When a formidable Seattle Seahawks defense manhandles one of the best offensive teams in NFL history during Super Bowl XLVIII, the 2013 Denver Broncos, it’s logical for other teams to try and emulate their success. The Seahawks defense has been top-five in total defense the past two years and many attribute this triumph to their large, physical defenders.
Before the 2013 season, when Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly made the statement, “We want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people,” he was mainly referring to defensive players. After the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints during the 2013 Wild Card round, he then stated, “We need to get bigger, yeah, everywhere.” In general, yes, bigger people do beat up little people, but some of the Eagles’ victories in 2013 would not have been possible without the likes of smaller players such as Desean Jackson and Brandon Boykin. The recent acquisition of running back Darren Sproles does not make the Eagles any bigger either. Sproles is just one inch taller than the shortest current NFL player, Denver Broncos’ special teamer Trindon Holiday (5’5”). While it remains a mystery as to which players the Eagles covet highly in this upcoming draft, there are two eligible, undersized guys with phenomenal highlight reels.
Lamarcus Joyner, a defensive back from Florida State, at 5’8” and 194 lbs, is projected to be picked in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. The Eagles should take a long look at this compact player. Joyner appears to always be around the football and ready to make a play on any down. He is intelligent; seeming to understand the intricacies of how the defensive back position should be played and can respectably knock around or drag down players much larger than himself.
Lamarcus is versatile in that he could potentially be used at safety, nickelback, outside corner, and as a return man. The Arizona Cardinal’s Tyrann Mathieu, the Tampa Buccaneer’s Alterraun Verner and the Miami Dolphin’s Brent Grimes, are three of the best corners in football standing 5’10” or less. Joyner may not be the next Patrick Peterson (arguably the NFL’s best cornerback), but Philadelphia’s secondary could be prolific with a player similar to Peterson’s teammate Tyrann Mathieu.
Transitioning to a highly-examined offensive player, statistically Oregon States’ Brandin Cooks was the best wide receiver in college football last season. He was rightfully rewarded by winning the 2013 Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation’s best receiver). Not a single defensive unit in the Pac 12 could shut down Cooks in 2013–knowing full well that he was Oregon States’ biggest playmaker. His yardage after the catch and break away speed are very impressive. Current projections figure Cooks to be a mid first-rounder. The Eagles would have to trade up to move in better position.
Cooks, who is 5’10” and 185 lbs, appears only slightly larger than Desean Jackson (and very similar to St. Louis Rams’ receiver Tavon Austin); though his durability
(aka availability) has never been an issue. Adding a slot receiver like Cooks would make the Eagles offense exceedingly more potent. His punt return skills would be a welcomed improvement to the Birds’ poor return game as well (especially without Desean Jackson in 2014). The idea of Darren Sproles, Lamarcus Joyner, and Brandin Cooks competing as kick/punt returners for the Eagles is much more comforting than last year’s options.
Selecting Cooks in the top 15-20 could be a stretch, but falling to the Eagles at 22 could be legitimate. Due to the abundance of talent in this year’s draft at the receiver position, it may be more sensible for the Eagles to move out of the first round and gain additional picks. Then again, according to the New York Times, “Nearly two-thirds of the most productive players drafted since 1995 were selected in the first round,” and Brandin Cooks could prove to be one of the gems in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Seahawks defense is paramount right now, but their winning formula will not correlate to all the other 31 teams in the NFL. The Eagles are steadily building a team with players that fit their scheme. Although we are told by Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman that bigger is better, together they have brought in Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Nolan Carroll to play the cornerback position. All three players are 6’ or taller. We do not know what positives Carroll will bring to the team, but currently the team’s best defensive back is 5’10” Brandon Boykin.
When NFL teams are predicting how well a college prospect will fair in the pros, one would think that there are two possible scenarios: the draftee either performed extremely well against premier talent, or he flat out dominated inferior competition. Both Lamarcus Joyner and Brandin Cooks were largely impactful playmakers against stellar college athletes, and their leadership qualities are exemplary.
P.S. De’Anthony Thomas from the University of Oregon, Kelly’s former number one recruit in 2011, is a very small running back with catching and kick-return abilities that could also be intriguing to the Eagles should he slip into later rounds.
Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Kevin Quealy and Joe Ward; “N.F.L. Draft: How Good Are Teams at Picking the Best?”; New York Times; Published April 25, 2013