Should the Eagles have taken Earl Thomas?

Brandon_graham

Newest Eagle Brandon Graham (Source: Getty Images)

I wanted to see them take safety Earl Thomas. But what do I know? However, in this case Ray Didinger agrees with me in his latest must-read column:

I would have taken Thomas. I believe he is going to be a difference maker in the NFL. He is a fast, instinctive playmaker who can line up anywhere on the field and play any coverage. He had eight interceptions last season and returned two for touchdowns.

And we only need to go back to Jerome McDougle in recent Eagles history to remind us of a DE bust. So Didinger also notes that other than WR, Defensive End is the position with the highest percentage of 1st round busts drafted in the last 20 years:

I’m leery of drafting defensive ends in the first round.  In recent years, the bust factor is higher at that position than any position other than wide receiver. Last year, four defensive ends were taken in the first 18 picks and only one – Brian Orakpo in Washington – made a contribution. The others tanked, including the third overall pick, Tyson Jackson in Kansas City.

Didinger doesn't think DE Brandon Graham will be a full-time player, but will likely only be a rotation player on the field for maybe 2/3 of the snaps at most. He also liked DE Derrick Morgan, who went to the Titans a few picks later, better than Graham:

If I was going to take a defensive end this year, it would have been Morgan, the 6-3, 266-pound native of Coatesville. He looks like a classic left end, a combination of power and athleticism. He plays the run better than any other end in this class and he is improving as a pass rusher. He had 13 sacks last season, almost double what he had the year before.

Morgan could have started at left end for the Eagles and provided the blue-chip bookend they need opposite Trent Cole. Morgan, who went 16th to Tennessee, is a safe pick at a position where there aren’t many safe picks.

Graham, in my opinion, comes with more risk….

What worries me about Graham is his size. At the Scouting Combine, he measured 6-1 and three-eighths inches in height and he weighed 268 pounds. When I put together my draft board, I had him as an outside linebacker, not a defensive end.

I expected him to be drafted – like his former Michigan teammate LaMarr Woodley – as a pass rushing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. It is a perfect fit for Woodley, who had 13.5 sacks for Pittsburgh last season. I thought Graham could have similar success. I just didn’t see him as a defensive end in a 4-3….

Can he take the pounding against the physical offensive tackles in the NFL, especially in the NFC East where the teams – all except the Eagles – like to run the football? If he has to play most of the snaps, how much will it take away from the speed he needs to rush the passer in the fourth quarter? And that rush is what you drafted him for.

Graham looks like he should be a pass rush specialist, a guy who plays in the nickel package. In that role, playing opposite Cole, he could provide serious heat off the edge which the Eagles need. But the decision to trade up 11 spots in the first round to draft a role player? I question that when you had a chance to get a player like Thomas who would have been a no-doubt-about-it, every-down-player from Day One.

On the plus side, Didinger makes the comparison with Elvis Dumervill, another undersized DE who played great last season:

Dumervil is actually smaller than Graham (5-11, 260) yet he led the league with 17 sacks in 2009. He played linebacker in a 3-4, not defensive end in a 4-3, but he played the same style as Graham, staying low, getting under the pads of the blockers and using his natural leverage to turn the corner and get to the quarterback.

Time will tell. In the meantime, we have several months to argue about it until Graham takes the field in a meaningful game.

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