Inside the Eagles: Poor draft decisions on lines weakened Eagles

Posted: November 07, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - If you want to find the source for the Eagles' below-par play on both lines, start with the draft - or start with the men who run the draft.

The Eagles are 3-5 this season and gasping for dear life because the offensive line can't pass-block and because the defensive line can't rush the passer. They have issues at many other positions - quarterback, of course - but if it all starts up front, as Andy Reid has always preached, then the buck must stop there.

And Reid, general manager Howie Roseman - and before him, Tom Heckert - deserve blame for their evaluations in drafting linemen since 2006. Because they failed to hit on most of those picks, Reid and company were forced to look elsewhere.

There's nothing wrong with adding a piece here and there via free agency and there's nothing wrong with making a trade. The Eagles made a tremendous deal in April, 2009, when they acquired tackle Jason Peters.

But championship teams are built through the draft. And the Eagles certainly aren't a championship-caliber team - and that is as clear as Reid's days in Philly are numbered - after the Saints pasted them, 28-13, on Monday night.

The offensive line, battered by injuries, was dealt another blow when right tackle Todd Herremans left the game with an ankle/foot injury. Of the five linemen left, only left guard Evan Mathis started last season.

So it's difficult to criticize center Dallas Reynolds, right guard Dennis Kelly, left tackle King Dunlap, and Herremans' replacement, Demetress Bell.

So we'll go after the decision-makers that selected the following offensive linemen from 2006-11:

2011: Danny Watkins (first round), Julian Vandervelde (fifth), and Jason Kelce (sixth).

2009: Fenuki Tupou (fifth) and Paul Fanaika (seventh).

2008: Mike McGlynn (fourth), Mike Gibson (sixth), and Dunlap (seventh).

2006: Winston Justice (second) and Max Jean-Gilles (fourth).

Kelce appeared to be a legitimate starter after an 18-game sample. He went down for the season, however, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the second game this season. Reynolds, an undrafted free agent who toiled on the practice squad for three seasons, was then thrust into an unfortunate spot.

If the Eagles had hit on any of the other interior linemen that they drafted in the last several years - Vandervelde is currently on the practice squad - maybe the drop off isn't as steep.

Reynolds continued his struggles against the Saints. The Superdome did not make calling out protection schemes easy, but the pass protection was atrocious. Vick was beaten to a pulp. How he survived that barrage is a topic for another day.

Watkins did not start for the second straight game. He has an ankle injury, one Reid recently called "chronic." He played his senior season at Baylor with a broken bone in one of his ankles.

Reid did not give an affirmative when asked recently if Watkins would return as the starting right guard when he was healthy. But with the way Kelly, a 2012 fifth-round pick, played against the Saints, Watkins can't do any worse.

The Eagles have not expended many early-round picks on offensive linemen, but when they have they whiffed. Justice had an up-and-down tenure in Philly, but he was traded to the Colts in the offseason for virtually nothing. He has played solidly for Indianapolis and would have been a welcomed reserve in light of the Eagles' injuries.

They also failed to hit on any of the late-round shots in the dark, except for Kelce.

On the other side of the line, the Eagles have spent handsomely on defensive linemen in the draft. Here's the list:

2010: Brandon Graham (first), Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (third), Ricky Sapp (fifth), and Jeff Owens (seventh).

2008: Trevor Laws (second) and Bryan Smith (third).

2007: Victor Abiamiri (second).

2006: Brodrick Bunkley (first) and LaJuan Ramsay (seventh).

Graham is only finally starting to deliver. A knee injury stunted his first two seasons in the NFL. He forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter. But those plays have been few. Even if he has more snaps, will he ever been a dominant end such as the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, whom the Eagles passed on?

Te'o-Nesheim, Sapp, Owens, Laws, Smith, Abiamiri, Bunkley and Ramsay (who?) - they're all gone. Only Bunkley, who sacked Michael Vick last night for the Saints, was a steady contributor. And he never lived up to a 14th overall pick.

Because of poor evaluation, the Eagles have been forced to sign free-agent linemen such as Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins and make the best of undrafted guys such as Cedric Thornton or CFL castoffs like Phillip Hunt. They haven't been good fits.

And neither have been the lauded coaches Reid hired in January - Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd - old timers he thought would make up for his and Roseman's and Heckert's mistakes in the draft.

But there's no Band-Aid big enough to cover up those blunders.


Contact Jeff McLane at  jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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