Draft Talk

Now that everyone’s had a chance to recover from the draft, it’s time to start breaking it down in more detail.  I had a few notes earlier this week, but today I want to take things a bit further.  First, though (as usual), I have to clear a few things up regarding the TPR model:

– The TPR model is not predictive; it is not meant to be.  Moreover, I developed the TPR model as a conceptual demonstration of what I believe to be the correct method of drafting.  Namely, consensus forecasts are more valuable, over the long term, than those of individual scouts.  Additionally, any useful draft board has to account for the difference in positional impacts.  Unfortunately, I don’t have nearly enough data to work with, hence the TPR model is mainly useful conceptually, and not practically.  So, just because the TPR model lists a prospect as a “reach” or a “steal” does not necessarily mean it was a bad pick, we’re just nowhere near the confidence level required to make such classifications.

However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.  While the model can’t tell us anything definitively, it can certainly shed light on particular picks and prospects that warrant increased scrutiny (that’s the law classes bleeding into my vocabulary).  So, I don’t want to represent that the TPR model is definitive.  Also, my personal opinions diverge from the model’s results sometimes (significantly in certain cases).

Hopefully that clears things up a bit.

That brings us to the Eagles draft.

Overall, I thought the team did OK:

– The trades, in particular, were phenomenal.  Getting a 3rd round pick for moving down 4 spots in the 20s is an absolute heist.  Getting anything for Bryce Brown is as well.  I like Brown, but it was abundantly clear last season that he did not fit the new offense.  The trade up for Jordan Matthews wasn’t quite as good, from a probabilistic view.  But, I’m willing to cut the team more slack here because (a) it was in the 2nd round, and (b) I really like Matthews.  With Lee coming off the board at 39, Matthews appeared to be the top WR remaining for most people (not the TPR rankings though).  As a result, he probably wouldn’t have been there at 54 (Davonte Adams, another WR, was taken at 53).

Theoretically, it’s possible the Eagles could have traded up fewer spots and still grabbed Matthews, but we have to assume Howie chose the best option available.  Hence, the Matthews trade wasn’t a great one, from a strategic standpoint, but it also wasn’t bad.

– I mentioned the possibility of saturation drafting at the WR position.  Hopefully you listened, because that’s exactly what the team did.  Rather than taking on in the first round, the Eagles took two later on.  See this post for the full breakdown of why that was a good decision.  Note, though, that the idea behind saturation drafting is that it dramatically increases the odds of finding ONE good player.  Hence, the Eagles are likely to get a good WR out of this draft.  That does NOT mean that both Huff and Matthews are both likely to pan out.

– The Eagles also seemed to follow what I had outlined as my Plans A, B, and C.   Plan A was to draft a LB (Mosley or Barr), Plan B was to draft a S (Pryor or Dix), Plan C was to trade down or take the best CB available.  Those top 4 players were off the board at 22 (Dix went with the 21st pick), so trading down became the best option.  Post-draft buzz says the Eagles also would have taken Cooks or Beckham (WRs) if they had been available at 22.  Regardless, I was pretty happy with the 1st round strategy (though not necessarily the end result).

– The Eagles did, however, take a LB after trading down to 26, just not one of the players we were all expecting or hoping for.  This, of course, is the biggest question in the Eagles draft:  Was Marcus Smith a “reach”?

The short answer is yes.  Howie admitted as much.  He said that the team really wanted an OLB and that Smith was the last player at that position they’d be happy with.  So they traded down a few spots and grabbed him.  That’s a relatively defensible strategy, provided they REALLY like this kid and there really weren’t other opportunities to trade down farther (but not too far).  However, it does seem like a low-probability play.  See the disclaimer above, but Smith was ranked just 140th overall in the TPR model.  He was selected 26th…  The only comparable “reach” in the first two rounds was the selection of Justin Britt, chosen 64th overall by the Seahawks.  He was unranked (i.e. not in the top 150).

One the bright side, the model does not differentiate between 3-4 and 4-3 positions.  Generally, I don’t think this is a big deal.  BUT, if there is one position the model is probably undervaluing, it’s the rush LB in a 3-4 scheme.  That seems to be where Smith fits.

Moreover, it’s been reported that there were two other teams ready to move up for or ready to draft pick in the late first round.  I’ve explained previously why I’m somewhat skeptical of reports like that, but to the extent it IS true, it adds confidence to the pick.

The upshot is: there were almost definitely higher probability prospects available at 26.  So Smith was not the optimal choice.  That doesn’t mean he won’t work out.  Drafting for need CAN result in fantastic picks, because a “hit” occurs where it will have the biggest impact.  However, it’s a higher risk play, because drafting for need means you pass on prospects with better chances of panning out.

So…Higher risk, higher reward (though the tradeoff is not equal, hence sub-optimal).  I’m guessing some fans are fine with that strategy, especially because the Eagles were able to trade down first before doing it.

– You’ll hopefully remember that I don’t pay much attention to the late round picks.  They usually don’t matter.  It’s fun to get excited about these guys, but the cold hard fact is that nearly all of them will end up either not making the roster or as bottom-of-the-depth-chart players.  So Taylor Hart, Beau Allen, Ed Reynolds….hope for the best, but it’s not worth spending much time analyzing them now.

The Bad News

There are a couple of higher level issues I have with this year’s draft:

– The team did not draft an OL.  I’ve made it clear that I think the aging line is a big area of risk.  The team’s offense revolves around the running game, and Foles isn’t exactly going to run away from guys that get through.  I was hoping the team would at least add a late-round OT (those guys have much higher hit rates than any other late-round position).  Maybe they means they’re confident in the current depth OL.   At some point, though, the Eagles will need to start lining up replacements for Peters and Mathis.  Herremans I was kind of hoping would be replaced this offseason…

The danger is in having to replace them all at once.  That’s the situation the team should be trying to avoid, because finding one good starter is hard enough.  Finding 3 at the same time almost guarantees that you’re going to have a big hole for at least a season or two.

– The Eagles, on paper, appear to be a worse team than they were last season.  I know this is a long term build, but it still hurts to see the team take a step backwards.  On offense, the team lost D-Jax and added two rookie WRs (not likely to contribute) and Darren Sproles (old and getting older).  On defense, the team added Malcolm Jenkins and Smith, who seems unlikely to start.  I know people expect guys like Ertz, Kendricks, Logan, etc…to get better, and that will probably happen (for at least 1 or 2 of them).  Still, I just don’t see any reasonably objective way to say this teams roster is better now than it was last season.

Again, I’d rather look long-term than short, but just start preparing yourselves for a potential step-backwards season.





26 thoughts on “Draft Talk

  1. Interesting post. I have a few somewhat related thoughts that I’ll leave here in no particular order:

    – I have no problem at all with the Marcus Smith pick. Outside of Lee and Roby, I don’t think there were any compelling options left on the board. Given that the Eagles have a big focus on ‘high-character’ guys, they probably had no interest in Roby and your ‘saturation drafting’ thing seems like sound logic for passing on Lee. With that in mind, taking the best available player at the most important defensive position (especially one who fits your scheme as well as Smith does) is fine by me.

    – I really wanted them to get an OL too, but given the huge run on them that saw Michael Schofield (a guy most places had pegged as a 5th-7th round guy) taken in the 3rd, it was probably the right call to wait for next year.

    – Related to the above, they’ve brought in a helluva lot of UDFA OL; probably the most sensible move given the way the draft went and there’s always a (small) chance they find the next Peters.

    – I’m not too concerned about the loss of DeSean. Even though he’s clearly a stud WR, I think the extent to which Chip’s scheme creates mismatches with motion and options devalues the WR position. My belief is that he’d rather have 2 Riley Coopers and spare cap-space to strengthen elsewhere than a guy like Jackson.

    – Related to the above, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chip’s MO becomes ‘draft a ton of WRs and let them walk after their rookie deal’.

    • Good points about the UDFAs, meant to talk about them but forgot.

      The WRs point is also one to keep an eye on. However, while that strategy may work and be Chip’s thinking, remember that doing so would require a large and continuous expenditure of draft choices. That’s a very large opportunity cost versus just paying 2 guys you like. So it can work, and I’m interested in exploring it further, but we need to be careful not to exclude all relevant costs.

      I think the offense will still be good, the question is how good. Foles is due for some regression as well (another factor in my “step-back” worries), so someone has to make a big leap to compensate. Maybe that happens, but I’m skeptical it will come from rookie WRs. Hopefully I’m wrong.

  2. I think you’re entirely too hung up on losing Desean. He was exciting before Chip, but he wasn’t truly great until he got into this system. We’ll be fine on offense.

    I think it’s very silly to say that this team is not better than it was last year. Based on what? That we lost one WR? Instead of forming an actual argument as to why we’re worse you just played down our additions/progression. You also completely neglected to mention that Maclin is back. Beyond that, our entire defense (excluding recent additions) has a full year in the 34 under their belts. We also picked up two starting quality DB’s (Jenkins and Carroll).

    I’m not acting like everything they do is perfect, but they clearly have clearly defined expectations and an organized approach to everything they’re doing. That approach ended with the Eagles winning the division after picking fourth. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on a lot of things until they give me a reason to question them.

    I’d rather have this offense as it stands than last year’s. You can’t tell me with a straight face that the drop off in talent from Desean to Jeremy is so great that the additions of Sproles, Matthews, and Huff on top of the progression of Ertz are negated.

    Having said that, let’s move past this whole Desean thing. He’s gone and exaggerating his significance to this team won’t bring him back.

    • If you’re analyzing the team’s progress, I don’t know how you ignore DeSean.

      – Saying DeSean wasn’t great until he got into this system might be factually accurate, but it’s meaningless. Had he stayed, he would have continued to play in this system.

      – The Maclin point is fair, I should have mentioned that. However, we should generally be cautions regarding expectations for guys coming off serious knee injuries. If he’s “back” then yes, that’s a significant addition. That’s not a guarantee though, and the fact that they didn’t want to give him a longer deal suggests the team agrees.

      – The “additions” of Maclin, Sproles, Matthews, and Huff are all speculative. I like Matthews and Huff, but I’ve shown pretty clearly that rookie WRs rarely make significant contributions on offense. Sproles will add value, but he’s not the same guy he was a few years ago and the record for 31+ yr old RBs isn’t great, to pretend otherwise is just willful ignorance. Ertz I have high hopes for, but again we’re making a projection that has significant uncertainty to it. All together, those guys can make up the difference, but I PROMISE you not everything will work out.

      – To be clear, I’m very bullish on the team long term and really like Chip. That doesn’t mean every move is going to be perfect, or that we shouldn’t take a critical eye towards the direction of the team. Otherwise, what’s the point? Pretty boring to just say “I like the coach, so let’s not analyze anything critically. Just tune in each sunday and enjoy”.

      • “That doesn’t mean every move is going to be perfect, or that we shouldn’t take a critical eye towards the direction of the team. Otherwise, what’s the point? Pretty boring to just say “I like the coach, so let’s not analyze anything critically. Just tune in each sunday and enjoy”.”

        The Desean Jackson horse has been dead for quite a while. There is no reason to keep beating it. The issue that I take with the part that I quoted is that it, along with most of your posts since cutting Desean, seems to imply that analysis requires a negative mood to poke holes and find weak spots or errors. It doesn’t. True analysis shouldn’t have emotional undertones.

        Just because I’m over the cutting of Desean doesn’t mean that I forgive every action the team takes. There are weaknesses on the team and I can talk about how I wasn’t crazy about the Marcus Smith move or the fact that we didn’t add a G or ILB in the draft. I wouldn’t have found this site of I was a casual like the part I quoted suggests.

        I just ask you to stop being so hung up on the Desean topic. I come here to read high brow stuff rather than hearing someone dwell on a move like a bored beat writer during the offseason. This is “Eagles Rewind” not “used to be on the Eagles Rewind.” For someone that talks about numbers and quantifiable proof in every post I find it interesting that you ignore the obvious thing… most players had career years in Chip’s system. It’s bigger than Jackson.

        Desean isn’t the great talent in this situation. The talent is Chip. Do you not remember all of those crappy years we had with Desean? You think he magically put it all together the same year the offensive genius coach led our team to having the second best attack in the NFL? To me the more likely scenario is that Chip was the difference.

      • The Eagles wanted to sign Mac to a longer deal, he wanted the 1-yr “prove it” contract.

      • I think they both wanted a long term deal, but the Eagles weren’t offering anywhere close to the $ he wanted. He want’s a “star” contract, while they were offering much less.

      • When are additions not speculative? Using that logic, Sammy Watkins would have been speculative, and therefore we are worse off until he plays and proves himself, which makes analysis of any sort meaningless. The team has added a lot of talent this offseason.

        The fact that you left out Avant gives good insight into why you are overvaluing Jackson, in my opinion. It’s 11 on 11, not 11 one on ones. Avant made his teammates better, including Jackson. Jackson is a unique talent, but not a well-rounded football player. Plenty of offenses dominate without a player with his dynamic skills, and they do it by being dynamic as a team. There is every indication that this team is ready to take it to a new level next year. They have been doing the types of things this offseason that the very best franchises do.

      • That’s true, all “additions” carry uncertainty, but we have a lot of data that shows how rarely rookie WRs contribute. That doesn’t mean they’re bad picks, just that in year 1 they usually do not have a large impact.

        I was focusing mainly on changes to the starting lineup. I like Avant, but he had less than 500 yards last year. Good guy, probably helps a lot in the locker room, but on the field that production is largely a function of opportunity (i.e. you can find a lot of WRs who, running Avant’s routes from last year, would have produced as much).

        I haven’t talked about “chemistry”, but that’s not because I don’t think its important. As another commenter said, it’s impossible to quantify and without being inside the locker room, we can’t really conceptualize it either. Still, it’s clear that was a major goal of Chips in the offseason. Long-term that’s a good thing, but we shouldn’t look past the fact that it might cost them in the short term.

      • The problem with your comments is that you completely ignore the fact that losing Desean is the only (big) loss that the team had. Does losing him outweigh Maclin being back, gaining Sproles, the rookies, defensive and ST players, not to mention the development of the young players having a second year in the same system. There is absolutely no way Desean is that big of an impact (Where was he against the saints in the playoffs?) and you didn’t provide any other reasons for a decline.

    • Very true about the data on rookie receivers. But Sproles and Maclin are not rookies, and the same data says Ertz will show significant improvement in his 2nd year. You also have a chance at 2nd year bumps from Maehl and Smith, and if he returns Benn could contribute. There are no sure things in the NFL, but I don’t know how you can look at all that plus 2 dynamic rookies and say we look worse on paper. Throw in the acclimation to Chip’s system and a settled QB situation and it’s highly probable the offense will be more consistently dangerous next year.

      Regarding Jackson and Avant, intangibles are not what I was referencing. There are things like running screens and picks, blocking, contesting in traffic, and decoy routes (full speed) that all make a significant difference. My sense is that Chip had to throttle back on what he wants the offense to do in order to maximize Jackson’s skill set. He made do with the tools he had, but feels that with the right tools the offense can do more. As for intangibles, it’s more than just “do your teammates like you?”. It’s practicing hard to help them get better, it’s showing up for all the meetings and taking the mental side of the game seriously, and generally trying to perfect your craft in order to be the best player possible. “Culture” is not just a media buzzword.

      I know Philly writers like to be negative, but my experience is that Philly fans are smart enough to know when they have a good thing going, and when the current regime needs to get going (out of town). We are currently in very good hands.

      Sorry for just pointing out what I disagreed with. I loved the analytically driven breakdown of the draft, and you are one the few who has acknowledged what a stellar job the Eagles did on trades. Your point about 3-4 defenses is worth exploring more regarding Smith. If he does pan out, this will almost certainly be one of the main reasons he was undervalued by many. It also shows why generic player ratings are fairly useless.

  3. Do you think with Marcus Smith the decision had much to do with the poor FA market for the kind of guys Chip/Billy Davis are looking for? It seems like it will simply cost more to get any kind of production out of this position and whether your odds of boom/bust are any good you have to deal with a pretty high minimum bet to get in on this market.

    I get the impression that Howie had gotten a pretty good idea of how the other 3-4 teams were valuing the position when they evaluated the market this offseason. Hell, if you believe the Dion Jordan rumors even a 4-3 team wasn’t willing to budge on this type of guy

  4. Good post. Two thoughts:

    – You’re right, on paper we are less dangerous on offense w/o MeSean. However, Chip has already stated that Matthews will be the starting slot receiver (so he is likely to contribute).

    – From a cultural/locker room standpoint I think we are a much stronger team. That stuff is highly important yet almost impossible to quantify. I look back on all the championships the Patriots cheated.. I mean won. Didn’t have many superstars but were a smart, cohesive unit that got things done.

    • Matthews does seem likely to have a greater-than-normal opportunity to contribute. Still a long way to go until the season though. I think Huff fits better in the slot and Matthews is ultimately an outside guy. The team might just be playing it this way until they see what Maclin looks like on the field.

      The culture is a good point. I’ll do a post on it, but its clearly been one of Chips goals this offseason. However, there are always tradeoffs. The best “culture” guys are very rarely going to be the best players, so you need to find a balance. We also have to remember that everything the Patriots have done has been with perhaps the greatest QB of all time on the team. That makes it a lot more difficult to disaggregate what’s really contributing to the team’s victories. I do think team culture is important, I’m just hesitant to use the Pats as examples since there’s a huge piece to that team (Brady) that can’t be replicated.

      It all comes back to the long-term vs. short-term team building. If the Eagles wanted to maximize performance this year, they’d have kept D-Jax and done the draft differently. That’s not the plan, of course. In building for the long-term, though, there will occasionally be short-term setbacks.

      • The only caveat I’d throw in is this – part of what made Brady into “Brady” is the culture related work ethic involved. Would Brady’s work ethic have been the same in a dysfunctional locker room? Would he have reached the heights he has if that culture wasn’t there? No way to know, but I’d wager that the culture was an important part of Brady’s development. So I’m not willing to call Brady an anomaly that was independent of Belichek’s culture.

        Of course, I’m a guy who thinks that the cheating also had a significant impact on Brady’s development. One of the hardest things to do with a QB in the NFL is get them to trust the play and make their reads. Too often, their confidence gets hammered out of them by pass-rushers before they can learn to trust the play call (especially these days of expecting rookie QBs to start on day 1). Knowing that the play called by the coach is going to be the perfect play against the defense across from you? IMO, priceless, with respect to developing the young QB. So take my analysis from the above paragraph with the knowledge that I’m not a conventional thinker when it comes to Brady’s development.

  5. Buddy Ryan once drafted WRs 2nd, 3rd, and 5th rounds. The 3rd and 5th rounders were Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams, who both had a great run with the Eagles. the 2nd rounder was Mike Bellamy, not such a great pick.

  6. Pingback: Iggles Blitz » Blog Archive » Are The Eagles Better?

  7. Hi Brent,
    First time I visited your site and must say I am not impressed. Would suggest you follow the first rule of getting out of a hole “stop digging”. To say the Eagles are worse today then last year is just not credible. Give it up.

    To start, I don’t see the DeSean thing. He was a declining receiver over the prior three years that admitted to dogging it in the past due to contract issues and suggested he deserved a new contract. See a problem here? He was a non factor down the stretch as teams adjusted to him. No problem here either. Clearly the fact that NO GM in the NFL was willing to trade any draft choice to get him is obviously due to their incompetence. Right??

    Riley Copper had a career year as did Desean as did the whole damn offense. To minimize the potential of rookie impact of two quality receivers seems to be a lack of imagination at the very least.

    In summary, saying a 4-12 team that went through a coaching and scheme change and had a major roster turnover recovering from a horrible 2+ years of draft and free agent signings is somehow not better in year two of the transition is just absurd. I submit that would actually be incredibly hard to do! So I am left with the only logical explanation is you believe the Eagles staff and front office are totally incompetent.

    Tell me why I am wrong?

    PS In an attempt to prevent you from digging the hole deeper, going less than 10-6 won’t necessarily prove your point. The Eagles schedule is far more difficult his year.

    • I think that’s a bit unfair. Brent does some awesome work. To say you’re not impressed because of one article and to go after him with that tone is unearned. For the record, I completely disagree with what Brent says about the team taking a step back. I’ve also disagreed with many of his thoughts before. However, I spent all week checking his site waiting for his thoughts and analysis on the draft. I really don’t think he should, “Give it up.”

      • Hi Lewwyn, Comment I posted to Colin was meant for you. “just to be clear I just meant he should give up on defending the team took a step back. I encourage him to keep posting”

        sorry Colin.

    • I’ll have a response in a full post (or series of posts), I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring a dissenting opinion. There’s a lot to go through. However, your last point about the schedule is important. Why is that not a valid reason for thinking this year might not go as well as last year? Part of the reason last season’s team did so well was because it played an easy schedule.

  8. At the end of the Day, DeSean couldn’t beat press coverage. Chip Kelly made it a point to say that he needed recievers who could beat press coverage in the off season. The Saints game is just one example of DeSean not being able to beat press coverage. He has a problem disapearing in big games.

    • Hi Colin , just to be clear I just meant he should give up on defending the team took a step back. I encourage him to keep posting.


    • Without delving into the “DeSean can’t beat press coverage” issue, which is overblown, I think it’s very reasonable to suggest that Chip Kelly now has receivers that he “wants” and that fit his system better. HOWEVER, that does not mean the year one results will be great. I agree that he is still moving the rosters towards his plan, but unfortunately, you can’t accomplish that instantaneously. I’ll have more on this in a full post, but the whole idea is that the team is getting better but that short-term setbacks can be expected.

  9. Pingback: Sportswriter Thunderdome: Will the Eagles Regress? | time2sports.com

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