5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

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5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

You barely heard his name all season. You couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. You’re the biggest Eagles fan in the Delaware Valley and you still wouldn’t recognize him if he stood right in front of you, with a name tag on his chest pocket.

That was Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton before this season, before he emerged as one of the NFL’s best run-stopping defensive linemen.

It could be someone else in 2014.

The Eagles will continue to build their roster through free agency and the draft this offseason, but they also have several in-house candidates who can emerge from obscurity to carve their niche on next year’s team.

The following is a breakdown of five guys on the current roster who either made little or no contributions in 2013 but should challenge for playing time next year. This is based on interviews with Eagles coaches, players and front office personnel from throughout the season.

Matt Tobin, OT/OG
In all likelihood, the Eagles will return all five starting offensive linemen who cleared the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the NFL in rushing, but Tobin developed nicely during his rookie season and could push Todd Herremans at right guard next camp. If you didn’t notice, Tobin leapfrogged second-year lineman Dennis Kelly on the depth chart and was active three times during the season. Tobin, an unsigned free agent out of Iowa, competed at tackle throughout training camp but started taking snaps at guard in practice during the season. He played guard at Iowa before moving to tackle, so he’s not unfamiliar with the position. The team likes Tobin’s athleticism and teammates say Jason Peters took a liking to the rookie, taking him under his wing and helping Tobin pick up some extra tricks of the trade. He just needs to add some lower body strength this offseason. (By the way, I’m frequently asked about offensive tackle Michael Bamiro and I’m frequently told he’s still a work in progress).

Travis Long, OLB
Long, an undrafted rookie from Washington State, spent the entire season on the practice squad, but teammates rave about his size and upside. They compare the 6-foot-4, 252-pound outside linebacker to Connor Barwin for his ability to play multiple roles in a 3-4 scheme and for his pass rush and hand techniques. Long had 9.5 sacks his senior year at Washington State, where he played defensive end/outside linebacker in the 3-4 front before his season ended early with a knee injury that caused him to go undrafted. With Trent Cole facing an uncertain future and Brandon Graham unlikely to return, Long should be competing for a backup spot in camp and could eventually carve his niche in the sub packages.

Joe Kruger, DE
Kruger, a seventh-round pick in 2013, spent the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason. The team could have waived him with a settlement but liked his development at training camp and saw enough potential to place him on injured reserve. Kruger probably won’t unseat Fletcher Cox or Thornton but backup defensive end Clifton Geathers is headed for free agency. Either way, Kruger will compete for a roster spot at camp.

Emil Igwenagu, TE
The team faces a tough decision on No. 3 tight end James Casey this offseason. Casey is due $4 million next season, a steep price for a third-string tight end. With the quick development of Zach Ertz and Chip Kelly’s fondness for Brent Celek, the Eagles could cut Casey and move on with Igwenagu, whose skill set is similar to Casey’s. Igwenagu, in his second season, edged Clay Harbor for the No. 4 tight end job out of camp but didn’t stick around long. He spent six weeks on the 53-man roster before being released and re-signed to the practice squad. The Eagles liked Casey because he played fullback and H-back along with tight end, which are also the positions Igwenagu played in college at Massachusetts. (And you know Chip likes his New Englanders).

Keelan Johnson, S
There should be plenty of job competition at safety, especially with three -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson -- facing expiring contracts on March 8 and and Patrick Chung likely shown the door. The Eagles promoted Johnson from the practice squad Dec. 17 and played him in two games on special teams. He came over from Miami after the roster cutdown date and needed time to learn Kelly’s program and Billy Davis’ defense. Johnson was a playmaker at Arizona State and will get a better chance to showcase his skills at the OTAs and training camp.

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

A physical specimen, with the brains to match.

It's hard to understate the impression you get from meeting Tanoh Kpassagnon in person.

I read an article before meeting him that said his "abs had abs" and that he sported a minuscule 4 percent body fat. He laughed when I brought it up to him and said he wasn't so sure about the 4 percent body fat but that he loves to work out and get stronger, and he has been that way since high school.

Besides being a gym rat in the weight room, the 'Nova product was down to earth and easy to talk to. So much so we talked about what food we liked to cook and exchanged some tips on how to keep your mashed potatoes smooth and silky.

Kpassagnon moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Philly in the sixth grade and partly got turned on to football by watching the Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook Eagles in the 2000s.

His proud parents don't know much about pigskin but are over the moon about his success and growing notoriety. He said he just wants to join an NFL team and build a bond with a new group of guys.

With his skill set, I imagine it won't be long before his name is called on Day 2 and his impact could go well beyond his draft position.

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

All the mock drafts and speculation will be over Thursday when the players get announced in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the 2017 NFL draft.

As we approach the finish line, let's see what some of the experts think about what the Eagles might do at No. 14.

Mel Kiper, ESPN - Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Conley has been linked to the Eagles on what seems like a daily basis. Earlier in the process, Conley was overshadowed by teammate Marshon Lattimore, a likely top-10 pick. After impressing at the combine, Conley has put himself in position to be the second cornerback off the board.

Kiper's take: "Conley, another riser after the combine, is the veteran of the three Buckeyes defensive backs I have going in the top 14 picks. Philadelphia let Nolan Carroll II walk in free agency after he started 16 games last season, and the Eagles brought in former first-round pick Patrick Robinson on a one-year deal to compete at corner. Coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense is thin on the boundaries."

Analysis: There is definitely a strong case to be made for Conley as the second-best corner in the draft. He's excellent in coverage and should be an NFL starter from Day 1. With that said, you might be able to get more value with this pick. Kiper has the Eagles passing on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (one of my draft crushes), Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, and wideouts Corey Davis (Western Michigan) and Mike Williams (Clemson). With the depth at the corner position, I'd pass on anyone not named Marshon Lattimore at 14.

Todd McShay, ESPN - Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

There may not be a player whose stock has soared more than McCaffrey's. Once considered a borderline first-round pick, there are analysts who project McCaffrey as high as No. 8 to the Panthers. McCaffrey's versatility is unparalleled to any running back in this draft. 

McShay's take: "I love this fit. Darren Sproles turns 34 in June, and Philly needs a versatile playmaker out of the backfield. McCaffrey has the skill set to be a really good running back and wide receiver in the NFL. He showed tremendous short-area quickness at the combine (6.57-second three cone), which is readily apparent when watching McCaffrey's route running."

Analysis: The fit is obvious. McCaffrey is a running back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also a bit underrated as a runner between the tackles. With all that said, I don't love the value at 14. But if the Birds pick McCaffrey, it's by no means a disappointment. The more weapons for Carson Wentz, the better.

Josh Norris, Rotoworld - Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Harris has joined the ranks of McCaffrey as one of the draft's highest risers. He was a productive player at Missouri and impressed at the combine. Most mocks have him going somewhere in the 20s, but there are rumors that more than one team considers Harris a top-10 pick.

Norris' take: "The Eagles could absolutely take a similar approach to the Panthers last season in terms of multiple corners after round one. Harris will be a top 15 selection and greatly improved his athletic testing at the school’s pro day."

Analysis: I like Norris' idea of snagging two corners later, but I don't love the idea of Harris this high. He's not the only one to mock Harris in this range recently. I've mocked Harris in the late 20s and that's still where I feel comfortable projecting him. With that said, Harris would be a safe pick at 14. He has a high motor, a variety of pass rush moves, and NFL size and strength.

Cris Collinsworth, PFF/NBC Sunday Night Football color analyst - Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

White is an interesting prospect because he's projected to go all over the place. He could go here to the Eagles or he could still be available in the second round. He was an impact player for a school that seems like it produces secondary players in a factory.

Collinsworth's take: "I want to give the Eagles a receiver with the speed of John Ross to play alongside Alshon Jeffery, but Philadelphia has to have a cornerback, and White is the next best available. He may drive Jim Schwartz nuts if he refuses to tackle, but Schwartz has no choice -- you can’t compete without corners. I love White’s ability to find the ball in the air. Most young corners are afraid to turn their head and look for deep balls, and they end up getting beat. White is rock-solid there. I also don’t see him as a guy that will get a lot of cheap fouls; he keeps his hands to himself. I thought White would run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, but at 4.47, he was a little slower than his run-and-cover style would suggest. White has legitimate coverage skills, though, and should go in the first half of the draft."

Analysis: The bottom line: White can cover. That is, after all, a corner's primary function. This isn't a sexy pick at all, but like Conley, White should be able to start for an NFL defense from Day 1. Also, like with Conley, there might be better value in this spot.

Lance Zierlein, NFL Network - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Humphrey was considered the best corner in the draft for a big chunk of the college season. He has prototypical size and was a track star in high school. He struggled to track the ball in the College Football Playoff on multiple occasions. Those struggles have put him behind players like Conley and White in the eyes of some analysts.

Zierlein's take: "A height-weight-speed prospect who is the best run defender at the corner spot in the draft. If Humphrey can improve in locating the deep ball, he could be a good one."

Analysis: This is a fair take. Aside from Lattimore, Humphrey might project best to being a No. 1 corner physically. For the 2017 season, Conley and White will likely be better than Humphrey. In the long term, Humphrey might turn out to be the best corner in this draft. With that said, the ball location issues are concerning. Especially considering that's been a problem for Eagles' corners recently.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster has had a rough go of the predraft process. He was kicked out of the combine for a spat with a hospital worker. Recently, questions have come up about his surgically repaired shoulder. And now it's come out that Foster's drug test at the combine came back diluted. Foster insists it was a result of an illness which caused him to drink an excessive amount of fluid.

Jeremiah's take: "Foster is a tone-setter and would excel in the Eagles' defensive scheme."

Analysis: It is important to note that Jeremiah's mock was from earlier this month. I doubt he'd have Foster going this high now. The kid is incredibly talented, though. Jordan Hicks and Foster would wreak havoc on a weekly basis. This is a player who is among the top 10 most talented players in the entire draft. Taking a chance on him at 14 might be worth it. The Eagles would really have to do their homework on this one.