There are lots of words that NFL fans dread hearing from their favorite team on draft day.
Dave Gettleman is on the clock.
Here in Philadelphia, I’m getting the sense that, this year, the center of the bingo square is, “Best Player Available." Part of that might have to do with past psychological trauma.
There was a stretch where the best player available always seemed to be a defensive end who we would later learn was not, in fact, the best player available. Mike Mamula, Jon Harris, Jerome McDougle, Marcus Smith -- if they gave out Lombardi Trophies for reading the Street and Smith Preview upside down, Nick Foles would exist in Eagles lore as just another guy with a huge ... faith in Jesus Christ.
Mostly, though, the phrase causes fans to shudder because of the overwhelming likelihood that the best player available does not happen to play a position that is a team’s greatest apparent need.
One of the reasons the NFL draft has become such a phenomenon is that it tickles our impulses the way a scratch-off ticket does. It offers the promise of an instantly brighter tomorrow. One week, your team’s depth chart looks much as it did the previous season. The next, it has six or seven players whose college highlight films all look great. The NFL draft is a reason for a fan to dream. Unless you are a fan of the Giants.
All of this has set the stage for a perfect storm of hysteria as the Eagles prepare for April 23.
The last month has seen them address one glaring need after another. Their underwhelming pass rush will benefit from the addition of Javon Hargrave. In Darius Slay, they added a cornerback with more pass-coverage talent than any Eagle since Asante Samuel. The signing of Nickell Robey-Coleman will give them further depth at the position.
All things considered, you can easily talk yourself into thinking that this team will enter the draft needing only one or two players to contend.
Which brings us to wide receiver. The opinions on Carson Wentz in this town range from oft-injured-flash-in-the-pan to potential-all-time-great. But one thing everyone seems to be able to agree upon is that the guy is in desperate need of someone to throw to.
There are plenty of perfectly viable reasons that the Eagles declined to add such a player via free agency or trade. Yet if they emerge from the draft without having done so, Howie Roseman might want to extend his quarantine.
The people want a wide receiver, and they do not seem to care what must be sacrificed to obtain one. This year’s crop of wideouts is regarded as one of the deepest in recent draft history. Most of the mock drafts have at least six receivers going in the first round, with several available for the Eagles to choose from at No. 21.
Whether it is Jerry Jeudy to CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs, everybody has a favorite. The one certainty is that whomever they choose -- Justin Jefferson? Denzel Mims? -- will be an automatic upgrade over last season.
Except, a quick study of history reveals just how fictitious that certainty will prove. It also suggests that the Eagles’ best strategy will be to draft the best player available.
Even if the Eagles were drafting in the top 10, the probability of landing a wide receiver who makes a significant impact as a rookie is well below the threshold of certainty you’d like to carry into an NFL season at a position.
Nearly half of the receivers drafted in that range since 2010 finished their rookie seasons with less than 500 yards. Three of them failed to reach 200.
That still leaves six out of 11 who quickly established themselves as championship-caliber receivers, including four who rank among the elite in the game (Amari Cooper, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Mike Evans). Those are good enough odds to warrant a position-specific approach.
Outside the top 10 is where the error of such strategy becomes apparent. The last 10 drafts have seen 23 receivers selected between the 11th and 32nd overall pick. Of those 23, only Odell Beckham Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin finished their rookie seasons with over 1,000 yards. More than a quarter of that group finished with under 300 yards (eight of 23), while only seven of 23 reached 600.
It’s a similar tale even if you limit your sample to those drafted between 11 and 21. Seven of the eight receivers who went in that range finished their rookie seasons with less than 650 yards. Half finished with less than 500.
The track record looks better from a long-term perspective, with four of the 23 turning in Pro Bowl-caliber careers and three others looking as if they have that potential. But there have been far more flat-out busts.
Hall of Fame: 3 (Beckham, DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant)
Pro Bowl: 1 (Brandin Cooks)
Premium starter: 3 (D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, DeVante Parker)
The rest: Will Fuller, Kendall Wright, Marquise Brown, Breshad Perriman, Cordarrelle Patterson, Corey Coleman, Nelson Agholor, Jonathan Baldwin, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Laquon Treadwell, A.J. Jenkins.
None of this means the Eagles should avoid wide receiver. The odds are undoubtedly the same at every other position. But that’s also the point. It’s hard enough to end up with a player who produced an impactful NFL career at any position. It simply does not make sense to further diminish those odds by limiting yourself to one position, especially given the further unlikelihood that such a player will make an impact as a rookie.
This is why we hear so much about drafting the best available player. It’s also why we are increasingly seeing teams that are willing to give up a first- rounder for a known veteran commodity.
If this year’s draft yields three players who end up being worth contract extensions, it will have been a wildly successful one regardless of the position they play.