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.”

Report: Eagles work weight incentive into LeGarrette Blount's contract

Report: Eagles work weight incentive into LeGarrette Blount's contract

The Eagles' biggest back might be getting a bit smaller in the coming weeks.

According to a tweet from ESPN's Field Yates, LeGarrette Blount has an incentive in his contract with the Eagles that will net him $50,000 if he weighs in between 240 and 245 pounds when the team reports for training camp on July 24. Blount's one-year deal carries a $1.25 million cap, including a $900,000 base salary as well as a $200,000 signing bonus.

Currently, the Eagles' website lists the two-time Super Bowl champion running back at 6-foot, 250 pounds — at least 30 pounds heavier than any back currently on the roster. 

When asked how much he weighs at an introductory press conference last month, Blount responded, "The weight I need to be at."

Weight clauses have become more and more common, especially with running backs. Seattle's Eddie Lacy earned $55,000 in May when he tipped the scales at 255 pounds (or fewer) and the Seahawks' bruising back will have the chance to earn another $330,000 over the course of six more weigh-ins through the end of the regular season.

The same goes for Atlanta defensive lineman Dontari Poe, who could bank as much as $500,000 in bonuses if he slims down to 330 pounds from his listed 346 pounds.

Eagles have NFL's best offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus

Eagles have NFL's best offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus

Thanks to Lane Johnson’s suspension and a few injuries, the Eagles' offensive line unit wasn’t what most expected it to be in 2016. Should things go according to plan on the O-line in 2017, expectations are high. For Pro Football Focus, they’re as high as it gets.

PFF ranked the Eagles’ O-line No. 1 in the entire league heading into this season, citing the fact that it has the “fewest holes.”

Center Jason Kelce is considered their biggest question mark, but even though his abilities have faded a bit with age, he hasn’t missed a snap in two seasons. That has to count for something.

Allen Barbre and second-year Eagle Brandon Brooks, who allowed just one sack last season, complete the line’s interior. Then, of course, the tackle tandem of Jason Peters and Lane Johnson is hard to beat. PFF says Johnson, when on the field, was the best right tackle last season. Johnson would agree.

Even beyond the first-team unit, the Eagles have experience. Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo both saw unexpected snaps as rookies last season because of the reshuffling. That should help moving forward.

Rounding out PFF’s top three are the Browns and Steelers. Cleveland boosted its corps by signing J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler in free agency. The Steelers had the best unit during the second half of last season.

More notably for Eagles fans, the Cowboys come in at No. 9 in PFF’s rankings after owning one of the league’s best O-lines in recent years. Ronald Leary and Doug Free are gone, and La’el Collins’ move to right tackle is not a sure bet for success.

Washington sits two slots below at No. 11. PFF considers continuity the 'Skins' greatest strength — they return all five O-line starters from last season and four of five from 2015.

And the Giants, well, it’ll take some scrolling to reach their spot on the list: No. 28. Left tackle Ereck Flowers was the worst among his position in pressures allowed as a rookie. Eli Manning could be in for a busy season.