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It’s no coincidence the Eagles had one of the NFL’s worst defenses last year.
It didn’t just happen out of the blue.
It was the product of bad drafting.
Not just a year or two. Not just a few years. We’re looking at a decade of terrible draft picks on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles haven’t drafted an impact player on defense in eight years, an astounding turn of events from a franchise built on tough, hard-nosed physical defense over much of the last 30 years.
No wonder they couldn’t stop anybody last year. Year after year of drafting marginal players on defense finally caught up to the Eagles last year, when they ranked 29th in the NFL in scoring defense – worst in franchise history – and lost 10 of their last 11 games, finishing 4-12.
Now they’ve got a new head coach, their fourth defensive coordinator since the tragic death of Jim Johnson after the 2008 season, and a new defensive philosophy.
But do they have the players? And can they get them?
Let’s take a look at the Eagles’ defensive drafting over the past several years and see how they got themselves into this mess.
• None of the last 35 players the Eagles have drafted on defense has gone to a Pro Bowl. The last Pro Bowl defender the Eagles drafted was defensive end Trent Cole, back in 2005.
• The Eagles haven’t selected an impact player on defense in the first four rounds of the draft in 11 years, since Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Michael Lewis in 2002. Since then, they’ve drafted 25 players on defense in rounds one through four. Only one – Mike Patterson – has even become a regular, productive, long-term starter.
• The Eagles have used five first-round picks on defensive players in the last decade. Jerome McDougle was a total bust, Patterson a long-term starter, Brodrick Bunkley a borderline bust and too soon to say on Brandon Graham or Fletcher Cox. Going back 20 years, only two of the Eagles’ last 11 first-round defensive picks ever reached a Pro Bowl (Sheppard and Corey Simon).
• The Eagles’ last seven second-round picks on defense are Matt McCoy, Victor Abiamiri, Trevor Laws, Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry. Quite a group. The jury is obviously still out on Curry and Kendricks, both taken last year, but in all, those seven players have combined for just 72 starts in an Eagles uniform – about 10 per player.
• Defensive players the Eagles have taken in the third round since 2000: Curtis Marsh, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Bryan Smith, Stewart Bradley, Chris Gocong, Matt Ware and Derrick Burgess. Bradley was a starter for a few years and Burgess had a great postseason in 2004, but the Eagles haven’t drafted an impact defensive player in the third round since Jeremiah Trotter in 1998. That’s 15 years ago.
• Fourth-rounders in recent years? Get a load of this group: Jamaal Green, J.R. Reed, Sean Considine, Jack Ikegwuonu, Quintin Demps, Keenan Clayton, Trevard Lindley and Casey Matthews. Sure, they’re only fourth-round picks, but you’d think one of them might pan out? The last elite defender the Eagles took in the fourth round was William Thomas in 1991.
The Eagles are one of only five NFL teams that hasn’t drafted at least one Pro Bowl defensive player in the first four rounds in the last 10 years (along with the Buccaneers, Rams, Browns and Dolphins).
They’re also among only eight teams that hasn’t drafted a single Pro Bowl defensive player since 2006. The others are the Dolphins, Browns, Jaguars, Vikings, Falcons, Buccaneers and Rams.
Think about this:
From 1986 through 1991, the Eagles drafted Jerome Brown, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons and Thomas.
From 1995 through 1998, they drafted Bobby Taylor, Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins.
From 2000 through 2005, they drafted Corey Simon, Sheppard, Brown, Lewis and Cole (as well as Burgess, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Raiders).
Not a single defensive stud. Not a single impact player. Not a single star. That’s forced them to dip way too much into free agency and over-pay for failures like Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (acquired through trade).
Perhaps Cox or Kendricks will develop into that kind of player. Perhaps Graham will build on the success he had the second half of last year. Perhaps the Eagles will pick Sharrif Floyd, Dion Jordan, Star Lotulelei or Ziggy Ansah at No. 4 on Thursday, and he’ll become an all-pro.
Until they find some players, the coach may change, the GM may change, the system may change, but the result won’t change. They won’t be able to stop anybody.