The Chicago Bears, like most NFL teams, feel fortunate when a player taken in the later rounds of the draft lives up to their fondest projections for him. The fourth round is probably the dividing line where success becomes much harder to predict. Once 100 players are off the board, the ones who remain are still there for a reason.
In that light, the Bears hit the jackpot when they took diminutive, but versatile, running back Tarik Cohen from North Carolina A&T with the 119th pick of the 2017 NFL draft. Someone in their scouting department or player-personnel department stood up for Cohen, maybe even a consensus did, and the payoff has been great.
Cohen has amassed 3,868 total yards in nearly three seasons with the Bears. He has returned punts, returned kicks, rushed for 964 yards and caught passes for 1,384 yards. That’s great production for a fourth-round pick, and the sort of pleasant surprise organizations need if they are going to construct a good roster.
Your interest in the career of Tarik Cohen and the success of the Bears on that one particular pick is probably limited, so let’s get to the point. With the 118th pick in that same draft, the Eagles selected receiver Mack Hollins from North Carolina.
The wait for Hollins to develop into a productive player here ended on Tuesday, when the Eagles released him and his career total of 26 receptions for 351 yards. Hollins hadn’t caught a pass since September, and his snaps, which were substantial for a while, dwindled to nearly nothing as the team dallied with Jordan Matthews, promoted Greg Ward, and finally got Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery back from injury.
Teams do not like to give up on their drafted players. For one thing, they are patient in waiting for the investment of the pick to mature like a slow-growth stock. For another, it makes them seem kind of stupid.
Not to pile on the Eagles when they are down, but the Hollins selection isn’t looking so good right now. In a vacuum, it’s no big deal. He was a fourth-round pick. They gave him a chance. He lost the 2018 season to a pair of sports-hernia surgeries. He never became productive, and his previous value as a special-teams contributor also waned. It just didn’t work out. It happens.
“I think there are a number of factors when you make a roster decision,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Wednesday. “I think it was a decision in terms of what’s in the best interest of the Philadelphia Eagles than can help us win right now.”
The bottom line is that the staff believes his spot on the game-day active roster would be better used on someone else, probably an offensive lineman. So, Matt Pryor standing on the sideline gives the team a better chance to win than Mack Hollins on the field. That’s the message from the coaching staff to the front office.
While disappointing, the failed draft pick isn’t really in a vacuum. It is one more brick in a wall of poor roster decisions in recent years that has grown too high for the team to scale. It is an example, not an exception. (Finding a little multipurpose back like Cohen to replace an aging Darren Sproles was a goal for the Eagles in that draft, by the way. Later in the same round, they took Donnel Pumphrey. All you can say about that decision is that Hollins worked out better.)
As the Eagles struggled this season, particularly with injury, it became clear that roster depth is not what it should be. Missing on draft picks, or free-agent signings, or trades — overall, just not doing a great job of evaluating talent — is what leads to that. All front offices go hot and cold to some extent. Luck is a factor, as always. There’s no denying, however, that the Eagles have been lukewarm at best.
At which positions can you say the team has reasonable depth when a change needs to be made among the starters, whether because of injury or poor play? Maybe the offensive line, depending on one’s opinion of rookie Andre Dillard and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Maybe the defensive line, but that’s more of a stretch. And that’s about it.
There was bad luck with both DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and perhaps Sproles, giving the benefit of the doubt. Luck had nothing to do with the poor production from the backup receivers, however, or the miscalculations on linebacker Zach Brown and cornerback Johnathan Cyprien, or the mistake in bringing back Vinny Curry, or with a dozen other choices that have left the roster at a disadvantage.
If the team is trying hard enough, and is well-prepared enough — which is what Doug Pederson has said publicly — then it is 5-7 largely because the talent isn’t good enough to have a better record. We can debate the effort and the preparation, neither of which were apparent Sunday against the Dolphins, but there’s no question that talent is lacking as well.
It is too late to fix things for this season, but there is still time for the front office to recalibrate and get hot again for the near future. Admitting mistakes is a good way to start. Unfortunately for Mack Hollins, he was near the front of the line.