A meticulous new mindset saw Eagles reap rewards from strongest draft class in years

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And just like that, the 2017 NFL Draft is over. In what feels like the blink of an eye, the Eagles have walked away with eight new players and a roster that could be set to contend for the NFC East crown. For Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas, their work is done. The reins now turn over to Doug Pederson and the coaching staff to prepare the team for a pivotal season of Football. But before we close the door on the Draft for another year, it’s worth taking a closer look at the new direction that the team are headed.

When you look at recent drafts prior to 2016, the Eagles have been wildly inconsistent..and Howie Roseman quickly garnered a “Hit-and-miss” reputation when it came to the draft. But following the success of last year’s class and with Joe Douglas by his side, the Eagles seemed to be going down a different path heading into 2017.

With glaring needs at cornerback, a desire for a running back from many, and some further questions at linebacker and wide receiver, the Eagles looked poised to make the most of one of the most exciting draft classes in recent years..and they did exactly that.

From the way the team now evaluate talent, to the decisions themselves, the Eagles seemed to have completely revitalized their draft process. By now, we’re all familiar with the tier-based player grading system, the views on red-flags and the now infamous “low-risk, high-reward” mentality. But this year saw two new focuses, youth..and best player available.

Of the eight players selected by the Eagles in this years draft, two are just 20 years of age, one is 21, while four are 22. The oldest of the Eagles draft class, is wide receiver Mack Hollins at 23. Obviously, every player who declares for the draft is youthful, but there’s no coincidence behind the Eagles recent focus on growth and development.

“I have this theory in life that when you’re young and you have success, you usually continue to have success.” Howie Roseman told the media yesterday. “You usually don’t spend a lot of time waiting. Now there are exceptions, obviously, but usually the guys that are elite are recognized as elite early, and so they play early.”

Another large reason behind this focus simply comes down to development. After the drafting of Carson Wentz one year ago, the Eagles looked to surround him with continuity and talent he can grow with. From Isaac Seumalo, with whom he worked with during his Pro Day, to the long-term extensions of Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Vinny Curry, and Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles wanted to build a core of guys who can be built around for years to come..and this years draft was he next step on that ladder.

With the 14th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Derek Barnett. With some top talent including Alabama studs Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen sliding into the Eagles lap, along with the likes of Dalvin Cook and some top-rated cornerbacks, many wondered what the thought process was behind the pick. But the answer, is simple. It blurs the “Best player available” mentality, with the new focus on building a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Well, I think it starts with Joe and his scouts. Since Joe has been here, the things that he stressed to [the scouting staff] when we met and talked about what we wanted this team to look like, is that it’s the war-daddy mentality of having guys on the field who are going to do whatever it takes to get better. Guys who have an incredibly high motor and tremendous character. This is the first pick with Joe here, and to get a guy [in Derek] who — when we talk about those guys — is our example when we talk to the scouts, and when Joe talks to the scouts and says, ‘This is what I’m talking about here in Derek Barnett.’

Day two of the NFL Draft once again saw that same mentality implemented. Sidney Jones, a former top-10 projected pick who saw his stock plummet after a heartbreaking injury, was selected by the Eagles in the second round..which again raised a few questions. The general consensus is that a second round pick should be used on players who can impact your team right away, but as opposed to reaching for that talent, a trait that has burned the Eagles in years passed, they decided to combine the two crucial focal points once again.

“You grade him for what he is as a player”. Roseman explained when discussing the pick. “I think that’s the most important thing. And then we defer to our medical staff about what they think his recovery time period is, and then we go through hypotheticals. We say, ‘Hey, if something happened to one of our players in training camp and we lost him for the year, but we knew we had him going forward and he was an asset, would we still be excited about that guy?’”

“When we look at this [situation] with the 43rd pick and a guy that we certainly had among our top 14 players in the draft, and getting two of our top 14 players [including first-round pick Derek Barnett] in the whole draft, for us, we just thought it was a really good opportunity. We’re really optimistic about it because [Jones] is 20-years-old and in doing all the research that our doctors and trainers did about this injury, we just thought it was a great opportunity for our football team.”

The Eagles followed up the move with a very young, lengthy cornerback in Rasul Douglas..whose skillset just so happens to compliment that of Sidney Jones perfectly. It’s not that crazy to assume that there were even more ties between the two picks than just skill sets, as Doug Pederson explained.

“When you looked at our board, Rasul was one of the guys that was right there. It didn’t matter the position, as much as just having the ability to pick the best player. It just so happened it fit a need, and we were fortunate there. But that’s a good player. He’s a good player coming in here and a good player that we get a chance to put our hands on and get him in the mix.”

 

Then, came day three. Three rounds which saw the Eagles moving up, down, left and right..well, almost. The team continued to double dip at positions, this time bringing in a tandem of wide receivers in the form of Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. The long-term picture at wide receiver is all but concrete. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith’s prove it deals could haunt the Eagles if the duo soar as intended..and salary cap limitations may keep the team from retaining the pair along with slot receiver Jordan Matthews, who is entering his final year.

It would make sense then, to add the combination of height and speed, mixed with an insurance policy in the event that the team can’t retain all three starting wideouts, that Doug Pederson has been craving ever since the additions of Dorial Green-Beckham and Bryce Treggs. The problem with the former two, is that they have often been criticized for their character. The third and final strand throughout this draft..is that the Eagles avoided players with such setbacks.

Instead, as Howie mentioned earlier in the weekend, the team are looking to add players with that “War-Daddy” mentality. Something that can be seen prominently in West Virginia Alum, and former teammate of Wendell Smallwood, Shelton Gibson.

“…I always play with a chip on my shoulder and I go out there and go at the best corner.” Shelton Gibson told the media after being drafted. “I always ask to play against the best corner. I ask the defensive coordinators to play against the best corner [in practice], because I want to get the best out of everyone to prepare myself for the next level.”

Sandwiched between them, was 5’8 running back, Donnel Pumphrey..arguably the smartest pick in the Draft. While the Eagles are in seeming need of a three-down running back, in order to draft a rusher who would carry the ball 20+ times, the Birds would have several questions to answer if they were to draft one. By adding a running back who received for a total of 1,041 yards in his career, the Birds all but confirm that they will be approaching 2017 with a committee effort once again.

Sproles, Smallwood, Mathews and Pumphrey combined could wreak havoc if used in the right fashion..and drafting a back who screams versatility and fits so well with the system, means that there isn’t a domino effect of decisions regarding the future of current backs on the roster, who could be losing out or lose value in the event of a 20+ carry per game rusher.

But things got a little bit interesting. To sum it up simply, here’s what happened:

That sixth round pick would actually become a bottom-end fifth rounder..giving the Eagles some extreme late round value. So, how did the team cash in on this new found goldmine? The final two picks of the Draft all but cemented this new mentality..bringing one more quality to the table, versatility.

While the teams penultimate pick was announced as a Safety, the Eagles were very quick to correct what was shown on television and state that Gerry was drafted as a linebacker. This speaks volumes about how he could be used as an in-the-box weapon under Jim Schwartz. In a very Jabrill Peppers esque’ role, Gerry has the frame, skill set and aggression to play as a coverage linebacker when needed, charge down into the run game..or simply sit back as a Safety. He may be the Eagles most versatile defensive weapon drafted in this years class..and that brings with it a LOT of excitement.

It’s no secret that the Eagles need some linebacker depth. Behind Hicks and Bradham, only the often shopped Mychal Kendricks, and Joe Walker sit as backups to the spots. This alone forced the Eagles to run with a nickel formation more often than not, due to Jenkins offering far more efficiency in coverage than the pass rush specialist, Mychal Kendricks. Bringing in a Safety who can play in either position and potentially develop into that “Peppers” type role, gives the Eagles depth at Safety..but also finally bolsters a linebacker unit in desperate need of a third face.

Finally, after adding Barnett in the first round, the Eagles added a second pass rusher in the sixth round. When you then factor in the replacements for Logan and Barwin, in Chris Long and Timmy Jernigan, you suddenly realize that the Eagles have gone to extensive lengths to ensure that there is enough suitable depth all along the tenacious front. If Cox or Graham were to go down, having someone versatile enough to come in and play at either DE/DT could be extremely important to the Eagles moving forward, just as their offensive line is..which currently sees 17 players of the 90-man roster.

To put it simply, this draft was a culmination of everything we’ve come to know and love about the Eagles front office. Every quote about building for the future, every free agency move to surround Carson Wentz with talent, and every bit of hope that was overwhelmed with doubt had finally burst through into its own surge of emotion. The Eagles kept to their plan, they didn’t stray from the path..and they propelled their roster in the right direction. And whether the players picked were those fans pined after on YouTube for months, or some new faces to become acquainted with..that’s all that really matters.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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