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MTS Notes: How Eagles built contender; Scouting Darnold-Rosen

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks NFL.com
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes, including:

» What scouts will be looking for from top QBs Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen on Saturday
» The scouting report on Georgia's latest stud LB
» An under-the-radar pass rusher who could find his way into the first round

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's look at how the Eagles built one of the NFL's best teams, and what clubs can learn from their success.

How do you build a team with some decent talent into a championship-caliber club?

Let the Eagles be your blueprint.

After Philadelphia finished the 2015 season with a 7-9 record, owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to let coach Chip Kelly go and handed the control of the personnel department back to Howie Roseman. Soon thereafter, Roseman brought in Joe Douglas to spearhead both the college and NFL scouting departments. Together, Roseman and Douglas have done a remarkable job of upgrading the talent on the roster and positioning the Eagles to compete for a title. They have the best record in the NFL right now (8-1) and their roster is loaded with major contributors that were added in the past couple years.

Here's a look at some of the key additions from 2016 and 2017. Most of these players are starters, or have started, for Philadelphia.

2016

Key draft picks: QB Carson Wentz, first round; OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, fifth round; RB Wendell Smallwood, fifth round; S Jalen Mills, seventh round; LB Joe Walker, seventh round.

Key free-agent additions: OG Stefen Wisniewski, OG Brandon Brooks, S Rodney McLeod, OLB Nigel Bradham.

2017

Key draft picks: DE Derek Barnett, first round; CB Sidney Jones, second round (hasn't played yet, on injured reserve); CB Rasul Douglas, third round; WR Mack Hollins, fourth round.

Key free-agent additions: WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Chris Long, CB Patrick Robinson.

Acquired via trade: RB Jay Ajayi, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Ronald Darby.

Undrafted free-agent signing: RB Corey Clement.

Signed off Bengals practice squad: K Jake Elliott.

As you can see, the Eagles have added tremendous talent on both sides of the ball over the last two years. However, the biggest move was trading up in the 2016 draft to select Carson Wentz No. 2 overall. That was a bold decision by Roseman and it's paying off in a big way. Wentz is the leading MVP candidate at this point in the season and he's still just scratching the surface of his potential.

I look at what the Eagles did and I see a three-phase plan that NFL teams in the bottom half of the league can try to replicate: 1) Build your lines on both sides of the ball. 2) Find your quarterback. 3) Build around the QB with skill-position talent.

The good news for struggling teams: You can turn it around and if you play your cards right, you can do it in a couple years. Philadelphia is proving it.

Now, the Eagles' roster was not bereft of talent before the 2016 season. They already had a handful of elite players on the roster, especially in the trenches. Jason Peters (when healthy; he's on injured reserve after suffering an ACL tear a few weeks ago) and Lane Johnson form one of the top OT tandems in the league, while Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are both top-level defensive linemen. Zach Ertz and Malcolm Jenkins are among the top players at their respective positions as well.

However, the team was lacking a franchise quarterback and needed to overhaul the other skill positions on offense coming off the 2015 season. They have filled those holes. This is now one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. They are positioned to win right now and they're built to compete for championships for a long time. -- Daniel Jeremiah

WHAT SCOUTS WANT TO SEE IN DARNOLD VS. ROSEN

Whenever top QB1 prospects square off in a marquee matchup, there's always going to be a press box full of NFL scouts paying close attention to each signal-caller's every move.

With Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen viewed by some as the top 2 passers in college football, NFL scouts from 20 teams are flocking to Saturday's UCLA-USC showdown to see if each guy confirms his status as a future franchise quarterback while answering the biggest questions that cloud their evaluations.

Darnold, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt sophomore, has been touted as the No. 1 quarterback in college football since he blistered Pac-12 completion a season ago. He posted a 67.2 percent completion rate last season with 3,086 passing yards and a 31:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio while leading the Trojans to nine wins, including a spectacular Rose Bowl victory that showcased his big-game moxie. Scouts raved about his potential as a fearless gunslinger with outstanding athleticism, arm talent, and improvisational skills. Although there were some concerns about his long, looping windup, Darnold flashed the kind of star power that makes NFL folks salivate over his potential.

In fact, UCLA coach Jim Mora compared Darnold to a younger Tony Romo after Mora's Bruins lost to the Darnold's Trojans last season.

When I studied Darnold over the summer, I loved his combination of size, athleticism, and skills. He impressed me with his poise, composure, and performance under pressure, particularly in critical moments in big games. Darnold didn't flinch in key situations and appeared to relish the opportunity to come through for his team in the clutch. While I worried about his gunslinging ways leading to a high interception total, I thought his skills as an anticipatory thrower could make him a star if he refined the rough areas of his game.

Fast forward to the 2017 season: We've seen the USC standout overcome a shaky start (nine INTs in the Trojans' first six games) to re-emerge as the No. 1 player at the position. Darnold has posted a 12:2 TD-INT ratio over the past five games while exhibiting better judgment and field awareness. He is taking better care of the ball and avoiding some of the "hero" throws that resulted in costly interceptions early in the season.

Against UCLA, NFL scouts will want to see Darnold continue to show good ball security while remaining a fearless playmaker. He has to eliminate the fumbles (nine in 2017) and show improved awareness within the pocket. In addition, Darnold has to continue to improve his overall efficiency as a passer after watching his completion rate slip to 63.4 percent after flirting with the 70-percent mark (67.2 percent) last season.

Rosen, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior, doesn't get as much love from scouts and the national media as his cross-town rival, but he is a more talented and refined passer. He is a classic drop-back passer with A-plus arm talent and a unique ability to make every throw in the book with finesse or power. Rosen's ability to change ball speeds and trajectories is akin to an MLB pitcher with a four-pitch arsenal. He shows outstanding anticipation and touch, particularly on short and intermediate throws between the numbers.

Rosen showed those traits from the first time he stepped foot onto UCLA's campus, and observers noticed his special traits immediately.

"It's just a God-given deal," UCLA's then-offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, told Sports Illustrated after Rosen's first collegiate game. "He's got a string on that ball. He's got all the throws. As they say in the PGA, he can work the ball. He can drive the ball in there. He's got a great feel for dropping the ball over the top. He can throw over guys. He's really a gifted kid in that aspect."

Despite Rosen's spectacular skills as a pocket passer, he still shows some inconsistencies that prevent scouts from affixing a gold star next to his name. He has been inconsistent with his ball placement and accuracy going all the way back to his freshman season. Although he is completing 62 percent of his passes, he has hovered around the 60-percent mark (60 percent in 2015 and 59.3 percent in 2016) for most of his career. Most NFL teams want to see QB prospects completing at least 60 percent of their passes.

Granted, Rosen hasn't played with the strongest supporting cast on the perimeter or up front, but he can't miss the mark when receivers come open at intermediate range. In addition, Rosen can't allow his judgment to be affected by the pass rush when the pocket collapses. When I studied the tape from this fall, I saw Rosen making questionable decisions under duress, and those blunders have resulted in turnovers. He suffered through an eight-interception streak over a four-game span and is currently in the midst of a four-game run where he hasn't completed 60 percent of his passes in a game (Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State).

With that in mind, Rosen must show scouts that he can deliver a win against a heavy favorite while showing an efficient game from the pocket. Scouts want to see the UCLA star put his undermanned squad on his back to pull off a major upset. From a technical standpoint, evaluators want to see Rosen consistently hit the the strike zone on short and intermediate throws. In addition, observers will want to see the Bruins' QB1 exhibit sound judgment under pressure while avoiding turnovers. Rosen's turnovers have typically come on fade-away throws (retreating with defenders in his face) against blitz or heavy pressure. Thus, he needs to show better poise and composure when the pocket collapses. If he can also display some mobility and elusiveness in the pocket while avoiding rushers, he can change the erroneous narrative regarding his athleticism (Rosen was ranked among the nation's top tennis players as a youth).

Given the number of scouts that will be in attendance to check out the battle between Rosen and Darnold on Saturday night, there's a chance NFL teams will establish their pecking order among these QBs by the time the game ends in the L.A. Coliseum. -- Bucky Brooks

SCOUTING GEORGIA'S STUD LB

I'm still in the early stages of my evaluating process for the current group of college players, but Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith is quickly emerging as one of my favorite players in the country.

College Football 24/7 Hot Topics:

The ultra-explosive Smith can play inside the box or out on the perimeter. He has outstanding range and instincts. He's quick to key/read the play and he eats up ground in a hurry. His play speed equates to a 40-yard-dash time in the low 4.5s. He has a great feel for beating blockers to the spot and wrapping them to get to the ball carrier. Smith needs to do a better job of getting off blocks, but he rarely finds himself engaged. He has the speed and agility to easily match up with running backs and tight ends in man coverage and his instincts are a tremendous asset in zone coverage.

He's an outstanding tackler. He rolls his hips on contact and can generate some "wow" hits. His combination of speed/explosiveness reminds me of former UGA LB Alec Ogletree, but I think Smith is further along than Ogletree was at this stage of his career. -- Daniel Jeremiah

UNDER-THE-RADAR PASS RUSHER TO WATCH

I talk to NFL scouts on a daily basis and they help me identify the right players to study for next year's draft. One prospect that has come up several times in the last few weeks: University of Texas at San Antonio outside linebacker Marcus Davenport.

I finally had the chance to study the talented edge rusher this week, and I came away very impressed. Scouts estimate his height at 6-foot-5 1/2 and his weight at 260 pounds. He is tall, long and explosive. As a pass rusher, he explodes off the ball, uses his length to separate from offensive tackles and he can bend around the edge. He closes ground quickly and he's an excellent finisher.

In the run game, he dominates offensive tackles and tight ends at the point of attack. He generates knock-back on first contact and his backside pursuit is outstanding. He will lose sight of the ball on occasion, but that's to be expected for someone relatively new to the position (he is a former wide receiver).

He has a chance to elevate his stock at the Reese's Senior Bowl in January -- he's been invited to participate in the game -- and I expect him to put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine this spring. Right now, he's pegged as a second-round pick. He could move into the first-round conversation with a strong postseason performance. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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