Has Howie’s cornerback draft strategy hurt the Eagles?

Howie Roseman has been with the Eagles since 2000, when he broke into the league as an intern on the Eagles’ salary cap counsel. Ten years later, Howie became the Eagles general manager. Since then, discounting 2015 when Chip Kelly was general manager, Roseman has overseen nine drafts. 

In those nine drafts, his positional picking has accumulated as follows:

  • QB: 5
  • RB: 7
  • WR: 7
  • TE: 3
  • OL: 11
  • DL: 16
  • LB: 9
  • DB: 15
  • K: 1

As you can see, the top two drafted positions in Howie’s tenure have been in the secondary and defensive line. Both of these positions have been under the most scrutiny this season. Of course, these numbers included two positions for each group (CB/S for DB and DE/DT for DL) but if they’ve been the most focused on in these nine drafts, how come they haven’t had better production? 

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each year (number of total picks in parenthesis) [round drafted next to position]:

YearRounds 1-2Rounds 3-4Rounds 5-7
2010
(13)
2 – DE [1st] & CB [2nd]2 – DE [3rd] & CB [4th]3 – DE [5th], DT [7th], S [7th]
2011
(11)
1 – CB [2nd]
1 – CB [3rd]0
2012 (9)
2 – DT [1st] & DE [2nd]1 – CB [4th]0
2013 (8)01 – DT [3rd]4 – CB [5th], DE [7th], CB [7th], DE [DE]
2014 (7)01 – CB [4th]3 – DE [5th], S [5th], DT [7th]
2016 (8)003 – CB [6th], CB [7th], DE [7th]
2017 (8)
2 – DE [1st] & CB [2nd]1 – CB [3rd]1 – DT [6th]
2018 (5)02 – CB [4th] & DE [4th]0
2019 (5)0
1 – DE [4th]0

Big time quantity

41.9% of Howie’s draft picks have been for either a defensive lineman or defensive back. That’s a huge number to dedicate to the defense, and this isn’t counting the nine linebackers he has drafted. If you add in those nine, you reach 54.1% of draft picks going to the defense. More than half of Howie’s choices are in favor of improving the defense.

Of those 31 defensive line and defensive back choices, only seven have been in the first or second round. He has only selected a defensive tackle once in the first round (Cox) and a defensive end twice in the first round (Graham and Barnett). His highest cornerback selection was Sidney Jones in the second round at pick 43. Prior to that, it was Jaiquawn Jarrett in 2011 with pick 54. His only safety selection was Nate Allen with the 37th overall selection (the McNabb pick) in 2010, and his only defensive end selection in the second round was Vinny Curry in 2012.

10 of the defensive line and defensive back selections made in rounds four and five, while 14 of the selections were in round five, six, and seven. 

But with all that quantity, the quality hasn’t been there.

Quality assurance

Five of those seven selections in the first two rounds are still with the team, albeit Curry was away for a year. Those five players have combined for one first team All Pro selection, four Pro Bowl selections, and one second team All Pro selection.

The first team selection and Pro Bowl selections were from Fletcher Cox.  The second team selection was from Brandon Graham. The two have combined for 91 sacks in their collective 248 games. 

Vinny Curry had a career high nine sacks with the Eagles in 2014, but hasn’t gone past 3.5 since then.  Derek Barnett had five sacks in 15 games as a rookie in 2017, but had 2.5 sacks in six games last season (placed on IR after six games), and has 2 this season. 

2017 second round pick Sidney Jones has yet to prove himself after all of the hype coming into his NFL debut. Heralded as a potential top ten pick in the draft prior to his Achilles injury, Jones hasn’t lived up to that potential. 

Since 2010, almost every team in the top ten for pass defenses had a first or second round pick in their secondary.  

Here are each year’s top ten pass defenses with how many first or second round picks for defensive backs were on the team:

(the team’s own draft picks in parenthesis, asterisk if rookie was in secondary)

Year 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
2010 Chargers – 3 (3) Raiders – 4 (4) Bills – 5 (3) Saints – 5 (4*) Packers – 2 (1) Jets – 4 (2*) Buccaneers – 2 (1) Dolphins – 3 (3) Vikings – 4 (1*) Giants – 6 (4)
2011 Steelers – 2 (2) Browns – 3 (2) Texans – 4 (1) Ravens – 3 (2*) Jets – 4 (2) Chiefs – 3 (2) Rams – 0 Jaguars – 1 (1) Bengals – 5 (1) Eagles – 3 (1)
2012 Steelers – 1 (1) Jets – 4 (2) Broncos – 3 (1) 49ers – 2 (0) Cardinals – 1 (1) Seahawks – 2 (2) Bengals – 6 (1) Bears – 3 (1) Eagles – 3 (1) Bills – 4 (3*)
2013 Seahawks – 1 (1) Saints – 3 (2*) Texans – 5 (2*) Bills – 4 (4) Bengals – 6 (1) Panthers – 2 (0) 49ers – 3 (1*) Browns – 2 (2) Steelers – 1 (1) Giants – 4 (3)
2014 Seahawks – 1 (1) Chiefs – 2 (1) Bills – 3 (3) Chargers – 5 (3*) 49ers – 2 (2*) Dolphins – 2 (0) Vikings – 2 (2) Browns – 3 (2*) Broncos – 4 (2*) Packers – 2 (2*)
2016 Broncos – 3 (1) Texans – 3 (2) Vikings – 5 (4) Cardinals – 2 (1) Jaguars – 3 (2*) Bills – 3 (3) Bears – 0 Seahawks – 1 (1) Ravens – 2 (1) Rams – 2 (1)
2017 Jaguars – 1 (1) Vikings – 5 (4) Chargers – 1 (1) Broncos – 2 (1) Steelers – 4 (2) Seahawks – 1 (1) Bears – 2 (1) Bengals – 3 (2) Ravens – 3 (2*) Redskins – 1 (0)
2018 Bills – 1 (1) Jaguars – 2 (1) Vikings – 5 (5*) Cardinals – 4 (2) Ravens – 3 (2) Titans – 2 (1) Bears – 2 (1) Lions – 3 (2) Chargers – 2 (1*) Steelers – 4 (3*)
2019 49ers – 2 (2) Bills – 2 (1) Patriots – 3 (2) Bears – 3 (1) Chargers – 2 (2) Colts – 2 (2*) Titans – 2 (1) Jets – 2 (2) Vikings – 5 (5)

Browns – 3 (2*)

For every year that Howie has been general manager, there has been at least one team in the top ten with a rookie in their secondary that was picked in the first or second round.

There have only been two instances of top ten defenses having zero first or second round picks: the 2011 Rams that went 2-14 and the 2016 Bears that went 3-13.

If we take away those two teams, there were only four instances where no player in the secondary was a first or second round pick of that respective team. 

Putting those six teams together, 84 out of 90 teams in the top ten of passing defenses when Howie was general manager of the Eagles had a first or second round pick drafted by that respective team in their in their secondary. 

Broken down:

  • 1 pick: 11/84 – 13.1%
  • 2 picks: 24/84 – 28.6%
  • 3 picks: 24/84 – 28.6%
  • 4 picks: 13/84 – 15.5%
  • 5 picks: 9/84 – 10.7%
  • 6 picks: 3/84 – 3.5%

The Eagles currently have three first or second round defensive backs (Jenkins, Darby, and Jones), which fits where most of the top ten defenses have had in recent memory. However, Jones has only played in five games and only played nine snaps in one of those games. It’s almost as if they’re playing with two early round picks with zero being an Eagles draft pick.

For the Eagles to get to where the majority of teams in the top ten passing defenses have been, Jones needs to be more productive and more available.

Howie also needs to start investing more early round picks in the secondary. History tells us that a rookie taken in the first or second round can immediately help a pass defense. So if Howie is going to hold on to the draft picks instead of trading for a proven talent, i.e. Fitzpatrick and Ramsey, he needs to start looking at the secondary, instead of bulk picking in the later rounds.

A new defensive scheme would help too, but that’s an issue for another day.

Mandatory Photo Credit: Aaron M. Sprecher via AP

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