MOBILE, Ala. – At last year's Senior Bowl, general manager Howie Roseman and his brand new head coach traveled to Mobile for their first joint scouting trip as the architects of the Eagles roster. Armed with the fourth overall pick, Roseman and Chip Kelly took notice of the dancing bear from Oklahoma, tackle
"Lane's one of those guys, when he moves his feet, you just kind of go 'Wow,'" Roseman recalled Tuesday. "He's got rare movement skills for a 300-pounder and then he has length and he has a great work ethic. He's one of those guys where you look at the process ... His game tape got better and better as the year went on, and then he comes here and the process as a whole was a really good process. That's what made us feel really good about him."
At the time, Johnson may not have widely been considered a top-five pick. But after watching Johnson improve throughout his senior season and excel during the pre-draft process, the Eagles eventually tabbed the Sooner as the fourth overall pick. Therein lies the key to understanding the importance of the Senior Bowl. As Roseman explained, the Senior Bowl remains an essential part of the pre-draft process. It is, however, just a small part of the evaluation that is placed on players leading up to the NFL Draft.
"It's great to be here, but at the end of the day it's part of the process," said Roseman. "You're talking about an All-Star game. It's a part of the process. If somebody's doing really well in this setting or doesn't play well in this setting, it's not going to affect our total opinion of these guys."
The Senior Bowl does mark an important stage of the offseason, however. While Roseman and the rest of the Eagles personnel department have been scouring college football for future Eagles since last spring, the staff trip to Mobile marks the start of the inclusion of the Eagles coaches into the evaluation process.
"This is their first exposure," said Roseman. "They haven't really been part of the process. We give them a bunch of names that we want them to interview and then they'll go back and they'll watch those guys and get involved in free agency too. When you talk about the season just ending and then evaluating our own team is the first order of business. Then getting some time off and then getting right into the Senior Bowl. A lot of times, that's the first exposure and, for us, we've been watching these guys since May. So we've gone through the season, we've gone through our scouting meetings and we feel like we know these guys. So we're just trying to impart some of our thoughts with (the coaches)."
Along the way, Roseman and his crew have culled a list of 600 or so draft-eligible players down to under 200 players who will end up on the Eagles draft board. With the current board written in pencil, there are still over three months of draft process left that will determine how the Eagles ultimately rank this class of prospects. At the Senior Bowl, Kelly gets his first look at some of the players who will factor into some of the decisions that will shape the future Eagles roster.
"He's always going to be a part of the process and that's the partnership that you have with your head coach," Roseman said of Kelly. "You want to make sure that you're putting in front of him players that fit what he's looking for and that he can evaluate them as well. Our first job as a personnel department is to try and narrow it down. We spend a lot of time on 600 guys, making it down to 400, making it down to 200, making it down to a manageable number for our coaches. We do that, and there's a lot of trust on their part of us doing that, making sure that when they come out here and go: ‘Hey why isn't this guy on my list?' We can explain it pretty quickly to them why we got rid of that guy and why we've narrowed it down."
In addition to the on-field evaluations this week, the Senior Bowl provides an opportunity for the Eagles as an organization to better acquaint themselves with a group of would-be Eagles. The game tape may tell one story, but the Eagles are also looking for the right kind of personalities to bring inside the locker room.
"We talk a lot as a scouting staff about knowing a lot about a little instead of a little about a lot," Roseman said. "And that's really important for us because, at the end of the day, we're only pulling seven, eight, nine names off the board. And we're maybe adding 10 free agents, so we're only really making decisions on 20 guys. And if we're right on 60 percent of them, we're going to do a phenomenal job. So let's make sure the guys that we like we're spending a lot of time on knowing everything we can so there aren't as many surprises.
"You want to know that you're bringing in guys who will fit into your culture. Right now we have a good culture and that's the fun part of it. You want to make sure you continue that and you don't want to bring in anybody who's going to rock the boat. It's such a team sport. You're talking about 53 guys coming together and you think about where all these guys come from. It's different backgrounds, different cities, you have to fit them all in."
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