By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—So now that the Philadelphia Eagles have made their picks in 2015 NFL Draft, the question fans are asking themselves is if the team is better now than it was before head coach Chip Kelly made some highly publicized moves to make over the team in his image.
To be honest, I don’t think so at this point. There are too many unanswered questions on both sides of the ball to drink the “Philadelphia Eagles are a Super Bowl Contender” Kool-Aid at this point.
Let’s look at the draft picks.
Former University of Southern California star Nelson Agholor, the wide receiver the Eagles picked at number one, is almost a clone of the wide receiver Kelly let go to the Kansas City Chiefs, Jeremy Maclin.
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he is almost the same as Maclin from a physical standpoint. Agholor is also a speedy wide out with a reputation running good routes and being a deep threat. He’s coming off a season in which he caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I have the ability to compete and do things I need to do to get open and in blocking,” Agholor said. “I’d like to go where I can help the team and manipulate the coverage.”
Agholor will join a receiving corps that will include veteran Miles Austin, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and Josh Huff. It’s a decent group of pass-catchers—Matthews is coming off a pretty good rookie season with 67 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns.
At the same, it’s not a crew that strikes fear into anyone. While Kelly thinks that Agholor can stretch opposing defenses, he’s not going to make anyone forget that DeSean Jackson is no longer in Eagles Green.
“I think he’s got good linear speed that can get down the field and I think people will have to be leery about that,” Kelly said. “He’s got excellent speed, outstanding hands, catches the ball away from his body. Outstanding route runner, real student of the game.”
But the real issue for the Birds is at quarterback. In Sam Bradford, the team has a couple of question mark: Can he learn the system, and can he stay off of Injured Reserve for 16 weeks? That last one is something he hasn’t done since 2012, although he’s saying that he’ll be ready for training camp, meaning that he’ll be healed from his most recent ACL repair. The one edge that he does have is that he ran a similar spread-option offense at Oklahoma.
Kelly believes that Bradford’s ability to make quick decisions make him an ideal fit for the Eagles fast-paced no-huddle offense. The burden won’t be all on Bradford with running back DeMarco Murray in the Eagles backfield.
But the Birds are a bit shaky on the offensive line. They got rid of Todd Herremans and have been trying to move guard Evan Mathis. The offensive line could be the difference between the Eagles making the playoffs and having to watch from home, especially since the line will not only be protecting a quarterback with a newly repaired knee, but making holes for a running back that has his own fragility issues.
On the defensive side of the football, the draft enabled the Eagles to have some depth in the secondary. In the second round, the Eagles drafted Utah defensive back Eric Rowe. At 6-1, 205 pounds, Rowe has the kind of versatility that Kelly likes for his defense, similar to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has also played cornerback and safety.
Rowe said he studies film of NFL stars like New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Cleveland’s Joe Haden.
“I love to hit, I love to come on the blitz and tackle,” Rowe said. “On the press man, l love to take charges on the line of scrimmage. I would say I’m an aggressive corner.”
Prior to his senior year, Rowe played 36 games at the safety position. He played cornerback in his final season with the Utes and had 13 passes defended with one interception. Rowe runs a 4.4 40-yard dash so he has the speed to keep up opposing receivers.
“We’re looking for safeties that can cover and this kid has actually played corner so he’s got those skills,” Kelly said. “He’s a taller and longer guy, so you hope those are things, but we’ll get him in here and look at everything he can do. The fact that he’s got that many starts under his belt at safety but then really excelled at corner this last year is very intriguing to us.”
The Birds further bolstered their defense in the third round by drafting former University of Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had 147 tackles during his senior year. In the sixth round, the Birds picked up two more defensive backs in cornerbacks former Kansas star JaCorey Shepherd and Kansas State’s Randall Evans, who also has played both safety and corner.
The Eagles closed out the draft with seventh round pick with Boston College defensive end Brian Mihalik, who 4.5 sacks during his senior year.
For the Birds to even be consider a Super Bowl contender, the defense, which gave up 30 touchdown passes last season, has nowhere to go but up. It also has to stay healthy. Newly acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alsonso and DeMeco Ryans have to show that they are 100 percent ready to go.
The rookies on both sides of the ball have to grow up quick because they’re not going to have too much margin for error.