Howie Roseman has a type. The Eagles, like the 31 other teams, remain clandestine this time of year and don’t reveal their draft plans. But even Roseman has acknowledged that the Eagles can be predictable when it comes to assembling their roster.
They want to build around their quarterback and along the lines, with focus on protecting their passer and pressuring the opposing passer. The way they allocate their resources — whether it’s salary-cap dollars or draft picks — can offer clues for how they proceed this week.
“Sometimes you say that,” Roseman said, “but you have to reflect that with your actions.”
For evidence, just look at Roseman’s draft history. He’s made seven first-round picks in eight years responsible for the drafts: a quarterback, two offensive linemen, and four defensive linemen/edge rushers.
He's taken five defensive backs in the second and third rounds and four pass-catchers (wide receivers and tight ends) in those rounds, too. So that group would qualify as the next tier on the hierarchy.
For all the talk-radio hours and social media commentary filled with discussion about needs at running back and linebacker, Roseman hasn’t invested his most valuable draft capital in either position. He’s never taken a running back before the fourth round, and seven of the eight off-ball linebackers he’s drafted have all come in the fourth round and later.
There are always exceptions and mitigating circumstances. For Roseman’s first five drafts in charge, he had LeSean McCoy on the roster. There was little reason to use a high draft pick on a running back when McCoy was accumulating the most rushing yards in franchise history.
Roseman values pass-catching weapons for his quarterback, but early in his tenure at general manager, the Eagles had DeSean Jackson (2008 second-round pick) and Jeremy Maclin (2009 first-round pick) on the depth chart. Perhaps a wide receiver would have been taken in the first round in one of his early drafts had the Eagles not used such premium picks on the position already.
So much attention this time of year goes to a team’s needs, and it’s within reason — the draft is an effective way to fill a roster and players taken on the first two days can often contribute immediately. The Eagles were burned in the past when they forced a need, though, and they remind themselves to stay disciplined and stick to their draft board. But the way a board is stacked varies team-to-team. If you want to forecast what the Eagles will do, it’s wise to look at their philosophy on roster building. That is often more of a guide than the depth chart.
The Eagles have added defensive linemen in the past even when there wasn’t a glaring need. They traded up to select Fletcher Cox with the No. 12 overall pick in 2012 despite returning their top three defensive tackles from the previous season. Cox wasn’t a Day 1 starter, either. But the Eagles will always value the position, and Cox became a franchise cornerstone.
In 2017, the Eagles drafted Derek Barnett with the No. 14 overall pick, even though they returned Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry from the 2016 roster and had signed Chris Long in free agency. Roseman explained after the pick that Eagles are “always going to build along the lines.”
The philosophy of spending their most valuable draft picks on these premium positions was ingrained in Roseman during his football education under Andy Reid and Joe Banner. From 1999-2009, the Eagles spent six of nine first-round picks on quarterback, offensive linemen, or defensive linemen. They also traded a first-round pick for left tackle Jason Peters.
“I think you’re always the product of the people you’re around,” Roseman said. “Growing up in this environment, in this system, where Coach Reid was, and someone really put a huge emphasis on that. It’s something that stuck. We won a lot of games with that philosophy.”
Roseman maintained his ethos even after his gap year while Chip Kelly was in charge and when Joe Douglas was hired to run the personnel department. Interestingly, the Eagles did not draft an offensive or defensive lineman until the seventh round during Kelly’s one year in charge. Roseman has never waited past the third round to address pass rushing or pass blocking.
The Eagles hired Douglas after the 2016 draft. He’s responsible for setting the draft board and installed the grading system that the Eagles now use. But the line-centric philosophy did not deviate. Douglas, a former offensive lineman at Richmond, takes particular pride in evaluating line play. Roseman said that when he and Douglas started to discuss roster building, “it was quickly apparent we agreed on the same things.”
That was not a platitude to try to show harmony in the front office — it was confirmed by someone who has worked with both of them: NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout with the Eagles, Ravens, and Browns.
“That’s one thing they share is building in the trenches, and that was something that, having been with Joe in Baltimore, and that was something that was preached there, and having been with Andy and Howie, that was something that … I believe was shared in Philly,” Jeremiah said. “I think they have a lot in common in that regard. … I do think they have a lot more in common than people maybe realize, in that they believe in building big. You start with the big guys and you go from there.”
It helps the Eagles, then, that this is a good draft to be building big. It’s considered one of the best defensive line draft classes in recent memory, with solid depth on the offensive line, too. The Eagles are aging along both lines and have a clear need for a rotational defensive tackle, so the need will match the value and philosophy.
Who’s on the board is the unknown variable, but if you’re trying to forecast what the Eagles will do, use history as a guide. Because Howie Roseman has a type.