2018 NFL draft prospect watch: Championship weekend is upon us

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2018 NFL draft prospect watch: Championship weekend is upon us

This is one of the best weeks of college football as several conferences hold their championship games.

The Eagles are sitting pretty at 10-1, but will certainly have an eye on a bunch of NFL draft prospects in action today.

Here are six players to watch in the early games.

No. 20 Memphis at No. 14 UCF - 12 p.m., ABC
No. 3 - Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis, senior (5-11/190)

Size obviously isn't Miller's strong point, but he is mighty explosive. After recording 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore, Miller has 1,212 yards and another 14 TDs so far this season. He's also been dangerous as a runner and as a punt returner. He's a pure playmaker. Just get the ball in his hands and clear a path. 

No. 18 - Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF, senior (6-1/223)
Griffin is by far the coolest story in all of college football. A birth defect forced Griffin to have his left hand amputated at 4 years old. He hasn't let that stand in his way, winning AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season. He's stood out yet again this season, recording 56 total tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and an interception. If you haven't watched Griffin yet, make sure you tune in.

No. 11 TCU at No. 3 Oklahoma - 12:30 p.m., FOX
No. 78 - Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma, junior (6-8/345)

Brown is an enormous human, but don't be fooled by his appearance. He's actually an outstanding athlete. Brown weighed 415 pounds in high school, but has dropped the weight and was named the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year last season. He's likely a late first-round pick. He's an obvious mauler in the run game but has really improved as a pass protector.

No. 32 - Travin Howard, LB, TCU, senior (6-1/213)
Howard has been a tackling machine for TCU. While playing mostly safety as a sophomore, Howard recorded 107 tackles, then amassed 130 last year while transitioning to linebacker. He's missed the last two games with an injury (he's expected to play today), but still has 83 tackles on the season, including a 13-tackle game in the Hornfrog's lost to the Sooners a few weeks ago. He has a nose for the football and outstanding instincts.

No. 6 Georgia at No. 2 Auburn - 4 p.m., CBS
No. 3 - Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia, junior (6-1/225)
While the Bulldogs' running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are certainly worth keeping an eye on, Smith is the prospect that should most intrigue the Eagles. Smith has wreaked havoc this season, recording 100 tackles (8 1/2 for loss), and 4 1/2 sacks. He's a sideline-to-sideline ‘backer that always seems to be around the ball. He could certainly be an option late in the first round.

No. 71 - Braden Smith, OL, Auburn, senior (6-6/303)
Smith has a ton of experience playing in the loaded SEC. He's built like a tackle but has spent the majority of his collegiate career at guard. He made the All-SEC freshman team and was named to the All-SEC first team as a junior. Smith was part of an impressive effort by the Tigers' in their upset of Alabama last week. He'll face another stiff test against the Bulldogs this week.

LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

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LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

A big piece of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season is moving on. 

Running LeGarrette Blount has signed with the Detroit Lions. Blount's deal will be for one-year, $4.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Blount, 31, was scheduled to visit the Lions on Friday and he didn’t leave without a new deal. He’ll reunite with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator in New England when Blount was there; the familiarity probably helped. 

Last offseason, Blount took his time deciding where he’d land. He didn’t sign with the Eagles until May and his contract was worth around $1 million. He apparently showed enough during 2017 to get a bigger deal this time around. 

After beginning the season as the Eagles’ primary runner, he eventually saw his role diminish after the Birds added Jay Ajayi through a trade. Still, Blount played in all 16 games and rushed for 766 yards during the regular season. More importantly, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Blount had a rushing touchdown in all three playoff games after having just two during the regular season. 

Perhaps more important than his contributions on the field, it was Blount’s unselfish nature that seemed to rub off on his teammates. When he and Alshon Jeffery were on board with that unselfish mindset, it seemed like the rest of the team followed. 

As recently as late February, Blount indicated he wanted to return to Philadelphia, where he really seemed to fit in the locker room and under running backs coach Duce Staley, whom Blount clearly respects. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there,” Blount said in February on NFL Network. “They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys.”

While Blount said he wanted to return to Philly, it was unlikely the Eagles could have (or would have) offered him the type of contract he’s getting from the Lions. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles still have Ajayi and Corey Clement under contract from last season. Kenjon Barner is a free agent. The running back position still seems up in the air, but the Eagles have a few months and a draft to figure it out. 

Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

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Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

Back in early 2016, just after Howie Roseman had been reinstated to his post of power, he pulled out some moves from the classic Joe Banner playbook. 

He tried to find value in projection. 

Within a nine-day span in early 2016, the Eagles signed Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson to lucrative five-year extensions. Since then, Ertz and Johnson have grown into Pro Bowl players, rendering their contracts relative bargains. 

Curry simply remained a good player, which is why he was cut on Friday afternoon

While Curry finally became a starter in 2017, he had just three sacks and the team drafted Derek Barnett and traded for Michael Bennett who was cheaper and better. It’s certainly not really a knock on Curry, who had his best professional season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl year. 

When Curry signed his five-year, $47.25 million extension in February 2016, he was just two years removed from his nine-sack season and was seen as a much better fit in the 4-3 scheme Jim Schwartz was bringing to town. So the Eagles paid Curry like he was going to play at a Pro Bowl level and it never happened. In that first year, the Eagles tried to peg him in as a starter opposite of Connor Barwin, but Brandon Graham outplayed him. After Barwin was gone, Curry became a starter, but was just good; not great. 

Meanwhile, the two other big contracts handed to Ertz and Johnson have clearly worked out. Cutting Curry really speaks more to the nature of NFL contracts these days than it does to the level of his play. 

Sure, Curry never played to the level of his contract, but the deals for Ertz and Johnson look much better. And unlike Curry, both of them had one year left on their rookie deals when the Eagles tried to gain value in re-signing them early. It’s worked out. 

Ertz was the first of the three to sign his five-year extension. His was worth $42.5 million and as a Pro Bowler in 2017, he’s beginning to outplay it. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league and he’ll continue to drop on that list as he plays out the next four years of that deal. The best part of Ertz’s contract is it wasn’t heavily backloaded, which has allowed the Eagles to restructure with him the last two offseasons to create some cap room. 

The second of the three big five-year extensions based on projections went to Lane Johnson. His deal was worth $56.25 million. Of course, Johnson’s suspension in 2016 was tough, but he rebounded to have an incredible 2017. He’s the highest-paid right tackle in football, but he’s 10th among all offensive tackles, which is a good value. 

Twenty days after Curry signed his deal, Malcolm Jenkins also got a five-year deal, but at that point he had already been a Pro Bowler, so his deal was more based off of production than projection. 

During that entire offseason, every single time Roseman was asked about the moves he made that offseason, he continually said the most important ones were the moves they made to keep their own players. That obviously included the projection deals for Curry, Johnson and Ertz. 

Sure, only two of the three ended up being bargains with tenable contracts. But even Curry was useful during the two years he played of his extension before the Eagles took the out they built into the deal. That’s not a bad hit rate.