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February 26, 2017

NFL Combine preview: Guard prospects who could interest the Eagles

Eagles NFL

The NFL Combine will kick off in Indianapolis next week, so we'll begin taking a look at some participants at each positional group every day. In case you missed our previous positional previews:

Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Offensive tackles

Today, we'll look at guards.

Is guard a need?

In 2015, guard was as glaring a hole as the Eagles had on their entire roster. In 2016, it was a strength, with Brandon Brooks starting at RG, Allen Barbre having an unexpectedly good season at LG, and a pair of competent reserves in Stefen Wisniewski and rookie Isaac Seumalo filling in behind them.

As of today, February 26, guard is not a need. However, with the Eagles almost certain to free up a significant amount of cap space, players like Jason Kelce and Allen Barbre could be on the move. Additionally, it is expected that Stefen Wisniewski will walk in free agency.

That will open up some holes along the interior of the Eagles' offensive line. If Kelce is indeed among the cuts/trades, Seumalo would be an obvious replacement at center, and the Eagles will need to find help at guard, regardless of whether or not the aging Barbre survives cap casualty season.

The only potential first-round pick at guard is probably Forrest Lamp from Western Kentucky, who played tackle in college but is likely to move inside to guard in the pros. Around this time last year, players like Joshua Garnett and Cody Whitehair were being mocked to the Eagles in the first round. That was crazy then, and selecting Lamp in the first round would be equally crazy now. If he's there in the second round? Sure.

Here are five guards that we think make sense for the Eagles:

Dan Feeney, Indiana (6'4, 304)

Feeney is a player who could be an out-of-the-box starter at LG, who is also very capable of playing center.

In 2014 and 2015, Indiana got excellent production from their lead running backs:

 Player (Year)Rush Yards YPC TD 
 Tevin Coleman (2014)270 2036 7.5 15 
 Jordan Howard (2015)196 1213 6.2 

It's perhaps somewhat noteworthy that Joe Douglas drafted Howard in the fifth round last year. The Indiana offensive line has had a lot to do with their running success, particularly Feeney. You can see a good film breakdown of Feeney by Alex Robbins of Crimson Quarry.

Feeney is among the best guard prospects in the country and would allow the Eagles to get younger along an offensive line that is going to require several new starters over the next two years.

Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh (6'5, 300)

Johnson is a high-energy offensive guard (I don't think I've ever typed that before) with a mean streak and good athleticism. That fits some of the things Doug Pederson is looking for in his offensive linemen.

Johnson does a good job with his initial punch, and he's effective as a pulling guard as well as getting to the second level. He has extremely active hands and feet, he never stops looking to hit someone, and he'll play through the whistle. On the downside, Johnson is a bit undersized at 300 pounds and can be pushed back into the pocket in the passing game.

At Pitt, Johnson primarily played at LG, but he also got snaps at RG at RT. In the NFL, for the Eagles' purposes, like Feeney above, Johnson could be an out-of-the-box starter at LG.

Isaac Asiata, Utah (6'3, 325)

Yesterday, we profiled Utah's LT, Garett Bolles. Today we'll note Utah's LG, Asiata, who is a pile-moving run blocker. When you watch Asiata play, the obvious thing you see is that Asiata puts a lot of guys on the ground. He too ends up on the ground quite a bit. But certainly, more often than not, the line moves in Asiata's favor at the point of attack. Asiata is also much more nimble than you might expect of a guy measuring in at 6'3, 325. 

One significant disadvantage with Asiata is his age. He's currently 24-years old and will turn 25 during his rookie season. But again, like Feeney and Johnson above, we would be talking about another potential out-of-the-box starter here.

Erik Magnuson, Michigan (6'5, 305)

At Michigan, Magnuson was slated to be the Wolverine's left tackle, but that never happened. Instead, he started at guard and right tackle during his college career (RT in 2016), while getting reps at left tackle in practice. He is also thought to have the requisite intelligence to play center. Magnuson even played a little tight end, changing his jersey number for a short time to No. 81. He was used mainly as an extra blocker at TE, similarly to the way the Eagles used Matt Tobin and Seumalo in jumbo sets this past season.

Magnuson could be a player of interest in the middle rounds who provides good depth at multiple positions, with his ceiling being a starter at RT, but we'll include him among the guards.

Sean Harlow, Oregon State (6'4, 310)

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Eagles selected Seumalo out of Oregon State in the third round. In the 2017 draft, they could have interest in another versatile Oregon State offensive lineman in Harlow. 

In his freshman season in 2013, Harlow started nine games at RT. In 2014, he started the first five games at RT and the final seven at LT. In 2015, he started all seven games he played at LT before being lost for the season with a very serious ankle injury. Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Harlow considered redshirting this past season, but he eventually opted to play his senior season instead at less than 100 percent.

Throughout his career at Oregon State, Harlow has practiced at all five positions along the offensive line, and probably projects to guard or center at the next level. He is the son of former New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Pat Harlow, who was selected 11th overall in the 1991 NFL Draft.

Harlow will be a player of interest during medical checks at the Combine, but he possesses the versatility the Eagles crave from their offensive linemen and would add depth to a unit that may move on from Kelce, Barbre, and Wisniewski in one offseason.

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