BY GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — On the team’s official Web site, it was labeled “successful” before the fans who didn’t sleep for three days woke up the next day.
On the streets of the city where the most-attended draft ever was held, opinions were more mixed, and those permanently scarred were already giving it a robotic thumbs-down.
From self-labeled “experts,” grades came in ranging from D to B-plus.
A year from now, the same draft guides that become springtime bibles will grade it out on a pass/fail basis, with a heavy emphasis on how much draftees played as a rookies.
Here is reality: it can take up to four years, the length of rookie contracts, to evaluate a team’s draft. If a given team is cutting ties with a good portion of that class, then you have your answer.
And in the case of the Eagles, circa 2017, it may take all of those four years to truly know.
For now, I’ll go with a B-minus (bumped up from C-plus based on the undrafted free agent class that remains classified information).
Clearly, they were not drafting to do much more this coming season than to hope for a bounce or a break – or some torn ACLs within the division – and somehow slither into the playoffs at 9-7.
For me, a self-labeled “expert” who barely slept for three days – and enjoyed a recurring dream of a Super Bowl win when I did grab a powerless nap during a Saturday morning ballet – the Eagles again didn’t do what I would have done.
One of these years, by accident, they will.
Until then, I just have to don the proper head gear and bang my head against the wall.
Who am I to say, to question their judgment, you say? Hey, to be fair to myself, they have drafted as many Super Bowl championship teams in my lifetime as I have. And if they had followed my advice many times over the years, who knows?
But it’s not about me – or them. Players, general managers, draft consultants, coaches – and even owners and the stadiums they insist upon – will come and go.
It is about us.
And, in the quest to get us to the Promised Land, this is what we got:
DEREK BARNETT, DE, TENESSEE
WHY THEY DID IT: Well, it seemed like this was going to be their guy, no matter what. And, in the first 13 picks, there was a whole lot of “no matter what” going on. If they were so enthralled with the guy who broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee (great propaganda, even though the eras don’t equate, as college teams throw even more than pro teams these days), why not trade back a handful of spots and pick up the Day 2 pick that they so desperately could have used to address cornerback.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? Well, I think you know, don’t you? Marlon Humphrey, the cornerback from Alabama, was my choice for the Eagles all along. With rape allegations surfacing about Gareon Conley right before the draft, I had legit concerns about Humphrey even lasting to No. 14. Turns out, he and Conley (drafted later in the first by the Raiders) were both there. I still don’t know how anyone who has watched the Eagles – not only in 2017 but in the few years before – can’t see the dire need for corners, especially in a draft frontloaded with them. The idea of adding a guy like Barnett, who I have nothing against other than that he didn’t fit the most obvious need, is that pressure on the quarterback will make life easier on the secondary. In an era where quarterbacks have releases like semi-automatic pistols, this is a rather quaint notion that comes across as the proverbial cart before the horse and a luxury a last-place team can’t afford.
ON NOTICE: The Eagles have other defensive ends on the roster. Chris Long was signed, ostensibly to replace Conner Barwin and play across from Brandon Graham. Vinny Curry remains, as does former first-rounder Marcus Smith and last-year’s seventh-round pick Alex McAlister, who was stashed on IR. There is also Steven Means. Certainly not the Purple People Eaters but it seemed like there was enough here to survive. There will be some tough cuts.
SECOND ROUND (43rd Overall)
SIDNEY JONES, CB, WASHINGTON
WHY THEY DID IT: Before they fixated on Barnett, they likely fixated on Jones. When he tore his Achilles on Washington’s Pro Day, Jones became an official X-Factor. Someone was going to take him on Day 2, and the Eagles – with a medical team that does not have the batting average it thinks it does – pulled the trigger. Again, another luxury pick that points more toward the future than the present.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? Honestly, I would have stayed with Desmond King, the cornerback/free safety who I had the Eagles taking in my third and final mock draft. I did have Jones going here in my second mock draft, but that was based on the premise that they were taking a healthy corner in the first round.
ON NOTICE: No one, really, since Jones will likely spend the year adding necessary bulk to his 186-pound frame and taking furious mental notes in film sessions, all with the goal of being the No. 1 corner of the future.
THIRD ROUND (99th Overall)
RASUL DOUGLAS, CB, WEST VIRGINIA
WHY THEY DID IT: Well, they will claim they liked him all along, but I’d bet my Bill Bergey autograph (whisper: I have two Bill Bergey autographs) that they sat helplessly while more shovel-ready corners than this one-year starter at what was apparently their most scouted college team were plucked. This was the most agonizing part of the draft, as the Eagles sent their own third-round pick for Baltimore’s compensatory choice at the end of round (essentially an early fourth at No. 99) to acquire Timmy Jernigan, who better turn out to be the second coming of Jim Weatherall (a 1952 Eagles draft pick). Douglas played two years of Junior College ball, was a reserve in 2015 and then came out of nowhere to lead the nation in interceptions with eight last fall. He has desired size (6-foot-1½, 209 pounds). With pedestrian speed for the position (4.59 in the 40), he had better use that size to be physical at the point of attack. Translation: If and when he starts, we’ll need that “cure-all” pass rush.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? Since King was still on the board, I would have taken King, but what do I know? He didn’t go until the fifth round to the Chargers. Write the name down and we’ll see. Another option would have been Damontae Kazee from San Diego State. A bit smaller (5-10, 185) than Douglas and only a shade faster (4.54), I suppose they deferred to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz about system fit. They just better hope Schwartz stays for this long-term plan. If not, that screeching sound you hear are the wheels spinning at the NovaCare Complex.
On Notice: Uh, well, the starting corners going into the draft were last year’s seventh-round semi-pleasant surprise Jalen Mills and this year’s recycle-bin free agent Patrick Robinson – with Jaylen Watkins or Ron Brooks, if he is not released after June 1, in the slot. Right now, not much changes. Douglas is safe, so the likes of Aaron Grymes and Dwayne Gratz and C.J. Smith will battle for what will likely be one roster spot. Good thing we got that pass rush going, huh?
FOURTH ROUND (118th Overall)
MACK HOLLINS, WR, NORTH CAROLINA
WHY THEY DID IT: Um, not sure. King and Kazee were still available. That would have put another corner in the mix while Jones dons the shirt of red. The need for a receiver is there, just not as pressing after doing considerably well in free agency with Alshon Jeffrey (albeit on a one-year deal) and Torrey Smith on what is really a series of three one-year deals. Jordan Matthews moves back to the slot, and his success will determine his long-term future here. Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham are still scratching the surface of apparent untold potential. Enter Hollins, who is already pegged as a spare set of hands – at least for a year or two – while distinguishing himself on special teams. That latter trait is reportedly what sent him shooting up some draft boards and made the Birds bite on the next Riley Cooper (a fifth-round pick) in the fourth round. The comparison is real, and not meant in a negative way, as Hollins is 6-4 and 220 pounds and, despite a 4.51 40 time, had a knack for big plays (and injuries) throughout his career as a three-year starter.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? King or Kazee, but maybe that’s just me. Did you write those names down for posterity yet? Let’s see who has a better career.
ON NOTICE: Agholor and Green-Beckham could be on the endangered species list. Because Agholor has Chip Kelly’s DNA on him, while DGB was acquired by this regime (and did a bit more in less snaps last year), my money would be on Agholor to be pushed out. Others in the mix include Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner, who were both on the roster last year. Rasheed Bailey, who was cut by Kelly after a strong training camp in 2015, returns after stints in Canada and practice squad time with the Jaguars and Chargers. David Watford was on the practice squad last year while Marcus Johnson showed enough in camp to get another invite.
DONNEL PUMPHREY, RB, SAN DIEGO STATE
WHY THEY DID IT: Easy. Darren Sproles is entering what is likely to be the final year of his borderline Hall of Fame career and Pumphrey (left) is a reasonable facsimile. Howie Roseman even pulled a “Howie” and moved up a few slots to secure the services of the NCAA Division I all-time leading rusher. Despite his diminutive stature (5-8, 170), Pumphrey was rarely injured as a three-year starter getting a massive amount of touches. A lot of that can be attributed to 4.48 speed he maintains when making exciting decisive cuts. The presumption is that Pumphrey, also an accomplished receiver, is an electrifying return man. Truth is, if he had done it more, he would have been snatched up on Day 2. With Sproles as a mentor, and Dave Fipp as the Special Teams guru, the hope is that he will be coached up to handle at least some of those chores in 2018.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? Well, my DBs were still there, but I can’t really argue with this pick.
ON NOTICE: The Eagles have an odd situation in the backfield. If they don’t bring in a veteran like former Chief Jamaal Charles, who was scooped up by the Broncos, we are looking for a committee approach. Sproles and Pumphrey will be joined by last year’s fifth pick Wendell Smallwood. Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson each showed some promise at the end of last season, but Watson has since been released and word on the street is that Marshall might be moved to receiver.
FIFTH ROUND (166th Overall)
SHELTON GIBSON, WR, WEST VIRGINIA
WHY THEY DID IT: Wheeling and dealing left the Eagles picking later in the round. This was a calculated risk, as there were still plenty of juicy names still on the board. Aside from our friends King and Kazee, there was the next wave of corners, such as Miami’s Corn Elder and Temple’s Nate Hairston. Also still undrafted was Michigan tight end Jake Butt, a likely Day 2 pick before a knee injury. As it turned out, Roseman was not smelling like a rose when none of these players were left, so that left a chance to double down at receiver with Gibson. With only pedestrian size (5-10½, 191), they likely saw his production (nearly 24 yards per catch) and rolled the dice that Gibson is the anti-Agholor. That means he plays faster than his 4.5 40 time instead of slower. Like Agholor did, Gibson brings exciting return ability to the mix.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? If only because Hollins and Gibson create a crowd at a receiver, while not much of an immediate jolt to the offense, I would have stayed on defense with someone like LSU defensive tackle Devon Godchaux or considered myself lucky to see a developmental quarterback like Pitt’s Nathan Peterman still on the board.
ON NOTICE: See Hollins.
FIFTH ROUND (184th Overall)
NATHAN GERRY, SS/LB, NEBRASKA
WHY THEY DID IT: Because, for better or worse, they think they are smarter than everyone else. Not an indictment of the Eagles, but all teams. They see a guy who was a solid college player with tweener size and skill set to stay at the same position. So, the thinking is to add to Gerry’s 210-pound frame and turn him into a situational linebacker. To be fair, teams around the league have had some success in recent years converting in-the-box safeties into undersized linebackers. The most notable is Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals, but Gerry – though a three-year starter and All-Big 10 selection each year – has nowhere near the same athletic ability.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? I have been touting San Diego State’s Calvin Munson in my pre-draft mocks, and he was not only available, but made it all the through the draft, only to be inked as an undrafted free agent by the rival Giants. Write the name down. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
ON NOTICE: The Eagles already have a safety/linebacker hybrid on the roster in Kamu Grugier-Hill. Unlikely there is room for two, and maybe not one. Let the battle for one of the final roster spots begin.
SIXTH ROUND (214th Overall)
ELIJAH QUALLS, DT, WASHINGTON
WHY THEY DID IT: Simply put, value. At this point, with some of the best-laid plans likely gone awry – despite what they will say publicly – the Eagles saw a productive college player and took a boom-or-bust shot in the dark that he can overcome not having a NFL body type. At barely 6-foot and 313 pounds, Qualls, with a big belly and short arms and small hands, fails to pass the eye test of scouts. Still, he was an active player at Washington who lined up at different spots and was always around the ball or in the face of the quarterback.
WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? At this point, to be honest, I would have done the same thing.
ON NOTICE: Beau Allen injured himself working out and went from penciled-in starter to possible fourth tackle, depending on what Qualls can do behind Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. The Eagles already issued walking papers to Aziz Shittu, who was an undrafted free agent last year and parlayed a strong camp into a spot on the practice squad. Destiny Veaeo, who also made the team last year as an UDFA but faded as the season wore on, will have to have a stellar camp to stick around.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
Although they have an apparent blind spot for the only Division I football team in the city, the Eagles are always aggressive after the draft ends and are willing to spend – and spend wisely – to get who they want from those left undrafted.
It is a commendable trait, although there eyes were a bit too big for their stomachs in 2017, as they were left having to issue pink slips to current players on the back end of the roster to make room. As a result, the list has not been made officially official.
However, in the Twitter Universe, it is impossible to keep secrets. It seems fairly certain the following “name” players have been inked, and will headline the crop of undrafted hopefuls:
- Quarterback Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech (Projected Day 3 pick)
- Running Back Corey Clement, Wisconsin (Projected Late Day 2 or Early Day 3 Pick)
- Wide Receiver/Tight End Billy Brown, Shepherd (Projected as a Priority Free Agent)
- Wide Receiver Greg Ward, Houston (Projected as Undrafted Free Agent possibly ticketed for the CFL)
- Center Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia (Projected as a Day 3 Pick)
- Safety Randall Goforth, UCLA (Projected as a Priority Free Agent)
Presuming this is accurate, the Eagles deserve kudos for their post-draft work. Clement has a realistic shot to join the fun in a committee approach out of the backfield, and was likely the primary reason Watson was cut. Evans may have hurt himself in the wallet by not staying in school to hone his skills, but brings a pro arm and mobility. Brown dominated at the Division II level as an oversized receiver (6-3, 254) and could end up as a converted tight end down the road. Orlosky is reportedly the highest paid undrafted player in the league, a year after the Eagles spent more than any other team on UDFAs, and could mean less job security for Jason Kelce. (Even if Orlosky is a reserve as a rookie, Stefen Wisniewksi could slide over to center and keep the spot warm.) Goforth’s only issue is his size (5-9½, 176), as he was productive in college (four interceptions last year) and could warrant a look at slot corner while make a name for himself on special teams. Ward was a dual-threat quarterback at Houston, which the Eagles probably knew while watching and dismissing all players from Temple, who is reportedly going to give it a go at wide receiver. At 5-11 and 185 pounds, quarterback is out of the question. However, considering his running ability and sub-4.5 speed, one wonders if he shouldn’t get a look in the backfield, too.