In 1996, desperate to atone for their mistakes at offensive tackle, the Eagles drafted Jermane Mayberry with the 25th pick. Ray Lewis went 26th.
In 2000, eager to anchor a defensive line bookended by Hugh Douglas and Mike Mamula, the Eagles drafted tackle Corey Simon with the No. 6 pick. Brian Urlacher went ninth.
The Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round in 41 years, when they took Jerry Robinson out of UCLA with the 21st overall pick. The Birds have long believed that linebackers and running backs can be nabbed for pennies on the dollar after Day 1. They’re usually right about that.
This year, with the draft set to start Thursday, they’re wrong.
Round 1, pick No. 12: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Why break from the norm? Because Parsons is the New Norm.
He’s 6-foot-3, weighs 246 pounds, and he runs a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. There aren’t many every-down linebackers any more, but Parsons’ sideline-to-sideline speed makes him this draft’s unicorn. The Aaron Donald. The Patrick Mahomes. Different.
The issue with most linebackers, as they face ever more current quick-hitting, pass-heavy, speed-reliant offensive schemes, is that they play a position often filled (roughly) by a light defensive lineman or a heavy safety. Parsons is not most linebackers.
In a 4-3 scheme, his coaches could line him up at eight spots: any of the front seven, and probably strong safety, too. That’s eight positions from a position that, against any given team, might not warrant a spot on the field more than one-third of the time. But Parsons has more range than Garry Maddox.
Yes, the receivers who will be available at No. 12 are enticing, but all come with caveats, and none is as likely as Parsons to be a 10-year cornerstone.
To be fair, in 2000, the Eagles expected 1999 second-rounder Barry Gardner to become a standout player (he didn’t). Also in 2000, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, in his third season, went to the first of his four Pro Bowls.
However, Urlacher went to eight, earned a Hall of Fame bust, and hawks hair therapies.
Missing on Urlacher might be forgivable, especially since Mayberry turned out to be a pretty good player and an even better man, but in 1996 the Eagles clearly hired the wrong Ray.
They drafted linebacker Ray Farmer in the fourth round. He was out of the league three years later. Ray Lewis, meanwhile, went to 13 Pro Bowls, led the greatest defense in modern history to a Super Bowl win, and finished with two rings.
The Eagles can’t afford to miss on another generational linebacker because of dogmatic philosophies.
Round 2, pick No. 37: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Marshall, who will be just 21 when the season starts, has plenty of room to get bigger and stronger. He caught 23 touchdown passes in the past two seasons, and he took over Justin Jefferson’s spot in LSU’s slot this year after playing wide in 2019. You recall Justin Jefferson. He’s the receiver the Eagles passed over last year at No. 21 in favor of Jalen Reagor, to the Vikings’ delight, both on that April night and through December, after Jefferson had caught a rookie-record 1,400 yards’ worth of passes.
Marshall might not be at No. 37 in a draft with fewer top receiver prospects, but that is to the Eagles’ benefit. He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, faster than Alshon Jeffery did in 2012. Jeffery, taken in the second round by the Bears with the 45th pick, was 6-3, 218, and fell to the second round because he was only modestly productive in his final college season and because he kind of acted like an idiot (he was ejected for fighting in the Capital One Bowl game). His 475 catches for 6,786 yards and 46 touchdowns dwarf the career stats of the six receivers taken ahead of him and the first five taken after him. That kind of production from a second-round pick would be superb value.
Round 3, pick No. 70: Tay Gowan, CB, Central Florida
Coach up this former junior-college kid and his 6-2, 186-pound package of speed (4.5-second 40) and physicality will make him an instant starter and might get him to a second contract — a big one, if he makes plays on the ball. And if he can’t cover, feed him some steak and convert him to safety.
Round 3, pick No. 84: Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
He’s big (6-4), smart and decisive, and he’s got a ton of untapped potential. Mills is the perfect asset for Howie Roseman and his Quarterback Factory.