That changed in 2012 when owner Jeff Lurie told Andy Reid to focus on coaching and Joe Banner to focus on finding a new job, and increased general manager Howie Roseman’s draft authority. From that point on, “the process” became about selecting the best player available, not the best player available at a position of need.
“We have to stick to our board,’’ Roseman said before the draft. “The draft is a long-term decision for us. We don’t know where we’re going to be in 2 to 3 years.
“We are going to take the best player, and we are not going to force guys up just because we have a particular anxiety about a position, because we look at a particular spot on our depth chart and say we don’t have that.
“Now, I go home at night and think about that all the time. I want to have a 90-man [offseason] roster of guys who are going to make teams. And I want 53 guys who can start. But we’ve got to get past that.
“We’ve got to know that we have to make good long-term decisions. We have to get really good players. And when you look at forcing [a pick because of need], whether it’s our team or other teams in the league, it doesn’t work.”
The Eagles didn’t force anything in yesterday’s first round. They entered the draft with only six selections, their fewest in 11 years.
They managed to add a pick by trading down with Cleveland from No. 22 to 26, then took the best player on their board, outside linebacker/defensive end Marcus Smith, of Louisville.
“He was the next [highest-rated] guy for us,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “We felt we could move back [four spots] and pick up an another pick. We didn’t want to move too far back, because we were afraid there would be a run on [pass-rushers].”
They got a little worried when the Chiefs selected Auburn linebacker Dee Ford at 23. But the Bengals and Chargers, who stood between them and Smith, took cornerbacks. Cincinnati selected Darqueze Dennard, of Michigan State. San Diego took Jason Verrett, of TCU.
Thanks to two solid drafts in ‘12 and ‘13 that have produced eight starters, and some smart free-agent signings (Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Jenkins, Nolan Carroll), re-signings (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Nate Allen) and trade acquisitions (DeMeco Ryans), the Eagles didn’t really have any crying needs heading into this draft.
Definitely a few whimpering ones, though, including edge rusher. But nothing that absolutely, positively required first-round attention.
“It’s a lot easier when you say, ‘Well, that’s our 20th [ranked] player, and we’re picking at 54, so we’re going to take him,” Roseman said. “It makes sense. You look back, it’s what the successful teams are doing.
“Aaron Rodgers is the classic example. The Packers had Brett Favre. But they said they were taking the highest-rated player. They said, ‘[Rodgers] is our eighth-rated player on the board and we’re going to take him. For me, I’m very comfortable with that process. And I think, hopefully, in terms of the last two drafts, it’s showed up.”
The first round fell nicely for the Eagles. After the first 17 picks, seven appetizing options who had been linked to them in one mock draft or another – cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Bradley Roby, safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, and wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin – still were on the board.
Pryor went to the Jets at 18, and the Saints traded up with Arizona from 27 to 20 and took Cooks, obviously thinking that the Eagles might take him at 22.
Kelly said the Eagles went into the first round last night with a list of six players they would’ve taken at 22.
“Unfortunately, other teams in the league like the same six guys,” Kelly said. “When you’re picking 22, you can’t really predict what you’re going to do. Is there going to be a run on this position? Or that position?
“We couldn’t predict last year when we were at 4 and the Dolphins traded up [to No. 3] and took an outside linebacker [Dion Jordan] even thought they played a 4-3 defense. We thought they were going to take Lane [Johnson, whom the Eagles took at No. 4].
“What you do is order your board and when you get an opportunity to make your selection, it’s really staring you in the face as far as who you’re going to go for.”
When the Eagles went on the clock at 22, Kelly said they were prepared to take Smith there, but thought they could move down, add a pick and still get Smith.
“Our guys did a great of judging [the board],” Kelly said.
The Eagles intend to stick with the best-available-player approach in the next six rounds.
“As the draft goes along, it’s even more important that you stick to your board,” Roseman said. “If you look at the percentages on where you hit on guys, as you go into the middle and late rounds, it’s hard to hit on guys.
“So now, if you’re saying I’ve got to find somebody at a particular position that may or may not be strong, I don’t think your chances are very high.”
On Twitter: @Pdomo