Depth and runs: Eagles' Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas detail inexact science of draft

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. 

"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, no 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 had 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. 

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

BOSTON -- A person familiar with the situation says the New England Patriots have agreed to terms on a deal with former New York Jets linebacker David Harris.

The new two-year pact could be worth as much as $6.75 million, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the deal has not yet been announced.

Harris, a 2007 second-round pick from Michigan who has spent all 10 of his NFL seasons in New York, was released earlier this month by the Jets in a series of offseason moves to cut high-priced veterans. He was the franchise's second-leading tackler.

He now moves within the division to play for Bill Belichick, who has lauded Harris' play in the past. It also gives the Patriots some veteran depth to pair with Dont'a Hightower.

Jaguars: Rhaney claimed off waivers
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams.

The Jaguars announced the move Wednesday and said they released rookie offensive lineman Parker Collins to make room on the roster for Rhaney.

The 6-foot-2, 301-pound Rhaney was a seventh-round draft pick out of Tennessee State by the Rams in 2014. He spent his first season on injured reserve but played in every regular-season game the past two seasons, starting once at left guard in 2015.

Packers: Guion arrested on suspicion of DUI
HONOLULU -- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in Hawaii.

Honolulu police booking records show Guion was arrested early Wednesday in Waikiki. He was released after posting $500 bail.

Packers spokesman Aaron Popkey says in a statement that the team is aware and will refrain from making further comment because it's a legal matter. He says he doesn't know what Guion was doing in Waikiki.

Guion was suspended without pay by the NFL for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

He started 15 games last season, making 30 tackles. The nine-year veteran agreed to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million in February 2016.

NFL: Former player Ryan Jones shot dead
RENO, Nev. -- Nevada authorities say former NFL linebacker Ryan Jones was shot dead over the weekend in a Reno apartment and two other people suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds.

Reno Police Department spokesman Officer Tim Broadway declined comment Tuesday on the circumstances that led to Sunday's shooting because detectives were still interviewing people for their investigation.

Jones, 26, signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and had a stint with the New York Giants before becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.

He was the first Montana Tech football player in the college's history to sign an NFL contract.

Jones graduated from Hug High School in Nevada before attending Sierra College and then Montana Tech in 2011.

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks is a good middle linebacker. 

After his first two seasons in the NFL, the former third-round pick has piled up some eye-popping numbers. 

In his first 24 games in the league (his rookie season was cut short with a pec injury), he has seven interceptions, 14 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two sacks. 

He's just the fifth player in NFL history — and only linebacker — to have that many INTs, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in the first two years of his career. 

Hicks, who turns 25 later this month, is already really good. The next step is to become great. 

Is there room for more growth? 

"I would hope so," Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said last week. "We're all emotionally tied in with our guys. I think he's done a great job for us. Is there room for improvement? No question. But he works at it. It's important to him. I know it's important for him that he puts the team success above himself. 

"I would suspect that there's more ceiling for him at linebacker. And I expect him to work at those things." 

Hicks actually had a chance to work on some of those things this offseason. As he exited last year, it was clear Hicks possessed ball-hawk traits, but admittedly needed to get better against the run. 

After his first NFL season, Hicks was stuck recovering from his torn pectoral and subsequent surgery. The rehab didn't allow him to strength train as much as he would have liked. 

This year, it's been a different story. He's hit the weight room hard, put on some extra weight, and hasn't been hamstrung by a tedious rehab process. 

"It's been great, man," Hicks said. "Having a full offseason to get in rhythm, having a full offseason to lift and get stronger and not have to take a step back to rehab and do everything over again, it's huge. Huge. To just build and stack and stack on top of each other."

Flajole agrees with Hicks, that the extra time in the weight room will help him against the run, specifically at the point of attack.  

Flajole isn't the only person in the NovaCare Complex who thinks big things are still ahead for Hicks. After the season finale against the Cowboys last season, Malcolm Jenkins said he thought Hicks is "trending to be one of the better linebackers in this league."

While Hicks wants to improve his run defense, it's undeniable that the strength of his game — to this point — is his knack for being around the ball. He always seems to be making a big play, whether it's an interception or a fumble recovery. 

It might seem like chance, but Flajole doesn't discount it as such. 

"He's a very instinctual guy and I think he understands the game," Flajole said. "The thing that can't be discounted for Jordan is that he works at it. He watches a lot of tape and because of those things, he feeds off of tendencies that the offense would give him, either by down and distance or formation. And he uses those to his advantage." 

For the second straight year, Hicks will be in the same defense under Jim Schwartz and will have the same battery mate in Nigel Bradham, who enters the second year of his two-year deal. 

At some point before the 2017 season starts, Hicks will set some personal goals for himself, like he does every year. While he hasn't set them yet, Hicks said they are normally leadership-based or stat-based. 

"It definitely gives you something to reach for and keep you on track," Hicks said. "Just like you set team goals. If you're not setting goals, you're just working towards nothing, just shooting in the air at nothing." 

One thing the goals won't be is accolade-based. Sure, Hicks would like to be named to his first Pro Bowl, but that won't be on the checklist. 

If he gets better than he's been in Year 1 and 2, it'll only be a matter of time before the recognition catches up with his stats. 

"I'm not really worried about the accolades at this point," he said. "It's not really what I'm focused on. I believe that if you're doing what you need to do, day in and day out, you're giving it everything you got, the rest will come. I'm focused on what I can do for this team, what I can do to make this team the best it can be. And let the rest fall in place."