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June 22, 2022

Ranking the Eagles' 20 best draft picks over the last 20 years

Eagles NFL
080916LaneJohnson Chris Szagola/AP

Lane Johnson and Jeffrey Lurie

The Philadelphia Eagles have had mixed success in the NFL Draft, with some very good picks, and some awful ones as well. On Tuesday we looked at the Eagles' worst 20 picks in the last 20 years

Today we'll look at their 20 best picks over the last two decades.

1) 2011: Jason Kelce, C, Cincinnati 6th round: The 2011 NFL Draft got off to an awful start for the Eagles, as four players from that class landed on our 20 worst picks of the last 20 years. The only thing saving that draft class from being among the worst in NFL history was Kelce, an undersized but extremely athletic center, who became the best player at his position in the league, likely destined for the Hall of Fame. Oh, and he gave the greatest speech in the city's history.

2) 2013: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma, 1st round: The 2013 NFL Draft was a disaster. The top 12 picks: 

  1. OT Eric Fisher, Chiefs
  2. OT Luke Joeckel, Jaguars
  3. DE Dion Jordan, Dolphins
  4. OT Lane Johnson, Eagles
  5. DE Ezekiel Ansah, Lions
  6. DE Barkevious Mingo, Browns
  7. OG Jonathan Cooper, Cardinals
  8. WR Tavon Austin, Rams
  9. CB Dee Milliner, Jets
  10. OG Chance Warmack, Titans
  11. OT D.J. Fluker, Chargers
  12. CB D.J. Hayden, Raiders

Ew. The Eagles by far and away got the best player in that group. Tip of the hat to the Dolphins for trading up ahead of the Eagles and taking Dion Jordan third overall. 

3) 2012: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State, 1st round: Somehow, Cox fell out of the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft, so the Eagles made an aggressive move to trade up and get him at pick No. 12. He was the best player on the team at varying points in his Eagles career.

4) 2018: Jordan Mailata, OT, no college, 7th round: Mailata was the flier of all fliers, an Australian rugby dude who had never played an organized game of American football in his life when he was drafted by the Eagles in the seventh round. You all know the story. Mailata broke out in 2020 with a very encouraging season, and he took his game to the next level in 2021, when he should have made the Pro Bowl but was snubbed. The scary thing is that we don't know how high Mailata's ceiling is, because he has shown drastic improvement every year in the NFL so far.

5) 2005: Trent Cole, DE, Cincinnati, 5th round: Cole is second on the Eagles' all-time sack list, with 90.5, behind only Reggie White. He was obviously a steal in the fifth round.

6) 2021: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama, 1st round: Is it premature to put Smith this high on the list, based on just one season, even if he broke the Eagles' rookie receiving record formerly held by DeSean Jackson? Maybe. But I think we also have to look at the path to landing him. If you'll recall, in March before that draft, the Eagles traded the sixth overall pick to the Miami Dolphins for the 12th overall pick, a 2022 first-round pick, and a move up from the fifth round to the fourth round in the 2021 draft. In chart form:

 Eagles gotDolphins got 
12th overall pick 6th overall pick 
123rd overall pick (4th round) in 2021 draft 156th overall pick (5th round) in 2021 draft 
Miami's 1st round pick in the 2022 draft  

When the Cowboys were on the clock at pick No. 10, the Eagles' chances at landing the remaining wide receivers worthy of a top selection (Smith) were in doubt. The Giants were sitting at pick No. 11, and they were heavily rumored to be interested in Smith. The Eagles were able to trade up with the Cowboys ahead of the Giants to land their guy. The cost was the second of the Eagles' two third-round picks (84th overall), a reasonable cost to ensure the selection of likely the last slam dunk first round target on their board.

Had the Eagles just stayed at the sixth pick and selected Smith, it would have been an acceptable pick, though certainly not a coup. Instead, Roseman's maneuvering netted the Eagles significantly added draft capital, in addition to a potential blue chip receiver. A snapshot of what the Eagles gained and lost, from the time they owned the No. 6 pick, until they selected Smith.

The Eagles got... The Eagles gave up... 
DeVonta Smith 6th overall pick (1st round) in 2021
Miami's 1st round pick in 2022 84th overall pick (3rd round) in 2021
123rd overall pick (4th round) in 2021156th overall pick (5th round) in 2021

Oh, and then they turned that 2022 pick from Miami into a first-round pick in 2023, a second-round pick in 2024, and a third-round pick in 2022 in a trade with the dumbass Saints.

7) 2009: LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh, 2nd round: Shady was arguably the best running back in Eagles history, before Chip Kelly traded him away because he didn't like him.

8) 2016: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State, 1st round: Wentz was the best player in the NFL during the 2017 season, before he tore his ACL and LCL against the Rams. At the time his season was over, he led the team to an 11-2 record, which put them in great position to wrap up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

We have since learned that when Wentz is faced with adversity, he folds faster than Superman on laundry day, but it's tough to fault the Eagles for not identifying that during the scouting process since his college rolled to national championships every year. In case you have forgotten, Wentz was once an amazing player.

The selection of Wentz remains impressive to me for three reasons:

  1. Recognition of the need for a great quarterback: In the NFL, you either have a good quarterback, or you don't, and if you don't, you have very little chance of competing for a title unless you have an absolutely stacked roster otherwise. The Eagles recognized that need, and were determined to land their man. That's the easy part, but credit the Eagles for recognizing that Sam Bradford wasn't the answer. It boggles my mind that many a fan would have rather stuck with Bradford instead of getting aggressive in finding a new quarterback.
  2. The difficulty in trading up from 13 to 2: I still can't believe the Eagles were able to move up from 13 to 8, and their cost was the shedding of Byron Maxwell's awful contract, and Kiko Alonso. From there, the move from 8 to 2 was costly, but worth it at the time. As an added bonus, the Eagles subsequently lucked into a situation where the moronic Minnesota Vikings lost their quarterback for the season, and made a panic trade for Sam Bradford, allowing the Eagles to recoup two draft picks, including a first rounder.
  3. The evaluation: The Browns didn't think Wentz was a top 20 caliber quarterback, so they traded the pick. The Eagles thought he could be special. The Eagles were right, even if only for a short window.

Make no mistake — While Nick Foles won Super Bowl LII, the Eagles very likely wouldn't have even been there if they hadn't traded up to get Wentz. I know there are some wrongheaded fans who disagree with that sentiment, but to you folks I'll ask this question: If you had the opportunity to go back in time and do things differently, risking that Eagles' Lombardi Trophy in the process, would you?

We should also probably note that the Eagles were still able to flip Wentz for first- and third-round picks even after he was the worst starting quarterback in the NFL in 2020.

9) 2012: Nick Foles, QB, Arizona, 3rd round: While I view BDN more as a great free agent acquisition than I do a great draft pick, I do still think he deserves a prominent spot on this list. As a draft pick, Foles did have that one magical 27 TD, 2 INT season, before he regressed and the team punted him to St. Louis along with a second-round pick for Sam Bradford. Maybe we give extra points for the Eagles drafting him because his familiarity with Philadelphia helped his decision to return here as a free agent?

10) 2013: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford, 2nd round: Ertz was just 10 receptions shy of Harold Carmichael's team record when the Eagles traded him mid-season last year. He's fifth in yards, and seventh in touchdown receptions. He was also the go-to guy in several huge moments in the Super Bowl.

11) 2008: DeSean Jackson, WR, California, 2nd round: Jackson has more TD receptions of 60-plus yards (27 of them!) than any other player in the history of the NFL. His contributions as a deep threat with the Eagles were obvious, but he also was key in opening up the short to intermediate areas of the field because opposing defenses would often park their safeties 20 yards off the line of scrimmage.

He was a great player for the Eagles, until, you know, Chip Kelly cut him because he didn't like him.

12) 2010: Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan, 1st round: Graham might have made many a "worst draft pick" list for a number of years, as the Eagles selected him instead of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. As it turned out, Graham became a really good starting defensive end who made the biggest defensive play in Eagles history. After the Flyers traded Claude Giroux, Graham became the longest tenured Philadelphia athlete in the four major sports.

13) 2005: Todd Herremans, OL, Saginaw Valley State, 4th round: The selection of Herremans was simply the work of good scouting. Herremans came from tiny Saginaw Valley State, and was still drafted in the fourth round, despite unimpressive workout numbers. The Eagles just saw what they thought was a good football player, and they took him. Herremans ended up starting for almost a decade for the Eagles, in a versatile OT-OG role.

14) 2007: Brent Celek, TE, Cincinnati, 5th round: Celek was an extremely tough player who refused to miss games, and was a leader in the locker room. He is third all-time among tight ends on the Eagles' receiving yards list, for now anyway, until Dallas Goedert passes him. On a side note, while Celek was a success story in Philly, it's a little absurd that the Eagles aren't giving out his number.


15) 2016: Jalen Mills, CB, LSU, 7th round: The finger-wagger extraordinaire had his shaky moments with the Eagles at times, but he was the team's CB1 during their Super Bowl run. While perhaps not as talented as some other players on this list, Mills certainly thought he was, which is a great trait for a cornerback. Mills' legacy will probably age well in time.

16) 2018: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State, 2nd round: I think there is some logical wisdom in questioning the decision to draft another tight end this highly when the Eagles already had Ertz on the roster, but Goedert has become a well-rounded, borderline top five type of tight end with no obvious holes in his game.

17) 2018: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State, 4th round: Sweat was a find in the fourth round who has 13.5 sacks the last two seasons and could be on the verge of taking the next step.

18) 2009: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri, 1st round: Maclin was thought of a top 10 type of pick in the 2009 draft, and when he fell to the late teens, the Eagles moved up to get him. Maclin is sometimes a forgettable player in Eagles history because he came along after the NFC Championship appearances and his career was short relative to other top receivers, but he had some very good seasons, most notably in 2014, when he put up a stat line of 85-1318-10.

19) 2013: Jordan Poyer, S, Oregon State, 7th round: I'm kind of running out of good choices here, so let's just note that the Eagles drafted Poyer in the seventh round. Unfortunately, they didn't recognize what they had in him, because they cut him two months into his rookie season. The Browns said, "Thank you very much," and claimed him off of waivers. Poyer ended up having a long, fruitful career with the Browns and Bills, including a first-team All-Pro nod in 2021. We can also put Dion Lewis and Dennis Kelly in the bucket of Eagles draftees over the last 20 years who went on to be more productive with other teams.

20) 2006: Jason Avant, WR, Michigan, 4th round: Avant wasn't fast and wasn't much of a big play threat, but he had some of the best hands in the NFL during his 11-year career.

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