Two years ago, the Eagles walked away from the NFL draft with nine new employees. Two of them -- Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks -- started from Day 1. A third, slot corner Brandon Boykin, played almost as many snaps as anyone else on defense and three others -- Nick Foles, Dennis Kelly and Bryce Brown -- made at least two starts as rookies.
Last year, the Eagles armed new coach Chip Kelly with seven draft picks. The first-rounder, No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson, started all 17 games at right tackle, including the postseason. Second-rounder Zach Ertz didn’t start but finished with more catches, receiving yards and touchdowns than any other Eagles tight end. Third-rounder Bennie Logan and fifth-rounder Earl Wolff were each promoted to starting positions midway through the season.
Last week, from Thursday to Saturday, the Eagles welcomed seven more drafted prospects into the nest (see Eagles draft central). They found a pass rusher in the first round, followed by receivers in each of the next two rounds followed by four consecutive defensive picks on the third and final day.
How many will start this year?
While it’s tempting to conclude that the Eagles couldn’t have drafted wisely if they can’t find one measly Day 1 starter from the deepest draft in recent memory, the reality is that their roster is deeper and better now than it’s been in two years.
It’s clearly better than the aging, dysfunctional 2011 “Dream Team” squad that brought you an 8-8 season, and much more promising than the 4-12 squad from 2012 that got Andy Reid canned.
“The last couple years when we drafted guys, you knew they were going to come in and play,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “When you look at when we were good and the teams that were really good in this league, it's harder to get immediate contributors as starters right now, so we looked at it as the long‑term best interests of our football team and guys who we projected as starters in this league down the line for our system.
“And so I think that as we look at it, will we get as many immediate starters from this draft as we have in the last couple years? I don't know. I know we'll have better competition. I know we're a more talented football team than we were when we started this offseason, quite frankly than we were last year when the coaches got here.
“I think part of that is because we had depth and competition at a lot of positions, and I think if we have some injuries, we have guys who are going to be ready to play, and we have some young players who are going to be developed, and in a couple of years going to be really good players.”
Any draft that produces three starters (not necessarily immediate) gets a check mark in Roseman’s book. Three of the first four picks from 2012 -- Cox, Kendricks and Foles -- are etched into starting jobs going into this season. Two from last year’s haul -- Johnson and Logan -- are also starters in 2014, with two others -- Ertz and Wolff -- very likely to start.
That’s seven starters -- eight, if you count nickel corner Boykin -- from the past two drafts, a success by any measurement.
But when the season starts Sept. 7, it’s not likely any of the Eagles’ seven newest draft picks will make their first career start.
First-round pick Marcus Smith, a hybrid pass rusher out of Louisville, isn’t likely to unseat veteran Trent Cole by the opener, and probably not until 2015. Second-round wideout Jordan Matthews should see plenty of action in sub packages like Ertz did last year, but he’s behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Same for third-round wideout Josh Huff.
Fourth-round corner Jaylen Watkins is staring up at Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Boykin and Nolan Carroll, and fifth-round safety Ed Reynolds enters camp behind Malcolm Jenkins, Wolff, Nate Allen and maybe even Chris Maragos. Defensive lineman Taylor Hart (fifth round) and Beau Allen (seventh round) will compete for snaps in the six-man rotation.
Nobody can predict if any of these picks will pan out, but more important to Roseman and Kelly is they’re starting or making major impacts two or three years down the road.
It would be extremely beneficial if any of them advanced to the top of the depth chart, but also extremely unlikely.
“We're going to look at the upside, the ceiling of these players through Year 2 and 3 and hopefully 4 and 5 down the road, and that's where we draft,” Roseman said, “and what we can get out of these guys. We understand that sometimes as you get better as a football team, you may not have as many immediate starters from the draft class, but as you lose players because you're a better team, because you have to make some decisions on some guys, you have guys ready to come in and fill the role and fill it at a high level.”