This year's NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Thursday in Indianapolis, is a whole new world for the Eagles.
General manager Howie Roseman will be evaluating players alongside a new coach, Chip Kelly, and an even newer player personnel vice president, Tom Gamble. For the first time since Roseman arrived as an unpaid intern in 2000, the Eagles are drafting in the top five -- fourth overall, meaning they must concentrate much more than usual on the prospects at the top of the draft.
Roseman laughed and agreed Tuesday night when a reporter wondered if the trip to Indianapolis wouldn't be a sort of team-building exercise for his group.
"You look forward to those moments when it's not just watching tape with a lot of other things on your plate, and you really have a chance to talk about the players," Roseman said. "It's been a whirlwind since (Kelly) came on board."
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock made the point that this isn't a great year to have the fourth pick, in a conference call with reporters Monday.
"I think we probably have better depth than we've had in the last 10 years. I'm really impressed with our depth," Mayock said in the marathon two-hour, 35-minute phone confab.
"Now, the top end of the draft, the top 10 picks, I don't see the difference-makers like we've had the last several years."
Roseman said from the Eagles' perspective, whether it's a great year to pick fourth isn't really relevant to the evaluation process. Certainly, one would think a team in such a situation might be interested in trading down, particularly a rebuilding team, but Roseman said the combine, two months before the draft, isn't where you think in those terms.
"We're concentrating on who the pool of players is that we're gonna choose from with that fourth pick," Roseman said. "We're getting our board right ... (picking fourth) gives us an opportunity to add a player that we think can be a core player for our team going forward. We've got to get the players in the right order. This year we're focusing on getting the right players to fit our scheme and fit our program."
Roseman said the coaching change and the hiring of Gamble hasn't damaged the scouting process, which has moved along at its usual pace (though obviously, in December, scouts weren't evaluating players with an eye toward the offense or defense the Eagles will run under Kelly).
Mayock said his top 10 prospects right now are all offensive or defensive linemen.
"That's exciting for us, when you talk about linemen being the strength of the draft," Roseman said.
It might be less exciting for Eagles fans who have their hearts set on Alabama corner Dee Milliner in the first round, but with a strong combine, maybe Milliner changes Mayock's mind, and eliminates doubts about his speed.
Certainly, the offensive line was the source of the Birds' early problems last season, and even with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans expected to return from injury, a dominant young player there, such as Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, Alabama guard Chance Warmack or Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, would be a logical way to go.
The defensive line picture is a little less clear, with the Birds transitioning to what looks likely to be a 3-4 setup at least some of the time. The Eagles might need a nose tackle, but those guys rarely get drafted fourth overall. Do they have any 3-4 ends, other than Fletcher Cox? Do they have a do-everything 3-4 outside linebacker?
Roseman acknowledged the obvious -- "we're not going to be able to fill all our needs" through the 2013 draft, in which the team has eight selections in seven rounds, one in each round until the seventh, when the Eagles choose twice. Free agency, which opens March 12, will be a factor in filling holes, but the Eagles, the NFL poster team for how gorging on pricey free agents is no way to build, do not expect to be at the front of the parade, Roseman said.
He said the Eagles, 4-12 last season, are in a different spot than they were in when they splurged in 2011, coming off successive first-round playoff exits, trying to add finishing pieces.
"We want to make sure we're getting core guys," he said. "By the same token, we're also committed to the players on our roster and being a homegrown, draft team ... there's also opportunities in free agency. I think it's going to be closer to what we saw last year, when we thought we had a chance to get a key guy and we went out and did it (trading for DeMeco Ryans). If there's an opportunity to add a player that we think is undervalued, we're going to try to get him."
The combine and the entire draft process are different for the Eagles this year in that Kelly and several of his new assistants recruited and in some cases even coached the prospects -- Kelly for Oregon, offensive-line coach Jeff Stoutland for Alabama, quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor for Virginia. This will be the only time their perspectives will be completely fresh, straight from the college season from which the draftees are being evaluated.
Roseman sees benefits from the coaches "knowing what a player can and can't do, from a learning perspective, knowing what kind of teammate he was."
An interesting situation there is that of Oregon's Dion Jordan, a defensive end or 3-4 linebacker Mayock thinks is a high first-rounder. Kelly and Eagles defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who came with Kelly from Oregon, surely know Jordan better than anyone involved in the evaluation process for any other team in the NFL. If Kelly really wants Jordan in the first round, does he get him? And is Jordan worth taking fourth overall, given that he is not yet what Mayock and other draft experts project him to become? Obviously, Roseman isn't answering those questions yet.
"I kind of like Dion Jordan, who I think is two years away from being an Aldon Smith type player," Mayock said. "He's only about 240 pounds, but he's 6-7. He's got frightening athletic skills, and he's a year away. He would be a situational pass rusher Year 1, and if he puts 20 pounds on, I think he's going to be a perennial All-Pro. I really like the kid. But, again, that's a little bit of a risk reward. You're betting on this kid two years from now.
"That's why I wouldn't want a top 10 pick this year. I think the fifth pick in the draft and the 25th pick in this draft are very similar."
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