Eagles need to make most of 2013 NFL Draft

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles general manager Howie Roseman (left) wont' be consulting former coach Andy Reid about this week's draft.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles general manager Howie Roseman (left) wont' be consulting former coach Andy Reid about this week's draft.
Posted: April 23, 2013

YOU DON'T just wake up one morning and become a 4-12 football team. It takes work.

Just as it takes a steady stream of smart personnel decisions to build a winning franchise, so does it take a substantial number of dumb ones to become the train wreck that was the 2012 Eagles.

Yes, injuries certainly played a role in the decline and fall of the Reidian empire last season.

But what did the Eagles in, what ultimately caused them to miss the playoffs the last two seasons, and prompted the NFL to assign them just one Sunday-Monday night television appearance this year, was their abysmal decision-making in the 2010 and 2011 drafts.

Those two drafts were supposed to lay the foundation for a glorious future for the franchise. They were supposed to keep a team that had qualified for the postseason 8 of the previous 10 years, in the playoff hunt until the Lombardi Trophy finally was sitting proudly in a display case in the atrium of the NovaCare Complex.

Instead, they cost Andy Reid his job and turned the Eagles into the Cleveland Browns, minus a federal fraud investigation.

They had a whopping 24 picks in those two drafts - 13 in 2010 and 11 more in 2011. Twelve of those 24 selections were in the first four rounds.

They set themselves up beautifully for long-term success, then failed miserably in the execution.

Training camp still is 3 months away, but guess how many of those 24 draft picks from 2010-11 are projected 2013 starters?

Two.

That's right, two. And one of them is the team's kicker - 2011 fourth-round pick Alex Henery. The other is center Jason Kelce, a sixth-round success story from the '11 draft.

There's still hope for a few others, including their two first-round picks in those drafts - linebacker Brandon Graham and guard Danny Watkins, and possibly their 2010 second-round pick, safety Nate Allen. And they did get some useful role players out of the '10 draft in tight end Clay Harbor (fourth round), wide receiver Riley Cooper (fifth round) and safety Kurt Coleman (seventh round).

But for the most part, those drafts have been turkeys.

Just 13 of their 24 selections still are even on the team, and two of them have been cut twice.

Only two have started 20 or more games over the last two seasons - Allen (25) and Coleman (27), and neither has distinguished themselves.

Along with departed corners Nnamdi Asomugha, who may go down as the biggest free-agent bust in franchise history, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, they were part of a secondary that gave up an NFL-high 60 touchdown passes the last two seasons.

Particularly troubling about those drafts was the Eagles' failure with their premium selections.

The fifth, sixth and seventh rounds generally are a crapshoot for even the best talent evaluators. But you have to be fairly accurate in the first three rounds.

In 2010, the 49ers selected four players in Rounds 1-3 - offensive tackle Anthony Davis, guard Mike Iupati, safety Taylor Mays and linebacker Navorro Bowman. Mays didn't pan out and was traded to the Bengals. But Davis, Iupati and Bowman all are starters. Iupati and Bowman both are Pro Bowlers.

A year later, the Niners selected linebacker Aldon Smith in the first round, quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second and cornerback Chris Culliver in the third. Smith had 19 1/2 sacks last season, Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as the starter in the second half of the season and led the team to the Super Bowl, and Culliver was the team's nickel corner.

The Eagles?

Just one of the six players they selected in the first three rounds of 2010-11 drafts - Allen - played at least 60 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps the last two seasons. Just two - Allen and Watkins - have started seven or more games in 2011-12. Allen started 25, but was benched late last season for poor play. Watkins started 18, but also was benched.

Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, the team's 2011 second-round pick out of Temple, lasted just one season with the Eagles before getting released. Defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, their 2010 third-round pick, was signed off their practice squad by Tampa Bay. Their '11 third-round pick, cornerback Curtis Marsh, has played just 75 defensive snaps in two seasons.

"It's a hard lesson when you talk about those numbers," general manager Howie Roseman said. "It's disappointing to be in that situation. At the same time, we think we have some guys from those drafts who are going to be major contributors for us going forward.

"You have to learn from some of the things that we've done. We've learned those lessons, and I think it was reflected in what we did last year, and what we do going forward."

To Roseman's credit, the Eagles bounced back with what so far appears to be a pretty productive 2012 draft.

How much of the blame Roseman deserves for the poor 2010-11 drafts is a matter of opinion. Roseman was named the team's general manager in January 2010. While Reid had final say over all personnel decisions, he and Roseman usually appeared to be on the same page with respect to opinions of players.

But after firing Reid in late December, owner Jeff Lurie went out of his way to absolve Roseman of all blame for the 2010-11 drafts. After listening to him talk, you would've thought Roseman didn't even work for the organization those 2 years.

"It's not been reported properly because the information hasn't been communicated properly," Lurie said on New Year's Eve, the day Reid was fired. "What I had to do was really look at the 2010, 2011, 2012 drafts and offseasons. 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 mistakes that were made [in 2010 and 2011] have little or nothing to do with Howie's evaluations."

Roseman has admitted several times in the last year that the biggest mistake the franchise made in those two drafts was putting too much emphasis on drafting for need and too little on selecting the ever-popular best athlete available.

After winning 11 games in '09, then losing in the first-round of the playoffs to the Cowboys, the Eagles started to press.

They have always believed that if they managed to stay in the playoff hunt year after year, their Super Bowl number would eventually come up.

But after the loss to the Cowboys, and again a year later when they came up just short in the playoffs against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Packers, they began focusing more on today and less on tomorrow.

The best example of that was their gargantuan reach for Jarrett in the second round of the '11 draft.

Most of the scouts I talked with had fourth-round grades on Jarrett. But the Eagles desperately wanted a safety to pair with Allen. They knew taking him with the 54th overall pick was too high. But they were fearful someone else was going to take him before they were able to get back on the clock.

After the Eagles scooped up Jarrett, another safety wasn't claimed until late in the third round, when the Bears took Cal's Chris Conte with the 93rd pick, three selections after the Eagles took Marsh.

Conte started 15 games for the Bears last season. Jarrett was out of football after getting cut by the Eagles. He signed with the Jets in late December.

Last year, the Eagles went back to the best-athlete-available approach.

"The lure of how close we felt we were to winning a championship, the mindset of trying to do whatever it takes to get that championship," affected the Eagles' draft decisions, Roseman said.

"The motives were right, but you can't shortchange the process," he said. "When you look back at teams that do a great job of drafting, they don't do that. They take some picks even though their fans may say they have a need somewhere else. But those guys end up being really good football players for them.

"What we learned is you can't force," Roseman said. "You can't force your board. You can't have so much urgency in terms of filling a need that you change the evaluation process.

"We have to go back to making sure we look at the draft as a long-term investment for our football team. It's not just the moment.

"Obviously you want guys who are going to contribute right now. But if you project them to be really good players, you don't know what the future is going to hold. You don't know what you're going to need a year or two from now. That's the thought process we use now."

That doesn't mean completely ignoring positional needs. No team does that. If you're on the clock and you have two or three players with fairly similar grades and one of them plays a position at which you have a need, you're going to take that player over the others.

The mistake comes, as it did with Jarrett, in taking a player with a much lower grade for the sake of addressing a specific positional need.

"When you have very close grades on players - and they'd better be really close - you will lean toward taking the harder-to-find position, the priority position," Roseman said. "I think that's natural. I think that makes sense.

"You just better make sure [the grades] are not [up] here and [down] there. I think we're good on that now. We're clear on where the line kind of crosses."

Better late than never, I guess.


Eagles Draft Week on PhillyDailyNews.com:

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