IT'S A LITTLE too early to say we know exactly what the Eagles have reaped from the two drafts they've conducted since Howie Roseman took over from Tom Heckert as general manager, when Heckert left for Cleveland.
But as the Birds prepare for Roseman's third draft, starting tonight at 8, there is one trend we know the team would like to reverse.
In 2010 and 2011, for whatever reason, the guys the Eagles took near the end of the draft were more ready to contribute than the guys at the top.
Of the 24 players the Birds chose in those drafts, how many started every game last season?
Two - linebacker Jamar Chaney, a seventh-round selection in 2010, and center Jason Kelce, a sixth-rounder last year. (We're talking about position players here; we're excluding 2011 fourth-round kicker Alex Henery, who of course was the starting kicker in every game last year.)
I would say eight guys have been really significant contributors so far from those drafts, again, excluding Henery: Kelce, Chaney, Nate Allen, Danny Watkins, Kurt Coleman, Brian Rolle, Clay Harbor and Riley Cooper. (Make it nine if you want to include Casey Matthews. Could go either way there.) Of those eight (or nine), only Watkins (first round last year) and Allen (second round, 2010) arrived before the fourth round.
To Roseman, this circumstance reflects the truth of what he has been saying all offseason: The Eagles fare best when they go by the grades on their board, instead of thinking, "We haven't drafted a ___ yet, we have to get one now."
Actually, even under Heckert the Birds had a tendency to hit more consistently on the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds than the first, second and third. (Especially the third, which has seemed cursed for the Eagles every year since they used up a decade's worth of good fortune on Brian Westbrook in 2002.)
Remember, the Eagles got Trent Cole (2005) and Brent Celek (2007) in the fifth round. Sixth- and seventh-rounders garnered over the past four drafts include Kelce, Chaney, Rolle, Coleman, King Dunlap, Moise Fokou, and a trio of guys who are playing elsewhere - Andy Studebaker (Kansas City), Joe Mays (Denver) and Brandon Gibson (St. Louis). There's also Mike Gibson, a sixth-rounder in 2008 who recently returned to the Birds after playing 3 years for Seattle.
Roseman said last week that it is much easier to stick to the board in the middle and later rounds, when "need" always takes a back seat.
"We spend a lot of time thinking about that," Roseman said recently, after being asked about the seemingly higher success rate later in the draft. "When we get into the middle and later rounds and look at the board, [we] see what sticks out and say, 'We gotta take that guy.' We're in the seventh round and we see a fourth-round guy, that's easy. In the first, second and third rounds you get into what do you need in your effort to win right away. When we go back and look at the successful drafts we've had and the successful players we've taken, we know that the really good players, it really didn't matter which positions they played, and we've knocked them out . . . I think that's why we've had some success in middle and later rounds, and if we take that attitude and put it into our other rounds, we'll have some fun."
Of course, as we indicated earlier, we don't really know yet how, say, 2010 first-round defensive end Brandon Graham will turn out. We know he showed flashes as a rookie, maybe not as many as hoped, before suffering a really serious knee injury. We know last season was a washout for Graham as he struggled to get back to form. We know he and the Eagles say he's in amazing shape right now, ready to redeem his promise. We don't know whether the knee injury might have robbed him of a crucial bit of quickness he brought to the draft process 2 years ago.
Allen and Watkins, the Eagles clearly expect big things from. Allen also had to rehab a serious knee injury. There were times last season when he looked really stiff and hesitant, and other times when he looked like the guy some people projected as a first-rounder in 2010.
Watkins became an object of scorn when he had trouble making the transition from tackle to guard in a truncated offseason, with a limited football background. As this draft approaches, the Internet is rife with "the Eagles are going to take the best available firefighter" jokes. But by the end of the 2011 season, Watkins seemed to be rounding into form as a quality starter, albeit one who will be 28 when the 2012 season ends.
It's probably safe to say the Eagles reached for second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett last year - Jarrett wasn't even a factor on special teams. And on third-round defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in 2010; Te'o-Nesheim spent time on the practice squad last season before being signed by Tampa Bay. The Birds' plethora of cornerbacks last season kept anybody from really being able to evaluate Curtis Marsh, who seemed a stretch in the third round given that he hadn't been playing corner very long. Roseman has talked this offseason about how, when you're looking for a certain trait, and you think you see it, maybe you overvalue that player, don't take a clear, realistic look.
While the Eagles want to do better at the top of their drafts, they feel they've helped make up for some of their less-successful selections through astute moves elsewhere. You could say, for example, that bringing in former CFL star Phillip Hunt, who showed promise at defensive end down the stretch last season, lessened the sting of guessing wrong on Te'o-Nesheim.
"We're big on however we can get the players on our team, the talent to win games, we're OK with that," Roseman said. "Wherever we get them. We get them from the CFL, we get them from the AFL, get them from the draft. Obviously, you'd like it to come out perfectly. You'd like your first-rounders to be your Pro Bowlers, your second-round picks to be your really good starters, your third-round picks to be your solid starters. It just doesn't always work that way."