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We continue our look at the best and worst Eagles draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 with a look at the defense.
Click here for the best and worst Eagles draft picks on offense.
Best: Jerome Brown, 1st round, 1987
This comes down to Jerome Brown and Fletcher Cox. Their numbers are pretty similar through five years, which tragically is how long Brown played before he was killed at the age of 27 in a one-car crash in his hometown of Brooksville, Florida. As good as Cox is, Brown was as dominating as any defensive tackle I ever saw, both rushing the passer and stopping the run. In a few years, Cox might get the edge, but for now, I have to go with Brown.
Worst: Leonard Renfro, 1st round, 1993
Rich Kotite was not very good at this drafting thing. In 1993, the Eagles took defensive tackle Leonard Renfro in the first round. In 1994, they took defensive tackle Bruce Walker in the second round. Those two busts go head-to-head here, and it's not an easy call. Renfro was the 24th player taken overall in 1993. How bad was he? Defensive coordinator Bud Carson refused to play him, but owner Norman Braman — upset that he was getting no return out of a first-round pick — overruled the legendary Carson and forced his hand. Renfro wound up starting two games in the middle of 1993 — against the Cowboys and Cards. Both teams ran right at Renfro, and the Cowboys amassed 271 rushing yards, including a career-high 237 from Emmitt Smith, and a week later the Cards netted 243 rushing yards, including a career-high 160 from Ron Moore. Renfro never started another game and was out of football a year later. But Walker may have been worse. He never played a snap for the Eagles, spent part of 1995 with the Patriots, and was out of football by 1996. But we'll go with Renfro because he was a first-round pick and the Eagles' opponents averaged 257 rushing yards per game that he started. One of the worst draft picks in franchise history.
Best: Clyde Simmons, 9th round, 1986
This is really a two-man race between Trent Cole, a fifth-round pick, and Clyde Simmons, a ninth-round pick. (Remember, Reggie White was a supplemental pick who had played in the USFL, so he's not eligible.) Cole had 85½ sacks in 10 years with the Eagles, and Simmons had 76 sacks in eight years, so those numbers are fairly close, with Simmons averaging one sack more per season. The big difference is that Simmons was as good as anyone against the run. Now, Cole, despite his lack of size, always gave a tremendous effort against the run. But Simmons was just one notch above.
Worst: Jon Harris, 1st round, 1997
OK, good luck sorting this one out. The Eagles have drafted no fewer than six defensive ends in the first three rounds who averaged fewer than three sacks per season while wearing an Eagles uniform: Greg Jefferson, Victor Abiamiri, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Jerome McDougle, Jon Harris and Marcus Smith. They're the only team in NFL history to draft three defensive ends in the first round, none of whom recorded more than four sacks. It really comes down to those three — McDougle, Harris and Smith. The jury is still out on Smith, and as unproductive as McDougle was, it has to be Harris, who was out of football before his 25th birthday. He had two career sacks, and only two first-round defensive ends since sacks became an official stat in 1982 have had fewer.
Best: Seth Joyner, 8th round, 1986
A no-brainer, not only because Joyner was such a brilliant player — the only player in NFL history with 50 sacks and 25 interceptions — but because the Eagles have drafted so poorly at outside linebacker over the years. William Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 1991, had a terrific Pro Bowl career, but Joyner was a unique outside linebacker who played like an inside linebacker against the run and a safety against the pass. It's a travesty he has not yet been enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame. Heck, you can make a pretty good case that he belongs in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Worst: Alonzo Johnson, 2nd round, 1986
Same draft. Different result. Johnson, taken 160 picks before Joyner, started nine games as a rookie in 1986, played in three games in 1987, went into drug rehab and never played again. He was out of football soon after his 24th birthday.
Best: Jeremiah Trotter, 3rd round, 1998
If we went back to 1949, it would be Chuck Bednarik, maybe the greatest Eagle of all-time. But we're starting in 1970, so it's gotta be Trott. He made four Pro Bowls as an Eagle — two in his first stint and two in his second stint, following two unremarkable seasons with the Redskins — and along with Brian Dawkins was truly the heart of the Jim Johnson defense. The only defensive players the Eagles have drafted since 1970 picked to more Pro Bowls are Dawk and Eric Allen. Pretty darn good company.
Worst: Barry Gardner, 2nd round, 1999
Donovan McNabb wasn't the only Chicago native the Eagles took early in the 1999 draft. Barry Gardner, who had played Pop Warner football against McNabb as a kid, was the 35th pick overall, an early second-round choice. But their careers took divergent paths. McNabb became a perennial All-Pro quarterback, but Gardner started only 18 games as an Eagle before bouncing around to the Browns, Jets and Patriots and drifting out of the league.
Best: Eric Allen, 2nd round, 1988
There've been a lot of good ones. Bobby Taylor. Lito Sheppard. Sheldon Brown. But E.A. is in a class by himself and should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Heck, if you're going to put Aeneas Williams in, you have to put Eric Allen in. During his seven years with the Eagles, he led the entire NFL with 34 interceptions, four more than Deion Sanders, who had the second most. Including playoffs, Allen had nine INT returns for touchdowns — only five players in NFL history (including Asante Samuel) had more. Only three second-round picks in NFL history had more interceptions. The best cornerback in Eagles history.
Worst: Curtis Marsh, 3rd round, 2011
Not a lot to choose from on this side of the ledger. The Eagles have done well for themselves over the years drafting cornerbacks. But Marsh was a huge disappointment. He was the 90th pick overall but lasted only two years plus a few games in the NFL. He's one of only 23 cornerbacks taken in the first three rounds since 1970 to never start a game in the NFL.
Not much we can say about Dawk that hasn't already been said. The greatest safety in Eagles history and a Hall of Fame hopeful, Dawk roamed the deep secondary with class and distinction for a decade. He combined ferocious physical skills with an incredible football mind and the product was simply one of the best safeties in NFL history. Hard to imagine 60 players being drafted ahead of Dawkins in 1996, but they were. Including people such as Lawrence Phillips, Alex Molden, Cedric Jones, Reggie Brown (not that one), John Michels, Andre Johnson, Alex Van Dyke, Leeland McElroy, Bryant Mix, Israel Ifeanyi, James Manley, Dedric Mathis and Michael Cheever. See you in Canton, Dawk!
Worst: Jaiquawn Jarrett, 2nd round, 2011
Yes, that 2011 draft strikes again. Jarrett was the 54th player taken in the 2011 draft, and the fact that he played college ball at Temple made it a popular pick. Then he started to play, and all of a sudden it wasn't that popular a pick. Jarrett struggled from the get-go both against the run and in coverage and after starting two games as a rookie, the Eagles released him one week into his second year to make room on the roster for … yes, Mardy Gilyard. Jarrett hung on three years with the Jets and was even named AFC Defensive Player of the Week once. But he was only 26 when he played his last NFL game.