Sunday, January 18, 2015

Under the Radar Players Primed to Compete in 2015

With the season winding down, most fans have shifted their attention towards free agency and the draft. While those two avenues offer ample opportunity to improve the team, it's important to assess internal options as well. Here's a list of four players I'll be keeping my eye on this Spring.

ILB Najee Goode (25 years old, 6-0, 244lbs)

If not for a torn pectoral muscle in Week 1, Goode was set to play a significant role on the 2014 defense. In 2013, Goode filled in for an ailing Mychal Kendricks for the Week 11 match-up with the Redskins and made plays all over the field, finishing with six tackles, one sack, two passes defensed, and he should have added an interception to that stat-line.

He struggles with man coverage against tight ends with a little more wiggle, but he's stout against the run and offers much more athleticism than DeMeco Ryans. From a money perspective, it makes more sense to release Ryans and let Goode battle it out with Travis Long and a rookie for the other starting position. There wasn't a drop off when Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho filled in for Ryans this season, and Goode is a significant upgrade over that limited duo.

ILB/OLB Travis Long (23 years old, 6-4, 255lbs)

Travis Long really came on late in the preseason before tearing his ACL. Chip Kelly values his versatility, and obviously likes his size at ILB or OLB. If not for a premature end to his 2014 campaign, Long would've been the man filling in for DeMeco Ryans.

If his knee can make a full recovery, look for Long to make an impact next season, whether that be at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, or special teams. He's a talented kid who's suffered from repeated bad luck.

WR Josh Huff (23 years old, 5-11, 206lbs)
Huff was an accident waiting to happen as a rookie, but he flashed elite play-making potential at the high points. There's one play that really described Huff's season. Against Arizona, Chip called a WR screen on 1st and 10 at the Arizona 19-yard line. Huff ran the wrong route, finally caught the ball, weaved through multiple Cardinals, then fumbled the ball at the one-yard line.
If he can master the extensive playbook and focus on improving ball security, Huff can be an 800+ yard receiver in this offense. He has all the tools Chip looks for in a wide receiver; deep speed, nasty blocking, and elite YAC ability. If the football intelligence improves, Huff will be a factor sooner rather than later.

S Jerome Couplin (23 years old, 6-2, 215lbs)

Before anybody harasses me via Twitter, I admit this is a stretch. But Couplin's physical traits are just ridiculous. He has an 81" wingspan, *drops jaw*. Pair that length with 4.50 speed, and you have a raw player with the ability to patrol the entire deep field. Chip Kelly brought Couplin in when he already had four safeties on the roster, eyeing him as a long-term project. Forbes even labeled Couplin as the NFL's Next Superhero.

While it would be a big surprise if Couplin was ready to make an impact on defense within a year or two, his raw size and athleticism make him a prime candidate to make his presence felt on special-teams.

In case you missed it...

- CFL cornerback Delvin Breaux visited the Eagles. And while he's not able to sign with any team until February 10th, it seems almost every NFL team is interested in the speedy 6-1 corner. If Philadelphia manages to sign the CFL star, I'll edit this post and add him to the list.

- If you're in free agency mode, check out my 2015 Free Agency Preview. Lots of good options available in March.

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