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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Smart Draft Strategy by Eagles' New Leadership

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

The first NFL draft under new coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman is in the books and what really stands out is how boring it was – and that’s a good thing.

Back in the day, when Andy Reid and Joe Banner were running the show, draft day was usually filled with fireworks as the two swung trade after trade, sometimes moving up and sometimes moving down, but almost never standing still. As to how well that worked, well, there’s a reason this team won just four games last season and why neither Reid nor Banner is still on board.

Kelly and Roseman pretty much stood pat in this year’s draft and that paid off. They had the No. 4 overall pick and instead of trying to prove how smart they were by packaging that pick for more picks, they played it straight and took the player they should have taken, offensive tackle Lane Johnson of Oklahoma.

In fact, the Eagles did that through the first three rounds and managed to fill some more needs, selecting Stanford tight end Zach Ertz and Louisiana State defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Then, when they needed to pull an ace out of their sleeves, Roseman and Kelly were ready. The made a deal to acquire the first pick in the fourth round – No. 98 overall — and pulled off a stunner when they drafted quarterback Matt Barkley of Southern California.

That was a terrific move, no matter what Barkley does. If he becomes the Eagles starter for the next decade this could end up being one of the best draft picks in team history. And even if Barkley never starts a single game, all it cost the Eagles was a fourth-round pick. And now valuable are they? Well, the Eagles’ last five fourth-round picks were Brandon Boykin, Casey Matthews, Trevard Lindley, Keenan Clayton and Quintin Demps. You do the math…

After those four picks, well, who knows? It’s always fun to hear coaches and personnel people rave about late-round draft picks and reporters analyze how they’ll fit into the scheme of things, before most of them get cut in training camp or deactivated every week. Of course, there are always late-round gems – Eagles running back Bryce Brown was a seventh-round pick last year and ended up having a nice rookie season – but for the most part it’s not worth our time talking about them.

However, the first three picks should have an impact, especially the first one. We said before the draft that the Eagles should not make a trade and move down from No. 4 overall just so they could get more picks – we’d rather have one great player than two good ones – and that they should use that pick on the best offensive tackle available. And that’s just what they did.

Of course, we have no idea whether Johnson will become a Pro Bowl player and a fixture on the Eagles offensive line for the next decade. But if he is what he is supposed to be, the Eagles made great use of a Top 5 pick, something they’ve had just twice in the last 40 years – quarterback Donovan McNabb was No. 2 overall in 1999 and wide receiver Kenny Jackson was No. 4 overall in 1984. When a team gets a chance to take one of the elite players in the country it has to make that pick count with a potential Pro Bowl player at an important position and the Eagles did that.

The Eagles’ second-round pick was interesting, because tight end wasn’t really one of the team’s big concerns, at least as far as we knew. But Kelly uses the tight end a lot and Ertz was the top player on his draft board and once again he played it straight and correctly. Ertz has the size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and speed to give defenses match-up nightmares and he, too, has the potential to be a game-changing player. Plus Kelly must have seen that incumbent tight end Brent Celek has been inconsistent the last two years and has dropped too many passes and, of course, he isn’t getting any younger. So, Ertz could end up being a featured player in the Eagles’ new offense and, like Johnson, a fixture for years to come.

The third-round pick, Bennie Logan, will also contribute as part of the defensive line rotation. He won’t have too much pressure put on him to produce because he’ll be a situational player, but he should see plenty of playing time as a rookie. How much will depend on how well he plays, but he will get a chance to show what he can do.

So, the Eagles’ top three picks should have a significant impact on this season and beyond and they may have gotten an unexpected bonus with their fourth pick. They had a game plan and stuck to it, and even though it’s too early to tell for sure how good their picks will be, it’s not too early to be impressed with the first draft of the new regime.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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