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February 26, 2019

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

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022619CarsonWentz Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Reminder: Carson Wentz is still awesome.

The Philadelphia Eagles have had mixed success in the NFL Draft, with some very good picks, and some awful ones as well. On Monday, 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) 2016: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State, first 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. 

In my view, "best player in the NFL" remains his ceiling, as long as he can stay healthy. I mean...

The selection of Wentz was such a great one 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 rather than get aggressive in finding a new quarterback. You know who you are.
  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. 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.
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.

2) 1999: Donovan McNabb, QB, Syracuse, first round: Five quarterbacks got selected in the first 12 picks of the 1999 NFL Draft. They were, in order:

  1. Tim Couch, No. 1 overall, Browns
  2. Donovan McNabb, No. 2 overall, Eagles
  3. Akili Smith, No. 3 overall, Bengals
  4. Daunte Culpepper, No. 11 overall, Vikings
  5. Cade McNown, No. 12 overall, Bears

It's safe to say the Eagles picked the right one.

At his peak, McNabb was somewhere around a top-five quarterback, and he led the Eagles to a number of deep playoff runs, obviously never winning it all. But certainly, even with his foibles, McNabb was a great quarterback in his prime.

3) 2011: Jason Kelce, C, Cincinnati, sixth round: The 2011 NFL Draft was an absolute disaster 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. Oh, and he gave the greatest speech in the city's history. Probably.

4) 2012: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State, first round: Somehow, Cox fell out of the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft, so the Eagles made an aggressive move to go up and get him. He was the best player on the team in 2018.

5) 2013: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma, first 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, even if they really wanted Dion Jordan. Tip of the hat to the Dolphins for trading up ahead of the Eagles and taking him off the board. 

6) 2002: Brian Westbrook, RB, Villanova, third round: While LeSean McCoy is often considered the best Eagles running back ever, Westbrook was probably the most talented in his prime.

7) 2005: Trent Cole, DE, Cincinnati, fifth 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.

8) 2009: LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh, second round: As noted above, Shady was arguably the best running back in Eagles history, before Chip Kelly traded him away because he didn't like him.

9) 2008: DeSean Jackson, WR, California, second round: Jackson has more TD receptions of 60-plus yards (24 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.

10) 2013: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford, second round: Ertz broke the single-season receptions record for tight ends in 2018. His selection in the second round was good value.

11) 2002: Sheldon Brown, CB, South Carolina, second round: The Eagles' 2002 draft was a great lesson in taking the best player available. In the first round, they took CB Lito Sheppard, followed by S Michael Lewis in the second round. With their second pick in the second round, they took WHAT(?!?) another corner in Brown, even though Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were on the roster, and still playing well. As it turned out, Brown was a good starter in the league for almost a decade.

Also, obligatory: 

12) 2005: Todd Herremans, OL, Saginaw Valley State, fourth 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.

13) 2007: Brent Celek, TE, Cincinnati, fifth round: Celek was an extremely tough player who refused to miss games, and a leader in the locker room. He is second all-time among tight ends on the Eagles' receiving yards list, for now anyway, as Ertz is going to blow right by him early in the 2019 season.

14) 2012: Nick Foles, QB, Arizona, third round: I really struggled with where to put BDN on this list, as I view him more as a great free agent acquisition than I do a great draft pick. If you think he should be higher (or lower), you'll get no argument from me.

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? Obviously, as a Super Bowl winning quarterback, I'm not leaving him off the list entirely.

15) 2010: Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan, first round: Graham would 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.

16) 2009: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri, first round: Many thought Maclin was a top-10-worthy pick, and when he slid to the late teens the Eagles traded up for him for a modest cost, despite having more glaring needs. 

Maclin had a few really productive seasons, particularly in 2014, when he posted a stat line of 85-1,318-10.

17) 2018: Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh, fourth round: Too soon? Yeah, maybe, but when the defensive coordinator says that he doesn't know where the team would be without the contributions of a fourth round rookie, that is a great start.

18) 2017: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, first round: Barnett was a solid pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, who contributed immediately as a rookie, making a few huge plays in the playoffs. He was also off to a great start in his second season before sustaining a shoulder injury.

19) 2018: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State, second 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 looks like he might be a really good tight end in this league, as he can catch, get yards after the catch, and is already a well above average blocker.

Credit the Eagles for correctly projecting that the skill sets of Wentz and Goedert would translate to the pro level from such small schools.

20) 2001: A.J. Feeley, QB, Oregon, fifth round: This isn't a joke. Feeley wasn't much of a player, but he serves as something of a poster child for the strategy of taking quarterbacks late in the draft, and then trading them for far more than what they are worth after seeing even the most mild hints of success in the league. Feeley had a few decent games at the end of the 2002 season, which was enough for the Dolphins to trade a second round pick (it would ultimately be 35th overall) for him. 

In the last 15 years, the Eagles have traded away eight quarterbacks, and they usually ended up as the overwhelming winners of those trades.

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