Who did the Eagles take? How do those players fit on the roster? Can they play right away?
The Eagles shocked everybody by staying put and making their first and second round picks without any deals to move up or down. In the third round Howie Roseman finally made a deal. He moved back 5 spots and added a sixth round pick. All in all, that was a pretty quiet first couple of days for the Eagles. Andy Reid and Roseman are known to move up and down the boards and be real creative.
The Eagles were linked to cornerback Jimmy Smith all during the pre-draft process. I heard they pulled his name off the draft board on Friday. My guess is that the team feels there will be free agency and a trading period starting in the upcoming week and that they are better off getting a veteran cornerback. Last season rookie corners really struggled.
The Eagles went into the draft with two primary needs, corner and right guard. When the focus went off corner, it shifted to right guard. The Eagles then spent pick 23 on Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins.
Watkins started at left tackle for the last two years and played well. He doesn't have the height, arm length, or footwork to be an offensive tackle in the NFL so he will shift to guard. Watkins played mostly guard at the Senior Bowl back in January and did a really good job. He opened a lot of eyes. During the season Watkins had gotten people's attention with his physical, nasty style of blocking. He played well for Baylor, but the question was how he would do in the Senior Bowl setting. There is no spread offense and quick passing attack to help protect a guy. Players line up in basic one-on-one drills and either shine or get exposed. Watkins shined.
Watkins looked like a natural guard. He moved well laterally. He can slide back and forth. He anchored well against bull rushes. When defenders were able to move him back a step, Watkins would re-set his feet and sink his hips and stop them. That is a crucial skill for guards, the ability to re-set. Watkins looked natural at it. He's terrific when allowed to fire off the ball and attack defenders on run plays, but that is true of a lot of guard prospects. Those guys all love to run block. Pass blocking is where they tend to get exposed.
The fact Watkins was such a good pass blocker should have set off immediate bells and whistles for Eagles fans who follow the draft. After all, the Eagles right guards in 2010 were awful pass blockers. There were times when it seemed like Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles, and Reggie Wells were having a contest to see who could get Michael Vick killed. Cole won, by the way.
Watkins will step in from day one and challenge Mike McGlynn for the right guard spot. Watkins was very coachable in Mobile and I think that trait will help him a great deal when Howard Mudd starts working with him. As for Watkins vs. McGlynn, interesting battle. They are very similar in size. McGlynn was a 4-year starter at Pitt. He's got a year under his belt as the starting center in the NFL. Watkins doesn't have close to that much experience. Their workouts at the Combine were almost identical in terms of the athletic tests. The difference is that Watkins is a more naturally gifted blocker. There is no statistical or numerical way to quantify it. He's just a better blocker. I expect Watkins to emerge as the starting right guard, whether in training camp or early in the season. This is such a strange offseason that we don't know how this summer will go.
The one knock on the pick of Watkins is value. Some people say you can't spend a first round pick on a guard, especially one who is 26 and will turn 27 around mid-season. His age is the reason I listed Watkins as a second round prospect. He was my top rated guard and a player I liked very much, but I thought teams would shy away from him in the first round because of the age. Why did he go at 23 then? The buzz amongst NFL scouts is that Watkins is a lot like Logan Mankins. One of them made the point that if Watkins was only 22 or 23 he very well could have been picked ahead of Mike Pouncey (15th overall). Watkins is a player that scouts and coaches thought very highly of.
The bottom line for Eagles fans is that Vick needed better protection. Howard Mudd seems to be comfortable with the offensive tackles that are on the roster. Apparently he wasn't so thrilled with the guards. Heck, Stevie Wonder could see we had issues at guard. Watkins presence at right guard will help settle down the line. McGlynn and Winston Justice had to deal with a lot of uncertainty last year because the position between them was such a turnstile of mediocrity. Watkins might be young, but he's much more athletic than Cole or Jean-Gilles. He's more talented. Watkins also seems like "a natural" on the o-line. I really think that Justice will play much better in 2011 with a more stable guy beside him.
The Eagles shocked me when they took Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round. I had him pegged as a fourth or fifth round pick. 54? Wow. The buzz among scouts is that he was a reach pick by the Eagles. Before this sounds like an angry rant, let's talk about Jarrett the player. I like him a lot. I put him to the Eagles in plenty of mock draft scenarios. Sometimes I had him in the fourth round. Others, the fifth. I love Jarrett as a run defender. He will come down into the box and mix it up with the big boys. He's not the least bit uncomfortable with fighting through blockers to get to the ball. Jarrett is a strong, physical tackler. He brings real value to the Eagles secondary with the fact he's a big hitter. Reid mentioned this in his press conference. Jarrett is a guy that will fly up and lay the lumber to receivers coming across the middle. That has been missing from the defense since Brian Dawkins was abducted by aliens. Or did he sign with Denver?
My concern with Jarrett and why I rated him lower was his coverage skills. At Temple he was the free safety and spent a lot of time back off the ball, sort of roving. At strong safety he'll play more man coverage. We got to see some of that at the Senior Bowl. Jarrett struggled in man coverage. That's just not his specialty. He was a productive player at Temple so it isn't like he's completely lost. He started 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.
I think that much experience will help him to challenge Kurt Coleman for the starting strong safety job right away. If Jarrett can show the team that he's solid in coverage, he's got a legitimate chance to win the job. Quintin Mikell is a free agent. As I've said before, I think the Eagles are interested in having him come back, but I think another team will overpay him. If Mikell gets a good offer, he's got to go. He's not a rich person by NFL standards. He has to take the best contract offer.
Back to value and the Eagles reaching for Jarrett. Safety is a position that every draft has me scratching my head. Players are annually taken earlier than I anticipated. Remember a couple of years ago when the Raiders took Mike Mitchell in the second round and Mike Mayock barely knew who the guy was? That seemed insane and then we found out that Chicago might have taken him with their second round pick. Here's the thing about safety. I think coaches meet with the prospects and fall in love with them, either based on athleticism (like the Raiders) or intangibles (like the Eagles). Safeties have to make defensive calls. They have to be smart. They run the secondary and have a lot of responsibility. If a coach finds a player that he clicks with, he wants that guy. Jarrett mentioned yesterday that he'd met the Eagles coaches when they would come to Temple games. He was at the Eagles local pro day. They brought him back to the NovaCare complex for an extra visit. They got to study him closely at the Senior Bowl. My bet is that Reid and Juan Castillo really hit it off with Jarrett and think he is exactly what the secondary needs, in terms of physicality and personality.
A former NFL scout told me a good story once. He was at Rutgers doing his work on prospects in 1980. The coach ran down the big seniors with him (not much back then). The coach then pushed the scout to check out a safety. The scout had ruled him out due to size/speed concerns. The coach really pushed the safety as a prospect. The scout watched film on him and came away real impressed. Still, he couldn't get past the numbers. He wrote his reports on players and moved on to the next school. That safety sat in the back of his mind and gave him a nagging feeling, but he didn't do anything about it. The safety was a guy named Deron Cherry. He signed as a free agent with the Chiefs, initially as a punter. Cherry eventually got a shot at safety. 50 interceptions and six Pro Bowls later, he called it a career. Too small. Too slow. The worst part, the scout worked for an AFC West rival and had to watch Cherry rip his team apart twice a year for a decade.
There is no way to say Jarrett was great value at pick 54, but if he was a player that Reid and Castillo really wanted, go get him. This isn't a strong overall draft class and you see teams making weird picks. There just isn't the normal amount of highly rated players. If there is a player you really believe in, you're wise to get him now and not focus on perceived value. 30 other teams could agree with me on Jarrett, but all it took was one other team to want him in the second round and the Eagles would have lost out on him had they tried to wait. Since this isn't a great safety class, go get your guy.
In round number three the Eagles went for Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh. I liked this pick quite a bit. This draft has quite a few big corners who can run. The top guys went in the first 33 picks. There were still other players to get, Marsh being one of them. Big, fast corners don't come around every year. Heck, just look at the Eagles roster. There are no big corners. That changes with the arrival of Marsh.
He began his career at running back. Marsh moved to corner in 2009 and made four starts. He then started all of 2010. Put on the tape and the first thing that strikes you is simply that he looks the part. Marsh doesn't look at all like a running back. He looks like a corner. Kudos to the coach who figured that out and moved him. Marsh plays like a gifted athlete. He's still learning how to play corner, but had the size and speed to excel at his level. Marsh can press or play off. He's comfortable doing both. He tends to mirror press rather than jam receivers. That's something that will change in the NFL. Marsh has the size and physicality to learn to jam. He just didn't do much of it.
Marsh doesn't have great hips. He's a bit stiff as he turns. He makes up for that by having really good feet. When corners go to turn and run with receivers they must be able to open their hips or they must have very nimble feet. Fluid hips are ideal because you can swivel back and forth should the receiver go back to the other side on you. With feet, you've got to physically turn your whole body and you lose a step.
Marsh played all over. He was on the left and right sides. Sometimes he was in the slot. Utah State would put him on the best receiver occasionally. Other times they put him to the other side and just had the safeties shade away from him. Marsh didn't need help over the top. He has the ability to cover well on short, intermediate, and deep routes. Marsh gets a quick break on the ball when he does play off. I saw him pick off one pass, but it was a poor throw and didn't show much in the way of ball skills. Marsh is a solid tackler. He needs to learn to wrap up more often, but he will attack his targets.
Marsh was good value in the third. I had him rated there on my pre-draft Eagles value board. He is a bit of a project, but don't think he's completely raw and needs years of work. Marsh played in the pass happy WAC. He picked off two passes in 2010 and broke up 13 more. He learned on the fly. And as I said, corner is his natural position. I think he's going to be a starter eventually. I like him more than I did Trevard Lindley from a year ago. Good pick.