When it comes to making a lot out of a little, no one can touch the NFL. We’re not quite talking loaves and fishes here, but any organization that can get people to tune in to three hours of programming surrounding the release of its 2012 schedule has some serious magical powers.
This week, the latest bit of NFL wizardry will be on display as millions devote three days to the annual football holiday season known as the Draft. From the minute Roger Goodell calls things to order Thursday night until the selection of Mr. Irrelevant, fans will be treated–subjected?–to a total of 16 hours of programming designed to convince them that their team is headed to the Super Bowl, simply because a sixth-round pick has good ankle flexion. When it comes to promotion, the WWE has nothing on the NFL. Then again, maybe Goodell and Vince McMahon are working together.
Whatever the case, Eagles fans will be anxiously awaiting and breathlessly analyzing the performance of Al Haig, er, Andy Reid and his loyal subordinate, Howie Roseman. It promises to be a dynamite three days of action for the folks in Midnight Green. Expect Reid to trade up, down and sideways, accumulating picks in the hope of grabbing the next Trevard Lindley.
Just don’t expect too many future stars–but not for the reason you suspect. Saying Reid’s Draft success has been spotty is a compliment. The man is clearly no Ron Wolf, Bill Polian or even Howie Mandel when it comes to choosing talent. But if the Eagles fail to mine future diamonds this week, it won’t be due to myopic evaluation by Reid and his supporting cast. It will happen because the Eagles are focusing on winning in 2012, and they don’t have time to wait for this year’s crop to develop. They need depth and people who can contribute right away. Hoping a third-round pick can make a difference in two years isn’t wise right now. The Birds have to get NFL-ready talent and plenty of it.
Pretend you are Andy Reid and look at the Eagle depth chart. There are maybe two jobs open–safety and defensive tackle. (Again, you are Andy Reid, not a more objective evaluator.) The latter spot is available only if Mike Patterson doesn’t recover completely from off-season brain surgery. Say what you want about Nate Allen, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Danny Watkins, but they are likely entrenched in their roles, at least in Reid’s world. That leaves Jaiquawn Jarrett’s position and perhaps Patterson’s available. The team’s off-season signings show that Reid loves his guys. He thinks the team that finished 8-8 last year and won its last four is ready to reach the post-season. And, as the Giants showed us in 2011, and the Packers proved in ’10, once you are there, anything can happen.
So, this Draft will be about fortifying the depth chart. Don’t be surprised if Reid takes an offensive lineman in the first round. Though the Birds signed Demetress Bell to replace Jason Peters (Achilles tear), Bell is hardly a stalwart. It may be necessary to move Todd Herremans outside, opening a spot for, say, rugged guard David DiCastro from Stanford. If not him first, Reid will take at least one O-lineman (and probably more) later on, because Viscount Dunlap just isn’t good enough in reserve. And even if Bell starts the whole year, it’s rare that five offensive linemen play 16 games apiece. The Eagles need security along the front line.
Even if Patterson is deemed healthy and ready to go, the Eagles must fortify their tackle rotation, even with the signing of Derek Landri. Right now, they lack a run-stuffing bulwark, so it’s possible Michael Brockers or Combine star Dontari Poe (beware of his low motor) could be a choice. If not, expect the Birds to take a lesser-known tackle at some point down the line. Again, the goal is not to find a starter; it’s about numbers.
We know the Eagles needs a safety. Jarrett was a ridiculous reach last year and is not good enough to start for a championship team. If the Eagles are going to take a starter in the draft, then Alabama’s Mark Barron is the choice at 15th overall. He has good ball skills and would be able to join the first unit from game one.
The Birds need to grab a linebacker or two, if only to make their special teams more effective. Like most media members, I have been mystified at Reid’s unwillingness to choose someone at this position group in the first round. For years, I believed it was because he didn’t value linebackers highly enough to pass on standouts like Jerome McDougle or Fred-X and take one. But this week brought a little bit of information that perhaps explains Reid’s strategy. Legendary NFL talent evaluator Gil Brandt pointed out that six linebackers were chosen in the top 10 of drafts from 2001-10. One made the Pro Bowl. One. Though the Eagles haven’t had a pick that high since 2000 (DT Corey Simon, sixth), perhaps Reid thinks it unwise to risk a first-rounder on an LB. Whatever his reasoning, don’t expect to see Boston College’s Luke Kuechly in town.
Which leaves quarterback. It would be a shock if Reid traded up to grab Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, who made only 19 starts during his collegiate career. It just doesn’t fit his profile. The Eagles could well pick someone in the second round for the post-Michael Vick Era, which could come as early as 2013 if Vick doesn’t wise up and start reading defenses, instead of trying to “make plays.” But Reid’s not heading north to grab a project when he can find someone who will play in 2012.
Reid needs players now. No matter how much power he reportedly has, he must win this year or it could be impossible for owner Jeffrey Lurie to keep him around. Enjoy the Draft madness but don’t expect the Eagles to make many sexy picks. Depth doesn’t make headlines, but it does contribute to championships.
- The Phillies have a dreadful .283 on-base percentage (third-worst in the Majors) and a mere 27 extra-base hits, ahead of only pathetic Pittsburgh. With only 10% of the season gone, it’s unwise to panic, but it’s clear this team has been poorly constructed, and waiting for players like Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix and a clearly shot Jim Thome to come around smacks of the same hope-and-a-prayer philosophy that prevailed in the late ‘90s. The Phils have scored two or fewer runs in five of the last six games and had better snap out of it over the next two weeks, or they could be 10 games back by May 6.
- The best part of the Flyers’ win Sunday–other than starting Sidney Crosby’s off-season very early–is that the team played tighter in the defensive end. Though they still attacked the net with abandon, they stopped playing fastbreak hockey and kept the Pens under control. It’s still a bit disconcerting to see the team’s trouble in five-on-five situations, but the improvement Sunday (and, for the most part, Friday) is encouraging.
- So, Lou Williams wants out of Sixerland, does he? Well, let me pack his bags. There is nobody on the roster who can be considered irreplaceable, so let Williams go, if he wants. Come to think of it, say good-bye to Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday, too. Mediocrity is an NBA curse, and the Sixers are the very definition of the word. Another first-round playoff exit and middle-of-the-pack selection in a draft that includes few sure-fire starters isn’t a recipe for contention. The problem is not Doug Collins. It’s the roster. And if Williams wants out, let him sign with Toronto or Charlotte and see what misery is really like.