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September 05, 2015

Grocery shopping: Five college players to watch who could interest the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft

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070715DadiNicolas Paul Vernon/AP

Virginia Tech's Dadi Nicolas could provide the Eagles with more depth on the edge.

There aren't many good games on the docket as many college programs schedule a 'tune up' game Week 1, but still... college football is back! As long as you're taking in some college games today (and tomorrow), here are some players eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft who could be good fits for the Eagles.

A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama (6'4, 312): Alabama vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m. Saturday

A season ago, Robinson had a grand total of zero sacks, and yet, he's thought of by some as a potential first round pick. Why? Because he's an absolute stud in the running game. At 6'4, 312, he's big, obviously strong, and an immovable object. First and foremost, the Eagles want to stop the run. Robinson does an outstanding job of eating up blockers while giving up no ground and letting the linebackers behind him make plays.

Here's Robinson's game last year against Mississippi State. I laughed out loud at the 5:54 mark, when the MSU running back tried to chip Robinson, and got swatted to the ground like a gnat. Watch him win at the line of scrimmage. You simply can't move him.

At Alabama, Robinson played DT in four down linemen sets, and he played both DE and NT in three down linemen sets, depending on the situation. Cedric Thornton is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and if he were to move on from the Eagles, Robinson could be a guy who could pick up where Thornton left off in the run game at DE.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (6'3, 242): Alabama vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m. Saturday

In DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles, the Eagles have perhaps the best trio of running backs in the NFL. So why exactly would they spend a high pick on another one? Well, they probably shouldn't, but as we saw in the 2015 draft, the Eagles were loaded at ILB and still took one with a third round pick.

The reason they might consider a guy like Derrick Henry is because at 6'3, 242, he's a size-speed beast who employs the type of one-cut north-south running style we learned that Chip Kelly prefers this offseason. A highlight reel:

Murray is under contract with the Eagles on a five-year deal, but for practical matters they're locked in with him for the next three. Mathews is under contract for three, but he's essentially locked in for two. Murray turns 28 in February, Mathews turns 28 in October, and Darren Sproles is already 32.

Alabama always seems to have an impressive stable of running backs. In fact, they've had one selected in the first two rounds in each of the last four drafts. Obviously, there are some hits and misses here at the pro level: 

Year Player Round Overall 
 2011Mark Ingram 28 
 2012Trent Richardson 
 2013Eddie Lacy 61 
 2014T.J. Yeldon 36 

Henry actually led the Crimson Tide in rushing in 2014, and T.J. Yeldon was still picked 36th overall by the Jaguars.

The Eagles clearly seem like they're going to run the crap out of the ball in 2015. Meanwhile, if Sam Bradford doesn't pan out like Philadelphia hopes he will*, the Eagles will be heading into the 2016 season with their sixth Week 1 starter at quarterback since 2009. And if they win enough games, they'll once again be in a position where they won't be able to draft a quality quarterback prospect. So if you can't find a good quarterback, maybe you just try to win the old school way, with a punishing ground game and good defense.

*Obviously, optimism on Bradford is very high at the moment -- just covering some potential scenarios here.

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (6'5, 278): Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. Monday

Bosa' 2014 season: 55 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles. As a sophomore. Let's just get him out of the way, because the Eagles aren't getting him unless Sam Bradford gets hurt, their season is a train wreck, and they're still unable to draft a quarterback.

Bosa is possibly the best player in the country, and is drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt. In the Eagles' scheme, I don't think they'd just plop him down at DE, where his skills would be wasted playing a two-gap technique. I think he has the athleticism and change of direction skills to play 3-4 OLB in the Eagles' scheme. He's that special. Just stick him out there on the edge and let him make plays. But again, imagining Bosa on the Eagles is like being poor and wishing for a Porshe.

Update: D'oh! Bosa is suspended for this game. Apologies.

Dadi Nicolas, Edge rusher, Virginia Tech (6'4, 236): Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. Monday

You can see the good and bad of Dadi Nicolas in his games against Pitt the last two seasons. In 2013, the Hokies let Nicolas play in space, where he was very disruptive:

In 2014, they had him mixing it up in the trenches, which is asking a lot of a 236 pound guy, and T.J. Clemmings kicked his ass for four quarters in the run game.

In 2014, Nicolas had 9 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. The Eagles can obviously use some depth at OLB. Let's see more of him in space this year, Beamer, K thanks.

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (6'0, 197): Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. Monday

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Eagles had targeted six players that they hoped would fall to them in the first round, one of whom was VT's Kyle Fuller, who was drafted 14th overall by the Bears. Kendall Fuller might be even better than his brother Kyle. They have similar styles of play in that they're both physical corners, who are also sticky and make plays. Fuller's highlight reel:

The Eagles invested heavily in the CB position this past offseason, when they paid bigtime dollars to Byron Maxwell, traded up for Eric Rowe, and spent two late picks on JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans. Still, Nolan Carroll is a free agent at the end of this season, and you can never have too many talented corners. 

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski