Archive for May, 2014

drewA year ago, the Boston Red Sox were among the best teams in baseball against right handed pitching. At 66-33, the Sox delivered the goods against righty starters during their storybook championship season. Three key reasons for that success are now gone; that being the incredible production from the left side of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew. The latter two have moved on to moderate success with new franchises. But, Drew remains unsigned; partly due to the qualifying offer Boston extended towards the free agent last fall, and partly because of agent Scott Boras’ own stubbornness. One thing is for sure, the Red Sox could use his production.

At 10-19 vs. RH starters in 2014, Boston is quickly seeing their championship memories devolve into dust. The Sox, fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, are 20-23 overall. The pitching has been solid, as Boston has gotten exactly what they expected out of Jon Lester and John Lackey, while Jake Peavy has performed above expectations for the most part this spring.

The greatest concern on Yawkey Way is the Boston offense, which managed a measly 3 runs in their weekend series vs. Detroit. Youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. continue to struggle in their debut campaigns at the big league level. Their lack of production, coupled with a drastic void at the top-of-the-lineup, has left Boston’s offense 11th in the American League in runs scored. Boston lost three tremendous talents against righthanders this offseason. This is only important when one considers that 2/3 of all MLB pitchers are right handed. One is still available. That’s why Boston has no choice but to re-approach Boras about his client, Stephen Drew.

For Boston, signing Drew would be advantageous on multiple levels. First, it would provide them with offense from the left side of the infield. Drew can play both third and short, so a signing of the 31-year old wouldn’t necessarily hinder the development of Bogaerts, who can also field either position (though neither as well as Drew). Will “Mr. Jenny Dell” Middlebrooks, meanwhile, is struggling to hit his own weight, as his .197-2-9 line resembles Nick Punto’s prime stats more than an impact middle-of-the-order bat. Bogaerts and Middlebrooks have played a combined 62 games this year and put together a cumulative line of .245-4-16 that makes Julio Lugo’s Red Sox numbers look Ruthian.

Even more important than his fielding prowess or his ability to hit more consistently than Mr. Dell is Drew’s approach from the left side of the plate against righties. A year ago, Drew hit .284-9-48 against righties with an .876 OPS. By comparison, the drew2entire 2014 Red Sox’s roster has combined to hit .240-22-109 in 1017 AB against righties for a pathetic .686 OPS. 1017 AB is about double the amount of AB a player receives in a standard 162 game season. That means that, if the Red Sox’s lineup was a single player, he would be hitting .240-11-59 over the course of an entire season. Not exactly a world championship type of performance from the boys at Fenway.

There’s really no reason not to approach Drew at this point. The Sox wouldn’t have to relinquish a draft pick, as they were the team to provide him with the qualifying offer last fall. It’s also not as though they have anyone blocking his way, as Middlebrooks and Bogaerts haven’t done nearly enough at the MLB level to earn the mile-long leash they’re chained to.

In the end, the only obstacle standing between Drew and a reunion with the Red Sox may be greed. But, with a franchise worth over $1.5 billion and an owner willing to make it rain for foreign football franchises; the only excuse the Red Sox have at this point, like a teenage drama queen, is a refusal to admit that they were wrong.

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“In Soviet Russia, puck shoots you…”

gusFormer Flyers’ defenseman Erik Gustafsson won’t have to worry much about that. But, the veteran Swede is taking his talents overseas, reportedly signing a contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League).

There were times during Gustafsson’s Flyers career when he took our breath away. The 25-year old scored a key goal in the team’s game six victory over New York last month. An offensively focused defenseman, “Gus” shined as a member of the Swedish Olympic team in Sochi. Now, he’s heading back to Russia to play hockey, this time as a member of Avangard.

Unfortunately, Gustafsson was typically a victim of the dreaded DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coaches Decision). While talented offensively, his defensive deficiencies prevented Craig Berube from turning him into a long term starter in the NHL. It’s pretty clear now that Gustafsson’s best chance to shine might be overseas, where he will be one of the better defensemen in the KHL. Omsk has had their fair share of stars, as Jaromir Jagr skated their ice before returning to the NHL in 2011.

With Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossman, Andrew MacDonald, and Braydon Coburn all under contract for next season, there was only one or two available roster spots for defensemen. Up-and-coming prospects Mark Alt, Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, and Brandon Manning are likely in the mix for those spots. That left Gustafsson on the outside looking in.

A player that showed flashes of brilliance, Gustafsson was just never able to solidify a starting spot in Philadelphia. He appeared in 91 regular season games for the Flyers over parts of four seasons where he recorded six goals and 17 assists. He added another three points (2g-1a) in nine Stanley Cup Playoff games. Now, he’ll try to rebuild his career in Russia, as a teammate other former NHLers like Sergei Kostitsyn, Alexander Frolov, and Mathieu Garon.

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1. 34Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 

It was the pick that had to be made. In a perfect world, Houston would have had a guaranteed franchise QB like Andrew Luck to pick. With no guarantees at the most important offensive position, the Texans snagged the most sure-thing in Clowney. He and JJ Watt rushing from both sides of the line promises to be a more frightening nightmare than showing up at school in your underwear.

Grade: A

2. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

It became clear by early-afternoon on Thursday that St. Louis was asking for too much to seriously consider trading the #2 pick. In the end, they took the player that most believed they would if they stood pat. Robinson came on strong late in the season and continued that rise in the offseason. With Rodger Saffold and Jake Long still under contract, the Rams now have a logjam of capable tackles. Long’s injury likely had a large part in determining this pick. I would have probably taken Sammy Watkins at this pick. But, it’s tough to argue with a bookend tackle.

Grade: B

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Blake Bortles, UCF

The first real surprise of the night came from Jacksonville, who decided that the local kid was the right man for the job. The Jaguars failed to find a franchise QB when they took Blaine Gabbert in the top-10 a few years ago. They’ll now hope that Bortles, who many see reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger, can finally give central Florida a superstar. He’s a big, strong kid and he’s playing close to home. This one could actually work out pretty well for Jacksonville. Khalil Mack would have made sense. But, passing on a potential franchise signal caller when you don’t have one is never a winning strategy.

Grade: B+

4. buf Buffalo Bills (Trade with Cleveland) – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

The Bills were desperate for offensive impact playmakers and Watkins is clearly the best in the draft. Some are comparing him to AJ Green, which seems like lofty expectations. But, Watkins is truly a freak athlete and phenomenal talent. The problem with this pick is that Buffalo had to send Cleveland the #9 pick, a fourth round pick, AND their first rounder next year. For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, that’s a serious risk. The pick itself is an A. The trade, on the other hand, brings the final grade down precipitously.

Grade: C+

5. oak Oakland Raiders – OLB/DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo

For the first time in years, the Oakland Raiders actually had a solid first round. The Black Hole has been synonymous with failed first rounders since the team drafted JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007. Mack should buck the trend. This ferocious freak was considered a better prospect than any player in the draft not named Clowney. Oakland now has a cornerstone defensive player for the first time since Nnamdi Asomugha’s magic potion wore off.

Grade: A+

6. atl Atlanta Falcons – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Atlanta wanted a pass rusher. But, lost out on their chance when Mack went to Oakland. They settled for a guy many considered the best tackle prospect in the entire draft. Matthews has some serious NFL pedigree in his blood and should be a bookend tackle for over a decade. With protecting Matt Ryan an improvement that Atlanta needed to make, they struck gold by finding Matthews waiting in their lap.

Grade: A

7. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The Aggies saw 2 players drafted in the top-10 and neither was named Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football’s favorite target, Mike Evans, saw his draft stock soar over the last month. His solid speed combined with freakish size made him an alluring target for teams looking to boost their passing attack. Tampa lost Mike Williams earlier this offseason, so finding a compliment to Vincent Jackson (who is over 30) was critical. They just did that by grabbing a guy in Evans who reminds most of Jackson himself. Tampa, though, could have used an improvement on the offensive line if they don’t want to get Josh McCown killed.

Grade: B

8. cle Cleveland Browns (Trade with Minnesota) – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Justin Gilbert was considered the second best cornerback in the draft when the college football season ended. A brilliant combine coupled with a similarly mediocre one by Darqueze Dennard shot the former Cowboys’ stock through the roof. Cleveland surprised many by trading up a pick with Minnesota to grab this potential shutdown corner. One thing that is concerning is Gilbert’s tackling ability (or rather inability). But, he can cover as well as anyone in the draft. With Joe Haden on one side, the Browns are clearly making stopping the pass a priority. The only concern is that the Browns had serious needs at wide receiver. But, with such a deep draft in that regard, they could still address that later.

Grade: B-

9. min Minnesota Vikings (Trade with Cleveland) – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

The Vikings were either taking a QB here or going defense. They elected to wait on the signal caller and it was probably a great decision. Barr brings some of the best pass rushing skills of a 4-3 linebacker in this draft. Minnesota is expected to run a scheme that emphasizes a blitzing linebacker and Barr fits the bill. With Jared Allen gone, the Vikes just found their top rusher.

Grade: B+

10. lions8 Detroit Lions – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

I don’t hate Ebron as a prospect. In fact, I think that he’s likely going to be a fantastic vertical weapon in this league. The problem is that Detroit had serious issues on defense both in the linebacker corps and in the secondary (where 11 players were selected in round one). Not addressing that and instead getting another vertical weapon won’t win games. Though, Matt Stafford should probably have another outstanding statistical year. Ebron is also not a blocker. But, Brandon Pettigrew, a first round pick in 2009, remains on the roster to play that role.

Grade: C-

11. ten Tennessee Titans – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Tennessee was viewed as a bit of a wildcard. They could have gone defense or even QB. Instead, the Titans further bolster a position of strength by landing Lewan, who was probably the best player available. Taylor has some off the field issues. But, the Titans weren’t afraid, as their veteran leadership on the line should keep the former Wolverine in line.

Grade: A-

12. giants19 New York Giants – WR Odell Beckham Jr, LSU

New York playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers! The Giants were believed to have interest in either an offensive lineman or a pass rusher. Instead, they throw a curveball and land the fastest receiver in the draft. New York lost Hakeem Nicks this offseason (not that he was productive anyway). So, they found a complimentary deep threat to Victor Cruz in the form of Beckham. Some thought that Beckham would go in the late-teens. But, after Evans went in the top-10, it was clear that the run on receivers was only beginning. A brilliant pick.

Grade: A

13. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Good lord! The Rams’ defensive line resembles the 1985 Bears at this point. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn already in tow, St. Louis adds a ferocious interior presence in Donald. They say football games are won in the trenches, and Jeff Fisher added the best offensive tackle and the best defensive tackle in the draft. That’s some solid drafting in a nutshell.

Grade: A+

14. chi3 Chicago Bears – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

Teams like the Bears, who have run a variation of the Tampa-2 zone defense for years, typically draft by scheme fit. For Fuller, a zone corner with phenomenal tackling skills, this was a perfect fit. The former Hokie may have gone a little bit high with regards to value. But, Chicago desperately needed to improve their secondary after injuries exposed their poor depth in 2013.

Grade: B

15. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

The Steelers really could have used a WR here and if Beckham was still available, they might have taken him. But, one thing we know is that Pittsburgh’s legacy is built on defense and more specifically, their ability to rush the passer. With the likes of James Harrison and LaMaar Woodley now gone, the Steelers needed to replenish a barren cupboard. The value is a little off. But, Shazier promises to be a strategically solid pick.

Grade: B+

16. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – OG/OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

Dallas has now taken offensive linemen with their last two first round picks and it’s hard to argue with their decision based on the importance of that position. Martin was viewed as a guy that could go anywhere from #10 to #20, so landing him at pick 16 is fine value. The problem I have is that Dallas has a lot of holes and not many picks. They could have traded down, still landed a defensive or offensive lineman, and replenished a lot more holes. But, Martin should improve what was a problem position a year ago.

Grade: B-

17. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama

Baltimore needed to find a franchise cornerstone and leader on defense now that Ray Lewis is working for ESPN. Mosley was the consensus #1 inside linebacker in the draft. He doesn’t possess the ferocious demeanor of Lewis. But, there’s little doubting his talent or the pedigree of Alabama linebackers.

Grade: B

18. 20 New York Jets – S Calvin Pryor, Louisville

New York wanted to go defense after spending their free agent finances on offense. It’s hard to argue with Pryor, who epitomizes the hard nosed, rough tackling persona that Rex Ryan covets. Safety was a serious need, and the value is perfect.

Grade: A

19. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee

Miami was stuck between a rock and a hard place here. They needed to draft an offensive lineman after their issues both on and off the field in 2013. But, the rush on tackles early on left them without a real value pick at #19. So, they decided to reach for Ja’Wuan James, a big tackle from Tennessee. James wasn’t considered a top-20 pick by anybody. But, the Dolphins were high on him after a solid offseason workout and interview. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because of the predicament they were in. But, it’s far from a perfect pick.

Grade: B-

20. saints18 New Orleans Saints – WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

The Saints only dealt a 3rd round pick (91st overall) to move up 7 spots and grab the next toy for Drew Brees to utilize. Cooks is electric, almost as much so as Odell Beckham. His ability to make plays in the screen game should alleviate some of the loss of Darren Sproles, as well. This is a great move by the Saints without much of a cost. New Orleans could still use help in the secondary, though.

Grade: B+

21. pack9 Green Bay Packers – S Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

When Nick Collins’ career ended due to injury a few years ago, the Packers lost their playmaking safety. They have now addressed that hole by landing Clinton-Dix, who many believed to be the best safety in this class. When Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010, they had one of the best safety duos in the league with Collins and Charles Woodson. Clinton-Dix should continue that pedigree. This might be one of the best picks in the draft when all is said and done.

Grade: A+

22. cle Cleveland Browns (Trade with Philadelphia) – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Value wise, it’s difficult to argue with grabbing Manziel at 22. Many believed that he would be gone by pick-10, if not first overall. But, Cleveland, who made three trades over the course of the night, sacrificed the 83rd overall pick to move up only 4 spots and land Johnny Football. From a business standpoint, this is a brilliant move. The Browns have already sold over 2000 season tickets in less than 24-hours since his selection and likely will sell out every game this season. Having said that, there’s still a solid chance that Manziel busts out. He’s undersized and plays with reckless abandon, so injuries also will be a problem. The Browns haven’t had a lot of luck at this pick, as both Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden were 22nd overall picks of Cleveland’s. Still, grabbing Manziel at 22 is, on the surface, a solid value and a necessary pick.

Grade: B

23. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – DE Dee Ford, Auburn

What a typical Andy Reid pick. The Chiefs were in desperate need of a playmaking wide receiver to help Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles on offense. So, what does the former Eagles’ coach do? He drafts an undersized, pass rushing defensive end. Reminiscent of his selection of Brandon Graham four years ago, Reid went with his instincts and reached for Ford. Considering the rush on pass rushers that followed, it can’t be considered an F. But, Ford was little more than a mid-2nd round pick until his fantastic Senior Bowl performance. I’m not a fan of workout wonders and I’m even less a fan of All Star game athletes.

Grade: D

24.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

If Andy Dalton can figure out his playoff woes, it won’t be long until Cincinnati is contending for a championship. The Bengals made a solid defense even better by landing Dennard, who was considered a top-12 pick at the end of the season. A poor combine saw his stock drop. But, workouts only show so much. Cincinnati is now poised to repeat as AFC North champions behind their young, talented defense.

Grade: A+

25. cha24  San Diego Chargers – CB Jason Verrett, TCU

There wasn’t a person in coherence that didn’t think San Diego would grab a cornerback at this pick. With Verrett available, it became clear that it would be either he or Bradley Roby at #25. The Chargers opted for the former. In a division with Peyton Manning, the Chargers were desperate for a secondary addition. This is a kid who is perfect in the slot or outside, and covering Wes Welker promises to be his first test in 2014.

Grade: B+

26. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles (Trade with Cleveland) – OLB Marcus Smith, Louisville

The Eagles robbed the Browns by acquiring the 83rd overall pick to move down only four selections. They then surprised many by landing an under-the-radar target in Marcus Smith. The former Louisville DE is a perfect fit for the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme, as his combination of size and quickness lends itself to a pass rushing outside linebacker role. Could Philadelphia have landed Smith, who was second in the country with 14.5 sacks in 2013, a few picks later? Maybe. The Eagles still need to improve their receiving corps and secondary, and landing the second 3rd rounder should help that goal. But, a team with only Trent Cole as a legitimate 3-4 rusher just improved dramatically with one fell swoop.

Grade: B

27. cards22 New Orleans Saints – S Deone Bucannon, Washington State

Find me someone who had Bucannon going this early and then ask him this week’s PowerBall numbers. The former Cougar is far from a finished product. But, one thing that teams love is his hard-hitting ability. Granted, with all the rules and regulations preventing ferocious hits in the NFL, there aren’t many physical safeties left. But, Bucannon promises to be a stellar compliment to Tyrann Mathieu once the latter returns from knee surgery. I just wonder if it was a bit of a reach coupled with poor value in their trade with New Orleans.

Grade: C+

28. panth29 Carolina Panthers – WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

It was no secret that Carolina was desperate for receiver help after losing Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell, and Steve Smith this offseason. The acquisition of Benjamin gives Cam Newton the big target that he’s lacked since being selected first overall in 2011. The only downfall to this pick is that Carolina still has to address their offensive line, which lost Jordan Gross to retirement. Benjamin is a raw product, and his hands have been leaky at times. But, there’s little doubt that he’s a fit in Carolina.

Grade: B+

29. new17 New England Patriots – DT Dominique Easley, Florida

New England sports talk radio is drinking the Belichick Kool-Aid this morning, believing that landing a player once considered to go in the top-10 is a monumental steal. I, on the other hand, disagree. The Patriots have Tom Brady for maybe 4 or 5 more years at best. So, they should be trying to do everything they can to win now. Instead, they take a defensive tackle with two knee surgeries in the last three years, including one that will likely keep him out of action until the Pats are already playing in 2014. How is that helping Brady and Co. win now? There were much more logical selection at this point than risking it with Easley. If the Pats had traded out of the first, grabbed some picks, then took the former Gators’ star, I would have understood this. Instead, it just looks like Bill trying to show that he’s smarter than everyone else. That really worked out with Ras-I Dowling, didn’t it, Bill?

Grade: D+

30. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Here’s another pick that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. San Francisco came into this draft with more picks than anyone else, so trading up to land a secondary player was a legitimate possibility. Instead, the 49ers reached on Ward, a hard hitting safety from Northern Illinois. I don’t hate the player. But, I do hate the decision to stand pat at 30 and then select a safety for the second consecutive year in the first round (Eric Reid). San Francisco remedied my concerns a bit by trading a conditional 4th round draft choice to Buffalo for WR Stevie Johnson today. But, it’s still not a good pick for a team that has made a ton of solid ones in recent years.

Grade: C

31. sanf7 Denver Broncos – CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

Roby was considered to be as talented as Verrett or Fuller. But, his stock took a hit due to character concerns. The good news for Denver is that they don’t care about what might happen with Roby 2 or 3 years down the line. They only care about 2014, when Peyton Manning continues his quest for a second Super Bowl ring. Roby’s talent will certainly be an improvement over the garbage that Denver had playing corner in the Super Bowl. He, along with Aqib Talib, should be a solid duo for a few years.

Grade: B-

32. min Minnesota Vikings (Trade with Seattle) – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The Vikings did what they had to do to end the first round with a bang. Minnesota dealt the 40th overall pick as well as a 4th round pick to move up 8 spots and land their future franchise cornerstone. Bridgewater was considered a possible #1 overall pick as recently as March, so landing him with the last pick of the first round is tremendous value. The Vikings needed some fresh blood at QB and Teddy Ballgame might be the most sure thing out of any of the first round signal callers. Kudos to the former Cardinals’ star for keeping his head up and saying only the right things as teams and prognosticators ripped him for such trivialities as his hand size. This guy isn’t George Costanza, he’s not a hand model. He’s a leader and a quarterback. A very, very solid pick to end round one by the Vikings.

Grade: A+

 

The Secret Weapon?

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

deanthony thomasWith the loss of DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles saw their #1 weapon in the passing game suddenly evaporate from their roster. Love him or hate him, Jackson presented an obstacle for opposing defenses to plan for. That obstacle is no longer here, and Chip Kelly would love to find the perfect replacement at some point in this weekend’s NFL draft. Enter De’Anthony Thomas, a prolific talent who played under the Eagles’ head coach at Oregon.

A diminutive talent, the 5-9 Thomas succeeds despite his modest stature. One aspect of his game that isn’t modest is his elusiveness. Sportsline.com called Thomas the most electric player in the entire 2014 draft. High praise for a player not expected to be drafted until at least the third round. His elusiveness, quickness, and instant acceleration make Thomas a danger to score every time he touches the football.

Other than size, another gripe that talent evaluators have towards Thomas is that he isn’t a fit for most offenses. As a small talent without the size or power to be a feature back and lacking the route running pedigree of other receivers in his class, Thomas is being looked over by most. One team that won’t overlook this youngster is Philadelphia, where he would be a perfect fit in Kelly’s offensive scheme. At Oregon, Thomas thrived thanks to wide splits and up-tempo play calling. He’s a whiz in the screen game and is perhaps the best player in this draft after the ball is put in his hands.

It’s clear that Kelly and the Eagles have a motive to their madness with regards to DeSean Jackson. Perhaps, the possibility of replacing him with a much younger and cheaper Thomas weighed heavily in their minds. One thing is for sure, this superb talent cannot be overlooked if he’s around in the second or third round for Philadelphia. The possibilities are just too perfect to let pass by.

deanthonythomas2

The Lowdown on De’Anthony Thomas:
5-9, 175 lbs.
4.39 in the 40-yard dash
Averaged 7.8 yards per rush at Oregon
Caught 113 passes for 1296 yards and 15 touchdowns at Oregon (3 seasons)
Returned 5 kicks/punts for touchdowns

072813-kelly-roseman-600In just over 24-hours, the NFL draft will commence. Sitting at pick 22, the Philadelphia Eagles will have a few hours to wait until their selection comes up in round one (unless they trade up, of course). After a season that saw Chip Kelly revolutionize the offense, one should not be surprised to see Philadelphia address their beleaguered defense early on. Still, the loss of DeSean Jackson creates a bit of a chasm where the team’s wide receiver depth used to populate. So, addressing the offense is certainly not out of the question.

Like a trap-door spider waiting for its pray, Kelly and GM Howie Roseman will wait, ponder, and peruse their draft board for the perfect value in round one. After sending their fifth round pick to New Orleans for Darren Sproles, the Eagles could certainly look to either trade up or down to improve a roster that still has significant holes. Assuming they stay at 22, here are the top-five positions that the Eagles are likely to address in tomorrow night’s opening round of the NFL Draft:

1. Wide Receiver

After releasing DeSean Jackson in April, the Eagles saw a position that was once considered a strength morph into a significant weak point. Yes, Riley Cooper, fresh contract and all, is a starting caliber target. But, Jeremy Maclin, with his balky knee and one-year contract, is the only other seasoned vet on the roster. The other players on Philadelphia’s roster, including Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn, Jeff Maehl, and Brad Smith, would hardly be considered anything more than organizational filler/special teams contributors.

All of that is evidence as to why the Eagles are highly suspected of selecting a wideout early this weekend. It helps that the 2014 draft class is one of the richest in receiving talent in years. At 22, the Eagles could grab high value picks in Marqise Lee or Odell Beckham. Should they choose to trade up, 6-5 Mike Evans would be a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s scheme. Whether or not one is taken tomorrow night, expect the Eagles to grab a target for Nick Foles at some point in the first three rounds.
Most likely targets: Odell Beckham (LSU), Marqise Lee (USC), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Allen Robinson (Penn State)

2. Pass Rusher

Yes, Trent Cole did surprise with his successful transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013. The veteran, who was drafted by the team all the way back in 2005, recorded 8 sacks to lead the Eagles. But, the long-in-the-toothed pass rusher didn’t get much help. He’s also aging and coupled with a very lucrative contract. Philadelphia would be wise to find someone who can help Cole on the outside in a situational role, before eventually replacing the veteran in a few years. Brandon Graham was thought to be this player when the Eagles snagged him back in 2010. But, he’s not a great fit for the 3-4 and has had difficulties staying on the field.

At 22, the pass rush possibilities will be a bit diluted. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, the best rushers in this class, will be long gone. It’s possible that UCLA OLB Anthony Barr will slide a bit, and he would certainly be a monumental steal if that were the case. More than likely, the Eagles would have to settle on someone like Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Auburn’s Dee Ford, or Missouri’s Kony Ealy. Any of those players would fit in the 20-30 range and all have venerable pass rushing potential.
Most likely targets: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Ryan Shazier (Ohio State), Dee Ford (Auburn), Kony Ealy (Missouri), Jeremiah Attaochu (Oregon State)

3. Safety

Ah, yes. The Eagles’ Kryptonite since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009. The safety position has seen many different faces in midnight green over the last five years. Early draft picks like Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett haven’t turned out very well. Nor have late round value selections like Kurt Coleman. The verdict is still out on Earl Wolff, who had injury problems at times during his rookie season. The team did dip their hands into the free agent grab bag with Malcolm Jenkins. But, he’s hardly a difference maker in the secondary.

If one of the top-two safeties in the draft, Haha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor, fall to 22, it behooves the Eagles not to take them. Their needs at other positions are evident. But, a playmaking safety can make all the difference in today’s NFL. Just ask the New Orleans Saints, who spent $56 million on Jairus Byrd this offseason. If those two aren’t available and the Eagles don’t trade up to grab one of them, it would probably be smart to wait until at least round two or trade down later in round one. Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward is expected to go somewhere between 25 and 40, so he’s a possibility in the event that the latter does occur.
Most likely targets: Haha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)

4. Cornerback

The Eagles don’t have at tremendously pressing need at corner, though many seem to think they do judging by their mock drafts. Yes, the Eagles’ depth at the position could use an influx of talent. But, there’s little doubt that the team could get by with Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, and Brandon Boykin for one more season. The latter is likely the team’s best cover corner, so his position as a playmaker is cemented in stone. Williams’ contract is large, and cutting bait with the veteran seems likely following 2014. As for Fletcher, he’s a talented player when on the field. But, health has always been a vice for the former St. Louis Ram.

Perhaps the reason why many believe the Eagles are interested in grabbing a corner in round one is because of how deep the talent is in this draft. The only corner guaranteed to go in the top-20 is Justin Gilbert. After that, all bets are off. If the Eagles want to grab a potential starting caliber corner now, they could certainly land one at 22.
Most likely targets: Darqueeze Dennard (Michigan State), Jason Verrett (TCU), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Bradley Roby (Ohio State)

5. Offensive line

Don’t look now. But, the Eagles could shock everybody and grab an offensive lineman in round one. Yes, their unit was among the best in football in 2013. But, depth is still an issue, as Philadelphia has little experience behind their talented starting corps. One also has to consider the fact that Evan Mathis is on the wrong side of 30 (and reportedly disgruntled with his contract) and Todd Herremanns is in rapid decline. It’s unusual for a team to select a guard in round one. But, it does happen.

The only problem with this scenario is that most of the first round graded offensive linemen are expected to go in the top-15. After that, there’s a precipitous decline in talent. If someone like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin falls to 22, a player who can play both inside and outside, Philadelphia would have to take a long look.
Most likely targets: Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama)

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1. 34Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 

At this point, it would be a shocker to see anyone but Clowney go at #1. The South Carolina star has cemented his status as the best prospect in this draft and Houston can probably find a quarterback to begin round two.

2. atl Atlanta Falcons (Trade up from #6) – DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo (Stock up)

For the first time, I am predicting a trade. The Falcons have been rumored to want to move up as they often do. This is a solid spot for them to land Mack, the consensus #2 pass rusher on the market. Atlanta likely would have to give up a 2nd round pick to make this move. But, it’s probably worth it to secure their guy.

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Stock down)

Earlier this week, the Jaguars’ brass commented on suspended WR Justin Blackmon, saying that they didn’t believe they could rely on the former #1 pick to be with the team this season. If that’s not a signal that Jacksonville is looking for a reciever, then I don’t know what is. Jaguars take Watkins to replace their former bust of a #1 pick.

4. cle Cleveland Browns – QB Blake Bortles, UCF (Stock down)

Cleveland is going to take a quarterback here, and Bortles has been the consensus #1 for months. Johnny Manziel is a possibility. But, the reg flags that he raises will keep Cleveland from grabbing him.

5. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Trade with Raiders) – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

The Buccaneers have a new regime, and while a QB makes some sense here; it would be smarter for them to build their line up before binging on another young gunslinger. Robinson is the best tackle prospect on the market and would immediately start for Lovie Smith’s club.

6. 14-1 St. Louis Rams (Trade with Falcons) – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (Stock up)

By trading down, the Rams are able to land one of the top tackle talents on the board while also picking up a draft choice or two.

7. oak Oakland Raiders (Trade with Buccaneers) – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M (Stock up)

Oakland is enamored with Evans, who stands at 6’5. The long receiver would fit in with the Raiders’ mentality of size and speed over all else. They also pick up a couple of mid round choices by swapping picks with Tampa Bay.

8. min Minnesota Vikings – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Stock down)

Minnesota would prefer Bortles. But, with the UCF star off the board, they settle for Manziel. Johnny Football may not be the most sure thing at the position. But, his upside offers Minnesota fans who have to sit out in the freezing cold for the next two years a boatload of excitement.

9. buf Buffalo Bills – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina (Stock up)

The Bills could look to grab a tackle here, as their line could use the upgrade. But, Buffalo hasn’t had a #1 playmaking tight end in well over a decade. Ebron projects as the best prospect at the position in years, and would instantly upgrade the Bills’ beleaguered offense.

10. lions8 Detroit Lions – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Stock up)

There’s always the possibility that Detroit feels comfortable with their young corners and goes either tackle or pass rusher. But, the NFL is a passing league and stopping the pass has never been more important. For a team without a #1 corner, passing on Gilbert would be incredibly foolish.

11. ten Tennessee Titans – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

The Titans seemingly want to improve their defense in round one. That could mean either Barr or a cornerback like Justin Gilbert. Barr seems like the BPA here.

12. giants19 New York Giants – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (Stock down)

Off-the-field issues aside, Lewan is the best available offensive lineman. The Giants could also consider a pass rusher or a safety.

13. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – S Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Stock up)

After grabbing a solid tackle in the top-10, the Rams address their defensive issues at 13. Clinton-Dix is your classic playmaking safety, manning center field better than Jon Jay.

14. chi3 Chicago Bears – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (Stock up)

The Bears will have to take a defensive player here. Their woeful performance defensively last year is evidence of that. Donald is arguably the best defensive tackle in the entire draft, so landing him in the teens is impressive. Dallas will likely be calling to try to move up and grab the Pitt Panther. But, the Bears need him just as badly.

15. mia15 Miami Dolphins (Trade with Steelers) – OT/OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame

Miami is pressured to trade up in order to land one of the first round graded linemen. The Dolphins are desperate to rebuild their front after the Jonathan Martin/Rich Incognito fiasco of 2013. Zack Martin can play either inside or outside and would offer the Dolphins flexibility.

16. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers (Trade with Dallas) – WR Odell Beckham Jr, LSU (Stock up)

This is a perfect range for Beckham, whose stock is soaring, to go. The 49ers, meanwhile, have the most picks of anyone in this draft, so giving up a 2nd and a 3rd to move up to this spot is more than understandable. Their lack of playmaking speed at receiver is remedied by landing the blazing Beckham.

17. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – S Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Stock up)

Baltimore’s defense is no longer the bruising force it once was. They’ll address that hole by landing one of the top two tackles (and only first round graded talents) on the board. Pryor is a bit more aggressive than Clinton-Dix, so he should be a solid fit for Baltimore’s scheme.

18. 20 New York Jets – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

The Jets should probably address their offensive playmakers. But, this is a draft littered with talent at the wide receiver position. Dennard, meanwhile, would be a solid compliment to last year’s first round pick, Dee Milliner, on the outside.

19. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (Stock up)

The consensus is that Pittsburgh would like to improve their secondary, most notably at cornerback. With a handful of players expected to go in this range, it’s really anyone’s guess who the Steelers decide to grab. Fuller is a fast riser this offseason, so he’s just as likely as anyone.

20. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama (Stock down)

Arizona lost Karlos Dansby this offseason, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them look to replace him early in the draft. Mosley is the consensus best inside-linebacker in the draft, and either he or Ohio State’ Ryan Shazier would be a solid choice at 20.

21. pack9 Green Bay Packers – DE/OLB Kony Ealy, Missouri (Stock up)

Green Bay wants to get faster on defense. They’ll do that by landing a complimentary edge rusher to Clay Matthews. Ealy is likely the only other first round graded pass rushing talent, so the Packers have to grab him here.

22. new17 New England Patriots (Trade with Eagles) – DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame (Stock down)

New England typically likes to trade down early in the draft. But, their plethora of draft choices allows them to go up and grab the player that they want and need. Vince Wilfork doesn’t have much time left, and coming back from that surgically repaired Achilles tendon at his age and weight will not be easy. The Pats know that they must find a replacement for him sooner rather than later. Nix is a big specimen who fits the position and the girth. New England will sacrifice a 3rd and 4th rounder to land this behemoth.

23. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Stock up)

The Chiefs have made it clear that they covet a receiver early in this year’s draft. I favor Marqise Lee over Cooks from a pure talent perspective. But, the Chiefs already have Dwayne Bowe. So, their preference here is a deep threat. Cooks is a burner and fits the mold perfectly.

24.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Jason Verrett, TCU

There was a time when cornerback was a strength of the Bengals’ defense. That’s not the case anymore. Cincinnati could look to find a replacement for free agent DE Michael Johnson. But, the value pick here is Verrett. The TCU product has solid size and speed and would immediately be a dramatic upgrade in the secondary.

25. cha24  San Diego Chargers – CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Stock up)

Other than Eric Weddle, San Diego’s secondary is a mess. Roby, while not the top cornerback in this draft, is still a solid get at 25. The Chargers could also look to beef up their offensive line, as going another year with King Dunlap as their starting left tackle would seem imprudent.

26. cle Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis) – WR Marqise Lee, USC (Stock down)

I’m a little bit uncomfortable putting this many wide receivers in the first round. That position has seen a sharp drop in instances where they’re drafted early in recent years. But, the Browns definitely have depth issues at the position (and a lot of others as well). After Cleveland grabs Johnny Manziel earlier in the round, they find their young gunslinger a big target in Lee.

27. saints18 New Orleans Saints – ILB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (Stock up)

New Orleans has been disappointed so far in David Hawthorne, who hasn’t looked like the same player since leaving Seattle. Shazier is a solid, ball hawking MLB who would provide depth until he eventually surpasses Hawthorne on the depth chart.

28. panth29 Carolina Panthers – OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

The Panthers possess a ton of holes, and they could look to address their beleaguered secondary or receiving corps here. But, the loss of Jordan Gross to retirement opens up a pressing need at tackle. Kouandjio played and thrived at the highest level of College Football. He’d be a steal at this pick.

29. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles (Trade with New England) – WR Cody Latimer, Indiana (Stock up)

The Eagles pick up a couple of picks from New England and still land the big WR they covet. Latimer is a late riser in the draft. But, his combination of size (6-3) and speed (4.44) make him an intriguing prospect for Chip Kelly, who loves that combination in a target. The Eagles could also look to improve their pass rush or their secondary here.

30. dal6 Dallas Cowboys (Trade with San Francisco) – DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota (Stock down)

Dallas landed a few solid picks in their deal with San Francisco. By doing so, they also landed Hageman, who projects as a very solid pass rushing defensive tackle in a 4-3.

31. sanf7 Denver Broncos – DE/OLB Dee Ford, Auburn (Stock down)

Denver is desperate for some pass rushing depth. With Von Miller typically in trouble with the law or injured, they could use someone to fill a hole behind their talented rusher. Ford had a spectacular Senior Bowl, and should be available around this spot.

32. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA

Seattle could use depth along their offensive line, as most championship teams will tell you. Su’a-Filo is the best guard prospect available to end round one.