The NFL Draft is just around the corner and while it’s easy to focus on what lies ahead, it’s sometimes interesting to see what has already come to pass. For the Philadelphia Eagles, doing so could hold significant wait. This year’s Draft is one that could be one of the most important in recent history for the Birds. Surrounding their new franchise quarterback with talent on both sides of the ball and embodying a new direction of building through the draft will be crucial in setting the team up for playoff contention in the season’s to come. There was another draft that bought with it a similar level of importance..and that’s not where the similarities end.
The 2002 NFL Draft is widely considered as the strongest in Franchise history and Andy Reid’s finest class. With three pro bowlers and players who would go on to become legends, Reid not only strengthened the roster with a plethora of talent..but went about it in a way where looking back, could be in line to be replicated.
The Eagles are in desperate need of cornerback help after parting ways with Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll, both of whom were starters in 2016. That leaves Jalen Mills along with Patrick Robinson and a very interesting roster battle. The lack of starting talent has led meany to believe that the team could double dip in cornerbacks. The last time they did this just so happened to be 2002.
With the first three picks that the Eagles had that year, the front office picked up two cornerbacks and one safety. The two cornerbacks, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown would go on to enjoy extensive careers in the City of Brotherly Love. From Brown’s infamous hit on Reggie Bush, to Sheppard’s 2 pro-bowl appearances, the duo would create a sustainable secondary that the team are now craving to replicate. Hard hits and record setting performances such as Shepard’s two INT returns of 100 yards that conveniently both happened against the Cowboys simply set a new standard for the Eagles.
The second player taken by the team in that draft, sandwiched inside the two corners, was safety, Michael Lewis. While he wasn’t as dominant as Sheppard or Brown, the Safety did earn a Pro Bowl appearance in 2004, alongside teammate and Eagles legend, Brian Dawkins. Although it became apparent he gave up big plays all too regularly, he ended his Philly career with 386 tackles and nine interceptions.
That’s not to say that if the Eagles do decide to double dip at corner that they will find such astonishing levels of success once again..but the blueprint is in place. This may be the deepest draft in terms of cornerback talent that the NFL has ever seen. From Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, to Tre’Davious White, Fabian Moreau, Cameron Sutton and Brendan Langley..the draft is simply stacked with perfect fits for the Birds..making the chances of double dipping, even more likely.
But the 2002 NFL Draft template could hold even more weight when we look at the Eagles needs ahead of this year’s draft. Aside from the team’s glaring hole in the secondary, it seems likely that they will look to add some long-term explosiveness to the backfield and potentially seek another long-term option at the wide receiver position. Their new direction of “building from the ball out” could see them further bolster the trenches on both sides of the ball. Finally, adding a third linebacker to grow with Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham seems all too obvious given the uncertain future of Mychal Kendricks and a severe lack of depth.
So who else was taken in the 2002 NFL Draft?
RB, Brian Westbrook
C, Scott Peters
WR, Freddie Milons
LB, Tyreo Harrison
DE, Raheem Brock
Every other player selected in that Draft just so happens to match up with the needs of the present day Eagles..to the point it almost sends chills down your spine. It also doesn’t hurt that Villanova’s Brian Westbrook would go on to become the greatest Eagles running back of all time and this isn’t to say that a running back drafted in the third would go on to achieve such staggering feats. But the case can be made that the team are building in the exact same way as they were back then..and with 2002 being Andy Reid’s most impressive NFL Draft to date, it can only spark excitement..especially given just how impressive this draft class promises to be.
If the Eagles were to follow the EXACT prototype of that 2002 Draft, here’s one of the many possible outcomes:
Round 1: CB, Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Round 2: CB, Teez Tabor, Florida
Round 3: RB, James Conner, Pittsburgh
Round 4: C/OG, Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Round 5: WR, Shelton Gibson, West Virginia
Round 6: LB, Ben Gedeon, Michigan
Round 7: DE, Fadol Brown, Ole Miss
Although this is just a very rough sketch and something that’s unlikely to happen in such an identical fashion, if the Eagles ended the Draft in that fashion it would be met with such excitement it would be almost difficult to contain. The level of talent dissipated throughout this year’s draft means that the Eagles can find long-term, developmental prospects in the heart of the draft who can learn behind the “Prove-it” veterans and one day take the reins for themselves.
The similarities between situations, needs and potential outcomes are if nothing else extremely interesting..from the promise in potential of a franchise quarterback, to how the team aim to build around him..the dots just keep connecting. But for a team so focused on trying to restore the glory of an era that saw the Eagles make their infamous Super Bowl run, it’s only the beginning. In the 2002 season, the Eagles went 12-4..a record that would hardly be surprising for a team now loaded with offensive talent, a franchise quarterback, a ruthless Defense and an easier schedule than the one endured in 2016.
From the pupils of Andy Reid, to the emotional connection that left the locker room after his departure, the Eagles are starting all over again with Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz..just as Reid and McNabb did back in 1999. The process may have been sped up a little, but if this Draft does somehow show an insight into what could be an eventuality for the Eagles, then 2017 is going to be one of the most exciting season’s in the recent history of the Franchise.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports