It’s Infrastructure Week at the NovaCare Complex.
After several lackluster drafts, general manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles hope to start rebuilding the pothole-riddled road to the Super Bowl.
After winning just four games last season, the Eagles have a league-high 11 selections in this week’s draft, including four in the top 90 for only the second time since 2007.
Of course, much like the Seinfeld you-know-how-to-take-a-reservation-but-you-don’t-know-how-to-hold-one line, possession of a lot of draft picks doesn’t mean much if Roseman and his vice-president of player personnel, Andy Weidl, aren’t able to use them to find productive players.
That ’07 draft during the Andy Reid era? The Eagles spent those four top-90 picks on quarterback Kevin Kolb, defensive end Victor Abiamiri, linebacker Stewart Bradley, and running back Tony Hunt.
Bradley was the only one of those four guys who wound up starting more than seven games for the Eagles.
Another thing to consider is that seven of the Eagles’ 11 picks are in the last three rounds, including a league-high five in the sixth and seventh rounds.
This is not a good year to find talent in the late rounds. With the NCAA giving players an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many decided to stay in school, which is going to make next year’s draft a gold mine. But it has shrunk this year’s talent pool considerably. Less than 700 players have signed standard representation agreements with agents this year. Typically, that number is in the 2,000 neighborhood.
“We had so many kids go back to school,” NFL Network senior draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “That’s going to impact the bottom of the draft. That’s why everybody that I talk to around the league has been saying, ‘We don’t know what the heck we’re going to do with our sixth- and seventh-round picks. If we can get rid of them we’re going to get rid of them just because [in] next year’s class, those sixth- and seventh-round picks are going to be really valuable. But not so much this year.’ ”
Roseman and Weidl aren’t oblivious to this reality. Which is why they’re hoping to use many of their late-round picks as trade currency to help them move up and get players they’ve targeted in the earlier rounds.
For example, they own pick No. 123 in the fourth round, which they got in last month’s trade with the Dolphins. Let’s say there’s a player still on the board eight picks ahead of them at 115 that they covet but don’t think will make it to them at 123.
According to the draft valuation chart most NFL teams use, the 115th pick is worth 64 points, and the 123rd pick is worth 49 points. That’s a 15-point difference. The Eagles’ top sixth-round pick — No. 188 — is worth 16.2 points. They could throw that pick in a deal to move up eight spots in the fourth round and get the player they want, assuming the other team is gullible enough to accept a less-valuable-than-usual sixth-round pick.
Another possibility: The Eagles could trade some or all of those sixth- and seventh-round picks in a deal or deals for selections in the 2022 draft.
“We’re constantly trying to study the guys who have hit late and the guys who have hit as undrafted free agents and try to replicate that as we get into the later rounds,” Roseman said. “But the flexibility of having those picks also gives you the opportunity if you wanted to move up in a particular round.”
While personnel executives and scouts cringe whenever somebody says or writes this, the fact of the matter is that much of the draft is a crapshoot.
The reason the Rams were willing to trade multiple first-round picks for Matthew Stafford two months ago was because history has shown that 50% of first-round picks don’t pan out.
That success rate shrinks dramatically with every round. By the time you get to the sixth and seventh rounds, you’re throwing darts or turning to your analytics geeks for a favorable number. You’re looking for something, anything, that might give you a sliver of hope that a guy will be able to make a contribution in some way, shape, or form.
“When you’re looking for late guys, we’re looking for guys who have traits,” Roseman said. “We’re still looking to try to find guys who can be role players or even develop into starters in those rounds. We’re not trying to draft backups.”
They’re not trying to, but that’s usually the best-case scenario. If you can find a legitimate role player or core special-teamer in the late rounds, you consider it a win.
Every once in a while, you strike gold. The Eagles did in 2011 when, at the urging and pleading of offensive line coach Howard Mudd, they took an undersized center out of Cincinnati by the name of Jason Kelce in the sixth round. The kid turned out to be pretty good.
It should be pointed out that Mudd, who passed away last summer and was one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history, also pounded the table for another guy earlier in that same draft.
Further proof of the crapshootedness of evaluating football flesh.
In the nine drafts since they took Kelce, the Eagles have selected 21 players in the sixth and seventh rounds. Fifteen never started a game for them.
Four played in 20 or more games: defensive back Jalen Mills (63), defensive tackle Beau Allen (63), offensive lineman Matt Pryor (27), and running back Bryce Brown (32).
The jury still is out on others, including offensive tackle Jordan Mailata (7th round, 2018), and 2020 draft picks Shaun Bradley and wide receiver Quez Watkins, both sixth-round selections.
One of the most successful late-round picks post-Kelce has been 2013 seventh-round cornerback Jordan Poyer, Only trouble was, Poyer’s success came elsewhere.
Drafted as a corner, he played in just three games for the Eagles as a rookie before getting cut by Chip Kelly, who never considered moving the kid to safety. This is the same Chip Kelly who also never considered giving Alejandro Villanueva a shot at offensive tackle. Villanueva has been to two Pro Bowls with the Steelers as their starting left tackle.
The Browns, who ended up signing Poyer after the Eagles let him go, moved Poyer to safety. He has played eight seasons in the league with the Browns and Bills, starting 73 games at safety.