By David Weinberg
The Eagles are in unfamiliar territory this year during the draft.
They’re not used to being so bad that they own a top-10 pick. The Eagles, who own the No. 4 overall selection, haven’t been in the top 10 for more than a decade. The last time was in 2000 when they used the No. 6 overall pick to take Florida State DT Corey Simon. They haven’t drafted in the top five since 1999, when then-rookie head coach Andy Reid grabbed Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb at No. 2.
The Eagles earned this year’s lofty status with a terrible performance. Billed as Super Bowl contenders before the season, they finished 4-12 and in last place in the NFC. Reid’s 14-year tenure came to an ugly end when he was fired by owner Jeffrey Lurie on New Year’s Eve.
This year’s draft will mark the start of a new era for the Eagles, who will rely on a new head coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman to rebuild an aging and underachieving lineup.
“We definitely overvalued the talent and the chemistry on this roster,” Roseman said. “We have to figure out what went wrong here and we have to fix it.”
The Eagles can only hope their Kelly has as much initial success in the draft as Reid enjoyed in 1999.
The Eagles owned the No. 2 pick that year. Fans prayed that Reid would draft Texas RB Ricky Williams. A Philadelphia radio station even sent a group of listeners dubbed the “Dirty 30” to New York in hopes of swaying the team to take him.
Instead, Reid drafted McNabb, who was met by boos when he walked out to meet then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue. McNabb subsequently led the Eagles to eight playoff appearances, five NFC East titles, five NFC championship game appearances and a Super Bowl berth all between 2000-09 before getting traded to Washington.
This year, Reid has the No. 1 pick as the Chiefs’ new head coach. Again, he’s expected to draft a quarterback, although not necessarily first overall. The Eagles could go in a number of directions, considering they have a lot of holes to fill. Problem is, they picked a bad time to be a bad team. Unlike last year, when the draft was loaded with potential difference makers, this year’s crop is more devoid of obvious Pro Bowlers.
Ironically, Reid could have a major impact on whom the Eagles draft. Who he takes at No. 1 will have a trickle-down effect. For instance, most of the early mock drafts have the Eagles taking Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel at No. 4, but he could wind up going to the Chiefs with the first pick.
Joeckel makes a lot of sense for the Eagles. Their offensive line was decimated by injuries this season. OLT Jason Peters (ruptured Achilles tendon) missed the whole campaign, C Jason Kelce (torn knee ligaments) was sidelined in the second game and ORT Todd Herremans (dislocated foot) followed him to the injured-reserve list midway through the season.
If Peters is able to return, the Eagles could plug Joeckel in at right tackle and move Herremans to right guard in place of Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2011 who lost his starting job this season.
Depending on how the draft unfolds, other possibilities for the Eagles include West Virginia QB Geno Smith, Utah DT Star Lotulelei, Alabama CB Dee Milliner and Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones.
Roseman and Kelly have to decide whether Nick Foles, a 2012 third-round pick, is the quarterback of the future. If not, they might try to get Smith. Lotulelei would be a good choice considering Cullen Jenkins’ future is uncertain and Mike Patterson missed most of the season with injuries and illness.
Milliner would be the Eagles’ first top young cornerback since they drafted Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2002. Both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were huge disappointments this season and last. Jones could be teamed with MLB DeMeco Ryans and WLB Mychal Kendricks, although Jones played primarily in a 3-4 system in college. The Eagles also haven’t used a first-round pick on a linebacker since they took Jerry Robinson in 1979.
Look for Roseman to have a much stronger role in this year’s draft. In past years, Reid always had final say on personnel matters, but Lurie gradually began to give more weight to Roseman’s evaluations of potential draft picks and free agents.
“What I had to do was really look at the 2010, 2011, 2012 drafts and offseasons,” Lurie said. “I really wanted to evaluate everything. I keep voluminous notes on talent evaluation on not just who we draft, but who is valued in each draft by each person that is in the organization that’s working here. I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman.”
The Eagles had their share of hits and misses in the first round under Reid and former president Joe Banner. Their best two picks were their first two in McNabb and Simon, although Sheppard also reached the Pro Bowl.
In addition, Patterson (2005) became a solid starter, WR Jeremy Maclin (2009) led the Eagles in receiving this season, DE Brandon Graham (2010) came on strong at the end of the season and DT Fletcher Cox (2012) showed promise.
But there also were mistakes. Reid chose WR Freddie Mitchell in 2001 after meeting with him at an In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles. Mitchell was out of the NFL after the 2004 season. DE Jerome McDougle (2003) had three career sacks in four injury-plagued seasons. OL Shawn Andrews (2004) reached a Pro Bowl before depression issues and back injuries ended his career. Watkins (2011) was demoted during this past season and is already being viewed as a bust. In 2011, Watkins and S Jaiquawn Jarrett were the top two picks. Jarrett, a second-round pick, was cut this past season.
“The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie’s evaluations,” Lurie said. “I decided to streamline the whole decision-making process for the 2012 draft and offseason, and that’s the first draft and offseason I hold Howie completely accountable for.”
There will be a lot of pressure on Roseman, the next head coach and the Eagles’ scouting department in this year’s draft. The Eagles have not missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons since 1997-99 and haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1998-99.
They are counting on this draft to provide players that would help make the Eagles contenders again.
Eagles’ top 3 needs
1. Safety They have been trying to replace Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell since they let both of them leave after the 2008 and ’10 seasons, respectively. Nate Allen has not been the same player since suffering a knee injury as a rookie in 2010. Kurt Coleman has been just OK. Colt Anderson is better suited for special teams.
2. Cornerback They spent big money to land Nnamdi Asomugha, traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and sent disgruntled Asante Samuel to Atlanta. Asomugha has been a huge disappointment. Rodgers-Cromartie has been inconsistent. Rookie Brandon Boykin showed promise as the No. 3 corner this past season. Curtis Marsh has yet to earn playing time.
3. Offensive line Injuries have left this unit in a state of flux. OLT Jason Peters, C Jason Kelce and ORT Todd Herremans all missed most of the season. Replacement OLTs Demetress Bell and King Dunlap both struggled. ORG Danny Watkins, the ’11 first-round pick, suffered a chronic ankle injury, then was benched.