Applaud Eagles for going against the grain

Posted: May 12, 2014

The writer and physician Michael Crichton delivered an important speech in 2003 about the Eagles and the NFL draft.

OK, so it wasn't about the Eagles, really, or the NFL draft at all. It was about science and intellectual integrity and independent thinking and the tyranny of a word that, honest to goodness, is relevant to the Eagles' selection of Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith in the first round of this year's draft.

That word is consensus.

"Consensus is the business of politics," Crichton said. "Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant [are] reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus."

To make an incomplete if functional analogy, "consensus" is the noise that has come to envelop the draft: the speculation and the debate and the mock drafts and the coverage and Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock and the idea that Johnny Manziel "fell" to the 22d overall pick from some arbitrary, invisible pedestal that no one with any actual influence on the process had placed him on.

"Consensus" is a lot of fun, and it gives employment opportunities to people who otherwise would be standing on various Times Square street corners, wearing sandwich boards, shrieking at passersby, and it projected Marcus Smith - who finished second in the nation last season with 141/2 sacks - as a second- or third-round pick. "Consensus" is why the Eagles' decision to draft Smith when they did, with the 26th overall pick, stunned and angered so many people around here. This wasn't supposed to happen, after all, and why wasn't it supposed to happen? Because "consensus" said so.

But the NFL draft itself - not the hype and hubbub, but the actual selection of talent - isn't about "consensus." It's about science, or as close to science as pro-football player-evaluation gets, and the questions about whether the Eagles "reached" to take Smith or should have selected another player or attached too much value to acquiring an additional draft pick when they moved down on the board through their trade with the Cleveland Browns don't matter.

The only thing that's relevant now is the result of the selection, whether the wisdom of drafting Smith can be verified over time in the real world of the NFL. What matters is whether he can play.

OK, then, genius. If that's the important question, what's your answer? You're the sports guy. You're supposed to be the expert. Can he play or not?

Answer: I don't know. And you know what? No one does. Kiper and Mayock don't know. None of the people who host or call into radio talk shows in this town knows. Jeff McLane and Zach Berman, the sharp and diligent Inquirer reporters who immerse themselves in all things Eagles, don't know. (Sorry, fellas. Beers on me during an early-season road trip.) Not even Eagles general manager Howie Roseman or coach Chip Kelly knows, because judging who can play in the NFL and who can't is a difficult job, and anyone who says otherwise is pretending.

"We've got to take the value of what we think the player is," Roseman said. "There are a lot of people who have done this for a living, who have done this for a long time, and we speak to a lot of people in this league who understand it's going to be different values for different people. We did a lot of work on this player, and we feel really good about this player and his fit for us. What we're looking for is not the same thing that everyone else is looking for."

Understand: The Eagles drafted Smith in large part out of necessity. For all their talk about taking the best player available, regardless of position - the philosophy that Roseman had repeated ad infinitum throughout the offseason - they needed someone to rush the passer, and according to Roseman, the six players they had targeted at No. 22 were already off the board.

Even then, instead of trading down, they could have selected Auburn's Dee Ford, who was more highly regarded than Smith and who went to the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23.

To which the proper response is, so what? Call me ignorant. Call me a contrarian. Call me a homer. But I like that Roseman, Kelly, and the Eagles' player-personnel people made a surprising pick. They're daring to be, in Crichton's words, the one investigator who happens to be right. They're telling the consensus to take a hike, and if you find that approach too arrogant for your taste, just remember: That was supposed to be the allure and promise of the Eagles' hiring of Kelly - that he would think differently from everyone else in and around the NFL.

Heaven forbid, I suppose, that he should act on those thoughts.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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