IT'S DRAFT TIME again, and Birds loyalists are eager to see what the Chip Kelly-Howie Roseman team will do.
Will they aim to fill a need or take the proverbial "best player available"? One of the most hotly debated questions is whether the Eagles will dip their feet into the piranha-filled quarterback pool. Drafting a quarterback with a high first-round pick can bring the greatest reward, but it more often than not ends in tragic failure.
Take the 1999 draft, for example. Andy Reid used the No. 2 pick in the draft to take Donovan McNabb and got a franchise quarterback for a decade (yes, you haters; any QB who takes his team to four conference title games and one Super Bowl is most definitely a franchise quarterback). But consider that in that same year, the Cleveland Browns used the first pick in the draft to take Tim Couch, the Cincinnati Bengals used their high first-round pick to take Akili Smith, and the Chicago Bears took UCLA's Cade McNown (who Ray Didinger said was the surest pro QB in that draft). Neither Couch, Smith nor McNown ever led his team to a winning season and all three were out of the NFL a few short years later.
For every Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, there is a Ryan Leaf and a Vince Young. And besides, you can get a good, sometimes very good, quarterback in the later rounds - the most obvious examples being Tom Brady in Round 6 or Russell Wilson in Round 3.
So all of this brings us to the biggest draft day decision the Eagles organization has faced in many years. Should they use the No. 4 pick in the draft to take Geno Smith, the consensus choice as the top quarterback in the draft? The experts all seem to agree that the Birds do not have their quarterback of the future (an assessment that I feel is a little unfair and premature with respect to Nick Foles).
With this backdrop, Smith is a very tempting choice. Consider that last year at West Virginia, playing in a top BCS conference, he completed 71 percent of his passes and threw for 42 TDs and only six interceptions! Incredibly, against a Baylor team that went to a bowl game, he went 45-for-51 for 656 yards and eight TDs, and led the Mountaineers to 70 points and the victory. (I'm not making that up.)
It's fair to say that those passing stats are mind-blowing. And he wasn't a 1-year wonder, either. In his college career, he threw for 98 TDs, with only 21 interceptions, and never had a year long QB rating lower than 144.7! An additional argument for taking him is that the experts concede that there is no game-changer in the draft, and no guaranteed All-Pro at any position.
Having made the case for taking him, I nonetheless believe we shouldn't. He has too many Ryan Leaf-esque tendencies. First, he is not a good runner - a seemingly crucial skill in Kelly's high-paced offense. In 13 games last season, he ran for more than 50 yards only twice, with his high being 65 rushing yards against Marshall.
In eight of West Virginia's games he ran for less than 20 yards and four times he had negative yardage on the ground. He clearly was outplayed in the Pinstripe Bowl by Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, who is projected as a third-round choice at best. And perhaps most troubling of all and most "Leaf-like" is that Smith's focus, work habits and leadership ability have been questioned by some credible analysts (see Nolan Nawrocki's piece in Pro Football Weekly).
So what do I think we should do? Given my track record (you might remember a certain someone campaigning vigorously for the Eagles to take Ricky Williams over McNabb), I'm not sure you care. But for the few of you who might, I think we should trade down in the first round and get an extra second- or third-round pick. We have so many needs to fill - offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and safety, to name a few, and we can still roll the dice on our quarterback of the future by picking EJ Manuel, of Florida State. He's lightning fast, has a strong arm, real potential and, best of all, we can get him in the third round. So if he doesn't pan out, the damage is far less than it would be if we had used a first-round pick on a QB.
Well that's my thinking. I'm sure glad I don't have to make a living picking winners in the draft. It's almost always a real crapshoot. It certainly will be interesting to see which direction the Kelly-led Eagles draft team goes, and with Roseman in full control and Tom Gamble in the mix, let's hope that the Birds come out of the draft with some future Pro-Bowlers.