Building the Duck Dynasty




GORDONVILLE — If it walks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck, it is probably going to be an Eagle.

That sounds like a non-sequitur unless cast in an NFL context, where Eagles Emperor Chip Kelly has taken to padding his roster with University of Oregon products he coached first-hand or recruited before making the leap to the pro level in 2013.

It is not a new approach. A few generations back, Dick Vermeil had a few UCLA guys – from first-round pick Jerry Robinson to role players like John Sciarra, Wally Henry and Terry Tautolo – on the roster.

Kelly came to the Eagles after a 4-12 campaign in 2012 and posted a pair of 10-6 seasons and one division title.

Though the roster has been drastically, and shockingly, overhauled in Kelly’s first offseason while doubling as the personnel czar, the Oregon presence remains.

The pre-draft Eagles have eight Oregon products on their active roster. That number includes newcomers Kiko Alonso, the linebacker acquired in the LeSean McCoy trade, and free agent defensive back Walter Thurmond – while subtracting much-maligned linebacker Casey Matthews, now with the Minnesota Vikings.

Another ex-Duck, receiver Jeff Maehl, remains an unsigned exclusive rights free agent. Except in the unlikely event that someone beats down his door, expect Maehl back in the camp for another go-round as well.

A point of note, though, is that Alonso – presuming he is healthy – is the only projected starter. Thurmond and receiver Josh Huff, a third-round pick last year who showed flashes of potential but had plenty of costly mental miscues, have chances to either start or play key roles. Defensive end Brandon Bair was effective as a reserve in first year of live action at age 30. Another defensive end, Taylor Hart, was a fifth-round pick last year who never saw the field after a middling preseason.

Receiver Will Murphy somehow earned a second year on the practice squad over more talented camp hands, as did undrafted rookie nose tackle Wade Keliikipi. Running back Kenjon Barner was picked up late in the preseason, cut and then signed to the practice squad later on.

So, at present, that is really a whole lot of nothing – or next to nothing – overly meaningful from the Oregon contingent.

One would think that maybe Kelly is ready to do away with his green security blankie with the oblong O on it, but we all know that likely won’t happen.

With draft winds blowing, and rumors swirling, expect more Ducks to be drafted and others to be signed off the street after it all ends May 2.

As a primer, let us take a closer look at the crop of Ducks in the 2014 draft class, and where they could be plucked and how they would fit in once reunited with Kelly.

Elephant – or giant duck – in the room

First and foremost, we need to put aside all talk about Ducks morphing into Eagles and dispense with elephant in the room – quarterback Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

One of the more intriguing mysteries around the draft is what will become of Mariota, whose unique skill set pretty much makes him a fit for only certain offenses, with the Eagles topping the list for obvious reasons.

But the Eagles pick at No. 20. After trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford and declaring the oft-injured Bradford his quarterback – perhaps directly leading to the signing of DeMarco Murray, Bradford’s close friend – Kelly pronounced that he wouldn’t “mortgage the future” to trade up for Mariota.

But what Chip says and what Chip does are akin to comparing a quacking duck and a soaring bald eagle.

If Mariota falls past the top two slots, which is more than possible, Kelly can use semantics to wiggle his way out of the corner he painted himself into with the “mortgaging the future” talk.

Moving up to No. 6, where the Jets pick, would still be costly. But if Mariota is still around once the draft goes to the double digits, it would be shocking if the phone lines in the Eagles’ war room aren’t working overtime.

And don’t forget that when the Foles-for-Bradford bombshell was first dropped, it was initially reported that the Eagles were swapping first-round picks with the Rams, moving from 20 to 10.

That proved erroneous, without explanation – or even much in the way of a retraction from supposedly legitimate news sources — but perhaps it was partial information that leaked out and was misinterpreted. Do the teams have a handshake agreement on 20-for-10 deal should Mariota still be on the board?

Let’s say this, what once look like a five percent chance of happening is now more in the range of 30 percent.

Other Ducks

As the draft wears on, and familiarity with players  becomes crucial, it is about 100 percent chance that at least a few Ducks will find their way from the pond to the Eagles’ nest.

One such player you could almost send a limo to Philly International Airport for now is offensive lineman Jake Fisher. A tackle by trade, Fisher, a 6-6, 300-pounder and three-year starter well-versed in all the mandatory blocking schemes, could slide inside at guard and eventually go to right tackle when Lane Johnson inevitably replaces Jason Peters at left tackle in a year or two.

The problem is that Fisher is not quite a first-rounder. He could last until the late second round, when the Eagles pick again. Then again, he may not.

Another player Kelly would ache to get is center Hroniss Grasu. But unless Kelly plans to make him an undersized guard at 6-3 and 295 pounds, or has notions to jettison Jason Kelce, it would not seem pragmatic to burn a Day 2 (second- or third-round) pick on the high-character Grasu.

The same goes for defensive end Arik Armstead, who is nearly 6-8 and in the 300-pound range. Seen as a more of a raw product with unlimited upside, Armstead could go to a good team willing to wait on his development at the end of the first round or last into the early second.

In the unlikely event he is still on the board when the Eagles’ come to bat in the second round? Not a position of need – with the likes of Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton and Vinnie Curry, not to mention Bair and Hartm around – but a tempting option, nonetheless.

Pass-rushing specialist Tony Washington was moved all around the defensive front at Eugene, but his size (6-3, 250) makes him more likely an outside linebacker project than a defensive end at the NFL level. Many mock drafts have the Eagles locking in on Washington in the seventh round, which is likely more probable than them getting Mariota in the first.

Derrick Malone Jr. was a productive inside linebacker in Oregon’s 3-4 scheme. However, he is too undersized (6-2, 220) to play inside in the NFL. He would have to be a weakside outside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, which the Eagles don’t even play. It would make zero sense to burn a draft pick, even a late one, or even a roster spot for training camp. But they’d probably bring him in if he doesn’t get drafted.

Secondary Ducks

Going to the secondary, where Eagles’ fans are cautiously optimistic after Kelly broke the bank for Byron Maxwell and brought in Thurmond and E.J. Biggers, there are some Oregon products to keep an eye on.

Before tearing up his knee late last season, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – despite his size (5-9, 195) – was considered a first-round talent.

Where the elite athlete (4.46 speed) ends up now is anyone’s guess, as he could be a redshirt as a rookie. For the Eagles, who might be looking for a long-term solution in the slot after this year – Brandon Boykin is entering the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade rumors – could it be worth a third-round pick to rip a page out of Sam Hinkie’s playbook?

Any other school or origin? Not likely. Oregon? Could happen.

It might be wise to pencil in another Oregon corner, Troy Hill, as either a late-round pick or priority free agent. He was suspended from the team a junior after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend.

A red flag? Not when viewed with green-and-gold-colored glasses.

At safety, there is a pretty solid Oregon product, Erick Dargan. He had 13 career interceptions in Eugene, including a PAC 12-leading seven in 2014, his first as a full-time starter.

He might be a tad short (5-11) and a step slow (4.62), but he weighs around 215 and plays with his heart on his sleeve.

Those intangibles would likely not be enough to trump the size-speed issues, but he walks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck.

In the late rounds, or beyond, expect him to be an Eagle.

This column originally appeared at

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