GRADING the draft 10 days after it ends is truly mission impossible. Virtually all of the experts agree that it takes at least 3 years before you can get an accurate reading. Nonetheless, we all do it.
Chip Kelly's first draft as Eagles coach got generally good marks - I give it a solid B, a grade made more credible by the fact that it was the same as that given by the great Ray Didinger. There were a few naysaying analysts who opined that Kelly's strategy of picking the highest-rated player on the board resulted in us ignoring the greatest need: defense.
In light of all this debate, I thought it would be interesting to go back and assess the Eagles' drafts from 1997 through 2012. That would cover Ray Rhodes' last two drafts (one of which was very good), and all of the Reid era.
Before I undertook this exercise, I had to decide what criteria I would use. Was a good draft one with one or two stars and nothing else, or is it one that produces a number of solid players who stick and contribute? I couldn't decide, so, as I always do when I don't know the answer to a football question, I sought enlightenment from the Dalai Lama of football, the aforementioned Didinger. And, as always, he had the answer - it depends on the strength of the team doing the drafting.
For a good team, a good draft can be one that only produces one player who is good enough to push the team over the top. But if it's a team with a sub-.500 record, a good draft is one that has depth and helps it fill a significant number of needs. The great seer concluded, though, that in the end, it's the game-changing stars who produce championships. As evidence, he cited the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went from being perennial losers to winning multiple Super Bowls by making one great pick in three drafts within a 4-year period - Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.
Of the Eagles drafts I studied, only four can be classified as very good, when applying the "game-changer" test: 1998: Tra Thomas and Jeremiah Trotter; 1999: Donovan McNabb; 2002: Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, Sheldon Brown and Brian Westbrook (best ever?); and 2009: Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy.
Only two others could be considered good drafts by applying the "depth" test: 2005: Mike Patterson, Todd Herremans, Trent Cole, Reggie Brown, Matt McCoy and Sean Considine; 2008: Trevor Laws, DeSean Jackson, Mike McGlynn, Quintin Demps and Joe Mays. The remaining drafts couldn't be rated good by any criteria used anywhere on Earth. Some were downright horrible, like the 2003 draft in which the Eagles selected Jerome McDougle, L.J. Smith, Billy McMullen, Jamaal Green, Jeremy Bridges and Norman LeJeune.
What does this all mean for this year's draft? Well, clearly we are a sub-.500 team that is looking for some depth. Because of this reality, I think Kelly's and general manager Howie Roseman's strategy of taking the best player available, as opposed to drafting based on need, was a good one. Three years from now, we'll look back and say that it was a good, solid draft because of its depth, which ended up helping to fill a lot of needs.
I don't see any true game-changers, but offensive tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz and defensive lineman Bennie Logan will all be starters, and quarterback Matt Barkley, safety Earl Wolff and cornerback Jordan Poyer (a seventh-rounder who was a real steal and a great playmaker, with seven interceptions last season at Oregon State) all will be significant contributors. That will be a good record, considering this draft might have been devoid of game-changers, but you never know, and let's hope I'm wrong.
So far, it appears that most Birds fans agree that Kelly has said and done all the rights things, from a solid draft to implementing a smoothie-based nutritional program. Though as everyone knows, Eagles fans are among the most patient and understanding fans in the league, and based on what we have seen so far, we are only expecting, say, 10 wins this year!