Player development is crucial to a team’s ability to sustain success. There is a reason that some good teams stay good and some bad teams remain bad. Bad teams have higher picks and should be bringing in more talent. But if that team doesn't develop the talent, you end up with wasted draft picks. You must draft the right players and then you must develop them.
Let's take a look at the returning players on year’s offense ...
The only players who were not drafted by the Eagles are Mathis and Peters. Mathis had 22 career starts prior to coming to the Eagles and he was brought in to compete for a roster spot. Peters is the only player the Eagles went out and acquired to fill a specific hole on the offense. They traded three draft picks for him back in 2009 and also signed him to a contract extension.
Not only is the offense almost entirely homegrown, it is a great unit. McCoy is arguably the best running back in the league. Kelce has a chance to be among the best centers in the game. Johnson showed big time potential in his rookie season. Ertz is coming off of a terrific rookie season. Foles is coming off an amazing 2013 season. If he continues to play like that, Foles could end up being one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Go beyond the starters and you see still more talent.
The Eagles hit on high picks (Johnson, Maclin). They had good second round results (Ertz, McCoy). The mid-rounds delivered some good players (Foles, Herremans). The Eagles also got players in the late rounds (Cooper, Kelce, Celek). This isn't about getting lucky with a player or two. The Eagles clearly have done a good job of identifying and developing talent.
Let's now take a look at the defense ...
Five of the players in the front seven are homegrown Eagles. Cox, Logan, Cole and Kendricks were all drafted. Thornton was added as an undrafted free agent. Once again, those are good results.
The secondary was built more from outside additions. Only Nate Allen has been an Eagle from the start. The other three players were signed as veteran free agents and brought in to start.
Overall, more than half of the defensive starters are homegrown. The players were taken in various rounds and in various years. There are also ascending players. Cox and Kendricks have Pro Bowl potential, but have yet to consistently play up to that level. Thornton had a breakout season in 2013. If he builds on that, he could also find himself as a Pro Bowl candidate.
The Eagles have spent some significant resources for the secondary and the last few years have offered some hope. In 2012, the Eagles drafted
Stability with the scheme and coaching staff will help the current players to develop. They have roles that give them a chance to succeed. They aren't asked to do things they can't. The staff also spends a lot of time focusing on fundamentals. That paid off with improved tackling in 2013.
Jim Johnson ran the defense in 2008 and then passed away the following summer. Sean McDermott took over for 2009 and 2010. He was replaced by Juan Castillo for 2011 and part of 2012. Then Todd Bowles ran the defense for the final 10 games of that season. Each of those coaches ran the 4-3 defense, but they all did things very differently beyond that basic fact. This meant the coaches had different ideas of how to use players and the types of players they wanted.
This changed when Chip Kelly took over. He hired Bill Davis to run the defense. Kelly lets Davis run the show, but Kelly chose the 3-4 defense and put an emphasis on big players. There is now a long-term commitment to a scheme and a type of player. This will help the scouting department to bring in the right kind of guys.
The draft is hard for all 32 teams. Everyone has picks they would like to take back and change. The key is to be right more than you are wrong. The Eagles have done that. They have done a great job of building an offense. The next step is to hit some home runs on the defensive side of the ball. There is still hope with current veterans and rookies.