The 2014 NFL scouting combine begins today in Indianapolis, and gives teams an opportunity to see all the draft prospects up close and personal. With over 355 players invited to the annual event, general managers, coaches, and personnel folks can see how the prospects stack up against each other. In a conference call yesterday, NFL draft expert Mike Mayock called this year’s draft the “deepest one in 10 years”, which will definitely add extra hoopla for all of those in attendance.
In the grand scheme of things, the combine won’t have a monumental influence on how most teams view a prospect, as much of their meaningful scouting has already concluded by this point. Nevertheless, it’s still interesting to see who can run the fastest and who can put up the most weight. Not only will physical attributes be tested, but coaches will also spend time interviewing players so they can get a better feel for their character and mental makeup.
As we know from the results of last year’s draft, Chip Kelly sure liked prospects from the Pac-12 and players he went up against at Oregon. Names such as Zach Ertz (Stanford), Bennie Logan (LSU), and Matt Barkley (USC) all fit into that mold. Not to mention, Kelly also likes to bring in guys that he coached. The University of Oregon has 34 players in the NFL, and 6 of them (17.6%) play for the Eagles — which is the highest percentage of players on one team that came from the same school. With that in mind, it could be easier to pinpoint who the Eagles might target when the draft finally rolls around in May.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at a few key prospects to keep an eye on that played in either the Pac-12, against Kelly at Oregon, or attended Oregon during Kelly’s tenure. I didn’t include elite prospects projected to go in early rounds (1-2) that aren’t considered a position of need for the Eagles. I also tried to include players that have versatility, which is one of the most important characteristics to Kelly. Here are a few under the radar names to get you started:
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
Reynolds possesses the typical frame (6’2”, 206 lbs) that Chip Kelly covets in a safety. Here’s a bit of a scouting report on Reynolds, from Rob Rang of CBSSports.com:
“physical and instinctive…demonstrates good agility and acceleration to handle covering athletic tight ends out of the slot as well as supplying deep help over the top…reads the action and moves fluidly…generally takes excellent angles in pursuit”.
Reynolds tore his ACL in 2011, but has stayed healthy since. He must prove that he can make impact plays at the next level on a consistent basis. Reynolds is projected to go in the second round.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Thomas is a player that has been linked to Philadelphia for quite some time, and most certainly could be a perfect fit with the Eagles if the correct situation presents itself. Thomas has the potential to be a serious playmaker in the NFL (28 total TD’s last two years at Oregon), perhaps a hybrid of Darren Sproles and Tavon Austin. He is a quick, shifty little back (5’9”, 170 lbs) that could be a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses
Some may look at the Eagles’ running back depth chart and think there’s no room for Thomas, yet he could become quite the versatile asset with his ability to catch passes not only out of the backfield, but in the slot as well.
Chip Kelly is all about putting his players in space with a chance to make plays, and that caters specifically to the strengths of Thomas. He was especially excellent in maximizing yards after the catch.
Thomas also has the chance to make an immediate impact in the return game (he set an Oregon school record with 1,885 KO return yards and a 17.1 punt return average). The Eagles haven’t had a feared kickoff returner since Brian Mitchell in 2002. If Thomas is still around in the later rounds, it would come as no surprise to see Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman pull the trigger.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks is a very intriguing prospect (5’10”, 186 lbs) that possesses “elite start-and-stop ability, which makes him extremely difficult to contain in the open field”, according to Bleacher Report’s Ryan McCrystal. McCrystal goes on to say that Cooks has the ability to get over the top of defenses, requiring the attention of a safety at all times. One extremely attractive aspect of Cooks’ game is his elite speed — he ran track at Oregon State, and will probably test out as one of the fastest receivers at the combine. McCrystal writes, “while many receivers are track-fast, Cooks has the functional speed and agility to make him extremely elusive in the open field”.
Cooks is most likely an ideal slot receiver, and one that could truly excel in Chip Kelly’s offense. He will absolutely be a playmaker in the NFL and a clear upgrade from Eagles current slot receiver Jason Avant. McCrystal believes Cooks will be an immediate starter as a punt returner as well. Many believe Cooks to be a first-round talent, but because of the amazing depth of this year’s WR class, he could fall to the second day.
In 2013, Cooks caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
Murphy (6’6”, 261 lbs) is another player that has been linked to the Eagles over the last few months, and generally dominated games he played against Oregon. According to Mark Dulgarian of OptimumScouting.com, Murphy was “a force all night” against Oregon in 2013, and “made his presence felt collapsing the pocket and forcing [Marucs] Mariota into uncomfortable situations”. Dulgarian went on to say that “he seems more comfortable playing from the standup position, but he has the size and length to set the edge with his hand in the dirt.” You can take it to the bank that Chip Kelly watched the Oregon/Stanford game this year, so he is keenly aware of Murphy’s potential.
Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
Marsh has notched 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, and could be valuable as a situational rusher. Marsh has outstanding athleticism for his size (6’4”, 268 lbs) and would prefer to play in space at the next level. ESPN analyst Todd McShay projects him in the fourth or fifth round, pointing out his motor and versatility. He could be a Connor Barwin type player, who is able to line up all over the line of scrimmage. Marsh also has great hands, as he caught two touchdown passes in a few snaps on offense.