Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Posted: 1:35 p.m.
By Reuben Frank
INDIANAPOLIS The last Villanova player the Eagles drafted was Brian Westbrook, and that went pretty well. The last Temple kid the Eagles drafted was Raheem Brock, and that went pretty well, too just not for the Eagles.
Two of the sleepers in this 2011 draft who will be trying to improve their draft standing at the NFL scouting combine, which begins here Thursday, are Villanova offensive tackle Ben Ijalana and Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.
Ijalana, who attended Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly the same school as first-round picks Franco Harris, Irving Fryar and Alonzo Spellman and Wilkerson, who played scholastic football in North Jersey at Linden High, are both projected as second-round picks and are both the kind of player who could help the Eagles.
Ijalana, who played tackle at Villanova, is seen by many scouts as a guard in the NFL, and its no secret the Eagles need to improve their offensive line after allowing 49 sacks during the 2010 regular season. Wilkerson, at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, projects as either a defensive tackle or defensive end.
Its been 61 years since the Eagles drafted a Philly college player in the first two rounds. You might remember Chuck Bednarik, the first pick in the 1939 draft out of Penn and a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1967. The only other city players the Eagles have taken in the first three rounds are Westbrook, a third-round pick in 2002, and Fran Murray, a second-round pick and No. 11 overall back in 1937.
But Ijalana and Wilkerson both offer what the Eagles need to help rebuild their disappointing lines.
The Eagles struggles on the right side of the offensive line have been well-documented. The Eagles went through a disastrous succession from Stacy Andrews to Reggie Wells to Max Jean-Gilles to Nick Cole at right guard last year, and that position is unsettled as the team heads into the offseason. Mike McGlynn is in the mix, assuming a now-healthy Jamaal Jackson works back to his old center spot.
And Winston Justice seemed to regress from 2009 to 2010. He was benched by the end of the playoff loss to the Packers and just had his sore knee scoped earlier this week, so hes certainly no lock to return to the starting lineup.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Ijalana can play either tackle spot or guard. Of course, with a left-handed quarterback, right tackle becomes the blind-spot spot, the more challenging spot.
The kid in Villanova to me is a really good football player with a lot of upside, Mayock said. Hes a left tackle that was invited to the Senior Bowl and missed it because of double hernia surgery. He played the last five-six games with a double hernia, which shows how tough a kid he is.
Hes got great feet, long arms. Hes not as tall as theyd like hes barely 6-4, but I think he might kick inside. But I think hes got the arm length and the feet to stay outside.
Wilkerson is part of what Mayock calls the deepest defensive line class hes ever seen. He could go anywhere from late in the first round to late in the second, and Mayock said whoever drafts the former Temple Owl will get a very good player.
Wikerson recorded 17 sacks in three years at Temple, including 10 this past season. He may turn out to be more of a 3-4 pass rusher than a 4-3 lineman because of his size and speed, but he also has the skills to be an every-down 4-3 tackle who can stop the run or generate pass pressure from the inside.
Ive got eight or nine defensive ends with first round grades, Mayock said. Typically four defensive ends go in the first round. And I start looking at kids like Muhammad Wilkerson ... he could be a defensive tackle or a defensive end. He could go from 25 to 40, and the kid is a heck of a football player.
I think he would have fit into the first round a year ago easily, and he might get pushed into the second round with the quality and depth of this defensive line group.
Another local kid very local when it comes to Eagles training camp is Lehigh guard Will Rackley, a 6-foot-4, 310-pounder who practiced on the same fields as the Eagles the last few years.
Mayock said that for a kid like Ijalana or Rackley who both played on the Football Championship Subdivision level (formerly Division 1-AA) the Combine is more important than for major-college guys.
As far as the small school kids, it's critical they take advantage of every opportunity they get, Mayock said. Whether it's the All-Star Bowl game, the Senior Bowl, the East-West, Texas versus the nation, whatever the opportunity is, they need to be bigger, better and faster than the BCS kids. The BCS kids get the benefit of every doubt.
I really think the small school kids are penalized at least a round, a full round by being where they come from. They've got to make that up either in the All-Star Games, the pro days or the Combine.
If youre the Villanova tackle or the Lehigh tackle, you better make sure you put your best foot forward every chance you can.
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