Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

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Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series that will run this week taking an in-depth look at the life of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Part I, on Foles' heroes -- his mom and dad -- ran Sunday. Part II on the women in his life, his mom and wife, ran Monday. Part III on how he chose football ran Tuesday.

One difficult decision Nick Foles made in May of 2008 could very well have dramatically altered the course of not only Foles’ life and career but also of the Eagles’ franchise for the next 10 years.

The decision: Leave Michigan State and enroll at Arizona.

The result: Foles got to play college football and ultimately wound up as the Eagles’ quarterback.

"When I look back at everything,” Foles says now, “I really think that you have moments in your life where you can go one way or you can go another.”

Foles, then just 18 years old, had just finished his freshman year at Michigan State. He redshirted that football season -- he got into one game against Alabama-Birmingham and threw eight passes -- and with current Redskin Kirk Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol set to battle for the Spartans’ starting quarterback job, Foles just didn’t have a reason to stay in East Lansing.

He loved Michigan State, but he knew there was a very good chance his football career would never materialize if he stayed.

“There was a moment there where I didn't know what to do, what direction to go,” he said. “I was 18, from Texas, up there, and I just prayed to have God, ‘Guide me.’ And I had tears in my eyes because I had no clue what to do.

“I talked to the family and talked to coach [Mark] Dantonio and decided it was best to go elsewhere. It was a very tough decision. I mean, I don't think I had a horrible year. I developed a lot of great friendships. (Current Eagle receiver) B.J. Cunningham was there with me. We had a lot of great times. Brent Celek's brother (Garrett) was my roommate. Love that Garrett to death.

“You’re leaving all those guys that you've developed friendships with, but I just knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.”

Foles, who had originally committed to Arizona State as a high school junior, wound up transferring to Arizona.

He joined a program that won only four bowl games in school history and hadn’t had a winning record in nine years.

Foles didn’t have much talent around him at Arizona and won just 15 of 35 starts. But Andy Reid, then the Eagles’ head coach, loved his toughness and grit and used a third-round pick to select him in the 2012 draft.

Foles showed flashes in 2012, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to complete 60 percent of his passes while throwing for at least 240 yards per game.

But he won just one of six starts on an awful team and didn’t even begin the 2013 season as the starter. But after replacing an injured Michael Vick, he blossomed, going 8-2, setting several NFL records, fashioning the third-highest passer rating in league history and earning Pro Bowl MVP honors.

If he stayed at Michigan State?

Who knows where Foles would be right now? Who knows who the Eagles' quarterback would be?

That decision was monumental.

“When I was going through the transfer process, I was going to try initially to stay in the state of Texas,” Foles said. “And no one offered. No one really even gave me a look, really.

“And Arizona, coach (Sonny Dykes, offensive coordinator) had recruited me when he was at Texas Tech. He said, ‘Hey, we’d really like you to come here, but we don’t have a scholarship. You’d have to be a walk-on the first semester.’

“It was just one of those things where making that decision to walk on at Arizona was a big life decision. ‘Do I want to do this? Should I do this?’ I knew I would regret it if I didn’t give it everything I had.”

That first season, in the fall of 2009, Foles lost a training camp battle for the starting quarterback job with Matt Scott.

But after Scott struggled the first three games, Foles became the starter and stayed there the rest of his college career.

And even though he threw for only 57 yards in his Michigan State career, he said he looks back at the experience as an important one in his development.

“I learned a lot about myself that year,” he said. “When I went to Arizona, what I went through at Michigan State equipped me to go through the battles I would have upcoming with sitting out a year, going to be the scout team quarterback every single day, going in a quarterback battle my redshirt sophomore year, not winning the quarterback battle, being a backup, and then all of a sudden I get an opportunity against Iowa and we go on an 80-yard touchdown drive and I throw it to Juron Criner [for a touchdown].

“It’s just one of those things where if I didn’t have Michigan State and went through that, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I did at Arizona. And when I say, ‘do,’ I mean able to handle the situation, every day, just not let it get to me, and just keep working.

“Everybody says it’s luck. Well, it’s, ‘Are you prepared for that opportunity when it arises?’ Because some people aren’t and then they never get another one.

“I knew at that time I would probably get one opportunity and if I didn’t show it, it might not ever happen again.”

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 tracking 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.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me."