The Eagles have had tons of scapegoats over the years. Reid and Donovan McNabb have obviously been the most popular, Juan Castillo the most recent and it probably won’t be long before it’s Michael Vick either for his inability to stay on the field or his inability to be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
But to me, the reason the Eagles haven’t found themselves hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February has been very, very simple.
The Eagles are completely incapable of drafting, and developing, young defensive players.
Since 2003 (9 drafts) the Eagles have drafted 44 defensive players. Only 1 (Trent Cole) has made a Pro Bowl. Even worse, only 3 others (Patterson, Bunkley, Gocong) spent more than 2 seasons a full-time starter. Think about that. In 9 drafts, only 4 defensive players have become long-term starters and two of them (Bunkley and Gocong) were unceremoniously dumped.
There has not been a similar problem on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s the only thing that has kept us going these last couple years. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Todd Herremens, Kevin Kolb, potentially Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins – all above average starters or even stars drafted by the Eagles and their scouting department.
So why can’t we draft defensive talent? Let’s take a look, by round, at the Eagles’ defensive draft picks over the last 9 drafts. And try not to think about Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyura (all Giants’ draft picks in the last 9 years) taking down Tom Brady (again) and lifting the Lombardi.
Before we get into it – here are my basic expectations for players based on round picked…
1st round: Above average starter to pro bowler
2nd-3rd round: Starter to above average starter
4th-5th round: Rotation player to starter
6th-7th round: Practice squad to rotation player
Pick 13 (2010): Brandon Graham, DE – The highest defensive player drafted by the Eagles since Corey Simon in 2000. So far – injured and undersized. 16 games, 3 sacks in 2 years. Drafted ahead of Earl Thomas and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pick 14 (2006): Broderick Bunkley, DT – Showed flashes and spent 4 years as a starter. Probably only had one season as an above average starter.
Pick 15 (2003): Jerome MacDougle, DE – Bust. Hardly a rotation player. Drafted one spot ahead of Troy Polamalu.
Pick 31 (2005): Mike Patterson, DT – Solid to above average starter for 6 seasons now. The only 1st round defensive pick to meet expectations.
Summary: One meets expectations, one doesn’t suck, the other two are busts w/ Graham still having some time to prove that wrong
Pick 37 (2010): Nate Allen, S – Seemed on his way to meeting expectations before injury shortened his rookie season. Didn’t regain form in 2011, but isn’t a lost cause. Not being a “lost cause” makes him one of the better player on this list
Pick 42 (2008): Trevor Laws, DT - Never was more than a rotational player. Only one good season. Signed with the Rams this off-season.
Pick 54 (2011): Jaiquawn Jarrett, S – Picked 2 rounds too early because they thought he was game-ready. He wasn’t.
Pick 57 (2009): Victor Abiamiri, DE – Drafted too high to begin with. Was never healthy. Will likely never be healthy.
Pick 63 (2005): Matt McCoy, LB – Laughably bad pick, 83 career tackles. Projected as an undrafted free agent by SI prior to draft.
Summary: Two busts, two rotation guys, and one TBD with little promise. Nate Allen was the only player who wasn’t considered a “reach” of some kind.
Pick 71 (2006): Chris Gocong, LB – A solid pick for a 3rd rounder. Started 3 seasons for the Eagles before being traded to the Browns where he’s had his two best seasons and got a contract extension. He will not be the last on the list to improve after leaving.
Pick 80 (2008): Bryan Smith, LB – The only explanation I have for this pick is that there was no one they wanted here, couldn’t trade the pick and wanted to draft someone they knew sucked and wouldn’t make the team. Like McCoy, SI had him as an undrafted FA.
Pick 86 (2010): Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DE – Another laughable pick, DTN could have probably been had in the 6th round. 2 career tackles before his predictable release.
Pick 87 (2007): Stewart Bradley, LB – Quality starter for a couple years before injuries took him down. Decent value in 3rd round.
Pick 89 (2004): Matt Ware, CB – Two years on the team as a special teams player.
Summary: Two decent picks, two mind-bogglingly horrible picks, one bust
Pick 102 (2005): Sean Considine, S – Made 17 starts for the Eagles, but never better than an average starter.
Pick 105 (2010): Trevard Lindley, CB – Coming off injury when drafted, something that usually doesn’t turn out well. Will have to see if he gets in the mix in 2012, but seemed to be buried.
Pick 116 (2011): Casey Matthews, LB – Unlikely to ever be more than rotation player unless he borrows his brother’s PEDs.
Pick 117 (2008): Quintin Demps, S – 25 games in two seasons, never started. Rotation player for the Texans last year, who re-signed him.
Pick 121 (2010): Keenan Clayton, LB – Another reach, Clayton has gotten some rotation play and one start in the horrible Eagles’ LB core.
Pick 129 (2004): J.R. Reed, DB – Drafted as a KR. Wasn’t very good.
Pick 131 (2003): Jamaal Green, DE – Played 8 games. The write-ups are going to start getting a lot shorter from here on out.
Pick 131 (2008): Jack Ikegwuonu, CB – Another injured player. Didn’t work out. At all. 1 game played.
Summary: Only one starter out of this bunch, and not a particularly good one.
Pick 134 (2010): Ricky Sapp, DE/LB – Another injured player who did nothing.
Pick 146 (2005): Trent Cole, DE – God bless you Trent.
Pick 157 (2009): Macho Harris, DB – Started a couple games because there were no better options. Didn’t even make it to his 2nd season with the team.
Pick 159 (2007): C.J. Gaddis, DB – Don’t believe he ever made the team. Certainly never played.
Pick 168 (2006): Omar Gaither, LB – Good value down here. Made 36 starts for the Eagles. Average starter.
Summary: One gem, one starter, and three non-players
Note: For 6th and 7th round, I will only comment on players who did something, as you don’t really expect these guys to have an impact (though for the Eagles, they often do…)
Pick 192 (2004): Dexter Wynn, DB
Pick 193 (2011): Brian Rolle, LB – Undersized, but looks like a decent rotational LB.
Pick 200 (2008): Joe Mays, LB – Released by Eagles, started 13 games for the excellent Denver defense this year
Pick 201 (2007): Rashad Barksdale, DB
Pick 203 (2008): Andy Studebaker, LB
Pick 204 (2006): LaJuan Ramsey, DT
Summary: Rolle could be a nice find
Pick 220 (2010): Jamar Chaney, LB – Potential starter, but was disappointing (misused?) last season.
Pick 230 (2009): Moise Fokou, LB - Has made 22 starts, another good value down here.
Pick 237 (2011): Greg Lloyd, LB
Pick 243 (2010): Jeff Owens, DT
Pick 244 (2010): Kurt Coleman, S – Like others on this list, made some starts, but only because there were no better options. I personally don’t get why people think he’s good…
Pick 244 (2003): Norman LeJeune, DB
Pick 247 (2005): Kenyonta Marshall, DT
Pick 252 (2005): David Bergeron, LB
Summary: Sadly, this is probably their most effective round based on expectations
So how does this happen? How does a team that is so good at drafting offensive players become so bad at drafting defensive players? Based on what I’m seeing above, here are a couple theories.
1. They whiff on the early picks
It’s not a huge failure to not draft great players past the 2nd round, but it doesn’t help when you aren’t getting much before that. When you look at the 9 players the Eagles picked in the first 2 rounds, the only one you would re-draft is Mike Patterson. Take a look at the defensive picks in the same round/ time period (in the years leading up to their SB wins) for the teams that have won Super Bowls recently and it tells a different story…
NY Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul (1-2010), Linval Joseph (2-2010), Kenny Phillips (1-2008), Terrell Thomas (2-2008), Aaron Ross (1-2007), Mathias Kiwanuka (1-2006), Corey Webster (2-2005), Osi Umenyura (2-2003)
Green Bay: BJ Raji (1-2009), Clay Matthews (1-2009), AJ Hawk (1-2006), Nick Collins (2-2005), Nick Barnett (1-2003)
New Orleans: Malcolm Jenkins (1-2009), Sedrick Ellis (1-2008), Tracy Porter (2-2008), Roman Harper (2-2006), Will Smith (1-2004), Charles Grant (1-2002)
Pittsburgh: Lawrence Timmons (1-2007), LaMar Woodley (2-2007), Bryant McFadden (2-2005), Troy Polamalu (1-2003), Casey Hampton (1-2001)
Do any of those lists look anything like our 9 guys we’ve gotten? Even the offensive-minded teams like New Orleans had their defense stocked with quality recent high-draft picks on the defensive side.
2. They concentrate too much on “scheme”
You will hear them say this a lot – most recently in regard to the decision to pick Brandon Graham over Jason Pierre-Paul. Picking based on “scheme” would be great if you had a great “scheme” to begin with. We aren’t the Steelers. We aren’t the Ravens. If a player as talented as JPP doesn’t fit your “scheme” – it’s time to re-evaluate your scheme.
3. They tend to draft undersized players with “high motors”
A running joke – but a true one. Motor only gets your so far in the NFL and the Eagles overdraft players based on it. Graham, Laws, Te’o-Nesheim all come to mind.
4. They don’t pay attention to the perceived value of a player
This just means that they might pick someone in the 2nd or 3rd round that it seems very likely would be available in the 4th or 5th. And a lot of the 2nd and 3rd round picks fall into this category.
5. They have bad defensive scouts
Really – this has to be the main reason, right? I guess it plays into #1 on this list as well. Andy Reid is probably confident with the picks on the offensive side of the ball, but he’s no defensive coach. Who is in charge of defensive scouting for the draft? And whoever it is, can it be somebody else please?
6. They don’t learn from mistakes
We see the same thing over and over from the Eagles, making mistakes 2/3/4 on this list and not adjusting. Once they do (and history shows they are stubborn people – but the did finally get us some WR’s, no?) we might start to see an improvement.
So, with the 15th, 46th and 51st picks in this year’s draft, can the Eagles reverse this trend? If Andy Reid wants to finally bring a Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia, he better hope so.