Eagles' Nick Foles will have to beat odds to become top quarterback

Russell Wilson was another quarterback the Eagles eyed. He went earlier in the third round, to Seattle.
Russell Wilson was another quarterback the Eagles eyed. He went earlier in the third round, to Seattle. (Associated Press)
Posted: November 19, 2012

Nick Foles focused on the television screen during April's NFL draft before the power went out in his Austin, Texas, home in the middle of the third round.

Darkness enshrouded Foles. He was still undrafted.

Ten minutes later, Foles saw a 215 area code flash on his cellphone. He knew enough about the Eagles' interest to recognize the origin of the call. That's how Foles learned he would become Philadelphia's potential quarterback of the future.

The Eagles were determined to pick a quarterback from a draft class that might prove to be one of the ripest in years. Their evaluations included meeting with Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins selection who will start against the Eagles on Sunday.

Foles will replace Michael Vick and become the sixth quarterback from the 2012 class to start a regular-season game. It's the culmination of a rigorous evaluation process that ultimately landed Foles in Philadelphia.

"We liked him, so as we ranked him, we made him one of the guys that if we had an opportunity, we'd draft," coach Andy Reid said. "He fell to where we drafted, and it worked out like it did."

But the draft is never that simple. The six quarterbacks selected before Foles (the No. 88 overall pick) were Andrew Luck (No. 1, Colts), Griffin (No. 2), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8, Dolphins), Brandon Weeden (No. 22, Browns), Brock Osweiler (No. 57, Broncos), and Russell Wilson (No. 75, Seahawks). The Eagles expressed interest in Griffin, but did not have enough ammunition to trade up for him. They worked out Tannehill but had other needs in the first round.

The Eagles focused on Foles and Wilson. The draft room was unanimous in liking Foles, although Reid preferred Wilson, according to team sources. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg favored size and wanted Foles, team sources said. The comparison became moot when Wilson was taken 13 picks before Foles, and the Eagles were pleased to draft Foles as the highest quarterback selected besides Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb in the Reid era.

On Sunday, the Eagles will get their first prolonged look at Foles and begin to see whether he can beat the odds of quarterbacks selected after the first round and develop into the franchise's quarterback of the future.

"On game day, I don't know what it's going to be like; I never experienced that," Foles said. "There will be butterflies. There will be nerves."

The quarterback class

The Eagles showed interest in Foles throughout the spring. They met with the former Arizona quarterback at February's NFL scouting combine, made him one of the 30 prospects invited to visit the team complex, and even sent quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson to Austin to meet with Foles.

Whenever a quarterback slips to the third round, there are concerns. In Foles' case, the Eagles wanted to evaluate his arm speed to see how much velocity he had on his throws. Pederson returned to Philadelphia with positive reports. That convinced Mornhinweg, who was impressed with Foles' size, arm strength, and work in an Arizona offense that struggled because of personnel and injuries.

"We certainly had to dig," Mornhinweg said. "He is certainly built the right way."

Other quarterbacks intrigued the Eagles, too. It was near unanimous that Luck and Griffin would be the top two picks in the draft. That's why eyebrows were raised in February when Griffin mentioned the Eagles as one of the teams that met with him.

"Coach Reid told me they were very interested in me, and you never know what can happen," Griffin said last week.

Reid said Wednesday that the Eagles weren't in a position to take Griffin, but "we wanted to see what he was all about; I liked what I saw."

To ascend from No. 6 to No. 2, the Redskins also traded their 2012 second-round and 2013 and 2014 first-round picks - a hefty bounty that would have likely been impractical for the Eagles to sacrifice considering the state of their roster at the time.

"I think that was the first time that I thought that they were even thinking about drafting me or moving up to pick me," Griffin said. "Other than that, I tried to keep an open mind, so wherever I went I'd be happy."

The early returns on Griffin have been impressive, and Washington likely secured a franchise quarterback for the first time in more than a decade. Griffin has 1,993 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and only three interceptions. He has also run for 529 yards and six touchdowns.

Opposing defensive players have effusively lauded Griffin, and the Eagles remarked this past week that it's hard to simulate what Griffin can do until they see him on the field.

Despite Griffin's success, the Redskins are only 3-6. Luck has led the Colts to a 6-3 record, while Wilson has the Seahawks at 6-4. Weeden and the Browns are 2-7, and Tannehill's Dolphins slipped to 4-6 on Thursday.

Osweiler, who is Peyton Manning's backup in Denver, is the only rookie selected ahead of Foles who hasn't started a game this season. Reid credits the rapid development of quarterbacks to college offenses' becoming more passing-oriented. Spread offenses have proliferated during the last five years, so quarterbacks are more conditioned to recognizing blitzes.

"I don't know what it is about this class, but every now and then you get a group of guys in the same class - quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, whatever it is - and things click with those guys," Griffin said. "We're definitely, as a group, clicking right now in the NFL."

Foles' future

Drafting a quarterback early in the draft is a major organizational decision. It's especially important when the current franchise quarterback is north of 30 years old. Though Foles was a third-round pick, he impressed during training camp and preseason enough to unseat Mike Kafka as the team's backup.

But it's still important to understand that he's a third-round pick, not a first-rounder. Of the 32 opening-day starters in the NFL this season, 26 were selected in the first and second rounds. And most of the elite quarterbacks are high-first-round picks. Of the 16 Pro Bowl quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 20 years, 13 were taken in the top 11 picks. In April, general manager Howie Roseman said a team is "betting against the odds" when taking a quarterback after the first round.

"The percentages go down, but there are some pretty good ones that have gone fairly low," Reid said.

Those include Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (sixth-round pick) and Dallas' Tony Romo (undrafted). But most quarterbacks taken after the first two rounds are seldom relevant NFL starting quarterbacks.

Considering Michael Vick is 32, has only once played a full season in his career, and is not owed a considerable financial obligation beyond 2012, there is an unknown about the Eagles' future at quarterback. If Foles turns out like most third-round picks, the Eagles might need to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback like the Redskins did this season.

The Eagles can only hope there's more than one franchise quarterback on the field this Sunday.


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

Staff writer Jeff McLane contributed to this article.

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