Only two-and-a-half weeks removed from the 2012 NFL Draft, the most intriguing storyline for Philadelphia Eagles fans should be the futures of their late-round selections.
What the team will get out of its early-round picks seems somewhat decided. First-round pick Fletcher Cox seems poised to be an excellent run stuffer in this league, Mychal Kendricks will be an athletic outside linebacker who will cover the length of the field well, and Vinny Curry will be a nice addition to the defensive end rotation.
The thing fans don’t know, however, is how their fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-round picks will hold up. How will Marvin McNutt hold up in the Eagles’ offense? Is Dennis Kelly a capable backup in the case that Demetress Bell or Todd Herremans is hurt?
Head coach Andy Reid has been pretty successful when it comes to using his later picks successfully. He’s always had the ability to separate talent from potential in those rounds, and for those reasons I am confident about this year’s crop as well.
With all that being said, let’s take a look at Andy Reid’s best late-round picks over the last 13 years.
Honorable Mention: King Dunlap (2008: Round 7, Pick 230)
Philadelphia’s last selection of the 2008 NFL Draft, Dunlap has played in 28 games and started seven in his Eagles career. His contract expired at the end of last season, but he was recently re-signed to a one-year deal following the reports that starting left tackle Jason Peters had been lost to an Achilles tear.
Somewhat undervalued as a reserve linemen, Dunlap has played well when given the opportunity. After struggling early in 2010 trying to replace Peters and Winston Justice, he showed serious improvement late in the season and carried his success over into 2011.
Considered one of the top offensive line prospects prior to his senior season, Dunlap struggled in his final year with Auburn. He fell to the seventh round, where the Eagles picked up a decent, NFL-caliber backup offensive lineman.
10. A.J. Feeley (2001: Round 5, Pick 155)
The sixth pick for the Eagles in the 2001 NFL Draft and an Oregon product, Feeley has been a serviceable reserve signal-caller for his entire NFL career. He’s played in six different seasons for five different teams during his 11-year career, most notably with the Eagles for four years.
Feeley went 4-1 as a starter in 2002, taking over for the injured Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer. This run got the Eagles into the playoffs easily, even though fans saw Feeley’s insertion as a possible threat to the team’s chances.
After leaving the Eagles for Miami and then San Diego, Feeley returned to Philadelphia in 2006 and won a meaningless regular-season finale as Jeff Garcia was resting.
In 2007, he lost two very close games to the Seahawks and Patriots, the latter being a three-point heartbreaker to an undefeated team.
As an Eagle, Feeley has started 11 games and thrown for 2,177 yards with a 58.57 completion percentage. A capable backup whenever Donovan McNabb was hurt, Feeley was definitely a smart pick by Andy Reid in the fifth round.
9. Riley Cooper (2001: Round 5, Pick 159)
Cooper, the Eagles’ ninth pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, has played in 29 games over two seasons for the Eagles. A big target, he’s always been the Eagles’ fourth receiving option behind DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
Cooper makes nice grabs by extending farther than defensive backs and runs good routes as well. Unfortunately, for a big guy like Cooper, he has suspect hands and doesn’t really have breakaway speed to boot.
He has been a good, consistent fourth option for the Eagles, grabbing 16 balls for an impressive 315 yards in 2011. Cooper would be a third option on most other teams, but he could lose his job to recent draft pick Marvin McNutt during training camp.
If he does keep it, Cooper will only continue to pay dividends for the Eagles in the future.
8. Brian Rolle (2011: Round 6, Pick 193)
An Ohio State product, Rolle was the ninth Eagles selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
As a rookie, Rolle split time at weak-side OLB with Keenan Clayton and Casey Matthews, playing in all 16 games and starting nine. Rolle recorded 54 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Rolle was very unpredictable, stuffing runs and delivering big hits one play, and then missing assignments the next. He has a ton of potential because he has a nose for the ball and a knack for making plays. Unfortunately, he’ll need to work diligently on improving his field awareness and learning the playbook as he develops in the Eagles defense.
In short, the jury is still out on Rolle, but he has the potential to be quite the steal for a sixth-round pick.
7. Moise Fokou (2009: Round 7, Pick 230)
As the Eagles’ last pick in 2009, Fokou not only made the team—a feat rare for seventh-rounders—but he also has started in more than a dozen games and made a difference in several key games for the Birds as well.
In each of his first two seasons, Fokou played in all 16 games and started two or three. He recorded a combined 90 tackles in those two seasons, including a 10-tackle performance against the Giants during the “Miracle at the New Meadowlands.”
Fokou won the starting job late in 2010 and started all 11 games at strong-side linebacker until he was injured in a loss against New England. He then missed the rest of the season.
Fokou is one of the most underrated players on the team, staying home on outside plays, taking good angles and stuffing the run well. His only weakness is in the passing game, but other than that, he’s proven to be worth a third- or fourth-round selection in the NFL.
With the signing of DeMeco Ryans, Fokou will now have to rotate/compete with both Akeem Jordanand Casey Matthews, meaning that his number of snaps could be limited. If he continues to play somewhat well, however, Fokou could be quite the pickup at No. 230.
6. Omar Gaither (2006: Round 5, Pick 168)
Gaither, Philadelphia’s second-to-last pick of the 2006 draft out of Tennessee, played in 77 games and started 37 with the team before being signed by the Carolina Panthers last season.
Omar has played both the weak-side (“WILL”) linebacker position as well as middle linebacker. He started out in 2006 playing in a reserve role behind Matt McCoy, but took over the starting job at outside linebacker late in the year. After the Eagles released Jeremiah Trotter prior to the 2007 season, Gaither started all 16 games at middle linebacker and led the team in tackles (102) and hurries (14).
Gaither started 11 games at outside linebacker in 2008, but was benched in favor of Akeem Jordan later in the season. He then played some games at middle linebacker over the next two seasons, but wasn’t much of a factor.
He was signed before the 2011 season by the Carolina Panthers and played in 10 games.
One of the more accomplished linebackers of the Andy Reid era, this is a late-round pick the Eagles won’t regret.
5. Kurt Coleman (2010: Round 7, Pick 224)
Coleman, an Ohio State product, was the 13th and final selection for the Eagles in the 2010 draft. After a year of playing behind Quintin Mikell at strong safety, Coleman took over the starting job in 2011 as Mikell departed for Saint Louis.
Coleman recorded an impressive 78 tackles, a forced fumble and four interceptions last season. He had four different double-digit-tackle performances and a three-interception game against Washington in Week 5.
Coleman is a ball-hawk, a decent man-to-man pass defender and an average run-stuffer. He makes plenty of tackles in the defensive backfield, but usually struggles to get off the blocks of tight ends to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. If he wants to keep his job over Temple product Jaiquawn Jarrett, he’ll need to improve his pursuit and finishing ability in the run game.
Even with that, though, this pick certainly was worth it. The Eagles gave up one of the last picks of the draft to grab a safety who could start for them over most of his career. If he continues to develop, Coleman could be No. 2 or No. 3 on this list; even so, it is worth giving the Eagles front office kudos.
4. Jason Kelce (2011: Round 6, Pick 191)
One of the more underappreciated players on the entire squad, Kelce was the Eagles’ eighth pick of last year’s draft out of the University of Cincinnati.
Drafted in the late rounds to simply be an emergency backup plan at the center position, Kelce found himself in a starter’s role, as new offensive line coach Howard Mudd showed his inclination toward smaller, quicker linemen. Veteran Jamaal Jackson simply couldn’t match Kelce’s ability to get out in the open field and make blocks, so he took a backseat during training camp and was released shortly after the season ended.
Kelce started all 16 games for the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” and, like the rest of the offensive line, played extremely well compared to expectations. He, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Jason Peters and fellow rookie Danny Watkins formed one of the best lines in the NFL.
Kelce did an excellent job blanketing nose tackles such as Jay Ratliff, Matt Toeaina, Sione Pouha, Isaac Sopoaga and Vince Wilfork. Some, including Ray Didinger, believe that Kelce was snubbed from a Pro Bowl nod because of his ability to hold off nose tackles, and then get out into space and keep tacklers away from LeSean McCoy.
Whatever the case may be, Kelce certainly outperformed his draft pick number and could be a fixture on Mudd’s O-line for years to come.
3. Jamar Chaney (2010: Round 7, Pick 220)
Drafted only 23 picks ahead of Kurt Coleman, Jamar Chaney out of Mississippi State—the same college 2012 first-round selection Fletcher Cox attended—was the Eagles’ 11th pick in 2010.
After spending much of his time as a rookie in a reserve outside linebacker role, Chaney got the start in Week 15 at middle linebacker when starter Stewart Bradley was lost to an injury in Week 14. Chaney had a breakout season in 2011 statistically, recording 92 tackles, three interceptions, eight passes defended and four runs stuffed.
Chaney’s speed and pass defense ability make him a suitable candidate to play weak-side linebacker, but a lack of middle linebacker talent forced him into that role last year. Chaney was good enough to keep his job, but his inability to get off of roaming blockers was a problem in the run game. The addition of DeMeco Ryans, however, will mean that Chaney moves back to his WILL spot once again.
For a seventh-round pick, he’s proven to be an excellent linebacker and could flourish once again in 2012.
2. Brent Celek (2007: Round 5, Pick 162)
Not many could envision him going as a fifth-round pick anymore, but in 2007, the Eagles selected Brent Celek in the fifth round out of Cincinnati.
Boy, has that pick paid off.
After spending much of his rookie and sophomore seasons developing behind former starter L.J. Smith, Celek came into his own as a starter in 2009. He caught a team-high 76 receptions for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, the most receiving yards by an Eagles tight end since Pete Retzlaff in 1965.
Then, Michael Vick arrived in town, and much of the receiving focus shifted to the young receiving corps of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
Celek, who’s been ranked one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL, was used primarily in that role, so his statistics were not as impressive as they were in 2009. He had four different games where he didn’t even see the ball thrown his way.
Celek made big catches when he was called upon to do so, though. During the Miracle at the New Meadowlands in Week 15, Celek started the comeback with a 65-yard touchdown reception from Vick to cut the lead to 31-17.
In his fifth year as an NFL tight end, Celek finally made the transition to a two-way player. Instead of only playing the game one way one year—whether it be pass-catching or blocking—Brent was able to do both extremely well in 2011. Not only did he catch 62 balls for 811 yards but he again was one of the league leaders in blocking among tight ends.
Not only did the Eagles get another threat to add to their ever-growing arsenal with that late-round selection, they added another body to make room for Shady McCoy as well. They got as much bang for their buck as they could have ever dreamed for.
1. Trent Cole (2005: Round 5, Pick 146)
If Eagles fans think Celek was the steal of the 2000s for Andy Reid, then they overlooked two-time Pro Bowler and 2009 All-Pro defensive end Trent Cole, who was also drafted out of Cincinnati in the fifth round.
Who knew the Bearcats had so many sleepers in the fifth and sixth rounds?
Not only has Cole been one of the leaders of Jim Johnson/Sean McDermott/Juan Castillo’s defense but he has also been one of the most feared pass-rushing threats in the NFL since he entered the league in 2005. In seven extremely productive seasons, Cole has amassed some jaw-dropping numbers: 421 tackles, 68 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 42 runs stuffed.
Cole has kept the starting job since Week 10 of his rookie season, meaning he has started 98 games as an Eagle.
And he has always been one for consistency, playing both the pass and the run.
For years Cole was the only competent end on the roster, meaning he constantly lined up only to face double- or even triple-teams from opposing offensive lines. And what did Cole do? He drew attention away from his teammates to allow them to make plays as well.
That is the true sign of greatness—being able to make an impact on the game without making a direct impact on the stat sheet.