Do you take a top flight player up high or move back to get extra picks? There are examples of success and failure for just about every strategy when it comes to the draft. The Falcons look pretty smart for dealing up for Julio Jones right now. The Saints looked like idiots for selling out to get Ricky Williams. Back in 2003 our very own Eagles moved up for Jerome McDougle. How did that work out?
The devil is in the details. The Falcons were a good team looking to get over the top. They didn’t have a ton of roster holes and felt Jones was a special player. The price was worth it to them.
Mike Ditka made the deal in 1999 because he thought Williams was special and could be a Walter Payton type of presence for the Saints. Ditka was going to build the team around Williams so that price made sense.
The Eagles lost Hugh Douglas in free agency. They signed KGB (remember him?) to an offer sheet, but the Packers matched. The Eagles were desperate for a DE and felt Jerome McDougle was the best available pass rusher they could afford to move up and get.
Jones has proven to be a special type of player. That move worked. Williams didn’t have the mental/emotional make-up to be the center of a team and the deal got Ditka fired. Williams did become an outstanding RB in Miami. McDougle’s career was ruined by injuries. Even when healthy, he only showed glimpses of what the Eagles hoped to see. That move failed.
The Eagles have to balance out a few things in regard to this year’s draft strategy. If they stay at #4, the team must identify the 4 players they most want and thoroughly examine the situations. I’m using 4 players because the Eagles pick 4th. One of their Top 4 guys will be on the board. Maybe a couple. Heck, maybe all 4.
There is no question that the player picked at #4 will be highly talented and have a great resume. The Eagles need to evaluate the player’s ceiling. Can he be a Pro Bowl player…a difference maker? Or is the player more likely to simply be a good starter? Think of this as the difference in Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware.
The Eagles need to think about fit. Does the player fit the schemes the team will use? How does the player fit into the lineup, short term vs long term?
Character must also be a factor. And not just has the guy been arrested. Is this guy a leader? Is he so highly motivated that he’ll do whatever it takes to succeed? Does he absolutely love the game of football? Does he have the personality to be a key piece in the foundation of the team?
Think about that last point for a minute. Freddie Mitchell and Shawn Andrews were immature and their careers fizzled out for odd reasons. Corey Simon had some issues. You must find guys that can be building blocks.
When the Eagles go through all of this, they’ll figure out if anyone at pick #4 is so special that he simply cannot be passed up. That doesn’t guarantee the pick will work, but you need to be confident that the player will succeed.
The NFL is a league of parity. If you can find players that are truly difference-makers, they are invaluable. Just look back to 2011.
Those players have had a tremendous impact on their team. The problem is that you can go look at the top of the 2009 and 2010 drafts and not find true difference makers. Good players, yes. But not guys that have been able to consistently be special.
Just because you draft early does not mean you’re getting an elite player. And this ties back into the questions the Eagles must ask themselves about these players. Who can be special? How would that happen? How likely is that to happen?
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Trading back isn’t perfect either. Just because you have extra picks doesn’t mean you’ll select wisely or that the players will work out.
The primary reason for trading back is that your roster has multiple holes that need to be filled and you feel that quantity over quality is the way to go. This situation generally happens when a new coach or GM takes over a team or when a coach or GM has let a team get old and he decides to rebuild on the fly.
It is easy to say that Cleveland was dumb to give up Julio Jones for DT Phil Taylor, WR Greg Little, FB Owen Marecic, and QB Brandon Weeden. Nobody would say that’s an even deal. But what if the Browns had replaced Taylor with Colin Kaepernick, Little with Randall Cobb, Marecic with Richard Sherman, and Weeden with S Harrison Smith? Slam dunk for the Browns. Those players were available when the Browns picked.
Trading back is fine. You simply must pick the right players.
One of the great examples of the value in trading back is what Jimmy Johnson did with the Dolphins in 1996 and 1997. He inherited a team that was a bit old. Jimmy wanted youth and speed.
The 1994 and 1995 drafts (under Don Shula) delivered these players of note:
DT Tim Bowens – quality starter … 2 Pro Bowls
C Tim Ruddy – quality starter … 1 Pro Bowl
LB Brant Boy – 10-yr STer
TE Pete Mitchell – became good player for JAX
DT Norman Hand – solid starter
Jimmy worked his way down the board in 1996, hoping for as many picks as possible. He added:
DT Darryl Gardener – quality starter, dominant player at times
RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar – effective starter
FB Stanley Pritchett – solid starter
DL Shane Burton – starter and rotational player
LB Zach Thomas – HOF type player
S Shawn Wooden – 2-yr starter
CB Sam Madison – good starter … 4 Pro Bowls
DE Jason Taylor – HOF type player
LB Derrick Rodgers – solid starter
OL Brent Smith – mostly a backup OL (30 starts in 5 yrs)
DT Barron Tanner – became starter for ARZ
TE Ed Perry – STer and LS for many years
Jimmy had plenty of misses. WR Yatil Green was a 1st round pick who tore up his knee and didn’t pan out. CB Dorian Brew was speedy, but couldn’t cover. LaCurtis Jones was supposed to be the next Darren Woodson. Never played a game for Miami. Jerome Daniels was a massive OL that was going to be Nate Newton or Erik Williams. Never played a game for Miami.
Jimmy wanted a lot of players. He knew there would be misses. He didn’t care. The more youth and speed, the better. Jimmy also wanted guys that were tough and physical. He wanted big OL that could run block. He wanted guys that played with an edge.
Jimmy also wanted competition. He was trying to get rid of the country club atmosphere on the Dolphins. Miami had been a finesse team with Don Shula and Dan Marino. They had a poor running game and mostly played bad defense for the last decade. The first 2 years under Johnson were more of the same, but the Dolphins led the NFL in scoring defense in 1998. They had last done that in Marino’s rookie season of 1983. There was not a 1000-yard rusher in the Marino era until Johnson came to town. He got Abdul-Jabbar to rush for 1,116 yards as a rookie.
The Eagles aren’t going to get some massive haul for the #4 pick. Heck, they might not get any offers. If a team like the Bills offered a 3rd and 4th round pick to slide back to pick 8, I’d do that. Maybe they’re desperate for a QB and want to get in front of the Cardinals. That’s a reasonable price. Dion Jordan might still be on the board at #8. You could go for an OT like Lane Johnson or might feel S Kenny Vaccaro is okay value there. Those are still very good options and you’d have the extra picks.
Howie can trade down in the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th rounds. He won’t pick up massive gains, but might feel it is worth it to get the extra picks.
I know some people think the Eagles have traded back too much in the past. They passed on Sean Lee and that’s going to drive us all nuts for a long time. Last year they moved back in the 2nd round. GB got DL Jerel Worthy. The Eagles got Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin. That trade feels pretty good. It really is what you do with the picks. Howie showed last year that if we stick to the board, we can land some really good players.
The other aspect to keep in mind is that we need to add Chip’s type of players. This won’t happen all at once, but if you can bring in a draft class of 10 to 12 guys, that jump starts the process.
It does help quite a bit if the coaching staff can tell the scouts what they want and then the coaches embrace the new players. Jim Washburn liked Vinny Curry. But he loved Darryl Tapp. That meant Vinny sat. I didn’t like that decision then and it drives me crazier now. Once things started to slide, there was simply no reason to play Tapp over Curry.
I really believe that maybe the most important angle here is competition. There was way too much complacency and entitlement in the last couple of years. Every guy on the roster needs to feel that he must prove himself. Chip Kelly didn’t play favorites at Oregon. He didn’t have a ton of guys who started 3 and 4 years. Players earned jobs each spring and summer.
A great way to create competition is to load up on rookies. Then let them and the veterans know that the best player will get the job. Last year Andy Reid told us he couldn’t bench members of the secondary because the guys behind them weren’t any better. That type of thing can’t happen. You must be willing to bench anyone and play anyone. If the players on your bench aren’t some kind of a threat to your starters, get rid of ’em.
That isn’t to say that Dennis Kelly and Todd Herremans are equals. Todd is clearly the better player. However, Todd has to know that you are willing to sit him and play Kelly if Todd isn’t playing his best football. There has to be accountability. There has to be competition.
I think Chip Kelly will want Howie to bring in a deep class and some top UDFAs so that the Eagles can have serious competition this spring and summer. Trading back can be a big help to that process, but it will only work if the team makes the right picks and the coaches handle the players correctly.
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Jimmy Bama put together a great post on release times for Michael Vick and Nick Foles. Don’t tell him I said it was great. He’ll develop a sense of complacency and entitlement and I’ll have to send in Jerry Azzinaro to yell “MORE VIOLENCE” at Jimmy while he types.