Breaking Down the Draft


It was another long draft weekend for the Philadelphia Eagles, one that wasn’t short on surprises, trades, controversy, and debate. Andy Reid proved, once again, that he is as unpredictable and unconventional a head coach as there is in the National Football League. Combined with the ongoing – and sometimes utterly confusing – courtroom developments in the NFL labor situation, the past four days have been enough of a whirlwind to put any professional sports journalist in the loony bin, and I’ll admit I wasn’t immune.

After covering the first round of the draft in person – and being run over on the mezzanine by a phalanx of firemen as they raced to the TV cameras during the Danny Watkins pick – then spending Friday night trying to keep up with our live chat while watching the draft on two different channels and posting the updates here on ITI, by Saturday morning I hit a wall.  I was oozing the draft out of my pores, I couldn’t see straight, and it was unofficially my birthday. I hope you’ll understand, fellow Birds fans, that I simply had to step away from it all last night. Take a breath, process it all, and gather my thoughts before continuing.

Today’s 24-hour TwitBookStreamChatMobileAppTickerWebCast system of sports journalism is good for information junkies, like me, who need to know everything that happens the moment it’s happening, and not a second later. But it can also be dangerous. Sometimes, posting too soon can be a bad idea; forming an opinion and cementing it in cyberspace forever can actually ruin a writer’s career.

Even the most dedicated of sports bloggers, mock drafters, and college football fanatics can’t know everything about all 400 players in the draft pool at all times. Stats and combine results help, but they are only part of the picture. Every NFL franchise has its own style, strategy, methodology, and values; a good pick for one team might end up an epic bust on another. Figuring out if a particular player will be a good match for a particular team, how he will work out in both the short and long term, is not easy.

Think, for a moment, about some previous drafts. We all know about the McNabb over Ricky Williams fallout (which worked out pretty well for us in the long run), but many don’t remember how shocked all the analysts were back in 1996 when the Eagles selected Brian Dawkins in the second round. Bloggers were scratching their heads two years ago when we moved up in the first to take Jeremy Maclin, instead of Beanie Wells or Donald Brown. The scouting reports on Brian Westbrook said he was too small, too injury-prone, and his all-time NCAA record 9,301 total yards from scrimmage were irrelevant because they didn’t come at a Division 1-A school. He slipped to the third round, and no one called it a steal when Reid took him with the 91st pick.

The public and professional reactions to a team’s draft picks are predicated solely on opinion; the general consensus on how a player’s skills will translate to the pro game. Scouting reports are not the word of God, obviously, and for every Peyton Manning there is a Tom Brady to prove how flawed the system really is. So, in recognition of that, we here at ITI wanted to take our time and really understand both the picks and Reid and Roseman’s reasoning behind them before laying the boom on the 2011 draft. Here, finally, is what we found:

Danny Watkins is special. Regardless of where the mock drafts projected this 6’4”, 310 pound Canadian fireman to fall, a lot of really smart people had a high grade on him. The Packers, Patriots and Chargers – along with nearly a dozen other teams – were interested in him early in the draft. Yes, he’s 26. Yes, he’s only been playing football for four years. But when you combine both of those facts you get a rather intriguing total picture. Here’s a guy who went from total newbie to first-round draft prospect in 48 months. He excelled at the Senior Bowl, playing both in- and outside and holding his own against some of the best D-linemen in the nation. He is powerful, durable (he started all 25 games at Baylor) and dominating, totaling a team-high 134 knockdowns in his senior year.

His age doesn’t concern me, as he avoided a good twelve years of punishment by waiting to join the sport until he could legally drink a beer. He’s going to have to work on his technique a bit – in all of the game tape I watched he has a habit of holding just a bit too long – but he has all of the natural skills and intangibles you’re looking for in top-tier O-lineman. Howard Mudd had a say in this decision, obviously, and with his influence Watkins has a chance to be the long-term answer for one of the biggest team concerns heading into this offseason. Great pick.

Jaiquawn Jarrett is the player you’ve been screaming for. How many times, since Weapon X left for Denver, have we complained about poor tackling in the secondary? Well guess what? We just drafted one of the best tacklers in this draft class, and arguably one of the better tacklers to come out of college in a long, long time. Seriously, watch some of his highlight videos (as if you haven’t already). This guy hits like a freight train and wraps up like an anaconda. He led Temple in tackles twice, notching nine career interceptions, two forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. Drawing comparisons to Dawk, as Andy Reid has already said, is unfair to do to anyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this pick marks the end for Quintin Mikell and Jarrett ends up starting on day one.

The big knock on Jarrett is his speed, but I honestly don’t see it. His 4.62 forty time is only four hundredths of a second higher than Mikell’s, and five higher than Ed Reed’s. Forty times, especially for safeties, are really poor measurements of game speed. Fluidity, instinct, and technique are significantly more important, all of which Jarrett has in spades.  He can blanket tight ends in the slot, he’s a force in the box, and he’s smart. Impressively smart. Not only will he be able to pick up the system and grow exponentially under Juan Castillo’s direction, he’s going to be a film addict. A combination of skill, knowledge and preparation will help him make up for any shortcomings in straight-line speed, and he will ultimately have the potential to be a fierce, dominating presence on this team for years to come.

The other criticism of the Jarrett pick was that it came too early. Bloggers and analysts all over the country immediately took to Twitter, saying “Reach! Reach! Reach!” But it’s only a “reach” if you think Jarrett wasn’t a second-round talent. Reid and Roseman obviously thought he was. To say that Jarrett “would have been available in the 3rd or even 4th round” is an assumption – a pure guess – coming from the same people who said that Blaine Gabbert was the number two quarterback in this year’s draft and that Jake Locker was at best a 2nd round prospect. Whether or not they were right, it didn’t make a difference to the Tennessee Titans, who took Locker above Gabbert with the 8th overall pick and screwed up everyone’s chances of winning $10 million in that Bud Light mock draft contest. Coaches and GMs don’t base their decisions on a bunch of bloggers’ mock drafts – for good reason – and Jarrett could have been taken in the early 3rd round as easily as Da’Quan Bowers fell into the second. You don’t wait on a player you want just because he might be there when the pick comes back around to you. This isn’t fantasy football. This was a guy Reid and Roseman specifically targeted prior to the draft and when the time came, they pulled the trigger. I say good move.

The Curtis Marsh pick proves the Birds are not done yet. Of all the picks in this year’s draft, the only one I’m willing to admit defeat on is the 3rd round selection of Marsh, a 6’1” 193 pound cornerback out of Utah State. Originally recruited as a running back, the Aggie played only one season at corner for Utah, totaling 32 tackles, one interception, and one blocked kick. He will obviously be a special teams contributor at first, with the hope that Castillo and cornerbacks coach Johnnie Lynn can utilize his speed and size in the secondary after a year or two of study. I don’t think we needed this guy – in the same way we needed Watkins’ durability on the line and Jarrett’s aggression in the secondary – and in all my research I honestly can’t find a silver lining here. Except maybe this:

In a number of interviews since the draft, Andy Reid and Howie Roseman have repeatedly said they aren’t done yet. They’ve already outlined a specific plan of attack for free agency, if and when it comes, and by not going after a stud corner like Jimmy Smith in the first or moving up for a Prince or a Patrick Peterson, it seems the Eagles are either content with the CB talent they have – which I doubt  – or they want to find a proven defensive back on the open market. I’m not saying Nnamdi – the skies of the NFL labor situation and free agent availability are just too cloudy at the moment to talk specifics – but it’s pretty clear that if Reid and Roseman have a chance to pick him up, they certainly will. We have the cap room – if there is a cap this year – and the bankroll to bring him in, and we have high-caliber, expendable talent to trade away if the need arises. Regardless of who we go after, I think the Marsh pick is a pretty clear sign that the offseason has really just begun, and Eagle fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

Casey Matthews might be the steal of the draft. More than one analyst has already posited the idea that if this 6’1”, 231 pound linebacker’s last name wasn’t Matthews, he wouldn’t be in the situation he’s now in. Bull. Matthews was the defensive signal caller for last year’s undefeated Oregon Ducks, a team that barely lost the national title to #1 ranked Auburn in the BCS Championship Game. Matthews made more than a dozen huge plays in that game, the best of which included chasing Cam Newton down from behind – not easy to do – diving at the last second and punching the ball out of his arm, forcing a huge turnover that led to a game-tying score late in the 4th quarter. Those are the kind of plays that help win championships, and Matthews is the kind of player who wants, more than anything, to be a champion.

This pick continued pn a theme in this year’s draft: the selection of team leaders, captains, intelligent, high-caliber guys who want to have their number called when the game is on the line. Reid has a history of scouting for more than just raw talent – in a way, he is the anti-Al Davis. He wants guys with attitude – like Desean Jackson – or leadership qualities – like Kevin Kolb. He wants guys with a high motor – like Jamar Chaney – or durability – like Trent Cole. 2011 was no different. All of these guys, from the top to the bottom, have intangible character traits that separate them from the pack, and time will tell if it all pans out like Reid and Roseman hope. But Matthews – more than anyone else – has a chance to be a big-time playmaker, a versatile signal-calling linebacker who might, at some point in the near future, give Stewart Bradley a run for his money. Love this pick.

Alex Henery was the most talented player in this year’s draft. Enough said. Henery might actually be the greatest kicker of all time. Watch his videos, they’re ridiculous. Veins made of solid ice, a leg to rival anyone in the NFL, and scary, scary accurate. Oh, and he’s a pretty good punter too. If you hear anyone balking at the fact that the Eagles took a “kicker in the fourth round,” tell him Bill Belichick took a kicker – Steve Gostkowski – even earlier than we did in 2006, and that guy wasn’t anywhere near as good as Henery. Then smile and walk away, knowing someday you might beat that guy’s team with a last-second, game-winning 57-yard field goal, while their fourth-round linebacker from the 2011 draft sells TVs at the mall back home in Tumbleweed, Kansas.

Dion Lewis broke most of LeSean McCoy’s records at Pitt. And now he’s coming to join his fellow Panther in the Philadelphia backfield. Once Lewis improves his blocking technique, which he will, this could be a seriously dangerous one-two punch on game day. Forget what you hear about them being too similar in style or build to “effectively compliment each other,” whatever that means. We have two good running backs (three if we decide to keep Harrison) who can catch the ball and hurt people in the open field. Another awesome pick.

And on and on. I’ll save you the trouble of going through the rest of the 2011 draft selections, as there is honestly too little info on any of them right now to make an informed decision one way or the other. Vandervelde and Kelce are relatively small O-linemen, but mobile enough to get downfield ahead of Vick. Rolle is a promising linebacker who has a good chance of being this year’s Chaney. Greg Lloyd is a lineage player – like Matthews – who was raised in a football family and is capable of starting someday, but will need an extraordinary amount of coaching and studying to reach that point. Then, oddly, with the last pick in the draft Reid found Stanley Havili, a fullback who at times looks like a running back and at others looks like a wide receiver. This guy is seriously impressive. I never thought Weaver’s job would be in jeopardy – at least not this year – but let’s just say he better bring his A-game to training camp. Havili is for real.

Alright then. To recap: the Eagles once again drafted a busload of players – eleven in total – some of whom will most likely start day one and others who will have an impact on special teams while they practice, study, and wait their turn. One or two are up for debate, but on the whole I can’t find a whole lot to complain about in this draft class. We addressed some needs, we added depth to a number of positions, and we freed ourselves up to make some possibly exciting – and possibly painful – free agent maneuvers in the weeks and months ahead. We even stockpiled an extra fourth round pick for next year.

But this is the Eagles. It is physically impossible to make every fan happy all of the time. For every hopeful optimist like myself, there will always be a guy with spiked shoulder pads and green face paint screaming “BOOO! BOOO!” from the mezzanine at the top of his lungs. I know this is true, because I actually got to meet him in person on Thursday night. At first, I was horrified. I couldn’t understand how someone could possibly make the decision to walk the streets of New York like thhat. He was crazy, I thought, a full on psychotic who should be removed from the building at once. But, as I often do with things I don’t understand, I gave him a chance. We had a couple beers, we talked for a while, and after a hour or two I began to understand what he was thinking, where he was coming from. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his choices, but he’d been doing them for so long – 12 years, to be exact – that I couldn’t necessarily disagree with them either. They’d gotten him this far, I thought. Let’s see where he’s going with this.

Philadelphia Eagles 2011 Draft Order

Round 1 – 23 (23) OG Danny Watkins, Baylor

Round 2 – 22 (54) S Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple

Round 3 – 26 (90) CB Curtin Marsh, Utah State

Round 4 – 19 (116) LB Casey Matthews Oregon

Round 4 – 23 (120) K Alex Henery, Nebraska

Round 5 – 18 (149) RB Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

Round 5 – 30 (161) OG Julian Vandervelde, Iowa

Round 6 – 26 (191) C Jason Kelce, Cincinnati

Round 6 – 28 (193) LB Brian Rolle, Ohio State

Round 7 – 34 (237) LB Greg Lloyd Jr., Connecticut

Round 7 – 37 (249) FB Stanley Havili, USC

Picked up 4th Round pick in 2012 from Tampa Bay for moving down 12 spots in fourth round