It may be the most overused cliché throughout every year's NFL Draft process: "best player available." In one week, the first round of the this year's draft will take place and we'll all lose count of the mentions of "best player available" or how many times a coach of general manager touts their pick as "the top player on our board." But like most clichés, "best player available" is overwrought for a reason - it's simply the best strategy for adding difference-making players and mitigating "bust" potential.
Take it from Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who touted "best player available" to a group of about 20 Philadelphia reporters in his annual pre-draft powwow at the NovaCare Complex. In so doing, Roseman admitted that some of the team's mistakes over the last several drafts have been the result of being blinded by need.
"I think when we go back and look back at our drafts," said Roseman, "sometimes we have probably drafted based on need, based on some circumstances and we're trying to make sure that we're taking the best player available now, going forward.
"We always look at the draft as a long-term decision for our franchise, so we're going to take the best player. If that best player happens to be at a position where someone's already starting but we think this guy has a chance to be a really great player for the Philadelphia Eagles, we're still going to take him because we're trying to take the best player; we're not trying to take the best player at specific position. I think that's important."
You'll hear often from fans that the Eagles are in "win-now" mode and have to add a player at the top of the draft who will make an immediate impact. Often times, thanks in part to the constant, intense, scrutiny of today's NFL, decision makers can get caught up in that same frenzy and force a "need-pick." But while the Eagles certainly want to get to the top of the NFL landscape as soon as possible, forcing an early pick because of positional need is precisely how a franchise can find itself devoid of young talent down the road.
"It sounds simple but it's the truth," said Roseman. "It's very hard because of the way this league is now and the nature of it and the pressure on everyone to sit there when you have this need sticking out at you and you know that you have a player ranked higher to still take that best player, because you want to win right now. If you go back to what's in the best long-term interests of the franchise as opposed to really what's in your best interests, you're going to make the right decision.
"If we take the best player and add competition, that will only bring good things for our team ... There are some variations in that. If you have guys closely graded and you don't have anyone at that specific spot, you're going to take that position. But if there's any variation in the grade, we're going to take the best player."
In going back and reviewing the successes and failures of their recent drafts, the Eagles, according to Roseman, identified the occasional positional reach as a flaw. Another area they've aimed to clean up is any emphasis placed on a prospect's performance during the post-season All-Star games and the NFL Scouting Combine. Because of that, Roseman said they've only made "tweaks" to the draft board since December.
In many ways, this is an important draft for Roseman. This is the third year in which Roseman is spearheading the team's draft efforts, but it's the first time he's had his infrastructure in place during a "normal" offseason. When Roseman took over as general manager for Tom Heckert in 2010, much of the scouting process had already been completed for that year's draft. Last season, of course, the draft took place prior to free agency because of the work stoppage.
"I got the opportunity to have this job and you want to put your own spin on it and you want to bring in some of your own people and the people that share your philosophy and I think that takes time," said Roseman. "There's an evolution of trying to get guys, guys who have contracts, bring them into the building and if you're changing things, certainly in the first year, you can't do that right away because you're coming in in January, the scouting's going on and then you have a draft right there. And the second year, last year was a unique situation, no excuses, but it was a unique situation in terms of the timing of the draft and free agency.
"You feel like this is the first year that really the playing field is level and it is what it was supposed to be. I'm really excited about that. I'm excited about our football team that we have now, excited to add to that, and excited about the future."
A large part of that excitement stems from the opportunity to add a difference maker in the first round. As Roseman noted, discounting trade-ups, the Eagles haven't had a pick this high very often since Andy Reid took over (after two top-10 picks in Reid's first two years, the Eagles have once picked 14th and once 15th) and they don't expect to have a pick this high in the foreseeable future. It's a chance to make a lasting impact on the Eagles' roster.
"We clearly want to come out of this with a player that we feel really good about and get someone who can make a difference," Roseman said. "That's what we're looking for as we go into the draft."
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