Having a top-five draft pick affords an NFL team the opportunity to take a prospect who stands a good chance to make the Pro Bowl or perhaps even become a larger-than-life superstar who changes the face and direction of the franchise.
Just look at the Colts, Redskins and Vikings, three teams that picked in the top five last season, struck gold on their selections and made the playoffs.
So maybe the Eagles would find their next superstar comparable to Donovan McNabb or Brian Dawkins if they stick at No. 4 on April 25 and grab Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan, Dee Milliner or Geno Smith. (Reuben Frank thinks they could.) Maybe one of those guys is the difference between another season outside of the playoffs or being the surprise team in the NFC.
Opinions are mixed on many of the top prospects in this year’s class but one thing that scouts and analysts universally agree on is that this draft is deep with solid talent but short on Hall of Fame material.
Some of the biggest names -- Jordan, Ziggy Ansah, Smith -- are considered projects with upside as opposed to safe picks stamped for stardom. “Upside” and “promise” are always ominous labels when you’re picking fourth. For every Jason Pierre-Paul, there are three JaMarcus Russells.
Which is why the Eagles’ best move would be down. And probably out. Yep, trade out of the first round. Sacrifice the potential of hitting it big on one prospect to build the foundation of Chip Kelly’s team on safer picks that address several critical areas.
I can hear the gasping and harrumphing already.
The Eagles have to fortify their offensive line, rebuild their secondary and feed Kelly’s appetite for vertical tight ends and mobile quarterbacks, but they have only one pick in each of the first three rounds to address those needs.
If they could drop down from No. 4 and swing another deal to vacate the first round altogether, the Eagles could probably wind up with five total picks between the second and third rounds, at very least four.
With those four or five picks they could potentially end up with quarterback E.J. Manuel, cornerback Desmond Trufant or D.J. Hayden, guard/tackle Kyle Long or Justin Pugh, tight end Gavin Escobar or Vance McDonald and safety Shamarko Thomas or J.J. Wilcox.
Obviously, we can’t predict the exact combination of names that would be available to the Eagles in the second and third rounds, but those are the kinds of names and caliber of players that should be available to the Eagles if they stockpile second-day picks.
Compare that to Mel Kiper Jr.’s first three mock picks for the Eagles: Smith, Florida State right tackle Melenik Watson (who projects at right tackle only) and cornerback B.W. Webb out of powerhouse William & Mary.
The idea that their phones won’t be blowing up when they pick fourth is absurd, especially given the number of teams with double-digit picks or two first-round picks and the number of teams that have made some gambles in free agency this year.
The Rams, who splurged for left tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook, have an extra first-rounder. The Vikings, who desperately need game-changing talent around Adrian Peterson, have two picks in the 20s.
The 49ers, who lost a Pro Bowl safety and starting tight end in free agency, have 13 total picks and five in the first three rounds, which means they can trade up in the first round and still capitalize on the depth of this year’s draft class.
The Dolphins, who blew through money in free agency like Monty Brewster, would love to get their hands on a left tackle to replace Jake Long, but they’ll probably need to move up from 12th overall to land Luke Joeckel, Fisher or Lane Johnson. They have nine overall picks, including extra selections in the second and third rounds. They sound like the perfect partner.
I wouldn’t usually advocate passing up the No. 4 overall pick, especially since the past three -- offensive tackle Matt Kalil (Vikings), wide receiver A.J. Green (Bengals) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (Redskins) have each made the Pro Bowl already and Green has gone twice.
But none of those three picks was considered a project or a few years away from reaching their potentials.
Check out the three No. 4 picks from 2007 to 2009 -- defensive end Gaines Adams (Buccaneers), running back Darren McFadden (Raiders) and Aaron Curry (Seahawks). Adams was traded midway through his third season for a second-round pick, the oft-injured McFadden has never made the Pro Bowl and Curry is out of the league after just four seasons, three with Seattle.
The safest route for the Eagles at No. 4 would be Joeckel or Fisher, but the smartest move would be the least popular one, and that’s moving out.
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