Eagles took chances in later rounds of draft

FOR BETTER, for worse, this will always be the Carson Wentz draft.

Wentz was back home in North Dakota by the time Howie Roseman hunkered down at NovaCare Saturday to make the final six selections of the Eagles' 2016 class, but the quarterback's presence was keenly felt. Roseman sat through the first three hours Saturday - the entire fourth round, and 13 picks worth of the fifth - before making his initial selection of the afternoon, West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood, by way of Wilmington, Del.,153rd overall.

Roseman had no fourth-round opportunity, and he made only one selection in Friday's third round (Oregon State offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo), instead of the two he could have made, because of the trade with the Cleveland Browns that gave him the chance to grab Wentz on Thursday, second overall. Next year he'll get to sit out the first round, for the same reason.

Of course, there's also the fact that had he not traded up for Wentz, Roseman could have used the eighth overall pick this year for an asset that would have a bigger impact on the 2016 team than Wentz is projected to have.

So Wentz shaped the Eagles' weekend. And while obtaining what you believe will be a franchise quarterback is the most significant thing any team can do in any draft, you do need to find guys to play along with him. Stepping wrong with those other draft opportunities, limited though they might be, can seriously set back the process of winning. (Just ask Sam Bradford. If you can find him.)

"For all of us, that's going to be the reality of the situation, that we made an aggressive move to go get Carson, but we felt very focused going into today about the job that we had to do, how we had to hit on some guys - in the fifth round, in the sixth round, in the seventh round, or undrafted," Roseman said Saturday evening.

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"We (added) a couple more picks in the seventh round because we wanted to increase our odds. When you look at the probabilities of (players developing from) the fifth round, the sixth round, the seventh round, they're not great. So we wanted to take more guys that we felt good about. We got aggressive in free agency (after the draft). The coaches did a great job recruiting players and helping us. For us, it was kind of a different mindset than normal.

"Normally you're going in and your first-round pick certainly has to be good, and your second and thirds, then you go fourth through seventh, and you're hoping. For us, we had to come out of this fifth, sixth, seventh and free agency with contributors, at some level, whether that's Day 1 or two years from now, to build the depth of this team."

In 1999, the Eagles didn't have to trade up to draft Donovan McNabb second overall. They entered the draft with a bounty of 10 picks. Would they have won a Super Bowl, instead of coming close so many times, going to five NFC championship games in the McNabb era, if they had done a little better that year than too-slow linebacker Barry Gardner in the second round, 35th overall, and journeyman guard Doug Brzezinski in the third, 64th overall? Guard John Welbourn, 97th in the fourth, was the most significant draftee, of the nine guys who weren't booed for not being Ricky Williams.

Trying to find talent on the final day of the draft this time, the Eagles took some chances. Smallwood, the fifth-round running back, was charged a few years ago with trying to get a witness to not testify against a friend of his who was charged with murder. Smallwood told reporters Saturday evening that he never did what he was accused of, which was why the charge was dropped. The friend eventually pleaded guilty, and the prosecutor said Smallwood's cooperation was important to achieving that result. Smallwood said all 32 NFL teams wanted to hear his explanation of the matter.

There also were some crude Smallwood tweets from five years ago that fans dug up right after the pick was announced. By the time he appeared at NovaCare a few hours later, Smallwood had deleted his Twitter account. He said the tweets did not reflect his beliefs.

Seventh-round LSU safety Jalen Mills, projected by many observers to go much higher, was charged in 2014 with punching a woman in the face, knocking her unconscious. Mills' attorney contended that Mills' girlfriend threw the punch at the woman, whom Millsl did not know. Mills' charge was dismissed when he agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program.

Seventh-round defensive end Alex McCalister was suspended twice from the Florida team, for unspecified reasons that Roseman said did not involve police or the courts.

So, risks were taken. Roseman and Eagles coach Doug Pederson said what teams always say in these situations, that they didn't just take the players' explanations at face value, they investigated and were satisfied with what they found. We'll see if the Eagles' belief in these prospects is rewarded.

As for what the Birds got, there weren't many surprises. With no second-round pick, because of the Bradford trade with the Rams in 2015, we knew the priority as soon as they got to draft again, after the long wait from Wentz at pick 2 to pick 79, would be to get o-line help and a running back to shore up a group led by Darren Sproles, who turns 33 in June, and Ryan Mathews, who is rarely completely healthy.

Enter Seumalo in the third and Smallwood in the fifth, followed by another offensive lineman, TCU's Halapoulivaati Vaitai, with the team's second fifth-round pick. You could have predicted the sequence, if not the names.

Seumalo, Pederson indicated, will compete to start at left guard with returning starter Allen Barbre and free-agent signee Stefen Wisniewski. Vaitai is a tackle project, maybe a starter by the time Jason Peters leaves and Lane Johnson switches sides.

"Tremendous size, length," Roseman said of Halapoulivaati. "He's got all the tools. Now it's got to come together for him. He's a guy, that when you talk to our coaching staff, they would take him anywhere in the draft because of the rare tools that he has . . . He's got to get more consistent. That's why he went in the fifth round."

After that came sixth-round corner Blake Countess, who added a year at Auburn last season after graduating from Michigan, then Mills, McCalister and finally a bit of linebacking depth we'd been expecting to see, in Oregon's Joe Walker.

There was a time when the undrafted free agents sometimes turned out better than the Eagles' draft class - see 2003, when the draft produced Jerome McDougle, L.J. Smith, Billy McMullen and Jamaal Green, while the postdraft produced Quintin Mikell, Rod Hood, Jamaal Jackson, current wide receivers coach Greg Lewis, and others. Roseman clearly is hoping to increase his talent pool that way now. The Eagles are expected to release their list of UDFAs Monday.

"We were extremely aggressive" in courting undrafted players, Roseman said. Asked to explain, he said they pointed out the picks they didn't have this year, the opportunity to make the roster that might not be as clear someplace else.

"It may take a few years for us to figure out exactly what we did this weekend," Roseman said, in summing up. "But we're excited about the additions that we made."


bowenl@phillynews.com

@LesBowen

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