Getting the fans' hopes up, that is. Last year it was the splash in free agency, this year it's a coup in the draft. But seriously, I love what the Eagles did over draft weekend two weeks ago and am just as giddy as everyone else about the results. Add that to the solid moves the team made in hiring Todd Bowles to coach the secondary, extending Todd Herremans and Trent Cole, retaining DeSean Jackson, trading for DeMeco Ryans, signing Demetress Bell (even though it was purely a move necessitated by, sigh, the devastating blow of Jason Peters' unfortunate torn Achilles injury)... you know, the Eagles are sitting kinda pretty right now.
First, a look at free agency. All the signings came within a four-day whirlwind that barely gave Eagles fans a time to catch their collective breath. And it all happened so... so smoothly! There was no bickering in public, no visible bitterness between the organization and player. It was painless. That has to count for something in the good karma department, right? The initial moves involved locking up two cornerstones who exemplify the organization's draft prowess when it comes to selecting gems in the mid-to-late rounds. They would be 2005 selections Todd Herremans, pride and joy of Saginaw Valley State (D-II), who was taken in the fourth round with the 126th overall pick, and Trent Cole, the first in a line of successful Cincinnati Bearcats-turned-Eagles, taken in the fifth round with the 146th overall pick.
On March 13 the team extended Todd Herremans' contract another three years, through 2016, at $21 million with $11 million guaranteed. He'll turn 30 in November, so this is the contract that will take him through the end of the prime years of his career (offensive tackles traditionally have a tendency to age a little better than other positions, strangely enough mimicking the longevity of the quarterbacks they protect). The money is perfect -- a bargain, really -- for a highly talented player at a premium position, not to mention an awesome dude in general who connects well with the fan base, loves the area, is an important presence in the locker room as a veteran leader, and a true professional in every sense of the word. Herremans has the talent to be an All Pro, and really should have already earned a few soon-to-be-extinct Pro Bowl nods. All told, when factoring in the original extension to his rookie deal signed at end of 2006, you're talking about an eight-year, $38 million deal with $16 million in guaranteed money. I must reiterate, really sweet bargain.
The very next day came news that Trent Cole had also re-upped with the Eagles. Officially, it's a four-year extension worth up to $53 million with $15 million in guaranteed money (which, as we know, is the only thing that matters). It takes Cole through the 2017 season, when he'll turn 35. He'll most likely never see the end of the contract (as he's set to earn $13.9 million in 2017), and that's fine because the Eagles are really only paying a premium price for the first few years, which, like with Herremans, marks the end of his prime. Also, the $15 million bonus will sort of act as a token of appreciation for services rendered while Cole was being paid far under market value yet not publicly voicing his displeasure with the media. The key is to remember that Cole, then in just his second season but already showing immense promise, signed an extension of his rookie contract in 2006. It's a ploy that made the Eagles notorious in the salary cap-conscious NFL -- locking up their young stars at a below market rate for the future by offering money and security up front. All told, when combining the newest extension with the remaining two years of Coles' original deal from 2006, the total contract going forward comes out to $59.3 million over six years. In essence, Trent Cole signed a career contract with the Philadelphia Eagles for 11 years and $81 million, with $27 million guaranteed. I think that's right. Regardless, I'd say that ended up being a pretty damn good deal for both sides.
Hours after the deal with Cole was announced, we learned that the the most vexing issue of all had been resolved with the re-signing of DeSean Jackson. The contentious contract squabble that hovered like a dark cloud over the Eagles' 2011 season and no-doubt propelled Jackson's questionable effort at times was finally over. And it happened so... so amicably! What's more, DeSean signed a very, very favorable deal for the Eagles, at $51 million over five years with less guaranteed money ($15 million) than Pierre Garcon ($21.5 million). This contract is one hell of a hometown discount! Jackson's press conference was as much about nobility as it was relief. Get this, part of the reason he took less of a signing bonus is because he wants to earn the maximum value of his contract. Wait, what? He wants to earn the money?! DeSean, I'm sorry for the things I said last season. Let's start over.
To cap off the four-day flurry of signings and happy feelings, Evan Mathis chose to return to the Eagles instead of fleeing the nest for Baltimore when he inked a five-year, $25 million deal with $7 million guaranteed. This marked yet another highly palatable contract for the Eagles that also served as the financial windfall Mathis had been in search of his entire career. As a 30-year old without much tread on his tires in terms of compounded playing time, and who says Howard Mudd is the best thing to happen to his career, Mathis should perform at a high level for the duration of the contract. He has an ideal skill set for Mudd's preferred blocking scheme and has been rated as one of the best guards in the entire league multiple times by Pro Football Focus. I also would be remiss if I didn't mention that he has perhaps the most entertaining Twitter account of any pro athlete, in any sport.
Three days after the Mathis signing, the Eagles addressed their much-maligned linebacker corps in a trade with the Houston Texans. By sending a 2012 fourth round pick (acquired from Tampa Bay) and swapping third round picks with the Texans, the Eagles were able to acquire DeMeco Ryans. From the moment he entered the league as a rookie in 2006 to suffering an Achilles tear in the middle of the 2010 season, he was one of the best middle linebackers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. The 2011 campaign was a trying one for Ryans as he attempted to regain his past form. It usually takes at least a full calendar year for players to feel "like themselves" again after a major ligament injury in the lower half of their body. So, even if they're able to play, they're not totally confident in their movements and aren't ready to trust that the injury is fully healed. This leads to a lot of thinking instead of reacting and just doing, more often than not rendering the player a step slow or a second late. Ryans went through that experience and encountered plenty of struggles along the way, but he started to show glimpses of his ability again late in the season and performed at a high level in the playoffs. The Eagles need a steady, respected, vocal, and emotional leader in the middle of the defense, and that is precisely what they got in DeMeco Ryans. He turns 28 in July and is in line to make $26.1 million over the next four seasons, so this isn't an insignificant investment on the Eagles' part. Now, the Texans' willingness to deal Ryans for a mid-round pick gives me some reason for pause, and there will always be concerns about a player's ability to return to form following an injury as serious as a torn Achilles tendon. However, in addition to Ryans' clean bill of health and impactful play toward the end of the season, I'm encouraged by the fact that his former teammates in Houston were genuinely shocked and saddened to see him go. My one qualm: Eagles fans see him as some kind of savior for the defense and the answer to all our linebacker woes. Let's not go nuts, okay? Ryans is undoubtedly an excellent pickup who should help considerably strengthen the middle of the Eagles defense, but he's not that "final piece" who's going to magically make the unit elite. He's not the solution, just part of it.
Lastly, I'm not going to pretend like I've ever watched Demetress Bell play, and that I know anything about him, aside from being one of Karl Malone's illegitimate children and having replaced Jason Peters in Buffalo three years ago. But I will say this: In Howard Mudd I trust.
Edit: The LeSean McCoy contract extension situation remains the final item on the offseason agenda. As I wrote in February, I think a six-year, $60-65 million deal with $30-35 million guaranteed should get it done, don't you? That would make Shady the second highest-paid running back in the league, behind only Adrian Peterson.
You know I couldn't go an entire evaluation without leveling some sort of criticism, so here it goes. I'm still terrified of our safeties, both in terms of starters and depth. I think Nate Allen's a good player and has a bright future, but he's hardly the guy I want leading that group. As for the competition at strong safety, are we really putting all our eggs in the Kurt Coleman/Jaiquawn Jarrett basket? Are the Eagles actually comfortable with the guys they have? Oy vey. Come on, Howie, don't give me that. How about signing a veteran, as an insurance policy at worst and a legitimate starter at best, to compete with and mentor the youngsters? Yeremiah Bell, who flourished under new secondary coach Todd Bowles the past four seasons in Miami, is still on the market and could be had at a discounted price. Yes, he's 34, but he didn't become a real full-time starter until turning 30. Since 2008, Bell has played in all 64 possible games and posted at least 100 total tackles each season. The fact that ~80% of those totals were of the solo variety indicates he's a strong, fundamental tackler, and, as we've seen in recent seasons, that is certainly a component this defense sorely needs. There are few things worse than watching defenders lunge for a big hit and miss instead of breaking down and wrapping up like a smart player. Sloppy technique and pathetic effort when it comes to tackling have plagued the Eagles, and it's a major reason the team has struggled so mightily on defense since Jim Johnson's passing. Following Bell's release from the Dolphins, there were rumblings that the Eagles were interested in picking him up. Even if he's not the guy the team ultimately decides it wants, please, Howie, sign another safety.
Now, for the draft recap. The prospect haul is already prompting (severely premature) comparisons to 2002, when the team mined future Pro Bowl players Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, and Brian Westbrook with three of the first four picks, as well as a should-have-been Pro Bowler in Sheldon Brown. Oh, and the Eagles' last pick -- seventh round, 238th overall -- was Raheem Brock, the Philadelphia native and Temple product playing in the team's backyard. He's carved out a pretty nice career for himself and managed to win a Super Bowl with the Colts. Unfortunately, the Eagles cut Brock before he even played a game for the team. He's one that got away. So, to summarize, that's five INCREDIBLE hits on eight picks. This just doesn't happen anymore. Until it does.
To hear the analysts tell it, the Eagles had the best draft of any team in the league. Mel Kiper loved it. Mike Mayock raved. Ray Didinger taunted the front office at first for past missteps before giving credit where it was due and gushing over the selections. Hell, was there anyone who didn't applaud the Eagles' efforts? Apparently not. I guess you could say I was pretty excited too. Get the keys to the hype machine, it's time to throttle that bad boy back into overdrive.
1 (12): Fletcher Cox - DT - Mississippi State - 6035 / 298
Things started off the way everyone in the Eagles' war room -- and most fans out of it -- were hoping. The Eagles thought Fletcher Cox was a top seven pick and were shocked to see him "sliding." So Howie Roseman called up John Schneider in Seattle and worked out the parameters of a trade. For fourth and sixth round picks, the Eagles were able to move up three spots and get their man. More than a few analysts said they had Cox as the best defensive player in the draft.
To hear Cox and Jim Washburn talk about it, the two couldn't be happier at the idea of working together. Washburn fell in love the moment he saw that blend of massive size and rare talent flash on TV during a random weekday game in November and was licking his chops at the chance to draft the young man. Here's what I wrote about Cox prior to the draft:
The Best: Fletcher Cox - Mississippi State - 6035 / 298
Just as unbelievable and breathtaking a size/weight/speed specimen as Dontari Poe, perhaps even more so -- Cox ran a 4.79 at nearly 6-4 and 298 pounds! That's totally insane, and it's no fluke, either. He really is a special athlete and unique player. Cox is quick, explosive, sudden, relentless, and has "whoa"-eliciting ability. When I watched him play, he reminded me of Tommie Harris. Cut his teeth in the SEC and was a terror on the interior, routinely penetrating into the backfield and blowing plays up (5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2011). Combine the rare, remarkable physical skills with that "high motor" and versatility (can play DT or DE), and, well, is there any way Jim Washburn and the Eagles don't have Cox atop their board? Scuttlebutt is that the Eagles will attempt to move into the top-10 (it'll take their first second round pick) to get him.
Former college teammate Jamar Chaney said Cox is a Pro Bowl player, before adding the dreaded -- if always applicable -- "if he's able to stay healthy" stipulation. I really can't remember reading anything other than glowing praise. A man that size, who can move like that, will be a force on the football field. You have to give the Eagles this: They're following the philosophical methods of a championship organization -- even if it has to be the Giants. Stack the front four with amazing athletes who can wreak havoc and get to the quarterback. No quarterback -- not one -- is going to be good under constant pressure and duress, running for his life and getting hit every other play. That's been the hallmark of how the Giants have constructed their Super Bowl-winning rosters, and it's a model in which the Eagles rightly believe.
2 (46): Mychal Kendricks - ILB/OLB - California - 5112 / 240
An athletic freak of epic proportions, Kendricks has just about everything you look for at the linebacker position. Alright, so he's undersized height-wise. Whatever. He weighs 240 pounds and plays big, which is all I care about. Kendricks went berserk at the Combine, running an eye-popping 4.47 (!), while putting up a 39.5" vertical and 127" broad jump -- all three of which were tops for linebackers. He combines elite speed and explosion with a mean streak and plays like a heat-seeking missile intent on obliterating the opposition. While Kendricks' aggressiveness sometimes gets the better of him and he'll take himself out of position, it's a deficiency I can learn to live with. So, in summation, he's fast, physical, violent, relentless, and an assassin on the field. Yeah, me likey.
While Kendricks measures a smidgen over 5-11, he's stout, built like a brick shithouse, and sports a 75 5/8" (nearly 6'4") wingspan. He possesses a low center of gravity and deftly uses leverage to his advantage, generating considerable power from his base to explode through blockers and ball carriers. A fundamentally sound tackler who rarely ever whiffs once he gets a hold of his man, we're also going to see Kendricks administer a number of thunderous kill-shot hits that will have us gleefully exclaiming, "OOOOOH HOLY SHIT!!!!!" He's got sideline-to-sideline range and can cover tight ends (his wingspan helps make up for the height disadvantage). Furthermore, Kendricks is a tremendous blitzer with a knack for getting to the quarterback (13.5 career sacks). Looks like the complete package to me, and Andy already has him penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker.
2 (59): Vinny Curry - DE - Marshall - 6030 / 266
Easily the best story of any Eagles pick because this is a guy who, like us, grew up bleeding green; then he experienced a double dose of euphoria when he was not only drafted into the NFL, but selected by his favorite team. Talk about living the dream.
I first was exposed to Curry during the 2010 season when I tuned in for some Marshall games in order to watch his teammate at the time, middle linebacker Mario Harvey. While I was focused on Harvey, it was Curry who kept grabbing my attention. His coming out party was a six-tackle, two-sack performance against Ohio State in the first game of 2010, and there there was no looking back after that. The next week, against West Virginia, Curry totaled 11 tackles and added two more sacks. He was all over the place and doing something noticeable on what seemed like every snap in both of those games. The guy just played with a motor that never stopped. That was enough for me. I was a fan.
Ran an underwhelming 4.98 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but Curry plays fast in game action. Not a great athlete, but he's quick and sudden off the edge, flashes an array of moves, and the way he uses his hands to attack and combat blockers reflects a polished skill set and an advanced understanding of technique. A natural pass rusher who's worked hard and improved against the run, Curry plays with a zealous love for the game of football and is a high-effort, lunch-pail type of player. The dude just brings it on every down of every game. He's determined to his opponent by outworking him, by wanting it more. Trust me, Curry will immediately endear himself to the fans oh Philadelphia, and not only because he is one himself. I look forward to him thriving under the tutelage of Jim Washburn.
3 (88): Nick Foles - QB - Arizona - 6045 / 243
From a friend, a 2010 Arizona graduate currently working for the university as the Assistant Director of Basketball Operations on Sean Miller's staff, who texted me soon after the Eagles selected Foles:
"Excellent arm, extremely precise, hard worker, tough, very high IQ, great work ethic. Great pocket passer, good size and great mobility give his size build and a bad knee. Tough to take down. When I say good arm... I mean... WOW."
Good enough for me. As someone who didn't watch a single Arizona football game, I asked if Foles could be an NFL starter. His response:
"At some point. In the right setting. Really could be great."
Anyway, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweig know a thing or two about coaching quarterbacks, so I'd say this is a pretty good situation for Nick Foles. I didn't like the pick at first because I wanted the team to address more pressing needs, but as I thought about it I realized, hey, given Vick's flaky ability to stay healthy, quarterback is a pressing need. After getting the above feedback on Foles and doing research (reading scouting reports, viewing highlights, watching his "QB Camp" segment with Jon Gruden), I'm very much on board with this pick.
4 (123): Brandon Boykin - CB - Georgia - 5094 / 182
Why Boykin was still available at this spot is beyond me. ESPN/Scouts Inc. had him 77th on its big board, and the consensus seemed to be that he rated as a second-round talent. As Matt Alkire of Scoutsnotebook.com so eloquently put it, regardless of Boykin suffering a few concussions at Georgia and then breaking his tibia at the Senior Bowl, he had no business falling to the fourth round unless he'd "had his leg amputated." As far as I can tell, Boykin's leg is still attached to his body, and his tibia is healing just fine.
The nice thing about Boykin is that he's easily one of the most versatile players in the entire draft. He can play outside or in the slot (where he'll line up with the Eagles), he's extremely dangerous as a kick returner, and was even featured in the backfield as part of some offensive sub-packages. A tough player whose surprisingly physical style belies his build (though you have to think this will only lead to more injuries at the NFL level), Boykin has 4.4 speed, electric athleticism, and excels in coverage. The question is whether he'll be able to handle the rigors of playing against NFL specimens at his size, especially inside. Aside from that, there's no questioning Boykin's natural talent. He is a born playmaker with explosive ability, someone who displays natural vision and instincts as a runner that make him a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Quite simply, Boykin appears to have been one hell of a steal at #123 overall. Seeing as how he chance to be a very important contributor for the Eagles right from the start in two phases of the game, I hope the results are borne out that way. I'll be disappointed if Boykin doesn't beat out Joselio Hanson for the slot corner spot.
5 (153): Dennis Kelly - OT - Purdue - 6081 / 321
Alright, I'll be honest, I had no idea who Dennis Kelly was when his name flashed on the screen as the Eagles' selection in the fifth round with the 153th overall pick. I'm actually disappointed with myself, because he measures as the tallest offensive lineman prospect in the entire draft, and that's the type of physical trait that would typically stick out to me when going over the list. I guess I just never went far enough in depth when it came to researching the offensive line in this draft. Besides, as I've admitted before, I don't know all the technical nuances or finer points of the position and what specifically pro scouts look for in their evaluations. It's a lot less obvious than when observing a so-called skill position player.
But here's what I will say about Dennis Kelly after doing my research: I love the pick. (If you have the time and energy, do yourself a favor and read this article/draft profile about him.) Besides, even if I had any doubt, all I have to do is just remind myself that anybody who gets the endorsement of Howard Mudd is cool by me. If nothing else, Kelly's mammoth physical stature certainly makes him an intriguing rookie to monitor.
6 (194): Marvin McNutt - WR - Iowa - 6024 / 216
I watched enough Iowa games to know that I like Marvin McNutt, and not only because of his last name. He's not an explosive burner with the kind of burst that'll allow him to be a threat deep down the field (though in general his speed is adequate), but his big (10+"), soft hands, body control, and ability to adjust to the ball while it's in the air are all NFL-caliber. I've watched McNutt probably five times total and seen him make some really difficult catches in which he displays superb concentration and just plucks the ball with ease -- whether over the shoulder, while twisting and turning, in traffic, or with one outstretched arm. He makes up for average athleticism because he's smart, finds openings and soft spots in the defense, and exhibits keen awareness of both game situations and where he is on the field (seemed like he made at least one toe-tap catch near the sidelines every game). An all-around solid and savvy player who's tough and will go over the middle, McNutt won't be a dynamic #1 or #2 and I'm not sure he's got the speed, suddenness, or fluidity to be a dangerous slot option. For that reason, I figure his ceiling is probably as a #4 wide receiver. Still, McNutt should be able to contribute and find his niche in an NFL offense.
6 (200): Brandon Washington - OG - Miami (FL) - 6031 / 320
As I mentioned with Dennis Kelly, I don't feel comfortable evaluating offensive linemen. That said, Washington was generally rated as a mid-round pick and the Eagles were able to get great value by snagging him in the sixth round. Extensive experience as a starter with no serious injuries incurred; played guard and tackle in college. Based on Washington's workout numbers, it seems like he's something of a plodder and strictly a guard at the NFL level. Whatever, I've never even seen him play. But, again: In Howard Mudd I trust.
7 (228): Bryce Brown - RB - Kansas State - 5114 / 223
Acquired from the Falcons in the Asante Samuel trade, this is a pick that raised a number of eyebrows and generated plenty of buzz. Once upon a time Bryce Brown was the top-rated high school running back recruit in the country, just ahead of Trent Richardson, and the 2008 Hall Trophy winner. Talk about two paths that went in opposite directions. Richardson went on to win two national championships at Alabama while developing into the best running back in the country and a top-three pick in the NFL draft, while Brown flamed out of college football entirely after one season with Tennessee in 2009 and just a few games with Kansas State in 2011. He transferred out of Tennessee after Lane Kiffin left for USC, opting to join his brother, Arthur, at Kansas State. After sitting out a year because of transfer eligibility rules, Brown registered a mere three carries for 16 yards with the Wildcats before quitting the team for personal reasons. Whatever the case, "quit" is never a word you want to see associated with a prospect. Brown didn't leave Kansas State on good terms, his teammates weren't sad to see him go, and the team managed just fine without him, registering a 10-win season and trip to the Cotton Bowl. Yet coach Bill Snyder allowed Brown to come back for Kansas State's pro day, so he can't be that much of a dick. Apparently, this sat well with the Eagles' brass and they felt comfortable taking a flyer on him as a low-risk, high-reward pick at the end of the draft. Perfect utilization of a seventh round pick, if you ask me.
And that's the thing about Bryce Brown: His physical gifts are truly rare. Measuring a hair under 6' and sporting a chiseled 220-pound frame, Brown blends incredible natural talent -- "tremendous, tremendous skill," according to Andy Reid -- with breathtaking sub-4.4 speed. If you go back and watch his Tennessee highlights, you understand why this guy was the top-rated running back in the country coming out of high school. You see a bona fide NFL prospect with all kinds of ability exploding through holes, making people miss, running past AND over everyone with a downhill style... lots of "whoa" moments.
Undrafted rookie free agents with a chance to stick on the roster:
Chris Polk - RB - Washington - 5106 / 215
From January 2011:
Remember this name. Not only will Chris Polk be a professional running back, he'll be a damn good one. He can run by or over defenders, it's just a pick-your-poison type of conundrum. Unjustly overshadowed by the overrated Jake Locker this season, Polk made sure everyone knew he's the best player on that Huskies team with his dominating performance against Nebraska in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl (what the...?) At 5'11", 215 lbs, and with speed in the 4.4 range... really, what more could you want from a physical standpoint? With the departure of Locker to the NFL, it's not outrageous to suggest Polk could lead the nation in rushing next season.
The Eagles said they gave Polk a fourth-round grade -- and plenty of other teams surely had a similar, if not higher, grade on him (he was EPSN's #86 overall prospect) -- but apparently concerns about his shoulder injuries, extensive workload during his college career, and a supposed degenerative hip condition scared teams off (there were also unsubstantiated rumors that he didn't interview well at the Combine). However, judging by the fact that Polk ended his college career with 38 consecutive starts, I'd say his durability is just fine. It's at a time like this that I think NFL teams just over-think a situation and psyche themselves out. Polk might not have the sexy flare to his game when you watch him, but he runs hard, is one hell of an all-around player, and gets the job done. I also think he's a better athlete than given credit for. Polk fits the Eagles' mold perfectly because he's such a natural as a receiver out of the backfield. Reportedly a high character individual with a love and passion for the game, and I think he beats out Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown for the backup running back spot behind LeSean McCoy. Within Polk's first season as a pro, teams are going to regret not having spent a draft pick on him, and I'm thrilled the Eagles were able to sign him.
Phillip Thomas - S - Syracuse - 5111 / 198
Solid player who makes up for sub-average speed and athleticism with instincts and ball skills, both of which he's going to need in order to make it in the NFL. Definitely noticeable on the field and led Orange in tackles with 82 prior to getting suspended in November for the rest of the season due to a violation of athletic department rules. The problem is, when I watch Thomas, I just can't help but think that he looks small and moves so slowly, it's like he's jogging. I first saw him in October when I turned on the West Virginia/Syracuse game to watch Geno Smith (that's when I first saw Chandler Jones, too). Thomas had seven tackles (some good sticks, too) and intercepted an errant Geno Smith pass. If nothing else, he's certainly at the right position on the Eagles to compete for a spot.
Cliff Harris - CB - Oregon - 5106 / 175
At one point thought to be a first round pick because of his cover skills and kick return ability, Harris experienced a precipitous fall from grace over the last year, beginning with a June 2011 arrest for driving 118 MPH ("It was fun, but it was a bonehead move") that earned him an initial suspension for the first three gams of the upcoming season. He was then suspended from the team for the final seven games of 2011 after another traffic stop -- this time for not wearing a seatbelt -- revealed he was driving with a suspended license and without proper insurance. Finally, Harris was dismissed entirely from the team after being cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana on November 25. The ol' trifecta of arrests, always certain to help a prospect's draft stock. To top it all off, Harris ran an unimpressive 4.64 in the 40 at the Combine.
Emil Igwenagu - FB/TE - Massachusetts - 6011 / 249
Strong blocker and excellent receiver out of the backfield. Tough, hard-nosed player who relishes taking on would-be tacklers and putting them on the ground. Made a strong impression at the Senior Bowl and even had a nice spinning catch where he showed off athleticism and nimble feet. Should get a legitimate chance to compete for a roster spot as a fullback and reserve tight tend.
Elvis Akpla - WR - Montana State - 6002 / 193
I'm only including him because he had perhaps the most ridiculous catch of 2011 and deserves special mention for it.
Chase Ford - TE - Miami (FL) - 6065 / 255
Extremely raw prospect with intriguing size, big (10.25"), soft hands, 4.75 speed, and enough upside to warrant a roster spot. Junior college standout who transferred to Miami and saw limited action as a reserve in two seasons with the Hurricanes, registering a total of 16 catches and two touchdowns. Made a name for himself by showing glimpses of potential and playing really well during the East-West Shrine game. Developmental player who could pay dividends down the road if he gets the right coaching and puts it all together. Chase Ford is not Jimmy Graham, so don't even get your hopes up like that.
Edit: Forgot to include Damaris Johnson (WR - Tulsa - 5072 / 171), who could have utility as a kick/punt returner and wildcard on offense. Here's what I wrote about him in January 2011, after his dominating performance in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and before the felony embezzlement charge that prematurely ended his college career:
The diminutive (5'8", 170 lbs) Swiss Army Knife wide receiver/running back/kick returner may not be a big-time or well-known NFL prospect, but he's about as exciting as they come in the college game. It's so much fun to watch him on the field, jitterbugging and leaving defenders grasping for air. I'm partial to the little guys who don't let size hinder their skills and get in the way of succeeding. Super quick, juketacular, boasts a soft pair of hands. Oh, and he totally destroyed Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, to the tune of nine total touches (four receiving, five rushing) for 199 combined yards (101 receiving, 98 rushing, and two touchdowns - one receiving, one rushing).
- Favorite selection from the draft: Jacksonville Jaguar's seventh round pick Jeris Pendleton (DT, Ashland). He has a great story, and anyone who reads about it more in-depth will become an instant fan pulling for him to succeed in the NFL.