Every Philadelphia Eagles fan, whether they liked every selection or not, was simply overjoyed by the overall choices Andy Reid and the front office made during the 2012 NFL Draft.
Not only were there value picks in guys like Fletcher Cox, Nick Foles and Marvin McNutt, but the team finally drafted positions that had been left out to dry for a decade: linebacker and kick returner.
Now that the rookie minicamp and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are over, it seems fitting to look back at the last month and revisit April’s draft.
*N.B. The “regrading” part is based off of Randy Jobst’s post-draft grades in April. Compare those to mine and see where the rookies stand!
1st Round, Pick 12: DT Fletcher Cox
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to grab defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round of this year’s draft, the general consensus among uninformed viewers was the following: “This is Brandon Graham all over again.”
For informed fans, it was a move that brought joy and jubilation.
Cox has done nothing to deny fans their happiness, impressing everyone at the rookie minicamp and then working hard on his technique and fitness at OTAs these past few weeks.
Apparently the rookie has been working closely with defensive coach Jim Washburn and said the following about his transition to the NFL:
Sometimes where I started from [at Mississippi St], we played with a tilt and we didn’t play in a three-point stance. There are just a few things that I’m learning like not playing with a tilt and not getting reached.
According to Cox, he’s getting a lot of help from veterans as well, including Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins.
Cox was brought in to play the under tackle position in the Eagles’ wide-9 scheme, where he will be responsible for exploding through the right guard on passing plays and eating up his man on rushing plays. Cox has shown great explosiveness, power and intellect thus far and seems to be an even better fit for the Eagles going forward than once thought.
In fact, he’ll make an impact right away as he’s inserted into the UT rotation.
2nd Round, Pick 46: LB Mychal Kendricks
The Eagles drafted for need in the second round, but that didn’t mean they weren’t thinking about value as well.
Mychal Kendricks was predicted by many experts to go in the first round or early in the second round, but Andy Reid was fortunate enough to have the California product fall right into his hands at No. 46.
Like Cox, Kendricks has been turning heads since he entered the rookie minicamp in mid-May. Not only has he shown great improvements in coverage, pass-rushing and overall explosiveness, but he’s done so well at the drills put in front of him that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has reportedly installed Kendricks as the starting strong-side linebacker.
Just think about that. The linebacker position—fueled by the additions of Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans—has gone from a glaring weakness in 2011 to a foreseeable strength this season.
Not only will Kendricks provide athleticism and big-play ability, but he’s shown a knack for playing the strong-side before in college and will allow Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle to play the more suitable position of weak-side linebacker.
2nd Round, Pick 59: DE Vinny Curry
Of all the Eagles’ draft picks, Vinny Curry entered the rookie minicamp with the most questions.
He played extremely well in college but was the competition good enough at mid-sized Marshall? He was an elite pass-rusher, but could he improve in the run game? He’s big and powerful, but is he agile enough to beat NFL linemen?
The results have been mixed at OTAs.
Curry showed great quickness on several plays where he beat Dennis Kelly using the swim move and then just a speed-edge rush, while on others—King Dunlap and Todd Herremans—he was completely shut down.
Then Curry sprained his ankle trying the “bull rush” against D.J. Jones.
That injury may cost the Eagles some practices next season due to the “live contact” law instituted by the NFL this season. What this means for Curry himself is that he will need spend several weeks recovering and could see a speed decrease when he comes back.
Hopefully Curry can continue to improve his rush defense, but for now, it looks like his strengths lie completely in pass-rushing, and he won’t be as productive in 2012 as initially expected. Even so, his ceiling is really high—he’s been called a “raw version of Jason Pierre-Paul”—and as such, it’s hard to grade him harsher than I have.
3rd Round, Pick 88: QB Nick Foles
Among all of Philadelphia’s draft picks, I think the decision to select a quarterback as early as the third round was the most surprising to fans; it shocked even those who believed that the Eagles needed to draft a quarterback later in the draft, such as Michigan State product Kirk Cousins.
Foles made something out of nothing in his senior season at Arizona, throwing for 4,329 yards and 28 touchdowns with very little help from those around him. He even completed 69.1 percent of his passes.
The transition to a very talented NFL team hasn’t made things any easier for the 23-year-old. Foles has been working hand-in-hand with the other two backup QB candidates, Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards and hasn’t really been in an advantageous position.
Kafka knows the offense inside-and-out; he’s been on the team for two years now and has worked with the headset for a lot of that time.
In addition, he’s come to OTAs fully prepared. Not only is his arm stronger and more accurate, but he seems in better physical shape than last season.
Foles, however, hasn’t backed down from the challenge.
Since he was signed to a four-year deal three weeks ago, the rookie has looked pretty good. He’s shown off his NFL-ready arm, his natural quarterbacking instincts and his overall athleticism. Whether he wins the No. 2 job this year or not, Foles looks poised to be one of Andy Reid’s better projects and the Eagles’ quarterback of the future.
Let’s just hope he can work on his deep-ball accuracy and not end up like Kevin Kolb.
4th Round, Pick 123: CB/KR Brandon Boykin
The Eagles brought in Georgia product Brandon Boykin for two reasons: to replace Joselio Hanson as the every-down slot corner and return kicks.
People loved this pick because even if Boykin bombed out as a cornerback, he was still a much better, more athletic option at kick returner than anyone the Eagles had at the moment.
So far, Boykin hasn’t disappointed one bit.
Including this performance documented by Eagles beat reporter Jeff McLane, the youngster has been excellent in coverage. People were concerned about his height at the NFL level, but since he’s been converted into a slot corner that won’t be an issue.
Three things are required from a prototypical slot corner: physicality, speed and a willingness to tackle. Boykin has all three, and they’ve been on full display throughout this offseason.
Boykin may not win the job outright from Joselio Hanson this season, but that doesn’t really matter.
Since more and more teams are running four wide receiver sets nowadays, especially ones with two slot receivers, both guys will make the roster and play a bunch of snaps. This means development and improvement for a young kid who’s ceiling may be higher than the stars.
5th Round, Pick 153: OT Dennis Kelly
The Eagles knew Dennis Kelly would be a project at left tackle. If they didn’t have Demetress Bell, Todd Herremans and King Dunlap at the tackle position, they probably wouldn’t have made the selection in the first place.
As it turned out, they did. And now they also have the backup-caliber D.J. Jones, whose refined his skills while spending a couple years on three different practice squads.
Kelly hasn’t exactly been great this offseason, as he’s shown how much he needs to grow to become a starter in this league. Not only has he been shown up by Brandon Graham, Curry and Trent Cole, but Howard Mudd seems to be of the opinion that Kelly is much too stiff.
He just isn’t engaging with the linemen or providing much resistance even with his athleticism.
The scary thing about this pick is that Kelly might not even make the roster. With Dunlap and Jones as capable backups and Jason Peters returning later in the season, it’s likely that the Eagles won’t have room for him unless he shows them that he has some sort of immediate value.
6th Round, Pick 194: WR Marvin McNutt
Of all the late-round selections (meaning fifth- through seventh-round picks), the one I liked the most originally was picking Iowa receiver Marvin McNutt in the sixth round.
McNutt was a bright spot in a pitiful Iowa offense his senior season (similar to Nick Foles). He made something out of very little, and that is the reason the Eagles were interested in the receiver from the beginning.
According to a report by Matt Lombardo, the Eagles’ rookie’s hands were like glue during OTAs. He caught a couple of beautiful deep balls, fought with corners for mid-range passes and ran routes as gracefully and well as he did in college.
McNutt may not become the Eagles’ third wide receiver in 2012 because Jason Avant seems to have the advantage as a slot guy, but he certainly will beat out veteran Riley Cooper for the outside spot and make an impact right away.
6th Round, Pick 200: OG Brandon Washington
Brandon Washington was drafted as another project for the legendary Howard Mudd and to add depth to an interior line position featuring youngsters Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins.
Similarly to Kelly, Washington has the physical attributes but not the technique to be a decent NFL player. Unlike Kelly, Washington has shown vast improvement under Mudd’s tutelage and seems to be learning the ropes better than anyone on the line.
If he can keep it up, Washington will be the first backup at both guard spots in 2012 and possibly get some reps if either Mathis or Watkins goes down. His footwork seems like the biggest obstacle, but Eagles coaches are confident that he can really improve his stuff within two or three years when he’ll first be needed to produce.
Let’s just hope he doesn’t fall flat on his face, or it’ll likely be 0 for 2 on offensive linemen this April.
7th Round, Pick 229: RB Bryce Brown
The Eagles took a risk with their seventh-round pick, but then again, that’s what the later rounds are for.
Bryce Brown was the most highly-touted back coming out of high school, even higher than Trent Richardson, Doug Martin and Lamar Miller. His unwillingness to play college football with any sort of a high-level commitment left him low on a lot of draft boards.
Whatever the situation was in college, it seems that Brown is back into it with an NFL paycheck on the line.
He brings the rare blend of speed and power that is only found in special running backs like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. If the 220-pound back can run like he did at his pro day consistently, the Eagles will have the most complete backfield in the NFL.
All reports from OTAs are that Brown is performing as expected; and by “as expected”, I mean that he’s playing more like a second-round pick than a seventh-round one. Seeing the low value that teams usually get out of seventh-round picks, I’d say the Eagles might’ve struck gold—well, maybe silver—with this one.
Unless of course attitude problems resurface and the Eagles have a problem on their hands. Let’s hope they don’t.
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