The Eagles head toward the Thursday start of the three-day NFL draft holding only six picks in the draft’s seven rounds, the highest of them 32ndoverall. The next opportunity to fortify the defending Super Bowl champions doesn’t arrive until the fourth round, 130th overall.
That’s beyond sparse, it’s historically paltry. Last year, by the time the league got to pick 130, the Eagles had drafted Derek Barnett (14th), Sidney Jones (43rd), Rasul Douglas (99th) and Mack Hollins (118th). Over the last 10 drafts, the Eagles have made an average of 8.8 selections.
Even in 2016, the year of the Carson Wentz trade, when much draft capital was spent moving up to second overall, and six of the eight Eagles selections ended up being in the final three rounds, they at least had a second-day pick, 79th overall, in the third round, which they used on Isaac Seumalo.
Right now, the Eagles are scheduled to sit out the entire second day, which comprises the second and third rounds.
The last time the Eagles drafted just six players was in 2015, the year Howie Roseman was benched and Chip Kelly ran everything. But even that situation presented a more promising scenario than this year; the Eagles drafted 20th overall in the first (Nelson Agholor), 47th overall in the second (Eric Rowe), and 84th overall in the third (Jordan Hicks). Rowe didn’t work out after a coaching change, but they traded the 2018 fourth-round pick they got from New England for him to obtain Jay Ajayi, and then they victimized Rowe in the Super Bowl, so, overall, a stroke of genius.
You have to go back to 1977, early in the Dick Vermeil era, to find a year when the Eagles didn’t select at least twice in the first 125 picks. Over the past 15 drafts, they have averaged four selections in the top 125.
When asked about this last week, Roseman noted that when the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, it was their first championship in 57 years, so the poorest early-round draft position in nearly 40 years might be a continuation of the trend of reversing form.
“There’s a lot of things that are being broken this year,” Roseman said.
But the lack of picks in the first two days should be a flashing red light for anyone familiar with Roseman, the football operations chief who executes more trades than any of his peers. Roseman knows and firmly believes in the accepted wisdom: despite all the prep work teams do, the draft is kind of a lottery. And as Roseman told an analytics conference in Boston in 2015, “the more chances you get, the more tickets to the lottery you get, the better you should be doing.”
There is an excellent chance the Eagles will end up making more than six selections in this draft. Roseman could trade down from 32nd overall – most years, personnel people say there are about 20 “real” first-round talents, this year that number might be as low as 15, so the difference between 32nd and, say, 45th might be negligible, except to a team that has targeted a certain player. There seems to be little reason for the Super Bowl champs to be targeting a certain player. They are in a position to let the draft come to them.
Then there are players from the current roster Roseman could deal. A lot of people will be at least mildly surprised if the team ends up doing the “how-many-snaps-is-enough” dance with linebacker Mychal Kendricks again this year; Kendricks should have trade value. Ditto corner Ronald Darby, who wasn’t everything the Eagles had hoped for after his lengthy recovery from that opening-day ankle injury.
It’s also possible to deal future picks, an intriguing idea this year, given that the free-agent exodus that took Trey Burton to Chicago, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen to Tampa Bay, LeGarrette Blount to Detroit, Caleb Sturgis to the Los Angeles Chargers and Patrick Robinson to New Orleans should reap some compensatory picks in 2019. Those can’t be traded until they are awarded, but Roseman might be more willing than usual to gamble on trading some of his regular picks, knowing he will have extras.
“We’re not sitting here going – though we did in the fall a little bit – going, ‘Hey, we’re sitting out on Friday!’,” Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process and seeing scenarios, and when we get to Friday, we get to Friday, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get to Friday.”
Even if somehow the Eagles end up making only the six picks they have now, that doesn’t necessarily portend disaster. Yes, more picks are always better, in theory.
In practice, though, let’s look at some Eagles drafts. In 2010, the team ended up with 13 selections, seven of them in the top 125. Woo-hoo! What a bounty! Who’d they get? Well, Brandon Graham, 13th overall, in the first round. And then, um, Nate Allen (37th), Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (86th), Trevard Lindley (105th), Keenan Clayton (121st), Mike Kafka (122nd), Clay Harbor (125th), Ricky Sapp (134th), Riley Cooper (159th), Charles Scott (200th), Jamar Chaney (220th), Jeff Owens (243rd) and Kurt Coleman (244th). On a related note: Ever notice how many former Eagles scouts are working as draft pundits instead of in NFL personnel these days?
The year before, 2009, the Eagles had just two picks in the top 150 selections. Oh no! How terrible! Except, they got Jeremy Maclin 19th overall and LeSean McCoy 53rd. So after that, they could afford a few Cornelius Ingrams (153rd) and Macho Harrises (157th).
In 2011, the draft Roseman controlled that he seems to lament more than any other, the Eagles had 11 picks, five in the top 120. They used those five, all coming in the first two days of the draft, on Danny Watkins (23rd), Jaiquawn Jarrett (54th), Curtis Marsh (90th), Casey Matthews (116th) and Alex Henery (120th). Later, they did get Dion Lewis (149th), who went on to star for the Patriots after being cut by the Eagles and the Browns (figure that one out), and Jason Kelce (191st).
It would be interesting to see what the current personnel team, with Roseman backed by Joe Douglas and his people, could do with a dozen or so picks. Last year’s draft, Douglas’s first here, stacks up really well so far. Even what seems to be the biggest miss – running back Donnel Pumphrey 132nd overall, in the fourth round – was mitigated by signing Super Bowl hero Corey Clement as an undrafted free agent.
This shapes up as a year in which those undrafted free agents might be a bigger factor than usual. It also might be a year when striking gold late is important, when coming up with a Kelce or a Brent Celek (162nd overall in 2007) could have a lot to do with maintaining a strong core around Carson Wentz, in the long run.