It is the most difficult position to evaluate at draft time, according to Eagles general manager Tom Heckert.

"They're going to see things they never saw in college," Heckert said.

The position is quarterback, and teams that make mistakes when drafting them can be haunted for years and years. Ask the Cleveland Browns, who took Tim Couch instead of Donovan McNabb with the first overall pick in 1999.

The Eagles have selected three quarterbacks since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999. It could be argued that they've done better at selecting that position than any other in the draft. McNabb, of course, was the first player selected during the Reid era and the second overall behind Couch. It was a decision that has allowed the Eagles to focus on other positions in the draft ever since.

Without question, McNabb has been the most successful of the five quarterbacks taken in the 1999 draft, and he's arguably the best quarterback taken in the first round since then. (The Indianapolis Colts used the first overall pick to take Peyton Manning the year before McNabb was chosen.)

In 2001, the Eagles used a fifth-round pick to get A.J. Feeley, and that has worked out pretty well for them, too. As a third-string quarterback in 2002, Feeley was thrust into service by injuries to McNabb and Koy Detmer and led the Eagles to a 4-1 record that allowed them to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. After the 2003 season, the Eagles traded Feeley to Miami for a second-round draft pick in 2005, which they used to get wide receiver Reggie Brown.

Now, Feeley is back with the Eagles and they have enough trust in him that they let veteran Jeff Garcia walk away as a free agent last month.

In 2004, the Eagles used a sixth-round pick on Delaware's Andy Hall.

Two out of three ain't bad.

There's a natural inclination to wonder when the Eagles will draft another quarterback, especially since McNabb is 30 and has failed to make it to the finish line the last two seasons because of injuries.

Listening to Heckert, it doesn't sound as if this is the year to do that.

"To be honest, we're probably not concerned about that right now, just because obviously we think Donovan is coming back healthy and he looks great - and we do like A.J.," Heckert said earlier this week. "If a guy you think is a franchise quarterback falls to you wherever, I think you have to consider it."

That doesn't seem likely.

The only two quarterbacks projected as first-round, franchise-changing picks in this draft are LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Both should be long gone by the time the Eagles make their first pick Saturday.

Of course, the best quarterback taken since Manning went first overall in 1998 wasn't selected until the sixth round of the 2000 draft, and teams are always looking to draft the next Tom Brady.

Is somebody like that out there?

After Russell and Quinn, many consider John Beck to top the best-of-the-rest list. Have we mentioned that Beck is a product of Brigham Young University, alma mater of the Eagles' head coach and a school that is always well-represented on the Eagles' roster?

"He's a heck of a player," Heckert said of Beck. "He's probably going to fall a little just because of his age. He's just coming into the league at 27 years old." (Actually, Beck will be 26 in August.)

Beck, 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, is big enough to project as an NFL quarterback and could leave the Eagles with an intriguing decision if he's still around near the end of the third round. Thanks to a completion percentage of nearly 70 percent in his senior season at BYU, Beck could end up going as high as the second round.

Other interesting prospects after the first round include Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Stanford's Trent Edwards, Houston's Kevin Kolb and Ohio State's Troy Smith. After he picked up the Heisman Trophy, Smith saw his stock drop significantly when the Buckeyes were crushed by Florida in the national title game in January.

The best guess here is that the Eagles will pass on all of the above and wait at least one more year to find out if it's time to start grooming McNabb's long-term successor.

"I don't think we'd take a guy unless we thought he had a chance to be a really good player," Heckert said. "Just to take a guy as a backup quarterback, we probably wouldn't do that. If we took a guy in the next couple years, it would probably be a guy we felt really good about."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.