Will the Eagles Offensive Line be A Strength in 2012?
NFL offensive linemen often go unmentioned when discussing reasons for a team's success, with the majority of the praise usually going to players at skill positions.
However, when things aren't going well the offensive line is one of the first thing people question as part of the problem. Once the Eagles offensive line became set about halfway through the season, you began to see the Eagles running specifically finish strong in 2011.
Adding first-round pick Danny Watkins to the starting line-up along-side fellow rookie Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans and Jason Peters gave the Eagles a solid yet unspectacular unit.
Watkins, who played mostly tackle in college made 12 starts at right guard in 2011, after being inactive for three of the first four weeks of the season, finally taking over for Kyle DeVan in week five. While Watkins got off to a slow start, by seasons end, he began to show why the Eagles drafted him with the 23rd pick in the NFL draft.
Next to Watkins is the veteran right tackle Herremans, who -- like Watkins -- entered the starting lineup in a new position. The Eagles' running game took off in 2011, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 2,276 yards overall, good for the fifth best rushing team in the league.
However, an injury to Peters could derail the Eagles good fortune and success up front. Peters was a key to not only the rushing game, but an elite athlete and all-pro level performer. While the Eagles have signed Demetress Bell, the Eagles can get out of Bell's contract without any salary cap hit in 2013.
That's something to keep in mind when considering what the Eagles might do with their first-round pick in next week's draft.
Reports came out this weekend that the Eagles have spoken to the Browns (not that we really buy into that) about moving up the fourth pick in the draft. Could tackles Matt Kalil of USC, Iowa's Riley Reiff or Mike Adams of Ohio State be players the Eagles would be interested in as insurance in case Peters can't return.
While tackle isn't a premium position of need, guys like Kalil, Reiff and Adams might be talented enough to warrant the 15th overall pick if somehow they fell to that spot. Bot would the Eagles move all the way up to pick four to grab them which is the area where both Kalil and Reiff are projected to be drafted.
The Eagles have added the veteran Bell in free agency, but could still be looking to draft a tackle after losing Peters, their starter for the past two seasons at left tackle to a major career threatening injury.
Then again, Mathis and Kelce showed that relative unknowns can thrive in Howard Mudd's system. Mathis played in Cincinnati in 2009 and 210 when the Eagles signed him in 2011. Kelce had been a sixth round pick in 2011, yet he started all 16 games taking over in the third preseason game and never giving up the job. Both played well enough to help kick-start the Eagles' running game -- and Mathis got a five-year, $25 million contract this off season.
Having seen relative unknown offensive linemen play well when given the chance, might the Eagles decide that they don't need to spend a first-round pick to replace Peters?
We should find out next week.
My guess is, they will pass on a tackle this year, but add depth on the line in the later rounds.