosher (CSN): Alabama CB Dee Milliner*

Birds get the
corner they so desperately need, and get some extra picks.

Our first trade! Mosh has the
Eagles swapping with the Cardinals, moving down three spots to number seven, in
what would seemingly be one of the more popular scenarios. I’m not sold a team
that signed two starting cornerbacks in free agency is looking this high to
grab another

As an aside, the folks who
mock and don’t account for trades are doing it wrong. There are always trades.

Bucky Brooks (NFL.com): BYU DE/OLB Ziggy Ansah

New coach
Chip Kelly would love to take on former Oregon charge Dion Jordan, but Ansah is
a better fit as a potential five-technique.

Ansah is probably the biggest
curve ball. I’ve seen him going as high as second, or not a player in the top
five at all. Few are mocking him to the Birds, but don’t rule it out, either.
Of course, the other name Brooks drops in there undoubtedly represents the
plurality of these lists.

Greg Cosell (Yahoo!): Oregon OLB Dion Jordan

This is where
the most intriguing defensive player comes off the board. That’s Oregon
DE/OLB Dion Jordan. I was fortunate to be on the
field at the scouting combine, and to watch this 6-foot-6, 250-pounder move was
a revelation. He looked like a wide receiver. On film, he was naturally
athletic, very smooth and fluid, and surprisingly explosive given his length.
At Oregon this past season, he primarily played in space, which he did
exceptionally well. I had to study a lot of games to get a feel for his pass
rush skills. They were impressive, and I believe he will become a very good
edge rusher in the NFL. He showed the ability to get low and bend the edge with
the needed flexibility to succeed against quality NFL offensive tackles.
There’s much to like about Jordan, and he’s just scratching the surface. Want a
comparison? How about Jason Taylor.

Peter King (Sports Illustrated): Oregon OLB Dion Jordan

Chip Kelly
bypasses the strong tackle market and a need at CB to pick an old friend from
Oregon. He'll fill those other spots later.

Peter Schrager (FOX Sports): Oregon OLB Dion Jordan

The Eagles’
defensive backfield has undergone an extreme makeover. Four new defensive backs
Bradley
Fletcher
, Cary Williams,
Patrick Chung
and Kenny
Phillips
— should be in the starting lineup. With those additions, I
don’t see the Eagles going with Dee Milliner, the cornerback out of Alabama, as
many have suggested. Jordan, a fantastic athlete who played for new Eagles head
coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, could be the guy at No. 4. Jordan is most favorably
compared to Aldon Smith,
the electric outside linebacker in San Francisco. Everyone’s fascinated to see
what Kelly and GM Howie Roseman do here — I think Jordan can be the guy.

Zach Berman (Philly.com): Oregon OLB Dion Jordan

Without a tackle on the board, the Eagles could trade down. They
could also take defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. I’m sticking with the
player I’ve had here all along – one who Chip Kelly knows better than
any player in this draft, and one who has the upside to become an elite
pass rusher.

Pat Kirwan (CBS): Oregon OLB Dion Jordan

The Eagles
are building a 3-4 defense and need an OLB with pass rush skills. Jordan played
for Chip Kelly. If they take Jordan I would expect them to re-enter the first
round late and grab a QB. Either Geno Smith or EJ Manuel could be the choice.

I’ll say this much about
Jordan: if the Eagles do wind up going with the Oregon product, I don’t think
it will have the slightest thing to do with the fact that he played for Chip.
That’s a stupid reason to use the fourth-overall pick on somebody, and a less
relevant nugget I can’t think of.

Finally, Kirwan broached our
final group of mocks: the quarterback.

Clark Judge (CBS): West Virginia QB Geno Smith

Chip Kelly
knows he can't win with Michael Vick. So who's next? You're looking at him.

With Fisher left on the board?
I don’t think so. Besides, this is way too high for Geno by most accounts.

Gil Brandt (NFL.com): West Virginia QB Geno Smith*

Smith has
been criticized, but I myself think he's a pretty good player. Moreover, with
his athletic and passing ability, I think he can fill a system need for new
Eagles coach Chip Kelly. There's a chance Smith might not be there at No. 11,
but I think the Eagles can still afford to trade with the Chargers, because
even if Smith is gone, Philly can try to move down a few more spots and get EJ
Manuel.

Brandt has the Eagles swapping
with the Chargers, another of the tackle-needy teams, to get down to number 11
where a team might actually have interest in Smith. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t
have EJ Manuel going in the first at all, so I don’t know why the Eagles would
take him later in the round if that was is going to be the case – they have the
fourth pick in the second too after all.

Geno Smith still seems like
one of the unlikelier scenarios for the Birds in this draft, although it hasn’t
gone away. We’ll find out along with the rest of these guys and everybody else
soon enough.

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Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

CLEARWATER, Fla. – You hear it a lot at this time of year.

This is a big year for (fill in the name).

The 2017 season will be a big one for a lot of Phillies. This team remains an active construction site building for a better day, and the front office is sitting upstairs making a list of who fits into the future and who doesn’t.

So it’s a big year for Freddy Galvis to see if he can improve his on-base skills and hold off J.P. Crawford.

It’s a big year for Cesar Hernandez to see if his strong second half in 2016 was a young player really getting it, a sign of good things to come or just a three-month hot streak.

It’s a big year for Tommy Joseph as he tries to build on a nice big-league debut and hold off hard-charging Rhys Hoskins.

But when it comes to establishing oneself as a long-term part of this team’s foundation, Maikel Franco might have the biggest challenge of all among Phillies position players.

Yes, Franco belted 25 homers and drove in 88 runs last year, and those were surely impressive totals for a player of his age (23) hitting in a lineup where he was a marked man with little protection on a team that did not put many runners on base — that .301 team on-base percentage ranked 29th in the majors.

Despite huge upside, Franco’s game has some shortcomings. He is a free-swinger with poor on-base skills — he had a .306 on-base percentage last season and saw just 3.56 pitches per at-bat, ranking him 34th in the majors — and if you’ve been paying attention to what has come out of general manager Matt Klentak’s mouth in his 16 months on the job, you know that he values players who “control the strike zone” — both at the plate and on the mound.

Klentak and his lieutenants in the front office also place a premium on defense and Franco, despite good hands and a rocket arm, does not grade out near the top among major league third basemen, mostly because of his range, in advanced metrics. He ranked 12th out of 18 qualifying third basemen in runs saved (minus 6) last season.

Proof of this front office’s affinity for on-base skills and defensive acumen can be seen in center field and in that $30.5 million bulge in Odubel Herrera’s wallet. Herrera got on base more than 35 percent of the time his first two seasons in the majors and he grades out well in the advanced defensive metrics used by this team’s decision makers. All of this, along with his youth — he’s 25 — and projected upside led the front office to give Herrera a five-year contract extension this winter. Call it a statement of the type of player that this front office is looking for.

Franco can improve his flaws, particularly at the plate. He’s already hard at work trying to do so with new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

But why is it so pressing that he does? Why is this year such a big one for Franco?

Because he is entering his third season as a regular and the front office probably needs to know that the improvement is coming. Even as they construct their roster and prepare for the 2017 season here in spring training, this front office has its telescope out and is peering at future free-agent markets. Club president Andy MacPhail basically said that last week. In 2017, Maikel Franco has to convince this front office not to put Manny Machado in its sights. The superstar Baltimore Orioles third baseman will hit the free agent market after the 2018 season at the tender age of 26 and if you think his projected megadeal will be too rich for the Phillies then think again. Owner John Middleton has promised to spend big again when the team is ready to win.

In December at the winter meetings, Klentak was asked about some of the astronomical numbers being attached to the talent-rich free-agent class that is coming after the 2018 season. Could he see paying players $200 million, $300 million, $400 million when the time comes?

“I won’t put a dollar figure on anything,” Klentak said that day. “Markets develop the way that they develop and player values change over time. But I don’t have any doubt that this franchise will make significant investments when the time is right.”

Investing in a player like Machado could make long-term sense for the Phillies because he has the type of rangy body that often holds up past 35 and he could take his bat to first base when he’s older and done at third. Yes, it would take a long-term deal, probably at least seven years to get Machado.

Franco can throw cold water on this admittedly premature postulating by making improvements at the plate this season.

If he doesn’t show enough improvement or make the front office believe that it will eventually come, he could be a trade candidate and the Phillies could plug at third while they wait to make their run at Machado.

Franco knows his shortcomings and is working on them.

You could see it in batting practice Monday as he consciously tried to drive balls to right-center.

You could see it Friday as he stood in the outfield and talked hitting with new teammate Howie Kendrick. Kendrick mimicked a hitter driving the ball up the middle. Franco then did the same thing and nodded.

“I love to hit and sometimes I get excited,” Franco said. “I am concentrating on being more selective and using the middle of the field, not trying to do too much.”

Stairs has assigned Franco and Galvis to the same batting practice group as Kendrick.

“Howie has that gap-to-gap approach and I want Maikel and Freddy to see that every day,” Stairs said.

Stairs is convinced that if Franco stays with the approach he will “give away” fewer at-bats and become a tougher out in 2017 “and then you will see the on-base numbers come up.”

Franco needs to make these improvements if he’s going to have a long-range future with a team that is building through the concept of controlling the strike zone.

It’s a big year for him and the looming shadow of the ‘man’ in Baltimore makes it all that much bigger and intriguing.

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Swisher has arrived as a New York Yankees guest spring training instructor and Alex Rodriguez is on deck.

Swisher worked with outfielders Monday during his first day, which came three days after announcing his retirement as a player.

"I never have to worry about an 0 for 4 again," Swisher said with a smile. "It's great to be back."

A-Rod is set to make his initial appearance Tuesday.

"He's going to work with our players," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "Dispense knowledge that he has about how to play the game when he talks to the young kids, some of the expectations about how to deal with it. All the things Alex did well."

Rodriguez and Swisher were also guest instructors with the Yankees instructional league team last fall (see full story).

Giants: Cueto to miss start of spring training to be with ailing father
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Johnny Cueto remains in his native Dominican Republic helping his ailing father a week after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

The Giants plan to reach out to him to see how he is doing and whether he thinks he will pitch for his country in the World Baseball Classic.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy is not worried about Cueto's preparation. The right-hander has been throwing and working out regularly at the club's academy. Bochy says the World Baseball Classic is "starting to cause a slight concern."

Cueto signed a $130 million, six-year contract before last season. He went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and five complete games in 32 starts last year (see full story).

Red Sox: Moreland not worried about replacing Ortiz
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland knows he's likely the only new player in Boston's lineup since David Ortiz retired at the end of last season.

He's just not listening to those who say he needs to replace Big Papi's lofty production.

"I try not to hear it because there's no replacing that guy," said the 31-year-old first baseman, who signed a $5.5-million, 1-year deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.

"I think it's going to be more of a team effort," he said. "Obviously we picked up two big arms as well, and it's a very balanced club."

After playing his first 6+ seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, Moreland is with a new organization for the first time in his career. So far, he said, the move has been smooth (see full story).

Mariners: Paxton expected to have a big year
PEORIA, Arizona -- Forget the batter's box, pitching mound or anywhere else between the chalk lines of a baseball field.

According to Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais, the location of one of the biggest obstacles blocking a player from consistently excelling isn't on the diamond.

"A lot of it with that last hurdle is between your ears," Servais said at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Servais believes starting pitcher James Paxton cleared that bar last season, and the Mariners are expecting the 28-year-old left-hander to be a major contributor in 2017 for a team that looks to end Major League Baseball's longest current postseason drought.

"He is one of the guys ready to take the next step and be a real anchor in our rotation," Servais said.

Paxton is preparing to improve on his 6-7 record and 3.79 earned run average of 2016. He enters spring training locked into a spot in the starting rotation. That puts him in a different position than in a year ago, when he was battling for a spot (see full story).