On paper, it made perfect sense. Stockpile draft picks and use them to “retool” a team that had made nine playoff appearances in the previous 11 seasons.
That’s exactly what the Eagles did, selecting a whopping 24 players in the 2010 and 2011 drafts. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t always translate to quality. The Eagles made a mess of both of those drafts and ended up making the playoffs just once in the next six years.
Just one of the 24 players the Eagles drafted in 2010-2011 – sixth-round center Jason Kelce – ever earned a Pro Bowl invitation. Only four of those 24 ended up making more than 50 starts for the Eagles: Kelce (126), Brandon Graham (86), safety Nate Allen (69), and wide receiver Riley Cooper (54).
The Eagles are stockpiling draft picks once again, this time not so much to retool but to help them navigate choppy salary-cap waters over the next two or three years and put a solid-but-affordable cast around franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. The 10 players they selected in the April draft were their most since 2011, when they drafted 11.
It’s way too soon to make any judgments on this draft class, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring OTAs and the entire preseason. It has slowed the learning process for the rookies and will make it difficult for most of them to make a meaningful contribution early on, beyond special teams.
Head coach Doug Pederson realized that in the spring, long before OTAs were scrubbed, long before the preseason was canceled. In a Zoom call with reporters on the final night of the draft, he said, “Personally, I feel we’re going to have to lean on our veteran players.” He still believes that.
Without preseason games, the rookies got more reps during camp than they ordinarily might have. And many of them looked good. But it’s a long way from looking good in a few practice sessions or a scrimmage to being ready to play in Week 1.
The one rookie who looked like he might be able to help the Eagles right out of the gate — first-round wide receiver Jalen Reagor — injured his shoulder in a scrimmage last weekend and probably will miss at least the first two games. Reagor’s injury could open the playing-time door for fifth-round rookie wide receiver John Hightower.
Asked this week whether he felt ready to play in an NFL regular-season game, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Hightower, who averaged 18.5 yards per catch last season at Boise State, said, “It’s kind of different with the different offseason and everything. But whenever they put me in, I’m going to go out there and do my thing.”
Pederson said, “It’s hard, from the coaching side of it, not having preseason games. It’s difficult to really evaluate these guys, and really see them in game situations. It’s probably been the hardest thing this camp.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the coaching staff misses the preseason games.
“Even though we’ve had a lot of time to evaluate these guys, you’re still missing that ’OK, what happens when the real bullets fly? How is this player going to react to that? Is he ready for that?’ " Schwartz said.
“Those are the things we’re just going to have to go with practice film and instincts and experience to evaluate.”
The Eagles need to reduce their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m., Saturday. At least nine of their 10 draft picks are expected to make the roster.
Here is an update on the 2020 draft class:
WR Jalen Reagor, TCU (1st round): Reagor was having an excellent camp and probably would have been one of the two season-opening starters on the outside, along with DeSean Jackson, until he injured his shoulder in an Aug. 30 scrimmage. He could miss the first two regular-season games but is expected to have a major role in the offense as a rookie.
QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (2nd round): The cancellation of spring OTAs cost Hurts about 1,200 reps. But he got a lot of reps in training camp and looked good. This isn’t a deer-in-headlights rookie. Nate Sudfeld is expected to open the season as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, but with game-day rosters expanded to 48 players this year, Pederson likely will also activate Hurts.
LB Davion Taylor, Colorado (3rd round): The Eagles love his speed, which is why they took him in the third round despite limited experience. But unless there are multiple injuries at linebacker, Taylor will mainly earn his keep on Dave Fipp’s special teams.
S K’Von Wallace, Clemson (4th round): Unlike Taylor, Wallace had a ton of big-game college experience. He played in 59 games at Clemson, including seven FBS playoff games. But as Schwartz has said, safety is a tough position to learn, particularly without any spring reps or preseason games. Early on at least, most of his playing time also will come on special teams.
OL Jack Driscoll, Auburn (4th round): Driscoll is a smart kid who came to training camp prepared both mentally and physically. He got a lot of practice reps at both right tackle and right guard and probably will be one of their two or three active game-day backups.
WR John Hightower, Boise St. (5th round): Another guy who had an impressive camp. Figured to open the season as the team’s fifth wideout, but with Reagor out, he could end up rotating with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at the outside spot opposite Jackson.
LB Shaun Bradley, Temple (6th round): Like Taylor, Bradley brings the kind of coverage speed the Eagles need at linebacker. Unlike Taylor, the former Temple star is a bit more ready to contribute. That said, Schwartz is going to bring him along slowly. He’ll also be used primarily on special teams early on.
WR Quez Watkins, Southern Miss (6th round): He had his moments in camp, but it would have been nice to see him in preseason games. He’s a 4.35-second speedster with a 79-inch wingspan who still needs to add some strength and weight. He’ll likely be the team’s sixth wide receiver when Reagor returns.
OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn (6th round): He got reps at both left and right tackle during camp. Like most rookie linemen, he needs to add some strength, but he is very athletic. Likely will be one of the 10 O-linemen they keep.