With draft week finally upon us, general manager Howie Roseman and the rest of the Eagles personnel staff are gearing up for the three days of the offseason that will most shape the future of the roster. This year's draft will mark Roseman's fifth in charge of team's proceedings and the second in conjunction with head coach Chip Kelly. So how will things work on draft day?
"It's a small room," Roseman explained last week, referring to the team's "War Room." "Just to kind of picture it, we have a front table that's overlooking the board. At that table is ownership, myself, Coach (Kelly), Tom Gamble and usually one other member of our personnel staff who will help out by pulling cards and talking about stuff. Then we have a back table with our Pro Director, who's Rick Mueller right now, and two other scouts are back there including our College Director (Anthony Patch). Our Head Trainer (Chris Peduzzi) is back there, as well. Then we have someone dealing with trade scenarios and points and value and just making sure we're not missing anything. That's our room. All the scouts and coaches come in for picks.
"It's a very calm room. When we make a pick, it's exciting, but during the process of being on the clock it's quiet. If we're on the phone, we're able to have those conversations about weighing the options and, really, it's laid out for us. I'm a big believer in calm decisions during calm times so we're not all of a sudden going, 'Man, we're jumping that guy (on the board).' All those things have been done, all the work's been done. It's sort of like during a game, third-and-5, here's the play sheet, here are the plays (for that down and distance) and what you are going to call off. It's not a lot of decision making other than weighing the trade offers, and we've gone over those scenarios too – would we move out (of our pick) if this player's on (the board)? What if we got this offer? We go through it all."
As of last week, Roseman said the top of the team's draft board has been set for a while. The only remaining discussion in terms of ranking players was taking place at the bottom of the draft board where potential rookie free agents were being combed over. With confidence in those internal rankings, the biggest questions for Roseman and his staff relate to just how the draft will play out come Thursday night. How do the Eagles go about predicting who will be on the board when the time comes?
"It's almost like anything else, you have guys with a history of being right that you talk to throughout the league," said Roseman. "You get a sense, where it may not be directly this guy is going to the Eagles, but it's there's no chance that this guy is there when you pick, this guy for sure. Certainly, there are guys that we all know sitting at this table that are not going to be there when we pick at 22. We can cross those guys off. We know that they are going to be gone in the top five, top six picks. And then the guys that are getting in the range, you just try and get as much information as you can and there will always be a moment in the first round of the draft where you go, 'Wow! We can take that guy off the fourth-round stack right there,' and then you go, 'Great! There's another guy who comes to us.'
"That's the amazing thing about this. You always feel like whatever you think, everyone else is thinking because you feel so strongly about this. You've spent so much time with these guys. There's no way that 31 other teams don't have this guy in the first round. Then you talk to guys after the draft, and they're going, 'I don't like that guy.' Maybe their three games they saw were the three worst games of this guy's career. You hear a lot of the talk about guys and you're going, 'I didn't see that at all.' It's the same as women, I may like brunettes. You may like blondes. You may look at someone differently than I do, but you're very convinced about that. That's our draft room."
In guessing which players will land where, the Eagles, like the rest of the league, are paying attention to rumors and official visits for different draft prospects. After all, even our Rumor Mill has been keeping tabs on the Eagles' reported official visits. Those, however, can be misleading, according to the Eagles general manager.
"I think when you look at the private workouts and the guys who come in here, part of it is some of those guys we met in Indy (at the NFL Scouting Combine) and some of those guys we sat down with at the Senior Bowl and we just went, 'Good kid. No problem. No injury concerns. We're good.' We know what they are, maybe we went to the school in the fall. We know all about him. Let's spend time with another guy," explained Roseman. "Sometimes we bring in a guy here because we're going, 'We think he doesn't really fit with us, but let's make sure. Let's just make sure two years from now we're not saying we were too hard on the guy.' Sometimes we bring a guy in here because the medical's an issue and with the way we practice and play, we want our doctors to get their hands on them. We just really feel confident about it."
Over the last two drafts, weekends that have brought the Eagles franchise-changing players like Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and more, Roseman has touted the important of "Best Player Available," and sticking to the draft board. Roseman explained the process of comparing players from different positions and ranking them accordingly.
"That's how we do our drat meetings," he said. "So when we do our draft meetings and I'm talking about a corner, we'll set his value based on the same definition we have at a running back. So if we're saying this guy's going to be a Pro Bowl player, we'll make sure when we look across our board that that fits that definition the same way. Now, I don't know if it's a perfect process, but that makes sense to us, so that we're able to grade them based on the different positions by what we think they'll be in two years. Everything that we have in the third round across should be solid starters at that position. Everyone that we have at the top of the board should be guys that we think are going to be Pro Bowl players in a couple years. So that kind of takes away from the difference in positions."
If Roseman does feel the itch to address a position of need rather than focus on the best talent, he need only remember some of the picks that have not panned out as planned.
"The error was that you want something, you want a particular position so you force guys up," Roseman said. "I think when I look back at certainly our misses, you look at stuff that were kind of turn-off factors, whether it was guys beating up on guys because they were older, whether it was guys who couldn't run as well, whether it's guys who when you looked at them on their testing had such stiffness that they weren't able to overcome it.
"I think it becomes more apparent to you when you go back and look at it that you were trying to force something. You were trying to find something that wasn't there and that's why the best process for us is when it all matches up, so when the play on the tape matches up also to the measurables, matches up to the production then you feel good about it. There's no insurance on it, but you feel good about it."
As we count down the hours before Thursday night's beginning of the festivities, remember that the Eagles will not just be grading players on their performance on the field. Character remains, as always, an important variable when Roseman decides which players to bring into the team's locker room.
"Culture is really important to us and chemistry is a huge part of building a football team," said Roseman. "When you talk about 53 guys trying to come together, which I think we saw towards the end of last year, the second half of last year, you're talking about people from diverse backgrounds, from different parts of the country, and they're all trying to fit together. Getting that chemistry, this is the one sport where one guy is not going to make the difference. You need to have a team. So it's very important to us when we talk about guys and having the right fits here in our building. We're really excited about the energy that we have from our football team. So for us to go out of left field and bring someone in who doesn't fit – I look at it like our players look at us when we bring in draft picks. They look at who we put in front of that podium and if that guy is not a fit for us, that's my responsibility. They're going to look at me and say we have good thing going here, we have chemistry, we have a good culture, why would we ruin that by binging in someone who doesn't fit?"