Eagles' 2013 draft was solid - for a while
Tackle Lane Johnson was a good pick at No. 4, and Zach Ertz and Bennie Logan were fine. But the later picks did not work out.
Fourth in a series.
The shotgun marriage of Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly was, in many ways, doomed from "I do." But the Eagles can always reflect fondly on a brief honeymoon in 2013, when egos were kept in check, communication was productive, and the team drafted well while the same could not be said for many other teams.
With their first three picks, the Eagles scored starters in tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz and defensive tackle Bennie Logan. As the old adage goes, if you can pluck three front-line players from one draft, you've done well.
While an argument could be made against the relative worth of all three players - in where they were drafted, who they were taken over and ultimately their performance since joining the NFL - the Eagles did about as well as any team, save for a few, in the first three rounds of that year.
The last four rounds? Not so much.
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In some way, the last day of the 2013 draft foretold the discord Roseman and Kelly would have eventually. But the first three picks went off like clockwork as the Eagles took the best player rather than reach for need or trade up or down as the showy Roseman had done in each of the previous three drafts.
"I think Coach is holding me back here a little bit," Roseman said of Kelly at the conclusion of the second day.
Then the general manager, Roseman spoke in jest, but the proof was in his relative inactivity on the phones. After pulling off 13 draft-day trades from 2010-12, Roseman would partner up for only one deal in 2013, when the Eagles traded up in the fourth round for quarterback Matt Barkley.
But Roseman and Kelly put on their best faces during the first two days of the draft (we grade the Eagles' draft here). It was like a first date.
"From Day 1, it's been easy. It's flowed easy," Roseman said then. "Our vision, our priorities, have been in line. . . . Because when we sat down that first time and talked about it, we were on the same page. That doesn't mean we don't see some things differently and have those discussions, but it's been really good."
Kelly was equally as effusive in his praise of Roseman. The Eagles had signed or traded for nearly a dozen veterans earlier during free agency. But they focused on mid-tier talents - "band-aids" as Roseman has recently called them - in part to keep them from pushing for needs in the draft.
"I know we're not going to reach, and we're not going to put ourselves in a situation where we need this," Kelly said. "I think we did a great job. Howie and those guys did a great job in free agency of putting us in a position where we didn't have any holes."
Roseman had final say over personnel for the first time, but he clearly incorporated Kelly's schemes, positional preferences, evaluations and first-hand knowledge into the construction of the board. The coach's fingerprints were all over the draft, just as they were in free agency when the Eagles signed rangy cornerbacks and linemen best suited to a 3-4 defensive front.
Finding the best players for a coach's particular needs is, in essence, what every personnel department does. Roseman was charged with doing the same for Reid. But what made Kelly different was that he had familiarity with many of the prospects having just come from college.
At Oregon, he faced four of the eight players the Eagles drafted, and all three of the losses during his last two years with the Ducks came against teams Ertz (Stanford), Logan (LSU) and Barkley (Southern Cal) had played for. Kelly had also tried to recruit all three to Eugene, including seventh-round defensive lineman Joe Kruger.
If Kelly hadn't seen a player in game action, he would sometimes rely on his relationship with a coach. In regards to Johnson, and later defensive end David King, he called upon Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who he knew "extremely well." Kelly said he went to former North Carolina State offensive coordinator Dana Bible, who he had known "for a long time," for inside information on safety Earl Wolff.
"The first thing he said," Kelly said of Bible, "he said, 'Go get him. Physical. Explosive. Will really hit you. Just the type of guy that will make your team better. He's a real leader. People are going to follow him.' "
The Eagles, to some surprise, refrained from drafting any of Kelly's former players at Oregon. He would later say that he was prepared to take Dion Jordan, Kyle Long, Kiko Alonso or Kenjon Barner had they been available - Alonso and Barner would become Eagles in later years - but for at least three days he kept his Oregon impulses on hold.
Who knows what would have happened had the Dolphins not traded into the No. 3 spot, one ahead of the Eagles, and selected Jordan? Kelly said there were four players the team had targeted at No. 4 and that all four went off the board accordingly.
The Chiefs took tackle Eric Fisher first. The Jaguars selected tackle Luke Joeckel second, and, after Jordan, the Eagles chose Johnson. Kelly declined to give the Eagles' rankings of the first four. But after four seasons it appears as if they have gotten the best of the lot. Fisher has been inconsistent. Joeckel is on his second team, and the NFL has suspended Jordan multiple times.
The same, of course, could be said of Johnson, who served a 10-game suspension last season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs a second time. On the field, however, there has been no comparison. The right tackle has improved in each of his four seasons and is poised to move to the left side as soon as Jason Peters retires.
Johnson had the least amount of offensive line experience among the first three tackles. Over the course of his college career, which first began at a junior college, he played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and finally, out of need, tackle for the Sooners. During that span, he went from 225 to 255 to 280 and finally to 300 pounds.
"They had some injuries on the offensive line, and they thought about him," Kelly said. Stoops' "direct quote when he asked the strength coach was, 'What would it take to get Lane to tackle?' He said, 'A cheeseburger and a week.' "
During his predraft visit to the NovaCare Complex, Johnson went through all the prerequisite measuring, but the Eagles paid special notice to the width of his knees as to know how much weight he would be comfortable carrying in the pros.
Under Kelly, the Eagles' sports-science program expanded. The team began to spend more resources on specific measurable parameters for each position. In 2013, they got longer and faster. The averages for the eight Eagles picks were 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and 4.74-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
Ertz, who was taken with the third pick in the second round, actually ran a slower 40 - 4.76 to 4.72 - than Johnson. But the Eagles loved his film and makeup, and even though they had Brent Celek and recently signed James Casey they still drafted the tight end.
There were six tight ends taken between the 21st (Tyler Eifert) and the 85th (Jordan Redd) overall picks. The Eagles could have done worse than Ertz (Gavin Escobar, Vance McDonald), but they also could have done better (Travis Kelce).
The Eagles said they stuck to their board when they traded up three spots for Barkley. "We had Matt rated as one of the top 50 players in this draft," Kelly said. But he was neither one of the 50 best nor a fit for the coach's option-based scheme.
It was a terrible year to need a quarterback. The draft wouldn't produce one long-term starter. Overall, it wasn't a strong class, either. But the Eagles were one of the few to find more than one or two starters. (Logan left for the Chiefs via free agency this offseason.)
"I didn't think the top of the draft all the way through had huge can't-miss guys," Kelly said. "But I felt like there was a lot of depth in this draft."
Kelly was wrong about the depth, and the Eagles' misfires on Day 3 spoke to that. There were a few diamonds in the rough, but the Roseman-Kelly partnership failed to find them.
It would only get worse for the pair.