NFL Draft: Saturday's prospect watch


NFL Draft: Saturday's prospect watch

If you're an Eagles fan looking toward the 2012 draft, here are players to watch on Saturday:
Brandon Boykin, CBKR Georgia, No. 2

Auburn vs. Georgia (CBS, 3:30 p.m.)

With Asante Samuel grumbling and Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties subpar showing, the Eagles might be in the market for a CB come April. Boykin is a pure athlete that has the speed to play on the outside and quickness to play in the slot. His size isn't ideal (5-9, 181) and he gets nicked up often, but he has no fear and plays physical football. Boykin would also bring some much needed pep to a very moribund return game. He is extremely dangerous returning kicks, and would probably contribute more readily there early on in his career.

Marvin McNutt, WR Iowa, No. 7

Michigan State vs. Iowa (ESPN2, 12 p.m.)

Who knows what the Eagles are going to do with DeSean Jackson and his expiring contract, but if they do indeed let D-Jax hit the open market, receiving depth will need to be found. McNutt is a big receiver (6-3, 215), who can jump out of the building. Pair that leaping ability with soft hands and you've got the makings of a dangerous red zone target. McNutt has 57 catches for 959 yards and nine scores this season, and is coming into Saturday with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. McNutt's lack of breakaway speed hurts his stock, but he should be off the boards by the middle of the third round.

T.J. McDonald, S USC, No. 7

Washington vs. USC (FX, 3:30 p.m.)

Nate Allen in 2009. Jaiqwuan Jarrett in 2010. The Eagles have been trying to find solid safety play in the early rounds since Brian Dawkins left two seasons ago. Well, the jury is still out as Allen can't stay healthy and Jarrett just got on the field for the first time last week. McDonald is more talented than both. He's an outstanding athlete and looks just as comfortable playing the deep ball as he does inside the box. McDonald has great size (6-3, 205) and bloodlines (his dad was former Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald), and if the junior decides to come out, he'll be a surefire first-round pick. If the Eagles continue to play the way they have been, they may have a shot at him in the middle of the round.

Tech's Wilson is the real deal
Watched Virginia Tech RB David Wilson Thursday night and came away impressed again as he piled up 175 yards on 23 carries against Georgia Tech. Wilson cuts back as well as any back I've seen this year and just explodes up the field. I don't think his moves in the open field are quite like Shady McCoy's, but Wilson's the closest I've seen in college ball this season. The one thing he doesn't do though and maybe it's just the Tech offense is catch the ball. Wilson has only 16 catches this season.

How are the Eagles going to stop Ezekiel Elliott?

How are the Eagles going to stop Ezekiel Elliott?

They couldn’t stop Matt Jones. How are they going to stop Ezekiel Elliott?

The Eagles, who allowed the lightly regarded Redskins running back to ramble for a career-high 135 rushing yards on just 16 carries two weeks ago, now have to contend with the NFL rushing leader.

Elliott, the fourth pick out of Ohio State in this year’s draft, has 708 rushing yards, second only to Eric Dickerson (787 in 1983) by an NFL player in his first six games.

Elliott’s been over 130 rushing yards in his last four games, which makes him one of only 11 players in NFL history with four straight 130-yard rushing games. He's also the first in six years with 150 yards from scrimmage in four straight games.


Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins watched Elliott’s entire college career, since both are Ohio State graduates, and he lavished some pretty heavy praise on the 21-year-old running back.

“I don’t know what you can name that he doesn’t do well,” Jenkins said.

“He’s a back that has great vision (and) patience, he has the speed to be a home-run hitter, he’s got the physicality to run through arm tackles and finish runs. There’s not much he can’t do.”

Elliott already has 17 runs of 10 yards or more, including seven of at least 20 yards. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

The Cowboys, 5-1 with a five-game winning streak, are third in the NFL in rushing offense. The Eagles (4-2) rank 24th in the league in rushing defense, allowing a beefy 4.5 yards per carry.

After allowing 230 yards to Jones and the Redskins, the Eagles limited the Vikings to 93 rushing yards, although that was actually 23 yards over Minnesota's average.

The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the NFC East lead at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“First things first is stopping the run, like every week, but the task is heavy this week because they’re playing so well,” Eagles middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said.

“(They have) one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League and the leading rusher in the National Football League and their offense runs through that run game, so it’s going to be on us to get downhill.

“It’s going to be huge for our gap integrity this week that we stay solid and we stay sound in our gaps and play physical. They like to push, they like to grab a hold of you and just move you and bleed you for five or 10 yards, so it’s going to be on us to stay stout at the point of attack.”

It’s tough to get a sense of where the Eagles are as a rush defense. The only teams they held significantly under their season average were the Bears and Steelers, both before the bye. 

The Redskins average 94 rushing yards against the rest of the league but gained 230 against the Eagles. The Vikings averaged 71 against the rest of the league but gained 93 on Sunday.

“We getting better, we getting better,” Fletcher Cox said. “We knew last week we had to step up because of the previous two weeks that teams were really able to run the ball at will on us, so we knew we had to go into that game trying to make them one-dimensional.

“It’s not about the other team, it’s about us. As long as we focus on what we have to do and everybody hones in and plays together, it’s really not about them, it’s about us and how we accept the challenge and how we approach things.”

The Cowboys have that huge offensive line stocked with first-round picks and a record-setting running back.

And their running attack is similar to Washington’s, which is a little scary.

“It’ll be pretty much the same running attack,” Jenkins said. “That’s probably the No. 1 key coming into this game. Being in the right place on every play and then when you are in the right place, get the ball carrier down, and everybody’s got to be running to the ball. Those are things we didn’t do well [against Washington].”

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has been brilliant, but to a great extent he’s a product of the Dallas running attack. The Cowboys want to run the ball first to set up the pass and keep defenses guessing.

In the Cowboys’ only loss — on opening day to the Giants — they threw 15 more times than they ran.

It’s the only time this year that’s happened.

During Dallas’s five-game winning streak, they’ve run 35 times more than they’ve thrown.

“It starts with the run and they’re running the ball better than anybody in the league right now, and everything else is built off of that,” Jenkins said.

“If you can’t stop the run, then they’re in 3rd-and-shorts all day and they’re converting — they’re in the top-5 in third down I believe — and then they keep running it, and so then eventually that turns into one of those games where the defense is on the field for a long time, you get tired and eventually those holes get bigger and bigger."

At this point last year, the Eagles were allowing 94 rushing yards per game. Now they're allowing 103. 

At this point last year, they were allowing 3.5 yards per carry and now they're allowing 4.5 — their highest through six games since 2011. 

In all, the Cowboys have a whopping 967 rushing yards, or 161 per game. If they rush for 180 on Sunday night, they'll become the first NFL team since the 1986 Falcons with 180 rushing yards in five straight games.

"If they’re able to run the ball on us, it’s going to be a long game," Cox said. "We’ve got to go in and stop the run, create negative-yardage plays — that’s what this defense is about — and make them throw the ball.

"And that gives us a chance to do what we love and that’s get after that rookie quarterback.”

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Through the first six games of his NFL career, Carson Wentz has had some magical outings. 

Sunday wasn’t one of them.

While the Eagles won the game and Wentz was able to do enough when it counted, the Vikings' game was the worst of his young career. He completed just 57 percent of his passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. 

The 52.4 passer rating was the lowest he’s had in any game this season — over 20 points lower than his 77.7 against Washington. For the second straight week, he had the worst game of his NFL career. 

So how would Wentz assess his play? 

“I need to be better,” the rookie said. “I think most importantly, I need to play better, I need to be smarter, I need to protect the football. I had three turnovers. Any time you have that many turnovers, as an offense we had four balls on the ground, those things we need to just clean up. 

“I think that, kind of like Doug (Pederson) said, goes back to the fundamentals as well. Things we just have to get in order. But, yeah, I have to play better.“

Wentz's 52.4 passer rating Sunday was just the 15th time ever an Eagles rookie has had a passer rating below 55 (with 20 passing attempts) and the first since Matt Barkley in 2013. Donovan McNabb had three such games during his rookie season in 1999. 

For as magical as Wentz has looked at times this season, he had a bad day Sunday and the Eagles still squeezed out a win. Now, it’s about getting him back to form. 

“I think it’s just going back to refining my footwork primarily is the biggest thing,” Wentz said. “Just being in rhythm and the reads and everything. I don’t think it’s anything that we need to overanalyze or freak out about, but it’s something that you can just kind of focus in on each week.” 

Pederson on Wednesday said this week was about refocusing on fundamentals and mechanics. Pederson specifically pointed to Wentz’s missing a couple throws to his left, where Pederson said Wentz needs to adjust his target line. 

Wentz’s reasoning for those missed throws was much simpler. 

“It’s really nothing you need to fix,” Wentz said. “You just have to make the throw.” 

Aside from the mechanics of throwing left, Pederson also said the team is working with Wentz this week on situational football: knowing down and distance, what defenses are trying to do, personnel. 

Specifically, Pederson said it’s important for Wentz to know which running back is in the backfield because angles change depending on who is back there. 

“Those are all things now that we're trying to bring into his game, and he understands that,” Pederson said. “Now it’s just sort of [that] we have to magnify it just a little bit.”

There’s probably no need to panic. Wentz wasn’t going to have magical games every time he stepped on the field as a rookie. And even in his worst game, there were moments where he showed glimpses of the guy he’s expected to be. 

Despite his ambition, there’s a learning curve for all rookies. And especially for one that has played just six NFL games.  

Even if he doesn’t want to hear it. 

“At this point, I don’t really get caught up in that,” Wentz said. “I’m too busy getting ready for the next week’s opponent. I don’t believe in the rookie excuse or anything like that. I’m all about just winning ballgames and winning them now.”