by Ryan Thompson
While the NFL Lockout situation still remains up in the air, we know one thing for certain: the NFL draft will take place Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, and Andy Reid will once again be put in the hot seat.
Many people expect the Eagles to select an offensive lineman with the 23rd pick in this year’s draft, hoping to fill a void in a group that allowed Eagles quarterbacks to be slammed to the turf 49 times in 2010, good for 4th most in the NFL.
However, based on Reid’s success rate in drafting game-changing offensive linemen since taking over as head coach twelve years ago, one has to wonder if using a first round pick on that position is such a good idea.
There is no secret to the Eagle’s success in 2011. To win, Mike Vick must stay healthy; and to stay healthy, he must be protected at the line of scrimmage and, if possible, down the field as well. The most glaring need along the O-line is clearly at Vick’s blind side, the right tackle position. Right tackle is currently occupied by Winston Justice, and I think all Eagles’ fans remember that ugly Sunday night game where Justice was left picking up his jock strap six times at the hands of Giant’s defensive end Osi Umenyiora. To Justice’s credit, he bounced back considerably last season, and while some Eagles fans laud the improvement, others think that “better” simply isn’t good enough for a blind-side tackle. Elite play at right tackle could be the perfect complement to Jason Peters at the opposite end, allowing Vick more time on his feet and opening up wider runways for McCoy.
Moving from right to left, most of Eagles’ faithful hope that a healthy Nick Cole can get the job done at right guard, and Mike McGlynn, who played in 16 games for the Eagles last season, has a chance to unseat Jamaal Jackson under center. A healthy Todd Herremans along with pro bowler Jason Peters has the left side of the line looking stable. While depth at every slot is a key for big wins in December and beyond, it is the right side of this line that absolutely has to be addressed one way or another in this year’s draft.
If the Eagles do select an offensive lineman with their first pick, they will hope to choose from either Tyron Smith (USC), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), or Nate Solder (Colorado). Those are the four elite players at offensive tackle in this year’s draft, and they could all be off the board by the time the Eagles pick. If the Birds are unable to snatch up one of these monster linemen at 23, Reid and the Eagles would be better suited addressing one of their other needs on the first day. The defense, let’s be honest, is not exactly stacked at the moment either.
In Andy’s tenure as a head coach he has drafted 20 offensive linemen, most notably John Welbourn, Shawn Andrews, and well… that’s about it. Luckily, the Eagles are stockpiled with talent at the skill positions, and really have no draft “needs” aside from offensive line and most defensive positions, particularly in the secondary. Of course, we all know that Andy and Howie like to say they “draft the best player available,” rather than for a specific position of need, but this year’s lack of certainty and the largely hypothetical free agency period may alter every team’s draft strategy, and there’s really no way of predicting how it will all shake out. Regardless, the clock will start ticking at 8 pm on Thursday night, and as Andy Reid gets set to make the call for his 13th draft, the clock is perhaps ticking on his tenure in Philadelphia as well. This is a big pick for the future of this franchise, and a huge pick for the future of Andy Reid.