There is a potential disaster looming for the Eagles. I think we can all agree on that, even though many might want to stay in denial for a little while longer.
I’m talking, of course, about the WRs corps. Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Chris Givens, Rueben Randle, Dorial Green-Beckham. And whoever else you want to throw in there (preseason star Paul Turner, perhaps?) Of that group, only Matthews has proven himself to be a viable starter. Beyond that, though, things look bleak.
However, my purpose today isn’t to scout or analyze the players. Instead, I want to examine how we got here and what it means for the future. Specifically, the WR corps is so disappointing not because it’s bad (though that certainly sucks), but because of how much the Eagles invested in it. In the 2013-2015 drafts, the Eagles used a 1st (Agholor), a 2nd (Matthews), and a 3rd (Huff) round pick on wide receivers. That’s a lot….I think.
It certainly feels like a lot of draft resources devoted to one position, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with that.
But how does the Eagles investment compare to the rest of the league?
I took a look at every player drafted between 2013-2015, and looked to see which teams spent the most resources at which positions. I used the PFR draft pick value chart to assign discrete values to each pick. It’s not a perfect method, for reasons I won’t get into, but it as good as any I can think of short of designing my own value system.
In the 2013, 2014, and 2015 drafts, the Eagles spent 1490 “draft points” on WRs. For comparison, the #1 overall pick is worth 3000 points. Over that same timeframe, there were 5 teams that actually devoted more draft points to WRs, and how they did it.
1 – Buffalo Bills (
2492 2995 draft points)
Sammy Watkins (#4 overall via trade of #9, #19, and #115, 2289 points total), Robert Woods (#41 overall, 490 points), Marquise Goodwin (#78, 200), and Dezmin Lewis (#234, 2).
As you can see, using the #4 pick on Watkins was a huge investment, and counts for more than all of the Eagles picks combined (and then some). Fortunately for the Bills, Watkins looks like a star. He has 2000+ yards combined in his first 2 seasons, and registered a 62.5% catch rate last year with 17.5 yards per reception.
2 – Oakland Raiders (1811 draft points)
Similar to Buffalo, Oakland’s investment is comprised mostly (almost entirely) by its use of the #4 overall pick on Amari Cooper. The team also used a couple of 7th round picks on Brice Butler and Andre Debose (no clue who those guys are).
As with Watkins, though, Oakland seems to have landed a star talent, which is pretty much mandatory for use of a top 5 pick. In his rookie year, Cooper at 1070 yards on 72 catches and 14.9 yards per reception. His catch rate was 55%. Any way you look at it, that’s a very impressive rookie season for a WR. Anyone who watched him play knows that his ceiling is also much higher than his stat line from last season suggests.
3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1562 draft points)
Mike Evans (#7 overall, 1500 points), Robert Heron (#185, 17.4 points), and Kenny Bell (#162, 26.6).
Seeing a theme, here? Tampa’s investment was also a high first round pick, and Mike Evans has been very good (inefficiency is the only knock on him, as he benefitted a lot from high usage and his catch rate over two seasons is just 52.5%). Still, 2257 yards, 15.9 yards per reception, and 15 touchdowns over his first 2 seasons is impressive.
4 – Los Angeles Rams (1543 draft points)
Tavon Austin (#8 overall, 1400 points), Stedman Bailey (#92, 132), Bud Sasser (#201, 11)
Finally, we get to see what happens when a team misses on a high pick. The selection of Austin was worth nearly as much as the Eagles total investment, and he’s been a huge disappointment. He hasn’t gained more than 473 yards receiving in a season (through 3), and his yards per reception is just 9.2. Stedman Bailey has been similarly ineffective, though he’s received far fewer targets.
5 – Chicago Bears (1502 draft points)
Kevin White (#7 overall, 1500 points), and Marquess Wilson (#236, 2).
White was injured prior to his rookie year, and has yet to play a game.
So that’s it. Those are the 5 teams that spent more on WRs in the draft than the Eagles did from 2013-2015. Every one of them used a top 10 pick, which makes up the bulk of their investment. The Eagles, by comparison, took a more balanced approach:
Nelson Agholor (#20 overall, 800 points), Jordan Matthews (#42 overall, 480 points), and Josh Huff (#86 overall, 160 points).
Matthews has been the saving grace of that group, accounting for 68% of the total Approximate Value contributed by the three players (13 out of 19).
Still, he clearly doesn’t have the high-end potential of the top players listed above. So while there might be 5 teams that invested more, it looks like at least 3 of them are going to walk away with a long-term star at WR, or at least a strong #1. The Bears can’t be graded. That leaves the Rams as the only team that invested as much and got less from its investment.
Of course, we haven’t even touched on the second order effects of such an investment. The opportunity cost of those picks is huge, especially as we look at the other holes on the team. That’s also where this analysis is weakest. The top ten picks count for A LOT, but they’re still just one draft selection (though in theory they could be freely traded for more picks). The Eagles, instead, used 3 separate selections on the WR position. While that increased the odds of getting at least 1 starter (Matthews), it also meant having fewer resources to devote to the rest of the team (ahem…offensive line…).
Moreover, the Eagles didn’t stop there. The team made another concentrated investment in the QB position. The team used two 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick, and a 3rd rounder to get Wentz (I’m just cancelling the swapped 4th rounders out). They also used a 4th round pick on Matt Barkley in 2013. Oh dear, I originally forgot the 2nd round pick used to acquire Sam Bradford.
So, to make things clearer, over the past 4 drafts, the Eagles have used the following on the QB and WR positions:
And they’ve come out with Carson Wentz and Jordan Matthews….
That, folks, is how you (potentially) destroy a team for a long time. It means that if Carson Wentz is anything less than a true star at QB, it’ll be a long time before the team is ready to be a top contender again.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The defense looks good, and as the Giants showed (twice), even mediocre teams can win a Super Bowl if they get a great string of luck. However, the days of perennial division titles and conference championships aren’t coming back anytime soon (unless Wentz is great). Roster management and the draft is just an exercise in asset allocation. The Eagles were very good at that for a long time, but lost discipline during the Chip Kelly era. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while to climb back out of that hole.
Pre-emptive argument note: I’ve been a strong advocate of “saturation drafting” in the past. However, I’ve always used that to mean using multiple LATE ROUND picks on the same position, as a way to maximize the odds of getting a rosterable player when your only options are low-probability lottery tickets. The key to why that strategy is effective is how low the opportunity cost of those picks is. Hence, applying the same logic to the top of the draft doesn’t work, because the opportunity cost there is huge.