By BOB GROTZ, firstname.lastname@example.org
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NFL draft begins at noon today, the teams that have spent the past few months blowing smoke must put up or shut up. Even casual fans can see through the camouflage and decipher the spin when players come off the board fortifying positions of need.
The fiscally prudent Eagles don’t pour a ton of money into the draft to waste picks on guys that have no shot of pushing for a starting job.
How do the Eagles really feel about their safeties, cornerbacks, linebackers, defensive ends and the rehab of quarterback Donovan McNabb?
The draft, like the eye of the camera, doesn’t lie.
"We don’t want to draft a guy we don’t think has the ability to start in theAll of that said, Heckert’s vision of a wheeling-and-dealing first round appears to be on the mark. Draft buzz was at a frenzy all of Friday.
NFL," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said. "We don’t want to draft a guy as
a backup. Now, you do have late-round guys. But since I’ve been here I think
we’ve drafted maybe two guys that we had worse than a fifth-round grade on."
The Oakland Raiders control the board. With the first pick, they have made full use of their leverage by conducting preliminary negotiations with the agents for quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn as well as wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The reward for taking fewer dollars, of course, is being the first overall draft choice. What’s a few million in Monopoly money anyway?
The Raiders also put the word out that franchise wide receiver Randy Moss can be had for the right price, according to a source.
If the Raiders bypass Russell to draft Johnson, widely viewed as the top player in the draft, the wake could swamp other draft boards because Russell has been almost everyone’s choice to go first. Several teams are interested in trading up and down, according to reports.
Elsewhere the Washington Redskins still are trying to ship the sixth overall pick to the Chicago Bears for franchised linebacker Lance Briggs, according to a source who feels the deal is close to happening.
The source also said the Denver Broncos desperately want to trade up and land middle linebacker Patrick Willis of Mississippi.
The buzz surprises even longtime NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, a 10th-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1981 who later played defensive back for the New York Giants and settled in Newtown Square.
A few restless hours after getting to bed early Friday morning, Mayock tore up the mock draft he had meticulously crafted for months."This is the most interesting draft I’ve ever seen," Mayock said. "My gut still tells me JaMarcus Russell will go first but if the Raiders try to move Moss they’re doing it for a reason; probably for Calvin Johnson. There are a lot of things that can happen, a lot of variables all the way through."
In a wild first round the Eagles could benefit when draft boards are adjusted for some players almost certainly will drop during runs at such positions as defensive back and wide receiver.
If the Eagles stand pat, Mayock suspects the draft will unfold to the point where they draft safety Brandon Meriweather of Miami, off-the-field warts and all. Mayock thinks Meriweather is more than talented enough to take a starting job from Eagles safety Sean Considine, Heckert’s unending praise of his 2005 fourth-round draft pick notwithstanding.
Reggie Nelson, the athletic safety out of national champion Florida, would also be a consideration if available, according to Mayock, although he has the Gator going to the New England Patriots a couple of picks earlier.
"I think the Eagles’ position stays the same," Mayock said. "They’re fortunate in that their needs line up with the positions that figure to be there when they pick. They can upgrade with a safety like Meriweather and if he’s not there they take a corner like Chris Houston or Aaron Ross."
The Eagles also could trade out of the first round for picks either this weekend or next year, and land a serviceable cornerback in the second round. They entertained Marcus McCauley (6-1, 201) of Fresno State, once a first-round type of talent who ran a 4.39 at the combine and has safety size.
The Eagles could fortify the middle linebacker position in the second round with a prospect like David Harris (6-2, 245) of Michigan, the second-rated inside ’backer. The Birds visited with inside linebacker Desmond Bishop (6-2, 240) of California, considered more of a second-day pick.
Running back/fullback Brian Leonard of Rutgers is a late second-round possibility for the Eagles according to a team source.
The Eagles visited with hulking wide receiver Roy Hall (6-2, 229) of Ohio State, who ran a sizzling 4.49 in the 40-yard dash at a personal workout to vault into first day draft contention.
Likewise wide receiver Jacoby Jones (6-3, 210) of Lane College is a sleeper first-day pick, a Kevin Curtis-type late bloomer who also excelled at basketball and track. Jones visited with the Birds after running a 4.50 at his pro day.
Finally, don’t be surprised if the Eagles come out of the draft with another quarterback. They like John Beck (6-11/2, 215) of Brigham Young University and Kevin Kolb (6-3, 220) of Houston, among others, having visited with both.
A pack of quarterbacks likely including Trent Edwards (6-3, 225) of Stanford and Drew Stanton (6-3, 226) of Michigan State likely will come off the board in the first day, possibly somewhere in the second round.
For Jeff Garcia fans, the Eagles worked out Jared Zabransky, the Boise State quarterback that reminds scouts a lot of Garcia.
Zabransky (6-2, 219) most recently led BSU to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. Like Garcia, he’s also deadly accurate and mobile.