To mix our sports analogies, you can’t hit a home run every time. Sometimes you have to make the best of what’s available to you, and punch a single to the opposite field. But when there is a hanging curve over the center of the plate, you can’t afford to miss.
Unfortunately, the Eagles have missed quite a bit.
In 2010, the Eagles traded up to No. 13, where they selected Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham. At No. 14, the Seahawks selected Texas safety Earl Thomas, ranked as the second-best 14th pick of the last 50 years on the PhillyPhanatics.com Top 10 list.
No. 14, of course, is where the Eagles are slated to pick Thursday night as the NFL Draft commences at the base of the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They have drafted 14th four times during the past 50 years. The results are mixed, with linebacker Tim Rossovich (1968) being a good pick, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (2006) being a mediocre pick (there wasn’t a lot to choose from that year), and offensive tackle Bernard Williams (1994) and quarterback John Reeves (1972) being poor selections.
It’s not a secret that the Eagles are in the market for a cornerback. It’s also not a secret that this year’s draft is incredibly deep at cornerback. Can you imagine if the Eagles draft the equivalent of Darrelle Revis, whom the Jets selected 14th in 2007?
The question is which cornerback in this year’s draft will become, if not the second coming of Revis, at least an elite NFL cornerback. Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, USC’s Adoree Jackson, LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Washington’s Kevin King and Florida’s Quincy Wilson all could be drafted in the first round. One or two of these cornerbacks, and possibly three, may be gone by the time the Eagles make their pick.
The Eagles must identify which of these cornerbacks has the skills to work the best in their defensive system. If a player who fits is available, they should grab him.
The Eagles should not outsmart themselves and trade down, as they did in 2014, moving down from No. 20 to No. 26 and ending up with linebacker/defensive end Marcus Smith. Even at No. 26, they would have done better by selecting linebacker/safety Deonne Bucannon (No. 27 to Cardinals), receiver Kelvin Benjamin (No. 28 to Panthers) or cornerback Bradley Roby (No. 31 to Broncos).
Trading down in the first round and picking the best of the remaining cornerbacks would demonstrate the Eagles’ lack of confidence in their own ability to select the correct cornerback. Then again, after deciding that 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe didn’t fit their scheme and trading him last year to the Patriots, where he played a significant percentage of snaps for the Super Bowl champions, perhaps there’s a good reason not to trust the Eagles’ judgment.
Using two of the drafts cited earlier, 2010 and 2014, imagine how much better the Eagles defense would be with the Thomas and Bucannon, the two players selected immediately after Graham and Smith. If the Eagles were firm about selecting a defensive end in 2010, Jason Pierre-Paul, scooped up by the Giants at No. 15, would have been a better choice than Graham.
To make the 2010 trade to get Graham look even worse, in hindsight, the Broncos flipped the 24th pick and ended up with the 22nd pick, where they selected receiver Demaryius Thomas. Who went 24th? Receiver Dez Bryant was selected 24th overall by the Cowboys. One of the third-round picks the Eagles sent to the Broncos was used for receiver Eric Decker – one pick after the Eagles selected defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.
Would you rather have Graham and Te’o-Nesheim or Bryant and Decker? Or Thomas and Decker? Or Pierre-Paul and Decker? This demonstrates how one draft can alter a franchise’s fortunes.
If we go a little further back in Eagles history, they traded up from No. 31 to No. 15 in 2003 to select defensive end Jerome McDougle, one spot before the Steelers selected safety Troy Polamalu. In 1996, the Eagles selected guard Jermane Mayberry at No. 25, one spot before the Ravens selected linebacker Ray Lewis.
The missed opportunities don’t only plague the Eagles. In the 1985 NFL Draft, the Cheifs selected tight end Ethan Horton at No. 15, one pick before the 49ers selected Jerry Rice. The Eagles selected offensive tackle Kevin Allen, a huge bust, at No. 9. Imagine how the Eagles’ fortunes might have been different if they had selected Jerry Rice to line up opposite Mike Quick, an outstanding pick at No. 20 in 1982.
How important is it to make the right pick? In 2005, the Packers drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers at No. 24, one pick before the Redskins selected quarter Jason Campbell. Imagine how the fortunes of those franchises might have been different if the Packers had selected Campbell and the Redskins took Rodgers.
Let’s go way back in Eagles history to hammer home this point. In the 1969 Draft, the Eagles selected running back Leroy Keyes at No. 3, one spot before the Steelers chose future Hall of Fame defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene.
The Keyes-instead-of-Greene draft was a franchise-altering mistake, as were the 2010 and, arguably, the 2014 first-round trades and selections. The Eagles can’t afford a similar mistake in Thursday’s first round.
A draft this deep in quality defensive players presents the opportunity for a home run.
The Eagles can’t afford to swing and miss.