We live in a world where numbers matter. We hear about a player's time in the 40-yard dash, the number of times he can bench press 225 pounds, how many yards he ran for as a college junior. Numbers. Can't get away from 'em. But as the Eagles know very well, there is a lot more than numbers to make a player NFL worthy.
As the coaches and talent evaluators watch endless hours of tape on a player and replay a snap three, four, five times and jot down the angle at which a player bends, and how he bursts off the line of scrimmage, and the ability the young man has to bounce off of the first defender to pick up more yardage, they know they must learn more about a player than how he looks on the large screen.
They must dig deeper.
That requires a couple of areas of research. First, the security staff receives a list of draft-eligible players and spends days and weeks and sometimes longer researching the backgrounds of those players. Every player has a past. And no matter how polished and professional a draftable player appears, he remains a very young man. And very young men are prone to make mistakes.
One of the most intriguing players for me in this draft is Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. He's got size, he has tons of talent and he was highly productive in his career at Colorado. Smith matched up favorably against the better wide receivers he faced, and many believe he has the ability to be a top 15 draft pick. But there are reports circulating now that Smith has enough off-the-field concerns that some teams have actually taken him off of their draft boards.
Why? What did he do? Nobody is saying a thing on the record. But you can be sure that teams, and the Eagles are no doubt one of them, researching Smith from every angle. Coaches talk to other coaches. The team talks to the player. Teachers are questioned. Friends are investigated. Records are run, and if a player has a rap sheet, each incident is investigated.
The Eagles take this part of their evaluation very seriously. They want players who are character guys, who are going to handle the job in a professional manner, and who are mature enough to resist the temptations the NFL offers. They don't want players they have to worry about night after night, away from the safety and structure of the NovaCare Complex. They don't want players who are going to get in trouble with the law.
This is not to suggest the Eagles are a bunch of choir boys. There aren't a lot of those kinds of young people out there, football players or not. But the Eagles are looking to bring in players who have learned from mistakes they have made and who won't make those mistakes again. They are looking for players they can count on in tough times, who have the discipline to put the job first and sacrifice for the good of the team.
Another area of research comes on a more personal level. The Eagles want players, and you have heard Andy Reid and Howie Roseman say this over and over again, who love the game. They want players who "fly around the field," who "play with a high motor," who "work as hard as anybody out there." These are all catch phrases we have heard from the Eagles over the years, but they really are true.
Hey, as talented as Shawn Andrews was when the Eagles drafted him from Arkansas in 2004, he didn't love the game as others do. Oh, Andrews would work hard and he put in his time and that, combined with his natural, out-of-this-world skill set, made him a Pro Bowl player. At the end of the day, though, Andrews never had that intensity, that incredible love of the game and all the time it takes to conquer, that allowed him to overcome a back injury that effectively ended his Eagles career.
This is a player who was talented enough to be an all-time great, and injuries certainly contributed to the steps backward in his career. But Andrews didn't live the game and love it to the cruel end of every day, and everyone knew it.
You have to give the Eagles credit for these last couple of draft classes, at least, and admire the desire the young Eagles bring to the table. It is obvious how much the youth movement here loves football. There are some not-so-subtle ways to see the differences -- time spent after practice working on drills, the alacrity at which they move during the day, and the extreme sense of purpose the players have approaching their jobs.
Oh, the Eagles have made mistakes -- every team does -- but the last couple of drafts could be really special and will likely form the foundation of this roster for years to come.
And a primary reason the Eagles hit on so many of the draft picks -- at least, it appears that way from this vantage point, although I know it is early to assess anything -- is because they drafted players who love to play football.
The bottom line is that while numbers and measurables -- more numbers, I guess -- are important, so are some of the other factors, ones that go deeper than the statistical side of things. Behind the scenes, as the Eagles narrow their wish list, they understand how important it is to find out as much about a potential draft pick as possible.