Without Desperate Needs, Look for Eagles to Play Long Game in This NFL Draft

If the Eagles draft a lineman early in the 2019 draft and then everything goes perfectly with the guys who are already on the roster, that rookie might not play much or at all in his first NFL season.

The Eagles would be OK with that. 

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And that goes for any position where the Eagles don't have immediate, desperate needs. By design, there are many.  

See, the Birds tried their best to fill the holes in their roster during free agency. Now, they enter the draft Thursday feeling pretty free. They're not beholden to any particularly dire draft needs, which should help them avoid an unnecessary reach when they're on the clock at 25. It's a sound plan to avoid a dangerous temptation. 

"That's one of the things that's exciting with where we are right now," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said last week. "We could go play right now and we think we're a pretty good team."

Roseman insists the Eagles are completely focused on the long-term welfare of the franchise. Part of the luxury of having a de facto GM and a head coach with long leashes is that there's less pressure to find players who will produce and start immediately. Roseman and Doug Pederson can afford to think about the long term without worrying about saving their hides in 2019. Many teams have a much different dynamic. 

Last week, I asked Roseman how the Eagles balance long-term goals with wanting to see their high draft picks contribute immediately: 

Certainly, when you draft someone high, when it's in the first round, second round, you love to see him play. That's part of the great process that we have, that you get to see them play on the field in the National Football League after you spend all this time evaluating and scouting them, taking them off the board and bringing them to Philly. But that's really about what's best for the team. 

We had a situation where in 2002, we drafted Lito (Sheppard) and Sheldon (Brown) and they didn't play at all (as rookies). And in 2004, they were huge contributors to our football team. We can't view the draft as just what's best for just this moment. We have to view this draft as what's best for our team going forward.

We've heard the Lito/Sheldon example before and, even though that was 17 years ago and Roseman was still a low-level front office employee back then, it's a good example. Neither player (Sheppard was a first-rounder, Brown was a second-rounder) started a single game as rookies because they were stuck behind Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. But both were starters for the Super Bowl team just two years later. 

Still, teams would typically like to get a certain level of production out of their first pick in the draft. Here's a look at the Eagles' first picks of the last several drafts and how much they've played as rookies: 

2018: Dallas Goedert (No. 49): 16 games, 8 starts, 48% of offensive snaps

2017: Derek Barnett (No. 14): 15 games, 0 starts, 41% of defensive snaps

2016: Carson Wentz (No. 2): 16 games, 16 starts, 99% of offensive snaps

2015: Nelson Agholor (No. 20): 13 games, 12 starts, 58% of offensive snaps

2014: Marcus Smith (No. 26): 8 games, 0 starts, 6% of defensive snaps 

2013: Lane Johnson (No. 4) 16 games, 16 starts, 100% of offensive snaps 

2012: Fletcher Cox (No. 12) 15 games, 9 starts, 48.6% of defensive snaps 

Just three of the Eagles' last seven first picks have played more than 50 percent of snaps on their respective side of the ball and two of them were top-five picks. Just look at the last two years. The Eagles took Barnett in 2017 despite having Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long on the roster. They took Goedert last year despite having Zach Ertz. 

So how much will the Eagles' first pick play in 2019? That's a hard question to answer. It's really dependent on the position of the player and the health of the veterans in front of them. Assuming good health, a defensive lineman would be a rotational player, an offensive lineman might be a backup, a receiver would be rotational, a safety would see the field in big nickel, a running back would be in a rotation and a linebacker might start. 

But the beauty of the Eagles' situation right now is that they don't have to care about any of that. They can afford to take the best player on the board and play the long game. 

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