Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bunkley and Justice? Giggitty...

By Steven Lienert

One or the other would have been enough for me. But both?

The Eagles are well on their way back to prominence, my friends.

Yes, the Birds didn't land Jevon Walker. Bummer. But they'll survive. Why?

Minus Terrell Owens -- which is a pretty large minus -- name a better receiving corps under Andy Reid than the Eagles currently have now?

Jabar Gaffney, Reggie Brown, Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis and Darnerien McCants are an upgrade over the James Thrash, Charles Johnson and Torrence Small days. Add in Justin Jenkins and/or Billy McMullen -- whomever makes the team this summer-- and the receivers aren't great, but they are adequate. Perhaps Gaffney thrives in this offense. Perhaps Brown improves. Perhaps Pinkston returns to, um, er, what he was before???...

The defense, though, was significantly improved on Saturday. Brodrick Bunkley was my ideal choice -- I wanted to trade up as high as No. 8 to get him -- but he fell to No. 14. Buffalo, Denver and Cleveland all had to make bad draft decisions for this to occur -- yet they did.

The front four is as solid as it has been in years. Jevon Kearse, Mike Patterson, Bunkley and Darren Howard? I'm quite pleased with that. Jeremiah Trotter is a stalwart at linebacker and will benefit from Bunkley's presence; Dhani Jones/Matt McCoy -- hopefully, one of them will come into training camp improved enough to earn the starting job on one side.

The other side, however, is third-round draft choice Chris Gocong's job to lose. He was listed as a defensive end, but he will be the Eagles de facto outside linebacker come Opening Day. Gocong, out of Cal Poly, won the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in Division 1-AA and had 23 1/2 sacks last season alone. This guy is a pass-rushing fiend. Fans at the Linc will love both Bunkley and Gocong. Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell and Eli Manning, however, will not.

On the defensive front, who do you double team? Kearse? That frees up Howard and Gocong. Do you double the middle or take away one of the ends? And let's not forget about Trent Cole... Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to be salivating tonight. And that's not mentioning subs Hollis Thomas, Darwin Walker, Paul Grasmanis, Ed Jasper, Jerome McDougle or Sam Rayburn. That's silly depth.

But the real steal of this draft was Winston Justice falling to No. 39. The Eagles probably would have taken Justice at No. 14 had Bunkley been gone, mostly because Haloti Ngata and Ernie Sims were taken well before the Eagles chose.

Now, if Tra Thomas gets hurt, the Eagles have a suitable substitute waiting in the wings. Think about it: Thomas, Justice, Jon Runyan, Todd Herremans, Shawn Andrews, Artis Hicks, Trey Darilek, Jamaal Jackson and Hank Fraley. That's two offensive-line's worth of NFL starting-caliber players.

At worst, the Eagles have tremendous depth on both lines for the first time in years.

As for Sunday, I'd like to see the Eagles take a receiver and a big running back. If there is somebody they like, they have the flexibility to trade up. At this point, though, it's all icing on the cake.

I'd would also still like the Birds to sign Stephen Davis to play in a Dorsey Levens-type roll. Even without that, I'll go out on this limb after the first day of the draft...

The Eagles will win the NFC East in 2006.

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