Ever since they pushed all of their poker chips to the middle of the draft table three years ago and staked their future on Carson Wentz, the Eagles have been committed to surrounding him with everything the North Dakota redhead needs to be successful.
That never was more evident than in this past weekend’s draft, when the Eagles selected offensive players with their first three picks. They traded up in the first round for Washington State tackle Andre Dillard and took Penn State running back Miles Sanders and Stanford wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with second-round picks.
It was just the third time in the last 33 years that the Eagles have used their top three picks on offensive players.
“Do we talk about the offense a lot? We do," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said Saturday evening when asked whether the presence of a young franchise quarterback and an offensive-oriented head coach – Doug Pederson – has caused the organization to favor offense over defense.
“But I think it’s just that we stick to our [draft] board. At the end of the day, we didn’t reach on any offensive players in this draft.
“We do definitely want to support our quarterback and make sure that he’s got the right line around him and right skill position guys around him. But we also know the defense can help him."
The Eagles haven’t ignored the defensive side of the ball, either in the draft or free agency. Two years ago, their first three picks were all defensive players – end Derek Barnett and cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas.
This year, they signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson and re-signed defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, though they traded away their most productive edge rusher, Michael Bennett.
That said, offense clearly is king in Eagleland, as it is with most NFL teams these days. Defense? The prevailing attitude around the NovaCare Complex seems to be that Jim Schwartz will figure something out.
The Georgetown-educated Eagles defensive coordinator is viewed as sort of a football MacGyver. Give him some duct tape, chewing gum, and a couple of decent pass rushers and he’ll figure out a way to hold teams to 24 points or less.
Getting back to the draft, it’s hard to argue with what the Eagles did. Going in, the prevailing opinion was that the Eagles would take a defensive lineman in the first round.
Roseman had called the defensive-line crop “historic," and it was. Twelve edge rushers and interior linemen went in the first round, including nine in the first 19 picks.
But that early run on d-linemen pushed down Dillard, who was one of the top 10 players on the Eagles’ draft board, into the 20s, where the Eagles were able to trade up three spots and get a potential successor to 37-year-old left tackle Jason Peters.
Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside both should help an offense that finished 28th in rushing, 18th in scoring and 17th in red-zone production last season.
“Both sides of the ball are important to us," Roseman said. “We look at the first pick [Dillard] as something that’s really hard to find. It’s an offensive line-deficient league. It’s hard to find those guys. We just thought it was a great opportunity.
“The other two guys, we’ve been looking for a runner like Miles for a couple of years now. We’re really excited about his potential. We didn’t think he would be there at pick 53, right or wrong. And J.J was another staff favorite. He just really fits in [to our offense]."
» READ MORE: What the experts are saying about Miles Sanders
Just one of the Eagles’ five draft picks was a defensive player – Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller. The George Washington High product was taken with the last pick in the fourth round.
The Eagles also traded a seventh-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, a 2016 fourth-round pick who played 103 defensive snaps for the Colts last season.
They didn’t select a linebacker, despite the free-agency loss of Jordan Hicks, or a safety, where Rodney McLeod is coming off an ACL tear and 31-year-old Malcolm Jenkins is entering his 11th season.
They did sign linebacker L.J. Fort and safety Andrew Sendejo in free agency. But Fort has just three career starts in six seasons and Sendejo will be 32 in September.
If they hadn’t traded up from 25 to 22 to get Dillard, Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram was one of the players they were believed to be considering with their first-round pick. He went to Oakland at 27.
There also was a run on safeties in the second round right after the Eagles selected Arcega-Whiteside. He was taken with the 25th pick in the round. Safeties Nasir Adderley (Delaware), Taylor Rapp (Washington) and Juan Thornhill (Virginia) went 28th, 29th, and 31st.
“I think it’s fair to look at those two [position] groups and say it’s probably something that we would have liked to have done," Roseman said. “But you can’t go into a draft and just say you’re going to address [a position].
“There were a couple of times in the draft where we were deciding between a couple of guys. But again, we’re going to be consistent.