Eagle Eye: Production from the draft
The Eagles selected Mychal Kindricks in the second, Nick Foles in the third round and Brandon Boykin in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, and those picks are all working out pretty well. (USA Today Images)
Fletcher Cox is the most talented defensive tackle the Eagles have drafted since at least Mike Patterson in 2005. Maybe Corey Simon in 2000.
Mychal Kendricks is easily the most productive linebacker the Eagles have drafted since Jeremiah Trotter in 1998.
Brandon Boykin is the most gifted cornerback the Eagles have drafted since Lito Sheppard or Sheldon Brown -- take your pick -- in 2002.
Nick Foles is by far the best quarterback the Eagles have taken since Donovan McNabb in 1999.
Put it all together and the 2012 draft was the Eagles’ best since … hmmm, forever?
By the time all is said and done, it could be.
The Eagles went into the 2012 draft coming off a string of terribly unproductive drafts, especially on defense.
The decline of the franchise from perennial playoff team from 2000 through 2010 to 8-8 in 2011 and 4-12 last year was no mystery.
They just ran out of good players. From 2006 through 2011, a six-year span, the only above-average starters the Eagles drafted were DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
The best defensive player the Eagles drafted from 2006 through 2011? Good question. Nate Allen maybe?
So during a six-year span, the Eagles drafted two Pro Bowl players, four above-average players and Nate Allen.
They tried to make up for years of atrocious drafting by adding a parade of high-priced free agents, and we all know how that went.
Once the Eagles started drafting guys who actually could play, the stage was set for the turnaround that’s made the them NFC East champions.
The Eagles face the Saints Saturday night at the Linc in a wild-card playoff game. It’s the Eagles’ first playoff game since 2010.
Without Foles, Cox, Kendricks and Boykin, where would they be? Probably about where they were the last couple years.
The Eagles desperately needed a slam-dunk draft in 2012. And they got it. Boy, did they ever get it.
“We had to look at ourselves and say, ‘What are we doing here? Why aren’t we getting great contributions from our draft picks?’” said Howie Roseman, who’s held the title of general manager since 2010 but, according to owner Jeff Lurie, only assumed control of the draft in 2012.
Once the Eagles began drafting the best available player instead of reaching and drafting for need, they suddenly began nailing picks.
The 2012 draft class is already the Eagles’ best since at least 2002 -- the Sheppard, Brown, Michael Lewis draft -- but if Kendricks, Cox and Boykin keep going the way they’re going and Foles develops into the franchise quarterback he looks like, it will go down as one of the Eagles’ best ever.
“The bread and butter of our team’s got to be the draft, and we feel really good about the process, and it started with 2012 and I think we did it the right way, and it’s showing up,” Roseman said.
“But we’ve got to stack them up. This year’s draft, we’re excited about that draft class, and we’ve got to keep going if we want to be a team that’s going to contend every year.”
It looks like the 2013 draft was a very good one as well, landing the Eagles two rookie starters in defensive tackle Bennie Logan and offensive tackle Lane Johnson, plus promising tight end Zach Ertz and starter-when-healthy Earl Wolff.
But 2012 could be an all-timer.
In addition to Kendricks, Boykin, Cox and Foles, the Eagles also found a capable tailback in Bryce Brown -- one of only two players with a 65-yard TD run in each of the last two years -- and one of their better pass rushers in defensive end Vinny Curry, third on the team with 4.0 sacks despite playing just 26 percent of the defensive snaps.
“It’s a great draft class,” said Foles, who led the NFL in passer rating this year. “It’s a great group of guys who work hard and really add to what we have. Obviously, they’re great athletes, but the thing that struck me is that they’re all high-character guys and great teammates.
“It’s fun to watch all of us grow together because we were all in here together as rookies when everything is moving pretty fast and you’re going through it together. You’re going to rookie meetings, you’re doing all those sort of things, so you do bond together, and for us to be in our second year and see all those guys doing well, it’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Cox, Kendricks and Boykin are each 23 years old but already look like Pro Bowl-caliber defenders.
Cox is an interior force against the run and a relentless pass rusher, Kendricks is the Eagles’ most active linebacker in a decade and Boykin finished second in the NFL in interceptions despite playing only 51 percent of the defensive snaps.
Throw the 24-year-old Foles in there and you have four potential stars, four potential Pro Bowl picks, out of one draft.
The Eagles have drafted two or three elite players in a single season -- Wilbert Montgomery and Charlie Johnson in 1973; Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons in 1986; Eric Allen and Keith Jackson in 1988; Trotter, Ike Reese and Tra Thomas in 1998; Brian Westbrook, Sheppard and Brown in 2002.
The best Eagles draft ever may be 1973, which produced safety Randy Logan, receiver Charle Young and offensive linemen Jerry Sisemore and Guy Morriss. Young was a three-time all-pro and Logan, Sisemore an Morriss each played at least 10 years with the Eagles.
This group may be better.
“I think those guys just have some rare traits, when you look at all of them,” Roseman said. “Obviously, character and intangibles are very important in the National Football League, but it’s also what do they have in their body so they can compete at this level because at the end of the day you need talented players.
“Fletcher’s 6-4 and 315 pounds and [has] almost 35-inch arms and he’s an incredible athlete. Kendricks, you look at how explosive he is. Vinny, for a 6-3 guy with almost 33-inch arms, he plays as long as any defensive lineman I’ve seen in a long time. He’s constantly in the face of quarterbacks. And then Nick, a 6-6 guy who can make all the throws. And then Brandon, he couldn’t test [at the combine] because he had an injury, and we felt if Brandon tested, he probably would have been the most explosive corner in the draft.
“Bryce, when we took him, for us, it was [that] he was so explosive. He was 225 pounds and running a 4.4 and we just said if he went somewhere else as an undrafted free agent, could we see him possibly being one of those guys who rushes for 1,200 yards, and would that kill us for spending so much time and then not taking him in the seventh round?
“That was really the whole draft process and it’s the same thing when we look at our draft picks this year, with Lane and Bennie and Zach and even when you go to Earl Wolff in the fifth round. Hopefully the process is at its best when you have good players on tape and match their intangibles and their testing.”
Kendricks, Cox and Boykin combined this year for 234 tackles, seven sacks, nine interceptions, five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 13 knocked-down passes.
Considering that the Eagles hadn’t drafted an impact defensive player since Trent Cole in 2005, that production is just remarkable.
Kendricks, Cox and Boykin are already the Eagles’ three most productive homegrown defensive players in eight years.
Statistically, Foles is already the third-best quarterback the Eagles have ever drafted, behind McNabb and Randall Cunningham. And he hasn’t even played a full season yet.
After years of draft-day disasters -- Bryan Smith, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Daniel T’eo-Nesheim, Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, Danny Watkins, and on and on and on -- things have finally changed.
Not coincidentally, the Eagles are winning once again.
“All of those guys have taken really big steps and when you see players who are going to be good in this league, they take that jump from Year 1 to Year 2,” said veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans -- another product of the 2012 draft, thanks to a trade with the Texans.
“And Boykin, Fletcher and Mychal have all taken that jump and they’re playing really well this year and they should really be commended for the way they stepped up, and now they should be considered veterans.
“I knew [last year] all those guys had something special in them. All of them were great athletes, great players, it just took a little time for them to get adjusted, and now they’re playing lights out.”
Building through the draft does a lot of things, but one of the most important is that it allows a team to instill a certain culture in players when they’re young and just starting out in the NFL.
When you build around high-priced veteran free agents -- from Nnamdi Asomugha to Jason Babin to Cullen Jenkins to Ronnie Brown to Steve Smith -- you’re getting players who don’t have the same connection with the franchise as kids who were drafted here and grew up here.
Just guys passing through, waiting for the next paycheck.
“The most important thing is getting Philadelphia Eagles,” Roseman said. “Getting people that are homegrown and that eventually we can re-sign and that can be part of this franchise for a long time, where the names on the backs of the jerseys start to mean something to our fans, where it’s not just taking other peoples’ products and then adopting them to our team.
"And when we get that, when we stack draft upon draft upon draft, then we have arrived from a scouting perspective. That’s the goal.”
Asked if he feels vindicated by the success of the last two drafts, Roseman is quick to credit vice president of player personnel Tommy Gamble, player personnel executive Rick Mueller, director of college scouting Anthony Patch, senior football adviser Tom Donahue, assistant director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz and the rest of the Eagles’ reshaped scouting department for the dramatic draft-day turnaround.
He ponders the question for another moment before he answers.
“I don’t think I’m going to feel vindicated until we hold a trophy up,” Roseman said. “I think that’s what our fans deserve, and that’s what we’re going to try to do and that’s why we’re here all the time and that’s why we don’t sleep a lot. It’s because one day we want to be able to break on through.
“When that happens and you ask the question, there may be a different answer.”