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Expect Eagles to take best shot in NFL draft

The difference between the Eagles' very bad 2010-11 drafts and their very good 2012-13 drafts pretty much can be summed up with the names of two players: Jaiquawn Jarrett and Zach Ertz.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. (Matt Rourke/AP)Read more

INDIANAPOLIS - The difference between the Eagles' very bad 2010-11 drafts and their very good 2012-13 drafts pretty much can be summed up with the names of two players.

Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Zach Ertz.

Jarrett was the Eagles' second-round pick in the '11 draft, the 54th overall selection that year.

The safety from Temple was the poster boy for the disastrous draft-for-need approach the Andy Reid regime took 2010 and '11.

Most teams, including the Eagles, had no better than a third- or fourth-round grade on Jarrett. But the Eagles had a hole at safety and Jarrett was the highest-rated safety still on their board at 54, and so, they took him.

"That whole draft was about need," said a personnel executive who was with the team during that draft. "We didn't have a guard on the depth chart, so we drafted a guard in the first round [Danny Watkins]. We didn't have a safety, so we pushed the safeties up a round and took Jarrett.

"We didn't say, 'OK, this isn't a good safety group, so let's pass and find a stopgap and get by.' Every team has weaknesses. But [Reid decided] that we were going to take the next safety and go from there."

Jarrett, like Watkins, ended up being a bust and was released after just one disappointing season. Watkins got dumped after two.

Then there's Ertz, the tight end out of Stanford who the Eagles grabbed in the second round last year with the 35th overall pick.

The Eagles had no pressing need for a tight end last year. They had just signed one - James Casey - in free agency, giving him a 3-year, $12 million deal. They had Brent Celek. Clay Harbor was coming off a solid season.

But Ertz was far and away the highest-rated player on the Eagles' board when they were on the clock at 35. So, they gobbled him up.

Ertz ended up being a very important part of the Eagles' passing game as a rookie, playing 459 snaps and catching 36 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns.

"Zach is an example of who we are now," said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. "We go into a draft and obviously there are positions you'd like to fill. But you have to stick to what you believe in, and that's taking the best player."

Talk to any NFL general manager or player personnel director and they'll pretty much tell you the same thing that Roseman said.

But when push comes to shove, particularly with organizations where the coach and/or GM needs to win now or risk ending up in the unemployment line, need becomes an overwhelming factor in the decision-making process.

"The way we formulate our draft board is basically like an expansion team," Roseman said. "It's like we have no players and let's make sure we have a clear mind.

"It's very hard to go in and know maybe the weaknesses that you have on your team and not grade players up a little bit because of that. But we try to grade all the players in the draft like we don't have any at that position."

The Eagles have the 22nd overall pick in the May draft. If you were to list their top four needs, they would be safety, edge-rusher, cornerback and wide receiver.

Most mock drafts, which really are a complete waste of time this far out, have the Eagles taking a player at one of those positions. Will that, in fact, be the case? Who knows?

The general principle involved in the best-player-available approach is you take the highest-rated player on your board unless you have multiple players graded relatively evenly, which is often the case. If one of them happens to play a position of need, you go with him.

"I don't think it's one or the other," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think it's a common- sense approach.

"You know what your needs are and you know what your board says as far as the next best player available. If you're picking, say, 46th and the 21st best player on your board is still sitting there, yet you've got a player at a position of need that's ranked 47th, you're crazy if you don't get the guy that's ranked 21st."

Said Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith, whose team owns the first pick in the draft: "If you're in a situation where you have two players that are essentially rated at the same value point and one of them is at a position of need and you have an opportunity to take him, you've hit a home run. Because you've not only filled a need on your football team, but you've also taken a corresponding value."

Last year, if the Eagles had an edge-rusher or safety rated as highly on their board at 35 as they did Ertz, they probably would have taken the edge-rusher or safety, because those were greater needs.

But Ertz' grade was much higher than anyone else on their board at that point. Same thing with their decision to take quarterback Matt Barkley in the fourth round with the 98th overall pick. They had a top-50 grade on him.

"When you look at your team and try to look out 3-4 years, it becomes increasingly difficult to see who's going to be on your team," Roseman said. "I mean, this is such a fluid game. Rosters turn over 15-20 percent in a normal offseason. To sit there and be really confident in what you're going to have as you go forward, it's hard.

"You don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment. You have to take the best player. And you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your football team."