Back on Feb. 27th I wrote a post for Iggles Blitz in which I said:
"Fletcher Cox is officially now my prime target at pick 15. He pretty much already was, but seeing that level of athleticism just solidifies things."
This was my response to Cox's Combine workout. I had been a big fan of his based on game tape and the Combine performance just solidified my feelings. Cox was a guy that had size, skills, athleticism, and he showed up on gameday. He was a truly impressive prospect.
Unfortunately I wasn't the only one to notice his talents. Cox went from being talked about as a late first round target to being a guy mentioned in the middle of the first round. After private workouts and private visits, the buzz on Cox really grew and he suddenly was being talked about as a top 10 target.
There were reports in the last couple of weeks that the Rams might take him as early as sixth overall. With all the attention on Cox and how high he might go, I basically abandoned hope that the Eagles could get him. They had the trade resources to move up for him, but I never got the feeling that the Eagles would make such a move. The team has a few areas they'd like to upgrade so saving the second round picks seemed to be the likely course of action. If that meant missing out on Cox, so be it.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had several draft targets in mind Thursday night, but he hadn't given up on the idea of the Eagles moving up to draft Cox. Roseman didn't panic when there was a lot of early trade action. He sat tight and let things play out. This must have been brutally hard to do. Roseman is very aggressive. He normally wants to go get his guy. It takes a lot of discipline to sit still and let things unfold. Think of this as high stakes poker. Or to make it really simple - the ultimate game of chicken. Who blinks first?
The Cleveland Browns and former Eagles GM Tom Heckert definitely blinked earlier in the night. They traded three extra picks to move up one spot with the Vikings. Heckert and the Browns feared losing running back Trent Richardson to some other team. The question is whether the Vikings had any actual offers from other teams or simply hoodwinked the Browns out of the other picks. Heckert was faced with a tough decision and decided that Richardson was too important to risk losing so the Browns ponied up and made the trade.
The ironic thing about Heckert moving up and Roseman staying put is that Heckert used to be the master of getting information and knowing when players were going to go. He was brilliant in 2006, when he and Andy Reid really wanted Brodrick Bunkley. Reid feared losing Bunkley before the Eagles picked at no. 14. Heckert had done his research and told Reid to sit tight, that there was a legitimate chance for Bunkley to fall to them. When Buffalo took Donte Whitner, things opened up and Bunkley moved to 14 with ease.
The Eagles also coveted Winston Justice. He was projected to go early, but slid to the late part of the first round. The Eagles considered moving up for him, but again Heckert told Reid to be patient. The Eagles would move up for him only when it was the right time and the right price. That happened early in the second round.
Heckert's most brilliant move came in the third round. The Eagles wanted to draft Chris Gocong. They knew the Jets had him targeted as a key player. Heckert called the Jets about moving up in the round. Eric Mangini had no idea that the Eagles were after Gocong. Gocong expected the Jets to pick him. Mangini made the deal, only to be horrified when the Eagles took Gocong, his guy.
To see Heckert, the master, go into panic mode and move up for Richardson was highly unusual. It was also funny to see Roseman, the student, play things so smoothly. He waited patiently for Cox to slide far enough where the Eagles could move up for a reasonable price. Roseman also handled the second round well. The team took linebacker Mychal Kendricks at pick 46. They also had pick 51. The Eagles shopped the pick, hoping to add a fourth rounder (they'd lost their own fourth round pick in the Cox trade). Roseman got a fourth rounder from the Packers and dropped back to the bottom of the second round. At that point, the team took Vinny Curry, who they considered to be a steal. The Eagles got the guy they wanted all along, but added a pick as well. Shrewd drafting.
The Eagles were hot on the trail of cornerback and kick returner Brandon Boykin. Based purely on game tape, he was probably a second round pick. Boykin broke his leg in the Senior Bowl and also had some concussions at Georgia. He wasn't able to workout at the Combine. He was scheduled to work out for teams in early April, but I don't think he ever did. His medical issues took him off some draft boards and affected his grade quite a bit. The Eagles had to figure out where to go for him. I thought the third round was the time to do it, but Roseman waited until the late fourth and was able to get Boykin. Once again, that showed good discipline.
The Eagles made interesting picks at the bottom of the draft. Receiver Marvin McNutt was great value at that point. There were many who thought he would go in the middle of the third round. He had size, speed, and production. For one reason or another, he fell and the Eagles grabbed him in the sixth round. McNutt is an ideal fit for the West Coast Offense.
Next up in the sixth round was guard Brandon Washington. He was another guy that some felt could go as high as the third round. He came off a disappointing season and then made a poor choice by declaring for the draft. He didn't have a good workout at the Combine. All of these things killed his value. The Eagles did their homework, though. Reid said they watched his 2010 tape when Washington played guard (had to switch to tackle in 2011). Washington played really well at guard and that's where the Eagles project him. He isn't an ideal fit for Howard Mudd's blocking system, but at that point is just too good a value to pass up.
The final pick was a severe roll of the dice. Bryce Brown has special talent as a runner. He was the top runner in high school football a few years back. He was the most coveted player in the land. His college career had more controversy than production and he sat at home for virtually the entire 2011 season. Running backs coach Ted Williams went out and met with Brown and worked him out. He liked Brown's talent enough to rate him as draftable and must think he can bring out the best in Brown. The Eagles decided that the risk was worth a seventh round pick because the reward could be so good.
I think most fans like the picks that Howie Roseman made. I certainly like the players that were taken. If you set aside players for a second, you can see that Roseman did a masterful job of knowing when to pick players. He moved up for Cox, dropped back for Curry, and waited patiently to take Boykin. Roseman rolled the dice on talented players in the late rounds. He decided to go for pure talent in those rounds instead of focusing on track record and accomplishments. McNutt, Washington, and Brown all have the pure talent to start in the NFL.
The 2012 class has the potential to be great. If Cox, Curry, and Kendricks pan out, the defense will have a trio of young playmakers for the next five years. Quarterback Nick Foles is the wildcard. Does he become a starter, a backup, or a bust? I have my doubts about him as a starter, but if he's able to do that, Roseman could have just pulled off a great draft that will play a big part in the next decade of the Eagles. I sure hope Howie is right and I'm eating crow as Foles throws touchdowns to DeSean Jackson in a few years.