Kelly: Jenkins' versatility stood out over rest

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Kelly: Jenkins' versatility stood out over rest

OK, so Malcolm Jenkins isn’t a playmaker like Jairus Byrd or imposing in the box like T.J. Ward. He doesn’t have a fancy nickname like “Donte Hitner” and probably isn’t as accomplished as Antoine Bethea.

Jenkins clearly wasn’t the sexy name at safety in free agency, but there’s a reason Eagles coach Chip Kelly prioritized the former Saints safety on his offseason wish list.

Jenkins might not be outstanding in any one aspect of his game, but his steadiness, durability and versatility is what caught the coach’s attention.

“When you look at some guys (on the market), they’re just free safeties and some guys they’re just strong safeties,” Kelly said Friday night to reporters in Atlantic City at the Maxwell Club Awards, where he was honored as pro football coach of the year. “We need some versatility.”

Byrd, who has an NFL-most 22 interceptions by a safety since his rookie year in 2009, isn’t a hard hitter and already has battled foot injuries. Ward and Whitner can bring the pain, but neither is considered an above-average cover guy.

Jenkins, who entered the league as a corner before moving to safety, has played all over the secondary and isn’t unfamiliar to playing in the box, patrolling deep or manning the slot.

For the scheme Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis run, which is designed to create guesswork for the quarterback by moving players around, Jenkins fits the bill.

Even if he’s just OK compared to his free-agent counterparts.

“I think when you know when you’re playing a team and that guy's always going to be the deep safety and that guy's going to be the down safety, when you play against guys like Peyton Manning, you better not always have the same guys doing the same thing,” Kelly said. “So the more versatile your guys are, I think he can cover, he can play man because he's got the corner skills, he can also play free safety because he's got range. But he can also play down in the box.

“So the one thing about Malcolm we thought all along for us that he was the right guy we were looking for because of his versatility, and there were some other guys out there that are tremendous football players. But for what Billy was looking for and we were looking for on the defensive side of the ball, Malcolm just seemed to be the guy that, as we kept going through and analyzing everybody and figuring out who was the right fit for us.”

Kelly caught a bird’s-eye view of Jenkins’ impact on a defense in January, when the Saints held the Eagles under their season average for points in a 26-23 win over the home Eagles in Kelly’s playoff debut at the Linc.

He observed Jenkins, a two-time captain, directing traffic in New Orleans’ secondary and lining up in different spots in different formations.

It’s exactly what he wants in his safeties.

“That’s huge,” Kelly said. “I mean, the guy that sets our front is DeMeco [Ryans] and then you really need a guy on the back end to set the back end, and that’s what part of the whole deal is. That’s where Malcolm’s versatility [helps], and to have a guy back there that is a student of the game, that studies it, that puts us in the right things.

“A lot of things we do are based on formations, so Billy may set a defensive call late but now it depends on what they come out in. So to have a guy back there that’s smart, that can recognize it, that if they came out in this you know they’re in empty, our automatic check is this. You got to have a guy back there that’s the quarterback of the back end and that can really make the decisions that have to be made, to put us in the right coverage, to put us in the right situations to make plays and at times, some of the communication points, to some of the breakdowns, to some of our bigger plays that occurred against us defensively last year.

“So to add a guy like Malcolm was a huge plus for us and that’s why when we really broke everything down he was the guy that we really targeted and were excited to gather.”

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersely and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.