THE 2012 NFL draft represented "the worst 3 days of my life," Eagles running back Chris Polk recalled yesterday.
But Polk's crushing disappointment - waiting around, ending up undrafted after being projected to go in the first three rounds - presented a big opportunity for the Eagles, who aggressively courted Polk to sign with them as a free agent.
Two years later, four players the Eagles drafted in 2012 and 2013 are gone, but their sturdy 5-11, 222-pound former Washington star is still here, looking to continue to move up the depth chart. Polk's 38-yard touchdown run through the snow against the Lions last Dec. 8 gave a hint of the potential the team feels he holds as a slashing inside force.
We're bringing this up now, because the draft starts again tomorrow - perhaps you've heard - and the Eagles right now own only six selections, their lowest total since 2003, which turned out to be one of their worst drafts ever. They'll be signing guys after the draft who will make the team, just as they did in 2003 - when a half-dozen undrafted players ended up being solid contributors.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman likes to have extra picks. In 2010, the Birds drafted 13 players (three of whom remain Eagles - Brandon Graham, Nate Allen and Riley Cooper). Usually the Birds make eight, nine, 10 selections. Even in 2003, they entered the draft with nine slots, burned a second-rounder to move up to draft Jerome McDougle, then traded a fourth and a sixth to pry Mark Simoneau from the Falcons. Going in with six is really unusual for them.
But Roseman also likes to find gems among the players who somehow don't get selected during the seemingly endless seven-round draft. That awful 2003 haul - tight end L.J. Smith, in the second round, was the only starter selected, and he went eight slots before the Cowboys took another TE, named Jason Witten - was mitigated by the undrafted group, headlined by safety Quintin Mikell, who played in a Pro Bowl, longtime starting center Jamaal Jackson, wideout Greg Lewis and cornerback Rod Hood.
The Eagles might trade to pick up another selection this week, but whether they do or not, it might be good to pay attention to the list of guys they sign after the draft, in what is said to be among the deepest talent pools in memory.
"What this extra 2 weeks has allowed us to do is spend a lot of time on the potential priority free-agent guys, and really know those guys, certainly for me, better than I've ever known those guys later on the draft board," Roseman said recently.
Roseman said he was asked last week, "Is your board set?" The answer, he said, was that the top of the board was set, but that the personnel people were still debating the sixth- and seventh-round prospects.
"Our sixth- and seventh-round guys are going to be the guys we get as free agents. We've never been in a draft as long as I've been here where we're going through our sixth- and seventh-round guys to find a player [when it's time to draft] in the seventh round. The way it works is usually in the seventh round, we're still picking a guy we have [rated] in the fourth or fifth round. Those are the things we're spending a lot of time on here in the last week. The top of our board is set, we haven't changed it, haven't moved anything, because you can convince yourself of anything if you spend too much time doing something."
Roseman said that 2 years ago, the Eagles had Polk down as a third-rounder on talent. But they knew why he wasn't drafted - medical tests at the NFL Scouting Combine on Polk's twice-surgically repaired left shoulder left it classified as "degenerative," Polk said yesterday. Polk and agent Steve Caric found out about this after the combine and thought they'd mitigated the concern before the draft, by having noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews examine Polk's shoulder and certify it as sound. Apparently, teams weren't impressed.
"In college, I had over 800 carries in 3 years, never missed a practice or a game," Polk said. He figured that would count for something. It didn't.
Polk watched the first round end with the third running back, Virginia Tech's David Wilson, going off the board to the New York Giants with the round's 32nd and final pick.
"I knew right then and there that something was going to be fishy," Polk said. "I just stayed with it, kept watching [the next 2 days]. Other running backs, everybody else getting drafted, it just hurt more and more. That was just a terrible time, but looking back on it, I wouldn't change it for the world, because it made me the person I am today," and led to signing with the Eagles.
"It makes me angry, to this day," Polk said. "I was literally crying . . . It just hurt me . . . It was a humbling experience."
Followed by a major life decision, made at an emotional time. When the draft ends, personnel people and coaches suddenly revert to their college days, starting a frantic, 1-day recruiting campaign for extra players. The NFL Network reported this week that the Super Bowl champion Seahawks this year are distributing a brochure, touting their ability to develop undrafted players.
"It's really a hectic process after the draft. You finish the last pick and, all of a sudden, these guys have to make life decisions," Roseman said. "And they've got 30 [teams] calling them and they're supposed to try and look at depth charts, and then if you don't get that guy, you're worried you're not gonna get the next guy. So, all of a sudden, you commit to a guy, the [first] guy calls you back, says, 'I'm ready to go.' You're already committed to another guy at the position.
"A lot of times you go, 'It's great. I've got fourth- or fifth-round grades on guys. Let's go get all those guys.' And before you know it, you've got three phones in your ear. It's just a crazy period to figure out who you're gonna get. So what we do is we try to spend as much time on those guys as we can. We Skype those guys, we spend time with our coaches on the phone with them. I'll call some of the guys we think are gonna be free agents. And at the same time, you don't want to insult them. You don't want to say, 'You're not gonna get drafted. So you should look at our situation as a priority free agent.' So it's a fine line there. We try to balance it."
Polk said the first team that called him was the Redskins. He'd met their staff at the Senior Bowl, which they were coaching that year. He was ready to sign. Then he started getting calls from the Eagles.
"I talked to coach Duce [Staley]. I talked to [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg. I talked to Andy [Reid]. Ted Williams [who coached running backs then, along with Staley]. I really felt like I was at home. They made me feel like I was drafted," Polk said.
Polk has had no further trouble with his "degenerative" left shoulder, but he did have his right labrum repaired in February, something he said he isn't worried about. He said he would tell this year's undrafted free agents, "the draft is not the end, it's just the beginning. It doesn't matter what you did in college . . . it comes down to what you're doing now . . . Treat every practice and every play like it's your last."