How the Eagles size up draft prospects
Chip Kelly probably never would have drafted Brandon Graham. He's barely 6 feet tall. He's stocky. He has short arms for an edge rusher. And yet, when the Eagles were looking to replace Trent Cole this offseason, they re-signed Graham even though he's not the prototypical outside linebacker.
Chip Kelly probably never would have drafted Brandon Graham.
He's barely 6 feet tall. He's stocky. He has short arms for an edge rusher. And yet, when the Eagles were looking to replace Trent Cole this offseason, they re-signed Graham even though he's not the prototypical outside linebacker.
Graham is the exception to Kelly's rule that size matters. He is also a cautionary tale for NFL teams that are stringent in their evaluations. But he is the anomaly Kelly and Ed Marynowitz speak of when they describe the Eagles' formula for drafting players, particularly in the early rounds.
Kelly's "big people beat up little people" mantra has become a catchphrase, but it is a core belief of his and many NFL evaluators. Speed, of course, is right there alongside a prospect's height and weight.
"I think size, speed wins, No. 1," said Marynowitz, the Eagles' recently promoted vice president of player personnel. "There is a reason why heavyweights don't fight the lightweights. This is a big man's game."
But there is more to the Eagles' system of measurements than just height and weight and 40-yard dash time. They have specific numbers for each position that include, among other body parts, ideal arm lengths, shoulder widths, and hand sizes.
Weight distribution is also measured. A 6-foot-3, 330-pound nose tackle, for instance, should have knees that are at least 16 inches in girth or he would be considered too top heavy.
Kelly, of course, isn't the first evaluator to strictly use size-speed specifics as guidelines. Bill Parcells had some of the largest teams in the NFL when he coached. Nick Saban has done the same at Alabama. And the 31-year-old Marynowitz had the benefit of working under both men.
"There is enough statistical data that will support that in terms of players that are playing at a high level that there is a certain prototype," said Marynowitz, who was Saban's director of player personnel for four years. "So our goal [at Alabama] was that although there may be varying degrees of players in terms of ability standpoint, when the starters come off the field and the backups come in, they all relatively look the same."
The Eagles aren't quite there, although with Kelly fully in charge of personnel they could get there soon. There are exceptions such as Graham. But starting outside linebacker Connor Barwin (6-foot-4, 264 pounds) and reserve Bryan Braman (6-5, 241) would be perfect examples of the formula Marynowitz described.
"You can go back to Bill Parcells as far as big bodies, and Bill Parcells has a pretty good coaching tree and a GM tree," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "And there are teams in the league that won't look at corners, for instance, that aren't over 5-10 or 5-11 or whatever, no matter how good they are, they won't look at them.
"And the theory is you can't build a team on exceptions. 'Oh, he's under 5-10 but boy he's really good, I like him.' If you start doing that too often, then you've limited the talent, the overall talent on your team."
It's why leftovers from the Andy Reid regime - such as 5-9 cornerback Brandon Boykin and 5-11 linebacker Mychal Kendricks - aren't ideal fits in Kelly's schemes and have been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. Reid was willing to bend in his evaluations.
"There was . . . an ability to get a little bit more creative in some of the different positions, so he would take some exceptions in terms of the NFL standards," said Marynowitz, who worked under Reid for one year. "He may take an undersized guy like Brian Rolle at inside linebacker who is height-deficient for the position, but he may take a risk on a guy like that if there was something there."
Like Graham, it's unlikely Kelly would have drafted the 5-10 Rolle when Reid did - the sixth round (in 2011). Rolle actually started 13 games as a rookie. But he lost his job the next season and couldn't help on special teams. He was last seen trying to make a comeback at the veteran combine in March.
"We begin all of our evaluations by elimination a little bit," Marynowitz said. "It's a funnel system of 12,000-some college players that you funnel down to 3,500, to 1,600, to 300, to the 150 that are on your board.
"The first step in that is we're going to cross-check height, weight, speed, and fits. So it's not to say we're totally going to eliminate a guy if he's outside those parameters, but he better be exceptional in a lot of other areas to take a shot on a guy like that."
After size and speed, the Eagles then base their assessments on scheme and position fit and finally character and intelligence. It may narrow the pool and give them a light draft board, but Mayock said that is more of a positive than a negative.
"I actually think it's a plus. And I think the teams that draft the best have the smallest draft boards, believe it or not," Mayock said. "And what that means is they do a great job of eliminating players that don't fit them for whatever reason."
But is it too restrictive?