EAGLES ACE DRAFT EXAM
The Eagles have gotten a lot of praise for their work in the draft and rightfully so. And even though there are no trophies for good grades on draft day, the Eagles fortified two of their three key positions of need - the offensive and defensive line.
First round pick Brodrick Bunkley will be an immediate starter at defensive tackle. Second round offensive tackle Winston Justice and third round guard Max Jean-Gilles will likely be in the starting lineup no later than 2007 and possibly sooner.
If he recovers from a nagging quad injury, fifth round Olympian Jeremy Bloom will likely be the punt returner and possibly also return kicks. It says here that Bloom will be a major upgrade in the return game.
And we haven't mentioned probably the most intriguing pick, third rounder Chris Cocong from Division I-AA Cal Poly. He is 6-2 and 264-pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.8 range. Cocong led the nation with 23.5 sacks and the Eagles feel he can make the conversion from defensive end to strong-side linebacker.
He will immediately contend for a starting spot if not overwhelmed by learning coordinator Jim Johnson's complex system.
The one thing the Eagles didn't get in the draft or free agency was a burner at receiver. Yet Andy Reid loves the toughness that both free agent Jabbar Gaffney and fourth round pick Jason Avant bring.
Yet Reid and general manager Tom Heckert made it a priority to protect the passer and sack the quarterback in this draft. The Birds were sacked 42 times and had just 29 sacks, which is not the type of ratio that playoff-bound teams desire.
Of course no matter how well the rookies fare, the key to the season will be whether Donovan McNabb returns to his Pro Bowl form after an injury-plagued subpar season.
Still, the Eagles have no doubt upgraded the team which needed to show serious improvement following a 6-10 season in which they were the only NFC East team with a losing record.
After such a dismal end to last season, at least the Eagles will begin 2006 justifiably optimistic despite having to work their way from the bottom of arguably the deepest division in the NFL.