ABOVE PHOTO: Alex Henery’s 26-yard field goal was the game-winning field goal in the Eagles 19-17 victory on Sept. 30. It was the last victory before the Birds season spiraled into an eight-game losing streak.
(Photo by Webster Riddick)
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
With free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft approaching, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly will certainly have their choice of players to choose from on both sides of the football.
But the team’s biggest needs are on the defensive side. Pick any position on the defense and the Eagles have a need to fill it via the draft or free agency.
After a 2012 season in which teams had no fear of a Birds defense that gave up 27 points per game last season, Kelly wants to establish a level of toughness that’s been missing for quite some time. Since the Eagles are looking to install the 3-4 defense, a pass rusher is among the biggest needs.
If you’re looking for better defense through the draft, the Eagles could select Utah’s Star Lotulelei (6-4, 325-pounds ) with the fourth pick. Lotulelei,, who is often compared to Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and Detroit’s Ndamukuong Suh for his ability to take two blockers at the same time, could be the answer to some of the Eagles’ needs.
Last season, Lotulelei led the Runnin Utes with 11 tackles for negative yardage. He also had five sacks, four pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
But Lotulelei may not be available by the fourth pick. Most draft insiders are saying that since the Kansas City Chiefs put the franchise tag on left offensive tackle Branden Albert that they will pick Lotulelei with the first pick instead of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
If he isn’t, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) is the No. 1 linebacker on all the mock drafts. In 2012, Jones led the nation in sacks with 14.5, tackles for loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven).
For an Eagles team that was near the bottom of the league in turnovers forced, Jones could be the answer in terms of having a playmaker on defense. The Eagles haven’t had a true enforcer from the linebacker spot since Seth Joyner or maybe Jeremiah Trotter, who was good against the run, but struggled covering the pass.
Defensive end Dion Jordan, who played for Kelly at Oregon, can also start at the outside linebacker spot. At 6-6, 248 pounds, Jordan may have to put on a few pounds, but could be a solid outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
During his senior year with the Ducks, Jordan had 44 tackles (10 for loss) and five sacks. He also has the ability to drop back in pass coverage. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Jordan ran a 4.6 40-yard dash.
If the Eagles go the free agent route, Baltimore’s Paul Kruger is a player that would be an ideal fit for the Birds in the 3-4.
In the Ravens run to the Super Bowl, Kruger had nine sacks during the regular season and 4.5 during the playoffs including a sack of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl. According to some reports out of Baltimore, the Ravens will probably not re-sign Kruger.
More important than his physical skills, Kruger knows how to win and has the experience of going through a winning Super Bowl run. For a team that has a grown accustomed to losing, Kruger’s presence could be a breath of fresh air.
The cornerback position was definitely a troublesome position for the Eagles last season. Last season, the Birds looked like a team that didn’t have a clue in pass coverage, especially their $60-million dollar shut down cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, who couldn’t stop anybody.
In the draft, Alabama’s Dee Milliner is on the top of a lot of teams’ wish list and is better than anyone the Eagles have right now. In his final year with the Crimson Tide, he had 22 passes defended, 54 tackles and two interceptions.
The corners on the free agent side of the ledger aren’t anything to really write home about because they all have their own unique set of flaws. The pundits on the NFL Network pointed to New England’s Agib Talib as a possibility for the Birds.
According to Pro Football Focus, Talib allowed 775 yards on 592 snaps last season. In the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, Talib had done a good job at shutting down Anquan Boldin before an injury forced him out of the game.
You get the feeling after the millions they threw into Asomugha that the Birds aren’t going to be willing to put more money for a cornerback on the free agent market.
At the safety position, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman didn’t put fear into anyone coming across the middle. But when you look at the draft, the Eagles aren’t going to waste the fourth pick on that position or invest a lot in free agency because there’s nothing out there that’s so good that they absolutely have to spend the big bucks.
But there has to be somebody better than what they have and they will probably pick a safety in the later rounds. The Eagles might take a look at Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro who is 6-1, 218lbs and runs a 4.49 40-yard dash.
The scouts are saying that Vaccaro has good closing speed to stop the run, can match up well with slot receivers and can hold his own against tight ends. He might be a middle-to-late first round pick. If he’s available in the second round, the Eagles should take a look.
More than likely, the Eagles will draft a safety sometime in the third or fourth round. Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien (6-0, 209 pounds), who had 365 tackles, six interceptions , 28 passes defended and six forced fumbles is better than what the Birds have now.
Which isn’t really saying much if we’re honest with ourselves…