The Eagles, like all NFL teams, have had their share of hits and misses on draft day, including the first-ever pick in the first-ever NFL draft in 1936, when they selected halfback Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago — Berwanger decided not to play in the NFL, which was just a minor blip on the national sports scene at the time.
With that in mind, and with this year’s NFL draft close at hand, here are the five best and five worst draft picks in Eagles history since 1970, when the NFL-AFL merger ushered in the modern era of professional football. That excludes three Hall-of-Famers who would otherwise be on the “best’’ list – flanker Tommy McDonald (31st overall in 1957), center-linebacker Chuck Bednarik (first overall in 1949) and Mr. Eagle himself, running back Steve Van Buren (fifth overall in 1944).
The criteria is simple – these selections were either high draft picks who proved worthy of their draft-day status, or lower picks who played well above their status. So here, in descending order, are the Eagles’ best and worst draft picks in the last 46 years:
Wide receiver Harold Carmichael (161st in 1971): He’s still the Eagles’ all-time leading receiver and it boggles the mind to think what this 6-foot-8 wide receiver could do in today’s NFL, when he would completely overwhelm smaller defenders who aren’t allowed to touch him. Carmichael played 13 seasons for the Eagles, including their first Super Bowl appearance in 1981, and finished his career with 589 receptions for 8,978 yards and 79 TDS, and he holds the team record in all three categories even though he hasn’t played in 33 years. And Carmichael accomplished all of that playing for mostly bad teams and it’s a shame that he isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb (2nd in 1999): The most successful era in Eagles history really began the day Andy Reid used his first-ever draft pick on McNabb, an All-American from Syracuse, even though the fans were screaming for Texas running back Ricky Williams. When McNabb’s 11-year career with the Eagles was over he owned just about every team career passing record, including attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. He was also selected to six Pro Bowls and led the Eagles to five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.
Defensive end Reggie White (4th in 1984 supplemental draft): It was a supplemental draft, but a draft is a draft, and coach Marion Campbell – who shows up a couple of times in the “worst picks” category, pulled off coupe after the USFL folded and its stars became eligible for the NFL. Campbell jumped at the chance to grab the best defensive lineman in the history of the game. White won a Super Bowl with Green Bay, but he played his best football with the Eagles, including 1987, when he recorded a then-NFL record 21 sacks in just 12 games – the season was cut short by a players strike. White’s 198 career sacks (124 with the Eagles) are second all-time in the NFL and he’s also the only Eagle on this list who has made it to the Hall of Fame, although No. 2 should join him someday.
Safety Brian Dawkins (No. 61 overall, 1996): With the 61st pick in the draft the Eagles got one of the best and most beloved players in franchise history. Dawkins played in six Pro Bowls with the Eagles while winning over the fans with his energy and passion. Dawkins also played in five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl and he shares the team’s all-time lead in interceptions with 34 with Bill Bradley and Eric Allen. But Dawkins will mostly be remembered for his bone-jarring hits (back when bone-jarring hits were legal). Dawkins is perhaps the only player besides Steve Van Buren and Chuck Bednarik who deserves to be called Mr. Eagle.
Running back Wilbert Montgomery, 154th overall pick, 1977: He’s not the best player in Eagles history, but the Eagles never got more bang for their draft-day buck than they did with this sixth-round pick. Montgomery became the Eagles’ franchise running back in an era when running backs, not quarterbacks, were the foundations of a franchise. He held the Eagles’ career rushing record for 25 years before LeSean McCoy broke that record in 2014 and Montgomery, more than any other player, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl. He’ll always have a special place in the hearts of Eagles fans for his 42-yard TD run on the second play of the game that set the stage for a 20-7 victory over Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, which might be the greatest play in Eagles history.
Honorable mention: QB Randall Cunningham (37th in 1985); WR Mike Quick (20th in 1982); RB Brian Westbrook (91st in 2002); CB Eric Allen (30th in 1988); LB Seth Joyner (208th overall in 1986): DE Clyde Simmons (233rd in 1986); OT Jerry Sisemore (3rd in 1973); OT Tra Thomas (11th in 1998); TE Keith Jackson (13th in 1988); WR Fred Barnett (77th in 1990); DT Andy Harmon (156 in 1991); LB William Thomas (104th in 1991); OG Jermane Mayberry (25th in 1996); DE Trent Cole (146th in 2005); LB Jeremiah Trotter (72nd in 1998).
Guard Danny Watkins (23rd overall in 2011): The main problem with Watkins was that he’d rather hang around a fire station than a locker room and it became evident quickly that the Canadian with plenty of talent and toughness just didn’t like football that much. Watkins showed promise at first and it looked like he’d be an anchor on the o-line for the next decade. Then he it became evident that he just didn’t care and he was benched and eventually released. Watkins signed with Miami, but that didn’t last long, either, so he quit the game and returned to Canada and his beloved fire trucks.
Running back Michael Haddix (8th in 1983): Actually, Haddix was a pretty good football player – he just wasn’t a very good running back. Coach Marion Campbell took him with a Top 10 pick because he liked Haddix’s “forward body lean,” whatever that means. Haddix played six years with the Eagles and two with Green Bay and finished his career with just 1,635 rushing yards. And this should be impossible – Haddix had 543 rushing attempts in his career and scored only three TDs.
Defensive end Mike Mamula (7th in 1995): This guy has gotten a bum rap simply because it wasn’t his fault coach Ray Rhodes made him a top-10 pick — if Mamula had been a fifth round pick the fans would have loved him. Mamula had a pretty good career at Boston College, but then he dazzled everybody with one of the best NFL combine performances ever and his draft-day stock skyrocketed. Rhodes passed on another defensive lineman – future Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp – to draft the workout warrior. And Mamula wasn’t a bad player – he just couldn’t live up to his draft-day status. He played six seasons and recorded 31.5 sacks, including a career high of 8.5 in 1999.
Wide receiver Kenny Jackson (4th in 1984): Marion Campbell wasted no time drafting this Penn State player, but Jackson never developed into anything special. He played eight seasons in the NFL and finished with just 126 catches and 11 TDs, which is what a good receiver does in just one season. At the end of his career, Buddy Ryan kept him around simply to caddy for young QB Randall Cunningham.
Tackle Kevin Allen (9th in 1985): Marion Campbell strikes again. The very next year after drafting Kenny Jackson he reached to the very bottom of the barrel to draft Allen, who ended up being a bad player and even worse person. He had a terrible rookie season – in his first game, against the Giants, he was mostly responsible for Lawrence Taylor racking up eight sacks – and was benched after four games. Allen was also a bad guy off the field — after the season he tested positive for cocaine and the Eagles released him. That summer, Allen was convicted for first-degree assault and rape charges for crimes committed at the Jersey Shore and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Dishonorable mention: DE Richard Harris (5th in 1971); QB John Reaves (14th in 1972); OG Dean Miraldi (55th in 1981) RB Siran Stacy (48th in 1992); OT Bernard Williams (14th in 1994); DE Jon Harris (25th in 1997); WR Freddie Mitchell (25th in 2001); DE Jerome McDougle (15th in 2003).