There’s a common argument that the NFL Draft is a crapshoot. That no general managers are truly good at drafting and there’s more randomness involved than we’d all like to admit.
There’s some truth to that. But not all incompetence related to the NFL Draft can merely be chalked up to bad luck.
Especially when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Athletic’s excellent reporting on the Eagles’ front office dysfunction detailed how the team has had issues communicating effectively and pulling in the same direction. It raised questions about the Eagles’ process.
Has this reporting inspired the Eagles to reflect and learn from their mistakes? Or are they refusing to be fully honest themselves, as they have in the past?
That much remains to be seen. The 2021 NFL Draft provides a big opportunity for the Eagles to get the team pointed back in the right direction.
In order to do that, though, they’ll need to avoid repeating the following previous draft mistakes.
Some will argue that it’s too early to definitely declare Andre Dillard a bust. And that he showed potential as a rookie.
The reality is the team very much had internal concerns about him heading into last season. He struggled as a rookie. And not just on the field but off of it as well.
The Eagles were planning to re-sign Jason Peters BEFORE Brandon Brooks suffered a season-ending injury that originally had JP playing at right guard. Dillard had a poor training camp before suffering a season-ending injury of his own.
This isn’t to claim the book on Dillard’s career is officially closed but there’s no guarantee he’s even starting for the team this season. Jordan Mailata has shown more promise and is more deserving to be the starting left tackle.
Needless to say, Dillard’s current outlook is far from ideal for a player the team traded up for in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Even if he manages to rebound, it’s still important to note the Eagles didn’t have a great process heading into the Dillard pick. Philadelphia didn’t seem to properly do their homework on him given the story about Jeff Stoutland calling him on the morning of the draft to do last-minute research. There are questions if they properly weighed how he’d adjust to playing for a high-pressure market after coming from a much lower-stakes environment having grown up in a Pacific Northwest town of 10,938 people.
It’s not like this information was impossible to glean After Dillard was drafted, Sheil Kapadia wrote a story where Dillard’s mom talked about how there was a time he really wanted to quit football.
To be fair, I’m sure there are plenty of good players who thought about walking away at various points. Heck, we all know Nick Foles almost retired before eventually becoming Super Bowl MVP.
But the point is the Eagles have had issues gauging and/or weighing a player’s desire to truly be great in the past. If you’re looking for an encouraging sign moving forward, it seems like they’re aiming to fix this shortcoming. I believe that’s what Nick Sirianni was getting at when he was talking about rock, paper, scissors. (Now, is that the best method to gauge competitive desire? That’s up for debate. But I’d say that the aim is noble.).
Plus, there’s this:
It is NFL draft week!
Eagles VP of Player Personnel Andy Weidl on makeup of draftees
“This is Philadelphia. You’ve got to come in here and be thick skinned. You’ve got to be tough minded. Mentally strong. The Eagle DNA”
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 26, 2021
Lesson learned: football character matters. It’s part of why I’m so drawn to DeVonta Smith, in addition to him being an awesome talent.
As with Dillard, the argument here isn’t that Reagor can’t turn his career around after a disappointing season. But it’s safe to say he wasn’t the most optimal pick at No. 21 last year.
And this isn’t just hindsight! It was pretty obvious at the time that Justin Jefferson was the superior prospect. I’ll always be haunted by this tweet from Daniel Jeremiah:
The Eagles really wanted speed. Reagor provides that. I just couldn’t pass up my 14th rated player (Justin Jefferson) for my 56th player (Reagor). It’ll be fascinating to follow both of their careers.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 24, 2020
I was recently re-reading through BGN’s draft coverage from last year and I stumbled upon what we wrote about Reagor right after he was selected.
Reagor’s upside is definitely intriguing. The 21-year-old profiles as the explosive threat that the Eagles could really afford to add to their receiving corps. There’s thought he’d go higher in the draft if not for being held back by horrendous quarterback play at TCU.
At the same time, Reagor is not without considerable downside. Drops have been an issue. His 4.47 40-yard dash at the Combine was slower than expected. Former NFL executives like Daniel Jeremiah and Gil Brandt don’t even have Reagor ranked in their top 50 prospects. The Eagles taking him at No. 21 could be a big reach.
“His 2019 tape does raise some concerns even when taking into account the abysmal quarterback play. Reagor didn’t seem committed to selling decoy routes, blocking, or squeezing every yard out of his opportunities after the catch. That last concern comes up in the analytics, as his YAC average dropped considerably over the last three years (7.8 > 5.9 > 3.8) and he only broke a total of 5 tackles in ‘19. You can explain some of that away by arguing poor placement, but too many times Reagor was in self-preservation mode and sought out the sidelines.”
I mean, does that not fit the description of the player we saw last year?
The Eagles’ decision to act like they knew better than the consensus — despite an awful track record of drafting receivers since Howie Roseman became general manager in 2010 — was rooted in hubris.
Lesson learned: Don’t always think you know better than everyone else.
The Eagles taking JJAW has been cited as an example of Jeffrey Lurie meddling too much in the draft. He really wanted the Stanford wide receiver.
Of course, it’s not like Lurie’s pick was worse than who the scouting department reportedly wanted to take in Parris Campbell.
But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s not a good process when the owner is jumping in instead of trusting the people he hired to do their jobs. And when the GM refuses to push back. As Jeff McLane recently wrote about:
Roseman can’t please everyone. But recent results have been subpar, and to some Eagles scouts, the primary reason has been the GM’s indifference to the boards Weidl, and before him Douglas, put together with assistance from their staff after months of assessing and living with the prospects. “It would always frustrate the guys,” a member of the personnel department said recently, “because we’re sitting here in meetings, watching tape, grinding it out, talking about players, and [scouts] are out for months away from their families, and then Howie walks in with his top 50 no matter what our board says. “And that’s obviously what happened last year.” What happened last year has been well established through prior reporting by The Inquirer. Roseman drafted wide receiver Jalen Reagor and quarterback Jalen Hurts with the first two picks when, based upon Weidl’s board, receiver Justin Jefferson and safety Jeremy Chinn would have been the selections, according to Eagles sources.
Lesson learned: The scouts aren’t always right but their opinion shouldn’t be randomly discarded.
The aforementioned McLane recently wrote a piece contrasting Miller and Josh Sweat and how picks can turn out differently. The article contained one of the most baffling and concerning things I’ve ever read about the Eagles’ decision-making process:
“Me and my grandpop watched the Eagles games every day,” he said during the NFL combine. “When the Eagles won the Super Bowl, we cried.” Some Eagles staffers believed that his story appealed to owner Jeffrey Lurie and that it played a role in his inclusion on the draft board and ultimate selection. A few decision makers argued against more because of his local ties, but Roseman countered that the Eagles needed defensive ends, always a priority position, and Miller was worth the price. “It’s those types of things that make you scratch your head,” a team source said.
Perhaps the perception of the staffers is misguided and the Eagles didn’t truly weigh Miller’s fandom in their justification for picking him. But, uh, if they did … what the hell!
Lesson learned: Howie needs to have more of a backbone if/when Lurie tries to get overinvolved in the draft process.
So, again, will the Eagles demonstrated they’ve learned from their mistakes? Will they go into this year’s draft with a better process that’ll lead to better results?
One can only hope.