The NFL Draft is possibly the biggest phenomenon the league has to offer behind the Super Bowl of course. It is here where stars are born, dreams are fulfilled, and the pipeline of the NFL’s future continues to take its course. But the NFL draft goes well beyond a team signing off on a card, picking up a phone and delivering a call to your future favorite player. The process is almost a never ending cycle where as soon as one class has graduated to the next level, the studies on the proceeding group picks up almost immediately. Scouts study film tirelessly over the summer gathering as much information as possible on a player to identify which prospects could be the ‘next big thing’. Then the upcoming season happens as you watch the players to see just how much they have improved or regressed across the board. Hits or misses happen long before players ever actually take a professional snap. You could have a certain grade on a player prior to the season and then the prospect goes and does something inexplicable. Some good, some bad but either way, you’re stuck wondering ‘how did I miss this?’ Sometimes injuries happen, a dip in production takes place, or sometimes a player isn’t able to reach the lofty expectations set for him heading into the season. So you talk to your colleagues, you talk to people close to the situation of the prospect, and sometimes even speak with the prospects themselves in order to gain a better understanding of just who this prospect is.

Yet when all is said and done, you find yourself back in the same position as you starting; Grinding the tape. So you watch until in some cases you have a few years worth of information on this prospect. All this information gathered up to interpret a sort of ranking separating the prospect — a detailed set of information making up of the comparisons of strengths and weaknesses , a discography of potential character and injury concerns, and the analytics on which players are better now versus the one you expect to be better in five years. Hints the old argument ‘ceiling vs. floor’; player A can come in today and produce at a significant level to help the team but theres a belief that he will never get much better than he is right now. Or player B, who isn’t as prepared to produce as early as player A but by the time both players are up for a contract extension player B will command a better market based on his development. It’s the conversation that dominates draft rooms across the league and here today we’re here to discuss how the decisions are decided on and the process it takes to get to them. We’ll include examples from either a real life Eagles circumstance or a projected Eagles draft board scenario.

value, Value, VALUE:

  • This is the most important word of the draft season. Fans will try to convince you (or themselves) that the juice was/was not worth the squeeze, weather it be selecting a player at a certain spot on the board or making sure you aren’t getting fleeced in a potential trade offer. The are certain parameters set in the market that place certain positions in higher needs than others which hints at the reasons every position has a different market value. For example its safe to say the argument can be made that Miles Sanders is a more important factor to the Eagles roster than lets say Josh Sweat or Derek Barrett, right? Yet on the open market an EDGE will get paid just as much if not more than a running back on just about every occasion. Why? Because running backs can’t sack the quarterback, of course. Taking a look at the league average in positional salaries, for the most part you can get a glimpse on how the league values each position compared to the next.
Photo: Pro Football Focus

A.) Picks:

  • Each selection in the NFL Draft holds weight because every pick is another opportunity to land on a game changing prospect. Unless of course, you’re Howie Roseman who has only drafted two pro bowlers since 2016; the first of which has recently been traded to Indianapolis and the second got in by way of a ‘Madden Fan Vote’. Yet in Philadelphia there is a glimmer of hope as the Eagles lead the NFL with 11 total selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. Now while it would be nice, just because the Eagles lead the NFL in picks doesn’t mean they will be picking all 11. In fact if you’re an Eagles fan then you know that the team has made 29 draft day trades since 2010 and Howie Roseman has been in charge of most–if not all of them. Speaking of trades the Eagles recently made a trade of themselves with the Miami Dolphins, moving back six spots in the draft and coming away with an extra first round pick in next years draft. In order to get an understanding of how this trade and many other trades involving significant draft compensation has come into place we learn about the NFL Draft Value Chart.
Photo: SB Nation

The Draft Value Chart came to fruition back in 1989, when former University of Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson decided to take the job with the Dallas Cowboys and if anyone could explain how or why the chart came to exist, it should be the man who helped put together the grand scheme.

This elaborate plan helped turn a 1-15 laughing stock of a team in Dallas into a full blown dynasty. This same chart or at least many variations of it thanks to changes in the collective bargaining agreement, have been the driving force behind many of the draft day trades you see today.

I would say that, in general, the trades over the last several years for the most part have been, let’s call them within 5 to 10 percent, pretty equitable trades. So, for you to have a chart that’s different than the other 31 charts isn’t really that productive because now we’re just arguing about which chart – ‘My chart says this. Your chart says that.’ I would say everybody probably uses about the same value chart. I’d say in our draft trade negotiations through the years, especially the last two or three years, there hasn’t been a lot of, ‘My chart says this. Your chart says that.’ Now 10 or 15 years ago there was some of that. ‘Oh, here’s what we think it should be.’ Well, the other team’s in a different ballpark because they’re looking at a different chart. I would say that when you look at the trades now, over the past few years, a majority of them fall within what we would say is a range of a fair trade. What the going rate would be is what the team gave up and what the team got is about what you would expect them to get, whether it’s our trade or not. I’m just looking league wide. The first round is a little bit different because you’re trading for a very specific player at that point. Not that you’re not trading for a player in the second and third round – I’m not saying that – when a team moves up, they move up to take a certain player that they want. But not everybody’s necessarily after that player, whereas in the first five, 10 picks, whatever it is, when you’re trading there you’re trading for a certain guy and when they trade out of it they know that they’re trading away from that player. It might be one or two players but it’s a much more defined situation.” – Bill Belichick

Aside from trading players once you start getting into the context of the distribution of contracts based on when and where a player is selected, you begin to understand not only why each selection holds a certain weight, but it also brings us to our next topic in hand.

B.) Player:

  • So remember earlier when we discussed positional value when it comes to the market? Well that methodology comes full circle on draft day. So not only are certain positions more valuable on the open market but when it comes to drafting them, that value essentially quadruples. Think about it like this; with Philadelphia sitting at 12, EDGE is certainly a possibility. Kwity Pay, Jaelen Phillips, Azeez Ojulari each have a chance to hear there name called when the commissioner announces the Eagles selection. Why? Well its not just because Howie Roseman really likes trench players; see currently on the roster the Eagles have 33 year old Brandon Graham, a high quality rotational pass rushing piece in Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Certainly not a group that you can say will be in tack a few years down the line. So instead of paying a player $20m per year and significantly impacting your ability to build a competitive roster for the long term. Why not draft a high quality prospect that can potentially give you close to the same production over the next five years for half the price? Thus addressing a position of need as well as saving a large sum of salary cap down the line. Or in the case of the running back position, you can see the complete opposite affect. It is generally frowned upon drafting selecting a running back on day one of the draft, especially inside the top ten. Typically the generational type backs are the only ones at the position to crack the top ten, with Saquon Barkley being the most recent example. Beyond that position has become devalued in both the open market as the second lowest in average annual salary per position. As well as in draft rooms where general managers and most coaches view the position as replaceable. So long to the days of a general workhorse back (with the exception of a few), and hello RBBC; the system of multiple players of lower value used to collaboratively replicate the desired result in the running game.

Yet all of these strategic positional and salary monitoring being done by franchises are done in part for one reason, and one reason only. To set the franchise up in a great position both before and after the impending super contract of the franchise quarterback takes center stage. Which is what makes this draft crucial for Philadelphia to say the least. Reports have been swirling about a potential split within the Novacare Complex on whether the Eagles should view Jalen Hurts as a franchise quarterback. When you add in the fact that Hurts was not selected in the first round which doesn’t offer Philadelphia the luxury of having a fifth year option down the road, with one season down the drain Hurts is essentially on the clock in terms of a future contract. Three years and counting in fact; which makes every decision that much more important. It is here you begin to realize the importance of what could be considered the ‘El Gordo’ (the largest lottery in the world, residing in Spain) of the NFL; a quality quarterback on a rookie deal. Having the most important position in all of sports solidified at a cheap price, which allows you to supply him and the rest of the roster with as much talent as possible to built a contender.

Big Boards:

  • This might be the hardest and most important part of the draft process when it comes to scouting. The ability to put together a big board fitting what you know about yours or other front offices around the league. Once again, this aspect is bigger than best player available or addressing a need. It is here where value is determined; in this aspect many different factors are considered before the finishing touches are put on a big board. In many cases factors like measurables, character concerns, or an injury history may push some players down or completely off a draft board depending on the front office. Which is why you hear concerns for players like Devonta Smith, Micah Parsons, or a Jaelen Phillips heading into the draft. Teams create these boards to go through hundreds of different mock drafts attempting to create a life-like scenario that prepares the team for each possible outcome come draft day. There are no shorts cuts, no bypasses and no easy ways out when it comes to developing a draft board. All of the long hours of film study; trusting your eyes and not your ears all comes to the frontline as scouts bang the table for a certain prospect. And not only are you essentially battling your own colleagues in efforts to make sure your work and studies don’t go unnoticed but in most instances the general managers as well. Of course Eagles fans know this well, as it was rumored that scouts were really high on Justin Jefferson heading into last years draft, but as we know the Eagles instead chose to select Jalen Reagor going against the initial draft board.
“The challenge, is always staying organized, keeping the board up to date, making sure the reports are detailed and finding the spots where scouts grades and scouts directors grades may vary, things like that. But big or small school, you don’t want to miss anybody.” – Ted Sundquist (former Denver Broncos general manager)

There is a big battle that takes places within there meetings and war rooms. We touched on it a bit early, the legendary battle of ceiling vs floor; or as we’ll call it in this instance Process vs. Results. In recent history the Eagles have seemed to choose the latter, as high quality collegiate production became a bit of a trend in Eagles selections. Andre Dillard was a three year starter on the blindside, where he was highly productive as a pass blocker on an offense that threw the ball at an extremely high rate. Derek Barnett was the first ever freshman to start along the Tennessee defensive line and was highly accomplished leading the SEC in tackles for loss as a freshman, breaking many Reggie Whites school records, and was named an All-conference player in what many consider to be the most dominant conference in college football. There are obviously many other cases of this, where this just historically seems like Philadelphia’s philosophical beliefs.

A.) Process:

However, the 2021 NFL Draft could offer the Eagles a bit of a reprieve to the Philadelphia as there are more than a fair share of guys with high upside that could offer the Eagles a chance to replenish the roster with an infusion of youth. Guys that have shown some potential throughout the course of their college careers but you know under the right tutelage could become a general force in this league. The first name that comes to mind when you think of this is Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari; a prospect with a phenomenal athleticism and high quality explosion upon the snap. Wrecked havoc against some of the best OT the country had to offer. Despite the flashed shown, there seems to be a set of untapped potential Ojulari possess. The round one product has the potential to become a legit force at the next level. Guys like this have the opportunity to produce immediately if deployed in a correctly in the right scheme early in their career but should be viewed more as long term investments. In some sequences guys have produced despite being generally new to the position or offers a unique skill set but could use a bit more development. Think of this as the Brandon Graham or Josh Sweat approach, guys who once the light flicked on a few years into their career they seemed to figure it all out.

Examples:

Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina:

  • Ifeati Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse:

B.) Results:

  • Now here is where it gets interesting and honestly is the Eagles bread and butter up to this point. Both Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie have made it know how they have opted to add players that can help the franchise continue to chase a second Lombardi Trophy during what they perceived as their championship window. While this plan included signing a multitude of veterans on short term deals, the draft ideology was something of a similar focus. A year ago with the division in shambles Philadelphia thought that they were a legitimate (and healthy) deep threat away from competing in not just the NFC East, but the entire NFC. So at 21 they selected Jalen Reagor which isn’t necessarily, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but is exactly the type of positional value reach we’re looking to avoid. A year prior the team tried to get ahead of the curve by selecting the eventual Jason Peters replacement, and while three years in, no one truly knows what the team has in Andre Dillard, his profile was one of a prospect with quality pass blocking traits thats should translate smoothly to the next level should he strengthen his base. Then of course prior to that they traded their first round pick, but with their first selection in the draft they took a tight end with production and traits that should translate into a West Coast system that has a heavy usage of the position. There are a few guys in this class that may have capped out in terms of their development but based on where they are as a prospect should not only be productive immediately but should be able to build a long term career based on their traits.

examples:

  • Patrick Surtain, CB. Alabama

  • Devonta Smith. WR, Alabama

Need vs. BPA:

  • There’s a conversation to be had on whether a team should draft based on need or best player available. Of course, BPA doesn’t apply in some instances which is why teams always rely on their draft boards. For example, there is a possibility that one of the four coveted quarterbacks is on the board at five when the Bengals are on the clock. For the sake of conversation, lets say this quarterback is Trey Lance — who might be the best player available on many of the quarterback needy teams. But to a team like Cincinnati, who spent the first overall pick on a quarterback a year prior, might not see the same value in Lance that a Denver or Washington would. In the case, the question becomes: who are the best players available at a position of value and what is our ranking on them? A similar situation to what the Eagles could be in if they’re on the board at 12, where quality players at each WR, EDGE, and CB are available. The team obviously has needs at needs at each of the positions respectively, but would it really be smart of the team to go positional prospect hunting with all of the needs on this roster? The chances that a prospect viewed as ‘can’t miss’ is available at this point in the draft would be generally slim. On the other hand, it becomes a pick’em of sorts — which position is of the most value to you? In Philadelphia’s case given the quality of depth at the receiver position in this class it would be wise to select the cornerback at 12. This isn’t to say that guys that can be of service won’t be available in the later rounds, as the CB class this year is pretty deep as well. With the prospect of a Patrick Surtain and/or Jaycee Horn being on the board, the opportunity grab a prospect that is a seemless fit in new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme is almost to much to pass on. Which brings us to our next conversation.

Scheme vs. Talent:

  • There are a few instances in the draft where one player is very clearly more talented than the other. However in the same breath there are cases where the least talented player is actually a better scheme fit for what said franchise likes to do. As we were speaking on the topic, it begged the question to be raised while each one is a great prospect, who would be a better fit in Philadelphia, Surtain or Horn? Well, despite the elite level prospect Surtain is projected to be, South Carolina CB, Jaycee Horn actually projects to be the better fit in Philadelphia based on how he was deployed. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jordan Reid of The Draft Network and he gave his opinions on the topic.
“All of those prospects can be clumped into the same cluster as the top three names in the class at this position. [VT Cornerback Caleb] Farley’s injury was a bit of a cluster buster in that there will be some teams that are more hesitant than others depending on the severity of his back injury. With the Eagles, Horn is the best fit because of his natural abilities in press man, which is a heavy part of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s defensive scheme.”

The conversation of scheme vs. talent dates back to well beyond our time, however the people of Philadelphia please don’t let Chip Kelly’s arrogance persuade your opinion on this topic. In fact there are even a few cases in Philadelphia that this has worked , think Patrick Robinson, the man who’s contributions to the 2017 Super Bowl team will never be forgotten. Though what many don’t remember is that prior to the trade for Ronald Darby that moved Robinson to the slot, he was aligned as the outside CB for most of the off-season. It wasn’t a really good one to say the least.

Yet the difference between Robinson in the nickel and Robinson in the slot was, massive to say the least. Aside from the aforementioned cornerback battle, there are many times during this draft where the Eagles will be faces with these circumstances, perhaps even in the second round. See a mental note to keep track on any Howie Roseman-led Eagles team is that in four out of the seven drafts Roseman has been involved in, Philadelphia has selected an offensive or a defensive lineman in the first or second round. So despite acknowledging the Eagles should wait until later in the draft to address the wide receiver position, it’s possible that guys like Creed Humphrey, Landon Dickerson, Wyatt Davis, and Deonte Brown could become higher priority than a WR early in the draft. If you don’t learn anything from the folks here at PHL Eagles Nation, remember positional value is EVERYTHING in the NFL.


Featured Image: Jeff Skversky/6ABC Philadelphia


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