Depth and Runs: Eagles' Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas Detail Inexact Science of Draft

Last year around this time, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas were in a similar situation. 

While Douglas was still with the Chicago Bears, both he and Roseman thought their respective teams would be able to wait a while to select a defensive tackle in a draft class that was considered to be exceptionally deep at the position. 

They were both wrong. 

"Even though a draft may be deep at a position, it doesn't mean that they're not going to come off," Douglas, hired last May, said Thursday morning at the Eagles' pre-draft availability. 

There was a run of defensive tackles in the 2016 draft. Every team, it turned out, wanted their guy. 

So the Bears' draft board was wiped clean of defensive tackles by the end of the second round and the Eagles' board was wiped clean not long after. Both teams were left without a player from a position that was considered to be deeper than others. 

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"But you don't know," Roseman said. "There are years where positions that are deep and you get into the fifth, sixth, seventh round and you see guys that you really like. It will be really exciting to see what happens at some of those positions." 

This year, most experts, including Roseman and Douglas, have said the deepest positions from the draft appear to be defensive back, running back and tight end. As you might have noticed, the Eagles have glaring needs at two of those positions heading into next week's festivities. 

Having needs at positions of strength in the draft is obviously a good thing. But the problem is, no one knows exactly how things will shake out after the draft begins next Thursday night. 

The Eagles just try to predict the future as best they can. 

"The way that we do that, is our pro department, led by (director of pro scouting) Dwayne Joseph, they go through team needs," Roseman said. "So you can kind of figure out, or try to figure out, teams that have a particular need that may be addressing that position in the first couple of rounds anyway, especially with a strong draft. Or guys that have put a lot of resources in a position. We do that to the best extent that we can, but it's an inexact science." 

That scientific process is made more convoluted by the fact that all positions are not created equal. Does a running back or tight end have as much value as a cornerback? For some teams, yes. For others, now way. 

Some teams, for instance, just simply won't take a running back in the first round of the draft. 

"There are teams that are just philosophically opposed," Roseman said. "We have a lot of philosophical conversations over the last year and I think it's important you stick to your core beliefs, whatever that means. And you have to be disciplined."

Of course, when it comes to running backs in the first round, Roseman declined to say on which side of that philosophical line the Eagles fall. 

And while Douglas said he could argue running back is a premium position after the success of Ezekiel Elliott last year, the Eagles haven't taken a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986. And Baltimore, where Douglas cut his teeth, hasn't taken a running back in the first since Jamal Lewis in 2000.

After taking philosophy and the depth in this particular draft under consideration, the work isn't done. The Eagles -- and assuredly other teams -- don't act as if individual drafts are in a vacuum. They've already analyzed the depth at upcoming drafts in an attempt to maximize this year. The weakness in this class at quarterback is one of the reasons the Eagles made a strong push to get Carson Wentz last year. 

"We have done that for a couple positions to make sure that we're not sitting there saying 'this position is so great,'" Roseman said. "And then next year, and go it's pretty good next year too, maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. We've done that to a couple positions in this draft that we think are strong and we looked ahead and said, 'is it uniquely strong? Or is it a position that every year, there are good guys coming out?'"

In recent history, the Eagles have had considerably more success in the first round when drafting in the teens than in the 20s. The last three picks in the 20s have been Nelson Agholor, Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins, while the last three picks in the teens have been Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Jeremy Maclin. So while they will listen to trade offers as they come in, it might behoove them to stay put. 

If they do, two of the biggest names associated with that 14th pick just happen to be two positions of need and two of those deep positions we mentioned earlier: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State CB Gareon Conley. 

Both have followed a similar path over the last few weeks, in that they have risen up media draft boards. When it comes to Conley, Douglas seemed to think the lag was on the media's side, not with team evaluations. 

"Our staff has done a great job of getting Conley on the board early for us as a guy that has unbelievable talent," Douglas said. "With Gareon, the speed jumps out, the length jumps out. One of the best leaders on their team, on their defense."

The recent news with McCaffrey is that he has reportedly decided to not work out privately for any teams. Roseman made sure to point out this is not unique to just this player and Douglas made it seem like it wasn't a big deal to him. 

There have been no reports of the Eagles' bringing McCaffrey in for a visit, but that doesn't mean they're not interested. His history is clean and without the ability to work him out, using a private visit on him might not be worthwhile.  

"Every player, every running back in this draft has his strengths, his weaknesses," Douglas said. "Christian is a versatile back. There's a lot of versatile backs in this draft." 

Which begs the question: Where will the Eagles pick one? 

We won't find out for another week. The draft is like an iceberg. What we see is about 10 percent. The rest of it is behind the scenes in preparation. It's a science, as inexact as it might be. 

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