Andy Weidl has been an NFL scout for nearly 25 years. He got his start breaking down film in the bowels of Three Rivers Stadium alongside legendary Steelers evaluator Bill Nunn. He spent a dozen years with the Ravens as an area scout under renowned general manager Ozzie Newsome. He joined the Eagles in 2016 and helped build a roster that won a Super Bowl -- his second -- a season later.
When Joe Douglas left the Eagles in June 2019 to become the New York Jets’ GM, Weidl was promoted to vice president of player personnel. In his new role, he would oversee both the professional and college scouting departments, but the draft would be his baby.
While Weidl and his staff may carry the draft process to term, they aren’t responsible for its delivery. Howie Roseman is. But the Eagles general manager’s job isn’t to just take scouting recommendations in the crafting of the draft board. He will consider coaches’ schemes and their evaluations, but also incorporate input from other outlets, such as the analytics department.
He has also valued the opinions of owner Jeffrey Lurie.
Roseman can’t please everyone. But recent results have been subpar, and to some Eagles scouts, the primary reason has been the GM’s indifference to the boards Weidl, and before him Douglas, put together with assistance from their staff after months of assessing and living with the prospects.
“It would always frustrate the guys,” a member of the personnel department said recently, “because we’re sitting here in meetings, watching tape, grinding it out, talking about players, and [scouts] are out for months away from their families, and then Howie walks in with his top 50 no matter what our board says.
“And that’s obviously what happened last year.”
What happened last year has been well established through prior reporting by The Inquirer. Roseman drafted wide receiver Jalen Reagor and quarterback Jalen Hurts with the first two picks when, based upon Weidl’s board, receiver Justin Jefferson and safety Jeremy Chinn would have been the selections, according to Eagles sources.
It takes years to come to any conclusion on picks, and how Jefferson and Chinn would have fared with the Eagles is hypothetical, but the early returns suggest Roseman would have been better off heeding the advice of Weidl and his scouts.
He didn’t dispute the notion when asked Wednesday about the reports, but he also didn’t offer much insight into the question of whether he has tweaked his process for grading.
“When you talk about how you arrive at a final grade, you’re trying to get, obviously, what the guys who have been on the road and done all the work have done,” Roseman said during a video conference. “And also get … the perspective of the fit and the vision from the coaching staff. At the end of the day, when they’re on the field they’re the coaches, and the vision has to fit what they’re looking for at each position.”
The Eagles have a new coach in Nick Sirianni, so there were diversions Wednesday into how Weidl and his staff have met with the coaches in recent weeks to understand their schemes and player-specific preferences. Perhaps the change has allowed for a turning the page because one of the previous complaints from both sides was that Roseman didn’t allow for enough transparency between the departments.
“We got everybody in sync,” Weidl said during the call, “and got everybody on the same page.”
Roseman spoke of “open dialogue” when there have been disagreements -- a song he’s sung before -- but he ultimately has to break any ties or go with his own evaluation. There have been drafts when he’s opened the floor more than he has in others, and drafts when he’s sided more with scouts than coaches.
The perspective from some inside the NovaCare Complex, both past and present, and some NFL observers outside is that Roseman’s No. 1 problem is that he doesn’t have a consistent drafting formula.
» READ MORE: Staying Power: Howie Roseman’s tenure as Eagles general manager has included a Super Bowl title, three fired coaches, and his fair share of critics. Through it all, he’s kept Jeffrey Lurie’s unwavering trust.
He allowed Douglas to change the Eagles’ system for grading players -- which followed the Ravens’ blueprint -- but he didn’t always follow his former lieutenant’s grades. The same would apply to Weidl last year.
Douglas and Weidl can’t escape criticism either. Roseman was factoring in their evaluations, as well, particularly in the third day of the draft. And when you’re ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL teams -- as the Eagles’ last four drafts were, according to Pro Football Focus’ WAR (wins about replacement) formula -- there’s plenty of blame to sprinkle around.
“It hasn’t always been perfect. The draft is an inexact science,” Roseman said. “When you look at hit rates throughout the draft, where you’re picking, whether it’s in the first round or going down, and you look at the rest of the league, it’s certainly an inexact science.”
Indeed, the hit rate even in the first round -- 50 percent, by some estimates -- suggests that a 4-year-old could do a better job just by picking names out of a hat. But with so much at stake the draft has become a manifold operation with millions of dollars sunk into the evaluation process.
It’s no wonder that Lurie is involved. Most owners, naturally, want to have some connection. But many know their place or have GMs and coaches who make sure they don’t venture out of their domain. It would be disingenuous to discount the possibility that Lurie may have learned something about the draft after 28 years of ownership.
But that the boss has a vote, one that could conceivably sway Roseman, has been viewed derisively by current and former Eagles staffers. And in the case of receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside in 2019 and Hurts last year, that was very much the case, according to sources.
“Jeffrey’s involvement is the same as it’s always been,” Roseman said. “He’s there to make sure he’s looking through our process, and if he has any questions about why we’re doing things, we’re gonna go and have those discussions, about why the process looks the way it does, about our draft board just based on the descriptions the coaches and scouts are giving of a player.
“He’s taking notes on those. Those aren’t his evaluations. Those are based on the coaches and scouts and making sure they fit in terms of what he’s looking for. If we’re talking about a guy in the first round and we’re talking about him as a role player, he may stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, is that really what we’re looking for in a first round pick?’
“He’s not saying, ‘This is my opinion, this guy is a role player or not.’”
Roseman conveniently left out the analytics staff, which also feeds data into the draft. Lurie always has been enamored by analytics and the Eagles were among the first NFL teams to expand its use in the 1990s. But the owner, as he has become more involved in football decisions, has come to rely on chief statistician Alec Halaby and his crew, team sources said.
His affinity for Arcega-Whiteside was partially attributed to the analytics of his jump radius, which was tops in the nation. But were others factors -- such as the Stanford product’s level of competition or that he struggled to get separation -- considered in the weight given to the data?
Every team uses analytics. But it’s just one tool. To old-school types, traditional scouting is still the best way to study and find out about players. Weidl is very much from that school of thought. He made his bones on the road. It would seem likely that he places great emphasis on the information provided by his area scouts.
Scouts can be as wrong as the next guy. But after four years of dubious drafting, perhaps Roseman will hand the keys -- as much as he can -- to Weidl. The longtime evaluator understands the importance of finding players for a system, but getting it right won’t often work if there isn’t synergy.
“We’re an extension of the coaching staff, ultimately,” Weidl said. “And we want to go out and find the players that best fit this program. They’re going to come in and hit the ground and go.
“I think when you have alignment between that … and there’s no ego involved, you’re just trying to get the player right.”