Early draft misses on 'D' have hurt Eagles

Take a look at the Eagles' offense, the one that set a franchise record for scoring and led the NFC at 27.4 points per game last season, and you'll see a lot of players drafted in the first four rounds.

Here's the list: DeSean Jackson (2nd round); LeSean McCoy (2nd round); Jeremy Maclin (1st round); Winston Justice (2nd round); Jason Avant (4th round); Max Jean-Gilles (4th round); Todd Herremans (4th round); Mike McGlynn (4th round).

The only three not mentioned are Michael Vick, who was signed as a free agent; Jason Peters who was acquired via trade; and Brent Celek, who was a fifth-round pick. But overall, eight of the 11 core starters on offense last year were picked in the first four rounds of the draft between 2005-2009.

And then take a look on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles played 17 different guys on defense in their playoff loss to the Packers. Of those 17, only four were selected in the first four rounds by the Birds.

One of those players was Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who was on the field for just nine snaps. And another was Brodrick Bunkley, who played 11 snaps. The other two were core members of the defense all year - Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws.

Did injuries play a role? Of course. When healthy, you could throw Brandon Graham, Nate Allen and Stewart Bradley into the mix.

Really, this goes back to before the 2010 season though. It's too early to judge Graham, Allen and the rest of the 2010 picks. And in 2009, the Eagles did not spend a pick on defense until the fifth round.

But from 2003-2008, the Birds spent 10 picks on defense in the first three rounds, and none of those players have made a Pro Bowl. Six of the 10 have started 10 games or fewer, and five of the 10 are no longer on the roster.

Here's a look:

Player Year Draft round/overall Games started
Trevor Laws 2008 2nd (47) 1
Bryan Smith 2008 3rd (80) 0
Victor Abiamiri 2007 2nd (57) 6
Stewart Bradley 2007 3rd (87) 29
Brodrick Bunkley 2006 1st (14) 52
Chris Gocong 2006 3rd (71) 35
Mike Patterson 2005 1st (31) 84
Matt McCoy 2005 2nd (63) 10
Matt Ware 2004 3rd (89) 0
Jerome McDougle 2003 1st (15) 0

The chart is pretty self-explanatory. The final column is number of games started with the Eagles; starts with other teams are not counted. And with Laws and Abiamiri, it's important to note that just because they didn't start didn't mean they didn't play.

Above I mentioned that none of these players have made a Pro Bowl, but we know that's not always the best gauge of performance.

So how many have turned into above-average starters? I'd put Patterson into that category. Bunkley has been one in the past, but he wasn't above average last season (granted, he was playing injured).

Following the 2008 season, the Bradley pick looked like a good one, but he's started 12 games in the past two seasons and really has not impressed even when he's on the field.

Gocong started 35 games, but was never an above-average linebacker and always seemed out of place in the Eagles' system.

Ware, McDougle and Smith never started a game here. McCoy started 10, but you won't find anyone defending that pick from 2005.

It's fair to say the jury's out on Abiamiri, Laws and Bradley. Bradley probably has the biggest upside, but again, he has to stay healthy and prove he can be the type of player he looked like he was going to be a few years ago.

Laws made a nice leap in 2010 and looks like he can at least be an effective rotation guy. Before last season, it was no lock that he was even going to make the roster.

And I don't think you'll find anyone betting on Abiamiri to have a promising future here, although, like I said, there's still time before writing him off completely.

Overall, the draft picks spent in the first three rounds on defense have not yielded great results, and that's a major reason why the Eagles are in the position they're in. To be fair, the Birds have had some hits in the later rounds. Most notably, Trent Cole in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. And Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney - two linebackers taken in the seventh round in each of the past two drafts - certainly look like they can at least play in the league.

But there were several misses in the mid-to-later rounds too: Macho Harris (5th round, 2009); Jack Ikegwuonu (4th round, 2008); C.J. Gaddis (5th round, 2007) and so on.

The Eagles have had success finding quality undrafted players like Quintin Mikell and Antonio Dixon or they'd be in even worse shape.

All of this is a long way of saying that it's no surprise the Eagles spent their first five picks in the first four rounds last year on defense. Overall, nine of the 13 picks were spent on that side of the ball.

And while I don't expect them to match that number (there are only so many roster spots), the focus again this year will be the defense. The key on Thursday and Friday - when the first three rounds take place - will be to have more success with their defensive selections than they've had in the past.

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