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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Eagles Watch - NFL Draft Edition

I will discuss what I think of the Eagles draft tomorrow after it is finished. Although I will comment about the Texans draft.

The pick makes no sense whatsoever. In relation to my earlier post, Mario Williams does not appear to possibly be the sort of all-time great player that Vince Young could be, he doesn't look like the sort of phenomonon that Reggie Bush looks like, and he is not even the best lineman in the draft, with D'Brickashaw being an all-around good offensive tackle already, who dominated constantly in college (and also dominated Mario Williams in the senior bowl). A very confusing decision. I can only conclude that taking Reggie Bush was so obvious that the team went overboard in trying to come up with reasons not to take him, and somehow came to the conclusion that the best way to start rebuilding the franchise is to take a top defensive end. When Mario Williams was quicker to reach a contract with the Texans than Bush, the Texans decided this meant Bush didn't want to play for them, so any remaining doubts about passing on Bush were swept away. They must think Mario Williams is the next Bruce Smith or Deacon Jones and be correct to even start justifying passing on Reggie Bush. Oh well. I hope Reggie Bush enjoys getting footballs from Drew Brees down in New Orleans.

But enough of that, the real reason I am writing this post is to tell you what I think are the best and worst Eagles draft picks of all time.

Best Pick: Chuck Bednarik, C/LB, #1 overall selection of 1949 NFL Draft

It's impossible to say that the drafting of Chuck Bednarik was not one of the all-time great decisions, seeing that he is a Hall of Fame player who was good at center and incredible at linebacker, at the same time no less. What makes this the greatest Eagles draft pick ever is that he played his entire 14-year career for the Eagles and missed only 3 games. Not only this, he played both sides of the ball until 1957, long after free substitution was allowed, and in 1960, at the age of 35, he went back to playing linebacker again in addition to center because of injuries to the starter. He contributed to the Eagles shutout-victory in the 1949 NFL Championship in his rookie year, and the Eagles would have definitely lost the 1960 NFL Championship, if they even got there with their depleted linebacking corp, if not for the 58 minutes Chuck Bednarik spent on the field, and the game-saving tackle of Green Bay running back Jim Taylor on the final play. Jim Taylor, by the way, was 10 years younger than Chuck and only 19 pounds lighter, and is also a member of the Hall of Fame.

Also, receiving consideration was Steve Van Buren, a #1 pick in 1944 who played halfback for the Eagles for all 8 years of his career, and was essential to winning the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championships. In addition, I would be remiss to not mention the late-Reggie White, who may not have been able to lead the Eagles to any championships, and he did leave the Eagles for the Packers where he was a factor in their Super Bowl win, but he did average more than one sack a game during his career, and set the career and single-season sack records for the Eagles before he left.

Worst Pick: Freddie Mitchell, WR, #25 overall selection of 2001 NFL Draft

What do Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson, and Steve Smith all have in common (other than the obvious)? They were all drafted after Freddie Mitchell, the man with too many names for himself and too little talent. How can a selection made immediatly before the Eagles went to 4 straight conference championships and 1 Super Bowl be the worst pick in the history of the Eagles? Because if the Eagles take any of the three named above, the Eagles probably would have won at least one Super Bowl and may have played in as many as three between 2002 and 2004. I'll go throught what happens in the parallel universe where the Eagles make a good decision at #25.

First of all, it was an interception caused by Freddie Mitchell running the wrong route that sealed the 2001 NFC Championship for the Rams, so if you feel particualrly vindictive you can add a third super bowl appearance that was missed because Mitchell was picked. The Rams went on lose to the Patriots, but then again Mike Martz is an idiot as head coach and even Bill Belichik couldn't believe the Patriots won that game. So that could be Superbowl win 0 that the Eagles missed. The Eagles would have had a chance to beat the Bucs and go to the Super Bowl in 2002 behind the receiver duo of an Antonio Freeman in his last decent year and Chad Johnson/Reggie Wayne/Steve Smith, all of whom had 50 or more receptions, compared to Mitchell's still-incredible 12.

The Eagles likely win the 2003 NFC Championship with Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, or Reggie Wayne as a #1 receiver. (Although in Reggie Wayne's case, not a terribly great #1, but then again he is in reality playing behind Marvin Harrison under Peyton Manning, so it is hard to say how he'd do as the go-to guy. Also, he is far better than any one of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, or Freddie Mitchell.) With a passing game that can win the game in addition to the three-headed monster of Staley-Buckhalter-Westbrook, the Eagles may have clinched HFA before the last week, all the starting running backs sit for the game, and Westbrook is not injured before the playoffs. Freddie Mitchell is not needed for 4th and 26 because there is no 4th and 26, as the Eagles demolish Green Bay's defense and win handily. Against the Panthers, the Eagles win in a shootout, as the Eagles have too many weapons on offense for Carolina to counter, even at its peak in the playoffs, especially compared to an unusually mediocre Rams offense that the Panther needed double-overtime to defeat. In Super Bowl 38, the Eagles and Patriots strengths and weaknesses face off, with the Eagles offense vs. the Patriots defense and the Patriots offense vs. the Eagles defense, respectively. So I think the Eagles with any of the three receivers would have had a 1 in 2 chance to win it.

In 2004, the Eagles don't get TO because they already have a #1 receiver and therefore focus on getting the "last player" needed to win a Super Bowl. They somehow acquire a top run-suffing defensive tackle through free agency, in addition to bringing back LB Jeremiah Trotter to see if he can still help out after flopping in Washington. If the Eagles drafted Steve Smith, maybe he is still destined to get injured, so the Eagles struggle a lot but still make the playoffs because their conference is terrible and the defense is better than it was in this reality. Given that in reality the Eagles burned through the playoffs without Owens, with a better defense against the run, making the playoff may be good enough. However, they still lose to New England, and it isn't close. However, if their receiver isn't injured for all or part of the season, they are just as dominant, and they may even win Super Bowl XXXIX by completely shutting down Corey Dillon.

In 2005, it is possible McNabb never has to go on injured reserve if the #1 receiver is not suspended, but even so, the trio of Smith/Johnson/Wayne, Reggie Brown, and Greg Lewis helps ensure that the Eagles don't reach the depths of offensive terribleness they did in reality. And a Reggie Wayne/Brown starting duo in 2006 might just be one of the best starting WR pair ever, considering media marketability along with football ability. The Eagles going into 2006 have a stout run defense, a pass defense that is about to match its publicity with actual performance, and an offense that is explosive in all aspects.

So there you have it. Freddie Mitchell was such a bad pick that it hypothetically denied the Eagles as many as two dditional Super Bowl appearances and at least one Super Bowl win, which would have just been the start of an NFL dynasty. I'd say that's a lot worse than Mike Mamula making bad '90s Eagles teams worse. The only comparable pick I can think of that had the same sort of obvious negative impact on the team that made it was the Tennessee Titans decision to pick Kevin Dyson instead of Randy Moss, which in the near-future could have won the Super Bowl against the Rams, where they ended up one yard short of sending the game of overtime. The Titans would also end up a few games short of reaching the Super Bowl throughout the first few years of the new millenium.

Unlike in the case of the Titans, there is still hope that a championship will be won by the current group. The good news is that the core members of the 2001-2004 run are actually not all core members. Duce Staley, Bobby Carpenter, Troy Vincent, and whoever played strong safety were all replaced before they reached terminal decline. Both lines have also seen significant turnover. McNabb has at least 4 good years left, and the wide receivers and running backs are young. L.J. Smith came in just before Chad Lewis suffered a career-ending injury, and much of the depth is young as well. The only currently-unreplacable players in danger of reaching the twilight of their career are Jon Runyan, Brian Dawkins, and Jevon Kearse. Maybe the 2006 draft has a solution or two to those cases. Maybe the solution is already an Eagle. Next season the Eagles will be back and better in every respect, and maybe even better than they were in 2004.