NFL scouts scour the face of the Earth looking for pro prospects. Ever heard of the Colorado School of Mines? NFL scouts have. They know the Orediggers (ore diggers) have a nose tackle that could fit in really well for 3-4 teams. Scouts go where the players are. It does help when there is some local talent to check out. The Eagles are lucky this year because several players at area schools are good prospects. Not only that, some actually are in areas of need and fit the Eagles scheme wise. Let's start with defense.
The headliner of the group is Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. He is big at 6-4, 315. The Owls used him in a variety of ways. They played both 3 and 4 man fronts. That meant he was at end and tackle. Wilkerson isn't just big, he's athletic. He can get off the ball quickly, but didn't attack upfield consistently because that wasn't his job. When you watch him on TV you sometimes don't appreciate just how quick he can be with his first step. Watch from the endzone angle and you see that initial burst a lot better. Wilkerson had a good workout at the Combine. He showed off that quickness and agility. Wilkerson has a good motor. He will chase plays from behind. He was credited with 45 solo tackles this past season. That is an impressive total. Marcell Dareus had 39 over the last two years combined. Nick Fairley had 50 over the last two seasons. I'm not saying Wilkerson is a better player, just trying to put an impressive stat into perspective.
Wilkerson is also a strong, powerful player. He's able to anchor on run plays, even holding his ground well against double teams. He can shed blocks. Wilkerson has long arms and big hands. Coaches/scouts love that. Defenders can use the arms to keep blockers off their body. The big hands make it easier for him to grab hold of a blocker and control him. Wilkerson does some of this naturally, but like all college players, he needs to improve his technique. Pad level can sometimes be an issue with him. The one problem with big/tall defenders is that blockers can get under them. Wilkerson got away with this in college, but he's got to work on it in the NFL.
All 32 teams will have interest in Wilkerson. He can play end for 3-4 teams or tackle for 4-3 teams. I've talked about his run defense, but what really helps him is his potential as a pass rusher. Wilkerson had 9.5 sacks in 2010. He had 6.5 in 2009. Big guys who can get to the quarterback are a hot commodity. Wilkerson is athletic enough to be an effective rusher from his end position. He moves well in space. He isn't going to fly off the edge like Dwight Freeney or Trent Cole, but you have to remember that he's 315 pounds and much stronger. He can drive the tackle back toward the passer and provide pressure that way. In the 4-3 Wilkerson is quick enough off the ball to play the 3-technique (think Warren Sapp). Wilkerson isn't going to cleanly beat most blockers, but again, he'll use his size, strength, and power to get by them. His initial burst puts him in a position where the blocker is caught off guard and can't cleanly get hold of him.
The Eagles were heavily represented at the Temple Pro Day. Don't read too much into this. You find out that defensive line coach Jim Washburn was there and think maybe Wilkerson is a key target. That's possible, but you have to remember that teams will send a large contingent to most local Pro Days. It shows support for those schools, plus it is just smart scouting. You want as many eyes on solid prospects as possible.
I do think the Eagles will have interest in Wilkerson, but pick 23 is likely to go for a cornerback unless there is an offseason before the draft. The team that I think could really covet Wilkerson is the Steelers. End Aaron Smith is aging and they need to replace him. Pittsburgh would have to move up, but Wilkerson just seems like he'd be their kind of player.
Temple also has a safety the Eagles should be interested in. Jaiquawn Jarrett is a mid-round type prospect. He started at free safety for the Owls for three-and-a-half years. In his career he had 174 solo tackles, 9 interceptions, 18 passes defensed, and a pair of forced fumbles. We're talking about an experienced, productive player.
While Jarrett played free safety for Temple, he could easily play strong safety in the NFL. He is 6-0, 198. He's got the height and length that some teams want in a free safety, but Jarrett is a good run defender that is right at home in the box. Jarrett isn't a great athlete. While he covered the deep middle in college I don't think that is a role he's ideally suited for in the NFL.
Jarrett isn't a guy teams are looking at as a coverage safety. He's not Earl Thomas or Rahim Moore. Those guys are natural ballhawks. Jarrett is probably best suited to playing Cover 2. Limit the area he's got to cover and let him keep things in front of him. That way he can attack the ball when it is in the air. He needs help with his man coverage. Jarrett has some tools to work with, but he definitely needs coaching and practice.
Jarrett would be ready to contribute as a run defender right away. He is a strong, physical tackler. He comes up quickly in run support. Jarrett isn't afraid to take on blockers and fight to get to the ball. You watch some young defensive backs and they are lost playing near the line of scrimmage. Not Jarrett. He's ready to mix it up with anyone and lay the lumber to whoever has the ball.
The Eagles could like Jarrett because of his potential versatility. He's got the free safety experience and strong safety potential. He could be an ideal backup and special teams player. I think Jarrett could actually be a great special teams player because of his speed, tackling, and toughness. I'm not sure if Jarrett can develop into a starting level player. That affects his value and is why he'll be drafted somewhere in rounds 4-6.
Penn State defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu isn't in the same class as Wilkerson, but could still be on the Eagles radar. The Eagles need to identify where they want the current defensive tackles to play, nose or 3-technique. When I say nose tackle, don't get caught up in Casey Hampton and Jamaal Williams. Washburn's nose tackle in Tennessee was Tony Brown. He's a shade under 6-2 and weighs somewhere in the 285-300 pound range. All four defensive linemen in Washburn's scheme attack upfield. The nose tackle must be able to eat up some blocks on certain run plays.
Ogbu played nose tackle for Penn State. He was effective when asked to eat up blockers, but also able to get into the backfield and be disruptive. He had 29 career TFLs at Penn State. Ogbu had a sack in the East-West Shrine Game. He is only 6-1, 300, but that is a build very similar to Tony Brown. Ogbu has the same kind of game. He doesn't mind doing the dirty work. Being a nose tackle isn't much fun so you have to find guys that embrace the role. Now understand that Ogbu is a 7th round pick or undrafted free agent type of player. There is a place for him on the roster or Practice Squad. Jeff Owens was a late pick by the Eagles last year, but isn't an ideal fit in the new scheme. He's also coming off a brutal injury.
Delaware has one player that might be of interest. Anthony Walters played both corner and safety. He has a good combination of size and athleticism. He was extremely productive (15 career picks, 189 solo tackles, 31 passes defensed, and 5 forced fumbles). The problem is that he failed to stand out in the tape I watched. The rule of thumb with players at smaller school levels is that they need to really jump out at you. Walters is intriguing because of the numbers and could be a UDFA target
Next week I'll take a look at some local offensive prospects.