Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles love 1st-round linemen; results not great

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Eagles love 1st-round linemen; results not great

It’s fun to draft quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. Cornerbacks and linebackers, too.

Linemen?

For fans, they’re boring.

You study all the draft guides, read all the mock drafts, memorize the combine results, and sit there glued to the TV and your computer as the Eagles’ first-round pick gets closer and closer.

Which receiver will they take? Which cornerback? Which linebacker?

Eight of the last nine years, you’ve been disappointed.

Because only once in the last nine years have the Eagles drafted something other than a lineman in the first round.

In fact, going back to 1991, an incredible 17 of their 21 first-round picks have been offensive or defensive linemen.

The exceptions: Donovan McNabb in 1999, Freddie Mitchell in 2001, Lito Sheppard in 2002 and Jeremy Maclin in 2009.

That’s four non-linemen in the first round since Buddy Ryan was fired.

Eagles fans know those linemen are important picks, but they’re boring. After all the buildup for the draft, you just want something more interesting.

Since 1991 -- nearly a quarter of a century -- the Eagles have drafted more linemen in the first round than any other NFL team.

They’ve taken 17, ahead of the Rams (14), Seahawks (13) and Vikings and 49ers (12).

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said there’s a simple reason for this 23-year trend.

“When you talk about getting those guys later in the draft, they just don’t exist,” he said. “There are other positions you look at it and can find a starter in the third, fourth or fifth round, but it’s very hard to find those guys, because there aren’t a lot of men on this Earth who are 330 pounds with 34-inch arms and who can move their bodies.

“We don’t go in saying we have to get a lineman, especially now. We’re talking about getting the best player, no matter what position that player is, we would take him. I think it’s just worked out that way.”

What about those 17 linemen?

The results have been mixed. Actually, worse than mixed.

Of the 17, eight have been offensive linemen, and of that group, three became Pro Bowlers -- Jermane Mayberry had a solid career and went to one Pro Bowl, Shawn Andrews was very good and a first-team All-Pro with two Pro Bowls before all sorts of weird things derailed his career, and Tra Thomas was simply the best offensive tackle in franchise history.

The rest? Antone Davis, Lester Holmes, Bernard Williams and Danny Watkins were all either disasters or close to it, althought last year’s first-round pick, Lane Johnson, appears to be a very promising tackle.

On the defensive side, the results are worse.

Leonard Renfro, Jon Harris and Jerome McDougle were catastrophes, Brodrick Bunkley never panned out, at least not here, and Brandon Graham has yet to pan out and could be traded to a team needing a 4-3 end this weekend.

Mike Mamula started for a few years but certainly didn’t perform like you’d expect from the No. 7 pick. Corey Simon made a Pro Bowl but had a short career. Mike Patterson was solid for a long time. Fletcher Cox, after two years, certainly also shows a lot of promise.

Perhaps Cox and Johnson will end what has really been, for the most part, a two-decade slump for the Eagles when it comes to drafting linemen in the first round.

“I look at the last two years -- Fletcher Cox for us, is a very rare guy -- 6-4, 34-inch arms, runs a 4.9, had a running back background in high school, elite athlete, explosive athlete, powerful player,” Roseman said. “Then Lane was a unique cat, too.

“I think that’s just how it worked out. We’re not going in [saying], 'We gotta get a lineman in the first round.'”

A good chunk of the sample group -- 14 years -- was with Andy Reid as head coach, and he certainly put a premium on building along both lines. Of Reid’s 12 first-round picks, eight were linemen.

“Just being around Andy for so long and just talking to him about philosophy, it’s understandable,” Roseman said. “I do believe games are won and lost along the line of scrimmage on the offensive and defensive lines.”

Former Eagles' draft pick Jordan Poyer excited for opportunity with Bills

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Former Eagles' draft pick Jordan Poyer excited for opportunity with Bills

And then there's the former Eagle on the Bills who is a little less famous.
 
It was cataclysmic when Chip Kelly traded LeSean McCoy to the Bills. It was historic when Howie Roseman traded Jordan Matthews to the Bills.
 
Jordan Poyer's journey from Philly to Buffalo is a little bit different and a whole lot less well-known. But the one-time Eagles draft pick has become an important part of Sean McDermott's defense.
 
Poyer, who signed as a free agent with the Bills this past offseason, was the second of three Eagles seventh-round picks in 2013. He made the team as a long-shot cornerback and played in three games as a rookie before getting released on Oct. 19 so the Eagles could sign running back Matthew Tucker off their practice squad.
 
The Eagles hoped to land Poyer on the practice squad, but the Browns claimed him, and he wound up spending four years in Cleveland, playing in 45 games and starting four last year with two interceptions before his season ended with a horrific injury — a lacerated kidney.
 
He finally escaped Cleveland this spring, signing a four-year, $13 million deal with the Bills that includes $7.4 million in guaranteed money and he goes into the regular season as the Bills' starting free safety.
 
Not bad for the 46th defensive back taken in the 2013 draft.
 
“Being in Philadelphia, starting my career here was huge," Poyer said Thursday night after the Eagles-Bills preseason game at the Linc.
 
"I’m in Year 5 now and you never know what would have happened if I didn’t start out here, start my career here. It was a big part of my foundation, learning the NFL game."
 
The Browns went 12-47 while Poyer was in Cleveland, and he played under three head coaches and four defensive coordinators during his stay with Cleveland.
 
“It was a challenge," he said, shaking his head. "We all play this game to win football games. That’s the name of the business, the name of the game. That’s why we start playing when we’re little. Anytime you’re not winning it’s always tough.
 
"I’m trying to put that time of my life behind me now, I’m here in Buffalo now and happy here."

But the one good thing that happened to Poyer in Cleveland was the switch from corner to safety.
 
“It's a lot different and it took some time," he said. "But I feel good about it, felt good about making the switch. Took it and ran with it and learned the position.
 
"It's still a new position, and I still have a lot of things to learn, but I feel like it was good for me. Really one of the best things to happen to my career."

In Buffalo, Poyer's head coach, McDermott, and defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, are both former Eagles secondary coaches. Nobody has a better feel for the secondary than McDermott, who played in the same secondary as Mike Tomlin at William & Mary and worked under Jim Johnson for a decade in Philly before going to a Super Bowl with Ron Rivera in Carolina.

"It's a great situation for me with Sean and Leslie," Poyer said. "Sean coaches us every day, helps us get better, helps get the whole football team better. I learn something from him every day."
 
Poyer has played in more games than 24 of the defensive backs drafted ahead of him in 2013 and in more games than all but five of the 47 other seventh-round picks that year.
 
The only defensive back the Eagles have taken in the seventh round the last 50 years who's played in more career games is Kurt Coleman, another player who revived his career under McDermott.
 
To go from seventh-round pick to $7½ million in guaranteed money is quite a story, but Poyer is so grounded he said he doesn't really think about the big picture of his career arc.
 
“During the season, you’re moving so fast you don’t really have time to sit back and look at what you’ve accomplished or how far you’ve come," he said.
 
"At the end of the season or at the end of my career I’ll look back on it and soak in everything that I had to go through and got to where I am now, but right now, I'm just focused on getting ready (for opening day).
 
"Philly gave me a good opportunity, made a lot of good friends here and now excited to be here in Buffalo."

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

It happens this time every year. 

Two preseason games are now in the books and the overreaction portion of the program has commenced. It's only natural. We're seven-plus months removed from the Eagles' last regular-season game. You have an entire offseason of hype and buildup. There's free agency, the draft, OTAs, training camp, and finally, there's the wonderful world of exhibition games. We're dying for storylines and answers. And projections based on illusions become reality.

A stroll through some names of training camps past is a stark reminder not to go overboard anointing these guys the next big thing. Here are some blasts from the past: Henry Josey, Jeremy Bloom, JaCorey Shepherd, Gizmo Williams, Billy Hess. Remember them? No points off if you don't, but they were thought to be the answers in years past.   

Remember way back in the day, like Aug. 29, 2015? The Eagles played their third preseason against Green Bay. New Birds quarterback Sam Bradford's line that night: 10 for 10, 121 yards, three touchdowns and a 156.7 passer rating on three drives. They thought they had found their guy. Bradford went on to have a middling season with a 7-7 record as a starter. His individual stats matched the record, and a year later, he was dealt to Minnesota. His coach, Chip Kelly, did not last the season. 

Take last year for instance — Paul Turner was Jerry Rice reincarnated. Now, the receiving corps was awful and Turner, an undrafted free agent stuck with the practice squad, eventually got time with the club during the regular season. But we may want to hold off on his Canton enshrinement.

Which brings us to the consternation surrounding the 2017 Eagles' first-team offense and running game. Granted, sans two amazingly athletic plays by Carson Wentz in the Packers game, the first team has not looked ready for prime time. 

But let's take some things into account. Teams game plan minimally for preseason games. Unless, of course, you're Dom Capers and you blitz an entire exhibition game. The Eagles did not prepare for the extra men sent, therefore they didn't handle it well.

Thursday against the Bills, the Eagles' first-team offense was without left tackle Jason Peters. They were also missing Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles barely sniffed the field. That will hurt production. 

In the Packers game, 5-foot-9, 180-pound Donnel Pumphrey ran the ball off-tackle multiple times. That ain't happening in the regular season. Would you like to see Wentz protected better and the ones more productive? No question. Is it time to push the panic button? Certainly not.

The flip side is keeping some of the positive performances in perspective. It's beyond encouraging how Mychal Kendricks has looked through the first two games. But let's not lose sight of the non-factor he's been the last couple of seasons when things were real. 

There is not a bigger believer in Derek Barnett than me. From the moment I knew where the Eagles would be drafting, I wanted him in midnight green. I'm a firm believer he will be starting sooner rather than later. And he has not disappointed in the exhibition games. But some of the guys he is facing will be pumping gas in Jersey real soon. Not playing in the NFL.

Perspective and long views are not easily attained. But they're necessary tools when it comes to this time of year.