Adding proven veterans in trades and free agency has allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to stick to their philosophy of selecting talent over need in the NFL draft.
“We want to retool. We don’t want to rebuild when we have this amount of talent on our team,” said Howie Roseman, the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “We don’t know what we’re going to need a year from now, two years from now, and we’re trying to get long-term players on our team.”
Focusing on filling a hole at a specific position hasn’t worked out well for Philadelphia. Two examples this decade were linebacker Marcus Smith (No. 26, 2014) and guard Danny Watkins (No. 23, 2011). Smith never started a game in three seasons and Watkins was gone after two.
“I’ve been humbled by some mistakes I made in terms of valuing a position over the best particular player,” Roseman said. “That’s one of the things that’s exciting where we are right now. We can go play right now. We think we’re a pretty good team. So we can go into the draft knowing we don’t have anything we have to do or we have to fill at any position, and we can base it on what’s best long term.”
The Eagles acquired speedy receiver DeSean Jackson from Tampa Bay and running back Jordan Howard from Chicago, filling two needs last month. They also signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson.
They enter the draft with seven picks, including No. 25 in the first round and Nos. 53 and 57 in the second. Roseman and Joe Douglas, vice president of player personnel, can go in several directions. Trading down to stockpile more picks this year or for the future is always an option. They also have enough assets to move up if they wanted.
“The higher you are in the draft the better your success rate,” Roseman said. “We look at the 15-year history of our draft, and there is a break-off on the talent level where you can get a difference maker in the first round. There’s very few drafts where there are 32 legitimate first-round grades on guys. And so for us, we just look at that opportunity in the draft to get a difference maker each year — your homegrown difference maker, which is hard to find.”
Here are some other things to watch in the draft:
The Eagles value depth on the offensive and defensive lines. They could take a left tackle to eventually replace Jason Peters, a run stuffer in the middle of the D-line or an edge rusher. Among the players who made pre-draft visits were: Boston College OL Chris Lindstrom, Oklahoma OL Cody Ford, Louisiana Tech DE Jaylon Ferguson, Clemson DTs Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, and Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery.
Acquiring Howard won’t preclude the Eagles from drafting a running back. Several mock drafts have Alabama’s Josh Jacobs going at No. 25, but that would be a departure from an organizational philosophy. The team hasn’t selected a back in the first round since Buddy Ryan chose Keith Byars at No. 10 in 1986. LeSean McCoy was the last back the Eagles drafted in the second round. McCoy, chosen No. 53 overall in 2009, became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher before Chip Kelly traded him to Buffalo.
The Eagles prefer players who can play several positions, especially in the secondary and on the offensive line. Avonte Maddox started nine games at cornerback and safety as a rookie last season. Isaac Seumalo, a third-round pick in 2016, played everywhere upfront before settling in at left guard.
“We talk about position-less players,” Roseman said. “That’s a huge value in a league where you are going to have injuries. Those are traits that add to the value of the player.”
WHEELING AND DEALING
Under Roseman, the Eagles have always been active during the draft. Besides three picks in the top-60, the team has two picks in the fourth round, one in the fifth and one in the sixth.
“Try to accumulate a lot of good players,” Roseman said. “There are a lot of good players on both sides of the ball.”
Trading up to No. 2 to take Carson Wentz in 2016 remains Roseman’s best move. Other first-round hits were RT Lane Johnson (No. 4, 2013) and DT Fletcher Cox (No. 12, 2012). TE Zach Ertz, a second-round pick in 2013, also was an excellent pick.