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Eagles Draft strategy: playing keep-away from Cowboys, Giants and Redskins…

The NFC East Divisional Championship trophy… win it, and the rest of the journey to the Super Bowl becomes more plausible…which is why sometimes you draft a guy just so the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins can’t…

A lot of Andy Reid’s draft philosophy over the years is based on his awareness of what’s going on in Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C. … and I’m not talking oil wells, Broadway plays or budget hearings…

A big part of Reid’s strategy is to select a “best player available” at a pick slot, as opposed to trying to tailor that pick to his team’s positional “needs”… but often left unsaid is the ulterior motivation, which is: “I don’t want to see this guy in a Giants or Redskins uniform 3 years from now beating my brains out on the field…”

It makes perfect sense. You play the same team in your division every year, twice a year. Six huge games…win 4 of ’em, and you’ve got a great chance of winning your division, as long as you take care of business with the rest of the league at a 6-4 or better clip.

A good example of Andy’s keep-away strategy from a divisional foe: last year we actually saw him trade up to keep the Giants from getting Brandon Graham in the first round..

When the Eagles traded away picks #70 and #87 to move up to #13 in the first round last April, I was sure they were making the move to get defensive back Earl Thomas (a perceived “need” position). Not so fast…Andy Reid fooled me (and a lot of NFL folks, too) again…

What a poker player!  Reid wanted DE Brandon Graham all along, but never tipped his hand. Not even to Graham himself!  Reid interviewed Graham only once prior to the Draft.  And somehow Andy knew the Giants were going after Graham, too…

Most experts thought Graham would fall lower on the board. Andy Reid knew better. He had feigned disinterest in Graham all along until the moment of truth…a classic misdirection play. Immediate word out of New York was the Giants were disappointed in not getting Graham, and a little bit flustered at losing him to the Eagles.  Remember, Graham had a fantastic Senior Bowl performance that year, and the Giants wanted him badly. I simply think the Giants were caught off guard by Reid’s pretense of disinterest in Graham.

Of course, you can never predict the career obstacles ahead for a guy when you draft him, such as mid-season injuries— which ultimately slowed down Graham’s progress on the field. And Graham will be back—big time. But at least Andy Reid’s draft strategy in that case has ensured we won’t be subjected to the sight of Graham in a Giants uniform…or taking out Michael Vick with a sack.

So for something just a little different, it’s fun to look at the intradivisional rivals of the Eagles, and speculate what their perceived “needs” are, and try to guess what poker moves, if any, Andy Reid may have up his sleeve to keep key talent away from his foes.

Andy knows the Giants need to upgrade their running back position.  But do they need to use their first round selection on a running back?  In 1990, the Giants had to shore up their backfield and used the 24th selection in the first round on Rodney Hampton.  Thankfully for the Giants,  Hampton was a gem.  In 2011, could Mark Ingram be that guy, too?   (Ironically, both guys played in the tough SEC conference and entered the draft after their junior seasons.)  Or maybe Nolan Nawrocki is the pick ?…

Either way, Reid knows Brandon Jacobs’ days as a Giant are over.  So does he go for the checkmate move on Draft Day and maneuver to block the Giants from acquiring a gem like Mark Ingram?…and maybe try to dress the kid in Eagles green instead?

There has been much chatter about the Giants needing to bolster an aging offensive line.  Indeed, guys like O’Hara, Seubert, and McKenzie are at the ends of their careers.  But the Giants need a guy who can step in right away.  According to Pete Furman, a draft expert at UltimateNYGMike Pouncey can start right away at guard or center.  This is the type of guy the Giants need.  From reading draft articles from around the web,  Pouncey may be gone by the time the Giants select at #19.  

So does Andy Reid look at that scenario with Pouncey and the Giants’ offensive line “need” —anticipating that the G-Men may trade up to get Pouncey— and if Reid likes Pouncey enough as that road-grading right guard prospect we’re all looking for in Eagles green, does he leap-frog up the ladder to block the Giants’ master plan?

Okay, probably not! I’m getting a little ahead of myself here… There’s not really that much cloak-and-dagger strategy and intrigue possible with only 3 “money rounds” and 10 picks overall…

But such a move really paid off in the Brandon Graham scenario last year. Reid blocked the Giants from getting Graham. The Giants really needed that guy. Graham’s upside is still huge. He actually produced more impact in his minutes in the rotation than any other rookie defensive end in the league… before he was hurt. Meanwhile, the Giants drafted Jason Pierre-Paul instead… unfortunately for the Giants, Pierre-Paul is a project and did not make significant contributions in 2010. 

NFL teams are scouting other team’s “needs” for two reasons: first, to project whether players at the top of their draft board will be snapped up by teams ahead of them; second, to determine whether a team behind them could be a target for a trade-down offer

In other words, you can block a rival from getting better just as well by trading down into a round as you can by trading up…

Take the Redskins, for example… at a scheduled #10 pick in the first round, the Redskins have so many glaring needs that any well-chosen first round talent will hit the mark. Targeted players at quarterback, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, and pass rushers, Von Miller and Robert Quinn, are probably off the board by #10…. that drives the ‘Skins to the “best player available” strategy, and three players look good in that scenario: WR Julio Jones, DE DaQuan Bowers and CB Prince Amukamara.

If Andy Reid looks at that scenario and thinks, “I really don’t like the idea of my secondary having to defend against Julio Jones as a Redskins receiver for at least six games over the next three years…”, he may maneuver or even consort with other teams to take Jones—or Bowers or Amukamara—off the board before the Resdkins can get to any of them. 

Of course, that can work the other way, too…The Redskins’ Mike Shanahan could tip his hand towards Jones—and thereby trigger a best-case scenario for the Redskins, where Detroit or St. Louis might offer their first and third round pick for Washington’s #10 overall selection. (The Lions and the Rams have the 13th and 14th picks in this year’s draft, respectively.)  Thus, by trading down, Shanahan could really do a number on an Eagles attempt to foil his plan to improve from the Draft.

Anthony Jones of Redskins Hog Heaven has this interesting take on the games being played in this Draft by the Eagles and the Redskins:

“Trading down to the 13th to 15th pick by the Redskins brings quarterbacks to the fore.  Jake Locker (Was), Christian Ponder (FSU) or Ryan Mallet (Ark) are less of a reach from the 15th or lower pick than from the 10th…

…Maybe Washington will not have a first round pick and will not need a quarterback. Raise your hand if you think it was Washington who offered their first round pick to the Eagles for Kevin Kolb. Why else would Iggles coach Andy Reid say, he had no problem trading Kolb within the division, if not to inoculate his fans? What Beast team other than Washington is so unsettled at quarterback that they would offer a first round draft pick? “

“A trade for Kolb would be galling for McNabb, not to mention Redskins fans who will figure that Kolb cost three draft picks–the first round pick for Kolb and the two picks wasted on McNabb.”

Of course, that Kolb-trade scenario is greatly inhibited now by the lockout, with player movements or trades in limbo at the moment…

Dallas is set to have eight selections in the 2011 NFL Draft, starting with the 9th overall pick in Round 1. The Dallas defense was the biggest problem last year, and there’s too much talent on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys to justify giving up anywhere near 27.2 points per game again. Jerry Jones took a chance on Dez Bryant in the first round last April, and Bryant certainly looks like a future star, even though his season was cut short due to injury last year and he has since has endured major financial and life-skills-management crisis . ILB Sean Lee proved to be a solid second-round pick as well, as he ended up playing in 14 games.

I’m sure Andy Reid knows the Cowboys have huge needs for a defensive end who can play in a 3-4 system…and a starting safety. He also knows the Cowboys’ offensive line is breaking down from age and injury.

The Cowboys look to draft a 3-4 defensive end who can set the edge, penetrate the backfield and hold his own while allowing the team’s pass rushers to get pressure. California’s Cameron Jordan and Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt are decent fits here. Does Reid want to see one of these guys dancing in his Dallas nightmares two years from now? If not, he may move back or across other rounds of the draft with trades to enable other teams to move up and snag Jordan or Watt.

Dallas safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh were atrocious to say the least last season, and neither deserves to be back at a starter’s salary. The team is still somewhat high on Sensabaugh and would like to bring him back, but Ball may be better suited in a different role. For the Cowboys, FS Rahim Moore from UCLA is on the radar this April.

Andy Reid knows this…Suddenly, Rahim Moore becomes much more valuable to Reid…not necessarily as a future Eagle, but as a chess piece he wants to keep away from Jerry Jones.