In the Spring of 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles were coming off a 9-5-1 season in which their offense ranked sixth in the league in points scored. With a declining veteran in Kevin Curtis lined up at wide receiver opposite newly-acquired pass-catcher DeSean Jackson, and with an aging Brian Westbrook carrying the load at running back, the Eagles knew they needed an infusion of young talent badly.
So, in the first round of the 2009 draft, the team was aggressive in their pursuit of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who many expected to be taken within the first 10 selections. When the explosive Missouri receiver was still on the board after 18 picks, the Eagles gladly jumped up two spots to secure his rights, giving up only a sixth-round pick in addition to their own 1st-rounder to snag Maclin with the 19th overall pick. The Eagles coaches believed that matching up two explosive receiving talents like Maclin and Jackson would give them a dangerous downfield attack. They were right.
In the second round, many analysts expected the Eagles to grab an offensive lineman, specifically, a right tackle to replace longtime starter Jon Runyan. However, the Eagles surprised some when they took the heir to Brian Westbrook's throne in Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy, a shifty young runner in the Westbrook mold. The scouting report on McCoy at the time was that he was not a capable pass-catcher and that he was not explosive enough. "Shady" has proven those critics wrong (he led all NFL running backs with 78 receptions in 2010).
Now, two and a half years later, it is clear that those two selections were the catalyst for the Eagles' transition out of the McNabb/Westbrook-era and into the "Young Guns"-era. What's most impressive about this transformation is that the Eagles drafted their two Pro Bowl-caliber players in the mid-to-later parts of rounds one and two.
McCoy is, without question, the best running back to be drafted in 2009. The three running backs taken ahead of McCoy (Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown, and Beanie Wells) have all had middling careers thus far. McCoy was a big-time contributor in his first two seasons with the Eagles and is off to a tremendous start as the go-to guy in 2011, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and posting four touchdowns in two games this season. (It should be noted that last year's leading rusher, Arian Foster, went undrafted in 2009).
Like McCoy, receiver Jeremy Maclin has been major contributor throughout his first two seasons. In 2010, the Missouri standout accounted for 1,000 yards from scrimmage and caught 10 touchdown passes. This season, he's already caught 14 balls for two touchdowns and almost 200 yards. Despite having been the third receiver selected in the 2009 draft, Maclin could have more value than any other receiver taken that year. The only other player who threatens him in this regard is Giants pass-catcher Hakeem Nicks, who was taken with the 29th selection. Nicks caught 79 balls for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The Eagles were able to use the 2009 draft to replenish their offensive arsenal, and they did so while only spending their own first-, second-, and sixth-round picks to acquire Maclin and McCoy. For a team that has most recently gotten much attention for acquiring starters through free agency, the Eagles should receive credit as a team that has repeatedly taken advantage of the draft in order to build a deep, young core of offensive weapons. Oh, and don't forget the other big aspect of the Eagles' 2009 draft, when they sent a first- and fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for left tackle Jason Peters, who has made consecutive Pro Bowls in his first two seasons as an Eagle. A pretty impressive haul indeed.