Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Re(i)d Queen Effect

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." -- Lewis Carroll, "(Alice) Through the Looking Glass"
Red Queen Effect comes from evolutionary genetics, and it uses the Lewis Carroll quote above to describe the phenomenon of maintenance in the face of an unrelenting enemy -- mostly about parasitic diseases versus the organism that host them.

In it, everything is done simply to maintain the status quo; even a positive mutation will simply gain you a leg up, as it were, for a small amount of time, before the parasite adapts as well. (In a fun aside, this also explains why, evolutionarily, we have sex and genders -- it's all to thwart parasites. Evolutionary geneticists are sexy, sexy beasts.)

If you are like me, as always, you have my apologies. But you've faced Red Queen Effect in the business end of a bench press, on a bicycle, at work and, in this off-season at least and most likely many more, in your football team. Especially if you are an Eagles fan.

Speculation around my part of the world and blogosphere has been fixated on who (or, since this is football and the pre-draft speculation makes us all combine-ish surveyors of meat, what) the Eagles will draft with the 19th pick.

Since the team has proven itself incapable of drafting a WR high since the Tragedy of Freddie Mitchell, despite the fact that, well, they seem to have good years when they have a plus wideout and bad years when they don't... well, let's just move on from that, shall we.

The only positions that we're (pretty sure) they won't draft are RB, QB, TE, PK and P. Everything else, given the stopgap nature of last year's frustrating 8-8 team, is up for grabs.

(Note: They'd certainly be welcome to draft a top-drawer TE, but after slapping the franchise tag on LJ Smith and being reasonably encouraged by Brent Celek last year, they won't. Besides, a top-drawer TE is too close to a WR for comfort. As the Owens Debacle proved, we just can't have them. Bad things happen.)

Offensive line is probably not likely, even though Job Runyon is getting old in the tooth, and the little that the world saw of Winston Justice made us all, Justice included, assume the fetal position. Some would note that putting a de facto rookie against the NFC's best DE in 2007 on an island in a MNF game was, um, Remarkably Stupid Coaching, too.

But it's not like the Reid Era to cut bait that quickly, and given Justice's pedigree (USC) and draft position (2nd round in 2006), he probably gets another year to show if he's learned anything. The team likes Jamal Jackson at center, and so do I; he's athletic and nasty. But even if he wasn't, drafting an interior lineman in the first round just isn't something they would do. You'd take a tackle and move him in if he couldn't handle the most meaningful role, kind of how they rarely draft a safety very high, preferring to go for the higher upside at corner.

On the defensive side of the ball, the CB class is said to be good, while the safeties are weak. Again, this plays right into the general school of thought anyway, which is you can always slide a slow corner to safety, but you can't do anything with a safety that's having trouble, other than cut him. Unfortunately, drafting at the 19 spot probably means reaching for a corner, so this isn't where they are going to go, either.

With the Eagles, linebacker is to the defense as wide receiver is to the offense -- an absolutely critical position that they just have a blind spot about. The perfect Eagles LB for the Reid Era is a guy that's good in coverage and... that's about it. It's one of the biggest problems of the regime, in that the fan base years (pines, really) for the next Seth Joyner, otherwise known as the linebacker from a little place called Rage. But the team winds up going for Big Thinkers like Dhani Jones and Mark Simoneau. It's maddening, but it is what it is.

So that leaves us with a defensive lineman, and specifically a defensive end, to replace the cursed Jevon Kearse and to buttress the team's best defensive player last year, Trent Cole. Now, the Giants showed that two plus pass rushers on the defensive line can do a lot of damage... but excuse me for just thinking that the draft pick, if and when it goes here, is just chasing the ineffecive free agent signings of Kearse and Darren Howard.

Meanwhile, of course, the secondary is a serious problem with the ghost of Brian Dawkins, the erratic play of Lito Sheppard, and nickel back Will James (nee Peterson) playing so badly that most Eagle fans were happier to see street meat like Joselio Hanson and JR Reed in coverage. (At least they seemed interested in hitting someone.) And that's where Re(i)d Queen Effect comes in, because if either the Howard or Kearse signings had worked out, you could spend this pick in the defensive backfield and addressed your most glaring need.

You know, that you can actually draft, given that only Pinkos and Hottentots draft or sign game-breaking wide receivers.

And with that, I think it's Drink Me Time...

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