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Is Foles aware of his record-setting stats?
Six quarterbacks were selected before the Eagles took Nick Foles with the 88th overall pick last year. (AP)
They saw what no one else saw. They liked what no one else liked. They got the quarterback no one else wanted.
The Eagles’ decision to draft Nick Foles last year was a curious one. The Eagles had a ton of needs on both sides of the ball. Foles wasn’t considered a special talent. For them to use a third-round pick on a quarterback who most draft analysts believed was a fringe prospect seemed odd at the time.
Nineteen touchdowns later …
With four games left in the 2013 season, Foles leads the NFL in passer rating and is one touchdown from tying Peyton Manning’s record of 20 touchdowns to open a season without an interception.
The Eagles are 5-1 since Foles replaced Michael Vick in the starting lineup, and a win over the Lions on Sunday would get them to eight wins -- double their 2012 total -- and move them one game closer to the playoffs.
Go back in time to last spring. The reviews on Foles were not good.
According to a source quoted by a national web site, he was “terrible” at his pro day. According to a major national web site, he had his draft hopes “crushed” at the combine. According to another major national site, he “came up short” at the Senior Bowl.
So what led the Eagles to draft a quarterback who won just 15 games in his entire college career in the third round?
Simply, they saw what nobody else saw.
There were a lot of knocks on Foles coming out of Arizona. He had a 15-18 record in college, his 40 time at the combine was the slowest of any quarterback in four years and by all media accounts he struggled badly at his pro day, in the Senior Bowl and at the combine.
But give the Eagles credit. They looked beyond the obvious and saw enough positives to warrant using a third-round pick on a guy they felt had a chance to become an NFL starter.
“When you talk about traits, he’s 6-6, he’s got long arms, he’s got big hands, and you ask where that comes into play -- his ability with his length to get over the top of defenders, to be able to release the ball at the last second, which is obviously huge,” general manager Howie Roseman said.
“He’s smart. We thought he was an underrated athlete based on his basketball-playing ability, so he had good feet. Obviously long speed is an issue, but you go back and you look at guys who didn’t have great 40 times and were really good players -- you look at obviously Tom Brady and the Mannings -- and you realize that’s probably not going to be the limiting factor.”
So where other teams saw a lumbering runner, the Eagles saw a guy who was athletic enough to move around the pocket effectively.
Where other teams saw a guy who wasn’t accurate at his pro day or at the combine, the Eagles saw a guy who with a couple tweaks to his technique could make all the throws.
And most importantly, where other teams saw a guy who never won more than six games in a season in college, the Eagles saw a guy who always dealt with the adversity in a positive fashion.
“One of the things you look for is how players respond to adversity,” Roseman said. “He did not have a lot of talent around him. Especially on the offensive line. He was constantly hit and knocked on the ground, but he’d just bounce back up and find a way.
“There were some hits that he took where you just wondered, ‘How is he getting back up?’ It goes back to his toughness and his size.
“We also went back and looked to see how he played against good competition, and he did play well against ranked teams, including Oregon and USC, so when you saw kind of those things, that’s important.”
Andy Reid, then the Eagles’ head coach, always wanted a young quarterback around to develop. The Eagles had traded Kevin Kolb after the 2010 season, and they did not consider fourth-round draft pick Mike Kafka a big-time prospect.
Since the 2012 draft was so quarterback heavy, the Eagles spent a ton of time scouting a group that included Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Foles.
“We were looking for a quarterback at that time, a young quarterback to develop, and we really had narrowed it down to four guys that we were really interested in with Nick being one of them, and you can obviously guess who the other three of them were,” Roseman said. “We spent a lot of time on those guys.”
The Eagles were the only team with a representative at Foles’ pro day in March of 2012. Quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson watched Foles throw in poor conditions and while media reports were negative, Pederson liked what he saw.
The Eagles brought Foles to the NovaCare Complex and were impressed with his pre-draft interview. They watched his every move at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., not just how he played but how he interacted with teammates, how he encouraged offensive linemen he had just met, how quickly he picked up a playbook he had just been handed a few days earlier.
“We spent a lot of time with him,” Roseman said. “He struck us as just an impressive person. Very well-rounded. We felt like he’d be even keeled in the madness, which is obviously very important for a quarterback.”
Luck and RG3 were the first two picks in last year’s draft. Among the other quarterbacks taken before Foles were Tannehill (eighth overall), Weeden (22nd overall), Osweiler (57th, second round) and Wilson (75th).
Of that group, Wilson and Foles -- the two third-round picks -- have the second- and third-highest career passer ratings in NFL history.
Questions about his arm strength, his speed, his foot work and his lack of college success all conspired to drop Foles below players like Josh LeRibeus, Jamell Fleming and Brandon Hardin in the draft.
Yet here we are in early December and Foles has the highest passer rating in NFL history 12 weeks into a season.
Just ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Steve Young and Joe Montana.
So much for the bad pro day.
“The draft process, you look for warts,” Roseman said. “The draft process is so long -- it goes from the fall, where I really like this guy, to the winter-spring, and it becomes, ‘What is it that he can’t do?’
“Obviously the lack of success for his football team affected him and hurt him and affected his ability to be successful. When you feel like, this guy is responding to this sort of adversity and … it was a very good quarterback class and that’s probably part of [why he fell in the draft] as well.
“A lot of when people evaluate quarterbacks is team success, and you want to find a quarterback who is winning a lot of games in college football and that’s a part of it and that’s something you’re looking for.”
Other teams might have been scared off by Foles’ weaknesses, but the Eagles thought they were all things that could be fixed.
“We knew -- and he knew -- that he needed some work on his footwork, but we felt and we continue to feel like we have good people in place to help him in that area,” Roseman said.
“A lot of times with big quarterbacks you worry can they get better feet because they’re so big and their feet are so large that you kind of worry that it gets kind of awkward. But because he had that athletic background, because he was such a good basketball player -- and what’s one of the biggest things for a basketball player? Having good feet. It wasn’t like he was a 6-6 center. So that for us was the promising part of it.
“And we broke it down to the nuts and bolts of it. How was he on third and long? How was he against top-25 teams? And we’d watch all those tapes. Gotta give a lot of credit to our coaching staff as part of the process, too. Especially Andy.”
That’s Andy Reid.
Consider Foles Reid’s parting gift to Eagles fans.
The last few years were terrible ones for Reid, whose draft picks were generally awful, whose game-day decisions grew more and more baffling, whose coaching staff was in constant turnmoil. That’s why he was fired after the season and is now coaching the Chiefs.
But one thing Reid knows is quarterbacks, and he loved Foles.
“Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit,” Roseman said. “He really does. Obviously, when you’re going to pick a quarterback the head coach is going to be a big factor in that, and Andy is a great evaluator of quarterbacks and he spent a lot of time on that quarterback class, and he had a lot of confidence in Nick’s ability.”
Roseman credited his entire scouting staff for the positive reports on Foles, but he singled out director of college scouting Anthony Patch, who was on Foles early.
Nothing is more important to an NFL franchise than finding the right quarterback.
The Eagles have only had a few extended periods of success in their history.
Since 1950, they’ve had only two quarterbacks who won multiple playoff games: Ron Jaworski and Donovan McNabb.
In their entire history, they’ve only drafted two quarterbacks who’ve started at least 10 games in an Eagles uniform and had a winning record: Randall Cunningham and McNabb.
Maybe Foles won’t pan out. Maybe the last couple months have been a mirage.
But maybe one day the work that Roseman, Reid, Pederson, Patch and the rest of the Eagles’ coaches and scouts did in the winter and spring of last year will end up helping the Eagles win their first championship in more than half a century.
“If you have a guy that you think has a chance to be a good quarterback in this league and you’re sitting there in the third and fourth round and he’s still on the board, you better take him,” Roseman said.
“Because in this league, obviously you need a really good quarterback to be successful, and it’s hard to find. And unless you have the first pick in the draft in a great quarterback draft and have that opportunity, you’ve got to figure out a way. You’ve got to figure out a way to find your guy.
“And for us it’s too important of a position to not make it a priority and to not devote resources into trying to find it, and when you find a guy that has enough traits that give him a chance to be really good, then you’ve got to pull the trigger.”