Phil Sheridan | Birds are no fun with the draft

Posted: April 28, 2007

Maybe the biggest compliment you can pay to the Eagles is that, for the last decade, they have made the NFL draft really boring.

That doesn't mean the team has always been right about its first-day choices - Quinton Caver, meet Jerome McDougle - only that the Eagles no longer deliver the kind of howlers that leave you unsure whether to laugh or cry. When they miss on a pick, it's usually a player who was rated in the neighborhood of where the Eagles chose him (see: Mitchell, Freddie, 2001).

This era of competence began in 1998, when Mike Lombardi and Bryan Broaddus ran the draft for lame-duck head coach Ray Rhodes. That draft produced Tra Thomas, who has played long enough to need a new first name, William; plus Jeremiah Trotter, Allen Rossum, Brandon Whiting and Ike Reese.

The next year, Andy Reid was hired as head coach. With first Tom Modrak and then Tom Heckert, Reid's drafts have mostly been, like Reid himself, solid but not flashy. There have been only two controversial drafts under Reid, and the Eagles wound up being right about both.

Where's the fun in that?

In 1999, they took Donovan McNabb over some running back from Texas. In 2002, they went on a binge, taking three defensive backs in the first two rounds. That seemed crazy until Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Michael Lewis formed three-quarters of a fine secondary for a four-year stretch.

A few days ago, Heckert talked to a room full of reporters about preparations for this year's draft. He acknowledged the imperfect nature of projecting college players into the pro game, and said the Eagles went back over each draft to understand their mistakes and avoid repeating them. It was clear that Heckert, Reid and the rest of the Eagles' brain trust has a pretty firm handle on this year's crop of players.

Again: boring.

Why, it was just a decade ago that Rhodes relied on the advice of Green Bay Packers executive Ron Wolf to select Virginia defensive end Jon Harris in the first round. The fact that Wolf was drafting five spots after the Eagles might have raised suspicion in some men, but not Rhodes. He proclaimed Harris the next Ed "Too Tall" Jones and he was right about one thing.

At 6-foot-7, Harris was tall.

He also was as surprised as anyone to be selected in the first round. Harris wasn't watching ESPN when he was selected because he didn't think he had to start paying attention until later. He remains the only player ever drafted who thought he went too high. He was right.

The Packers took Ross Verba, who was a starting offensive lineman for them for a while. If Rhodes really had his heart set on a Virginia player, he could have taken Jamie Sharper, Tiki Barber or Ronde Barber. All were on the board when the Eagles took Harris.

That's part of the fun, seeing who was available when the Eagles used to outsmart everyone, especially themselves, on draft day.

Jermane Mayberry, their first-round pick in '96, eventually blossomed into a solid guard after Reid took over. But Ray Lewis went to Baltimore with the next pick.

In '95, the Eagles famously traded up to the No. 7 spot, bypassing Warren Sapp (and Joey Galloway and Hugh Douglas) to take Mike Mamula.

In '94, it was herb-o-phile Bernard Williams when Todd Steussie, Wayne Gandy and Aaron Taylor, just to name three offensive tackles, were available. To top that, the Eagles came back in the second round and drafted Bruce Walker, a defensive tackle who, let's just say, would not have lasted very long in Roger Goodell's NFL.

Lester Holmes and Leonard Renfro in 1993. Trading up to take Antone Davis in 1991. You look at the Eagles' first-round picks through most of the 1990s, it's a wonder they ever won a game.

We just don't get that kind of entertainment on draft day anymore. That's no doubt a good thing when it comes to the success of the team, but it certainly makes for a long, dull weekend of watching names scroll across the bottom of the TV screen.

Watching how the Arizona Cardinals or Cleveland Browns muck things up just doesn't pack the same thrill.

Reid's long pattern of drafting linemen doesn't help matters. Guards and centers are fun picks in basketball, not football. Unless you announce a stunner like Harris or Davis, it's hard to get excited one way or another. History will not be kind to the decision to trade up for McDougle, but even a home run like Shawn Andrews doesn't exactly fire up the faithful.

Two things are possible under this Eagles regime. They'll make a good pick, or they'll make a mistake no one can be sure about until 2009.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan

at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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