Since the Philadelphia Eagles sent Jalen Reagor to the Minnesota Vikings, the conversations surrounding the team have focused on general manager (GM) Howie Roseman moving on from a past mistake. The high-profile decision to move on from a former first-round pick just two years into his career will dominate the conversation, but another transaction symbolized a change in Howie Roseman’s philosophy more appropriately.
The Eagles also waived linebacker Davion Taylor just two years into his professional career. The 2020 third-round pick will remain in the organization as a member of the practice squad (for now), but the Eagles appear more confident in Nakobe Dean to play a role as a future building block at the linebacker position.
Roseman selected both linebackers in the same round in recent drafts, but the contrast between Taylor and Dean is an obvious indicator of the general manager’s intention to cut his losses from past errors and grow in a new strategy of roster construction.
Howie Roseman & the 2020 NFL Draft
The Eagles hung on for dear life to finish 9-7 in consecutive seasons in 2018 and 2019 without properly replenishing their aging roster of heroes from their first Super Bowl season in franchise history. Howie Roseman entered the 2020 NFL Draft with a long list of needs, but he didn’t utilize his resources correctly in the early rounds.
He showed a forced desire to outsmart other NFL GMs with his strategy in the first three rounds. The consensus considered Justin Jefferson the best player available when the Eagles picked at 21, but Roseman overanalyzed the situation and passed on the future star because of concerns about his fit in Philadelphia’s offense with a skill set that characterized him primarily as a slot receiver.
The controversial decision to draft Jalen Hurts in the second round blew the minds of NFL media at large. Roseman intended to draft a backup quarterback with Carson Wentz locked up on a long-term contract as the assumed franchise quarterback. Even the proponents of the strategy couldn’t ignore the bizarre element of his choice to downplay the other holes on the roster.
The selection of Taylor received the least criticism of Roseman’s picks on the first two days of the virtual 2020 NFL Draft. However, it indicated the same type of attempt for an outside-the-box strategy that was never necessary to employ on three premium picks in the same draft.
The Eagles needed immediate help at linebacker with the departure of Nigel Bradham, and Taylor couldn’t have reasonably been expected to step in as a key contributor in his rookie season. He had a virtually non-existent career in high school football and limited experience in one junior college season and two seasons at the University of Colorado.
Even considering Taylor’s measurable strengths, it simply wasn’t the time to select a long-term project player.
Howie Roseman tried too hard to outsmart his competition and left the overmatched Nathan Gerry as the best linebacker on the roster entering 2020. Taylor was predictably unprepared for a contributing role, and he played just 4% of the defensive snaps in his rookie season. Even when he showed flashes of raw talent in six starts in 2021, his lack of football instincts became obvious in comparison to his undrafted teammate T.J. Edwards.
Taylor’s brutal 2022 preseason pushed him off the 53-man roster. His spot on the practice squad leaves the door open for a potential role down the road, but he is unlikely to come close to meeting the expected value of a third-round pick.
Roseman Shows Personal Growth
Howie Roseman’s draft strategy in 2021 and 2022 differed.
He selected Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith with the 10th-overall pick in 2021 to patch the hole at wide receiver created by recent draft misses. He followed up by selecting Landon Dickerson, Smith’s former teammate at the University of Alabama, in the second round.
The Eagles previously waited 19 years after selecting wide receiver Freddie Millons with a fifth-round pick in 2002 to select another prospect from Alabama (other than Hurts, who transferred to Oklahoma University for his final NCAA season). The Crimson Tide coincidentally became the undeniable cream of the crop in college football during that span.
After rookies Smith and Dickerson immediately stepped in as key contributors for a playoff run, Roseman once again plucked a pair of defending National Champions. He moved up in the first round in 2022 to select Jordan Davis and nabbed Dean in the third round.
Dean, the defending Butkus Award winner and arguably the most impactful piece of a historically successful defense at the University of Georgia in 2021, brings experience on the big stage in a way that Taylor simply didn’t have at the linebacker position. Although he will not start in Week 1 of his rookie season, he is already a more polished product than Taylor.
When Dean slipped to the third round, the Eagles pounced. Roseman spoke to Jakib Media about his thought process during the 2022 draft before selecting Dean.
“It’s just an opportunity. Don’t overthink it, and don’t outtalk yourself.”
Fans can draw an obvious contrast between the selection of Taylor and the selection of Dean.
Dean’s career will impact the perception of Roseman’s changes in draft strategy, and the success of the Eagles under head coach Nick Sirianni will affect the perception of the GM’s change in approach to overall roster construction.
Howie Roseman Staying True to Himself
The continued development of a draft philosophy doesn’t mean Howie Roseman has abandoned the formula that got him into a position as a Super Bowl winner in the NFL. The Eagles have shown very particular preferences for certain positions at different points in the NFL Draft, especially during Roseman’s tenure.
Mychal Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, two of the more successful homegrown linebackers in recent franchise history, were selected in the second and third rounds, respectively. The Eagles haven’t selected a linebacker in the first round since 1979, and they will most likely to continue to address the position in the same draft range in the future.
“I think we have a philosophy on how to build this team, a philosophy that we think has been successful,” Howie Roseman said in January after the team’s unceremonious loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round.
Howie Roseman’s strategy in 2020 wasn’t all bad. His creative idea to take multiple low-risk flyers to add wide receiver depth ultimately brought the Eagles a quality third option in sixth-round pick Quez Watkins.
His moves to select standout college players wasn’t entirely new either. He missed out on acquiring a true impact player with the decision to take Derek Barnett with the 14th-overall pick in Philadelphia in April 2017. Barnett broke legendary Eagles defensive end Reggie White’s sack record at the University of Tennessee, but he still hasn’t established himself as a consistent NFL pass rusher.
Roseman’s reach in the same draft for Donnel Pumphrey, the third-most prolific rusher in NCAA history, fell apart quickly. Selection of college stars isn’t as simple as it sounds, and Dean still needs to prove Roseman right.
The true mark of growth that Roseman has shown is his willingness to accept his past shortcomings as a GM while keeping his confidence in the strategy that got him into a position as a highly-respected executive in NFL circles.
Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire