Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins got most of the headlines when the Eagles were one of the NFL’s premier teams at the beginning of the millennium. But the real key to the success of those Andy Reid-coached teams was a couple of big guys who rarely got their names in the papers – tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan.
Those blocking bookends had ability and durability. They protected McNabb and paved the way for Westbrook and gave the Eagles a solid foundation that supported the franchise for a decade.
Now the Eagles have a rare chance to build a new foundation as they head into the NFL draft with the fourth overall selection. They already have one bookend in place in left tackle Jason Peters. Now they should go out on Thursday night and get the other one.
As to which tackle that should be, well, we have no idea. You’ve probably heard of all the big names recently – Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma. All three of them are expected to go in the first 10 picks and the Eagles should be one of the teams that grab one.
But we have no idea which player is better – after all, Central Michigan didn’t show up on national television very often and if Texas A&M or Oklahoma was on, well, we were doing something else.
We also have no idea which player will be available for the Eagles. This is the time of year when mock drafts pop up like dandelions, but the mock drafts we’ve seen this year – even the ones by big-name analysts like Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper Jr. – are different from past years because they’re different from each other. In most drafts, it’s pretty easy to guess the first five picks and sometimes more than that and all the analysts usually agree. But nobody is quite sure what Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs will do with the No. 1 overall pick and that makes your mock draft like a multiple choice test in school – if you get one wrong, you automatically get two wrong.
That uncertainty is certainly there with the fourth overall pick. Check out a few mock drafts (go ahead, I dare you) and you will see that the Eagles are predicted to draft at least eight different players.
According to those mock drafts, the Eagles could draft an offensive tackle, an offensive guard, a defensive tackle, a defensive end, a cornerback, even a quarterback. And they need help at all of those positions. But, other than quarterback – and it doesn’t appear as if any franchise QBs are in this year’s draft – no position anchors a franchise like an offensive tackle. It’s not a coincidence that the top tackles get paid more than the top running backs or wide receivers – they’re more valuable, because really good ones are harder to find.
Drafting a blue-chip tackle would also trigger a positive domino effect along the o-line. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Eagles draft Eric Fisher. With Fisher at right tackle, Todd Herremans could move to right guard in place of disappointing Danny Watkins and the Eagles would be better at two positions. And, suddenly, what was a problem area last season becomes a strong area this season.
Here’s a quick comparison between the offensive line that finished the 2012 season and the line that could start the 2013 season:
Position 2102 2013
Left tackle King Dunlap Jason Peters
Left guard Evan Mathis Evan Mathis
Center Dallas Reynolds Jason Kelce
Right guard Jake Scott Todd Herremans
Right tackle Dennis Kelly Eric Fisher
The Eagles could trade down, of course, and try to get more than one quality player, but we’d rather see them use that No. 4 pick on a great player who could be a Pro Bowl player for the next decade and they should have a shot at a tackle who could fill that description. NFL teams don’t get an opportunity like that every year and the Eagles should take advantage of it.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com