The year was 1989. The working-class family of The Simpsons had just begun their decades long run of eating shorts and donuts. Stephen King horrified audiences with his blockbuster hit Pet Sematary. And Cher captured the hearts of America with her lead single “If I Could Turn Back Time”.
Let me be clear; we are not going all the way back to 1989. Instead, we are turning back time to 2016. Specifically, the 2016 NFL Draft. Recently the fantastic Dane Brugler of The Athletic took a look back at the draft and graded each team. The Philadelphia Eagles did well for themselves and earned a “B+” grade. If Howie Roseman had another crack at it, could he - like Cher - reach the stars? That’s what I’ll try to do today, gentle readers.
First, the rules. All trades before the draft and during the draft are final. I tried to keep the players I selected in the same range that they were, so I wouldn’t replace a third round pick with a fifth round selection. I can assure you that I played fast and loose with that rule, so try not to think too hard about it. Enough qualifying, TO THE WAR ROOM!
1.2 CARSON WENTZ - Quarterback, North Dakota State
(Original Pick: Carson Wentz)
Not today, Satan. You won’t catch me asking for a mulligan on the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Even if I wanted to, what are my other options? I could stick with Sam Bradford. That’s gonna be a no from me, dog. I could wait and grab Dak Prescott. Even if it’s great value for a later selection, why would I select a lesser quarterback? Neither of those move the needle for me, so I’m sticking with Wentz. Besides, why would you ever not pick the 2019 MVP?
3.79 JAVON HARGRAVE - Defensive Tackle, South Carolina State
(Original Pick: Isaac Seumalo)
There are worse things in the world than grabbing a replacement-level starter in the middle of the third round. Thus, this is less of an indictment of Seumalo as it is an appreciation of Hargrave. With Bennie Logan on the final year of his contract, Hargrave comes in as his eventual replacement.
The 309-pound South Carolina State product finished his final collegiate season with 13.5 sacks, a blistering number even considering his lower level of competition. Hargrave had a quiet start to his career with 4 combined sacks over two years, but he broke out in 2018 with 6.5 sacks and an 82.7 grade from Pro Football Focus.
5.153 JOE HAEG - Offensive Tackle, North Dakota State
(Original Pick: Wendell Smallwood)
We can agree we’d like a mulligan on Smallwood, correct? Good.
Staying out of the Power 5 conferences for the third straight pick in a row may have produced some groans from the Eagles’ faithful, but Haeg has turned out to be a solid enough bookend in the NFL.
Haeg has what the Eagles like in their offensive linemen. He tested very well, coming in the 89th percentile or better for broad jump, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle. He’s also been a versatile piece of the Indianapolis Colts line by providing snaps at right guard, right tackle, and left tackle. I’ll take a chance on Jeff Stoutland doing a better job than Joe Philbin and Dave DeGuglielmo have to this point.
5.164 JAKEEM GRANT - Wide Receiver, Texas Tech
(Original Pick: Halapoulivaati Vaitai)
Vaitai may see see his career saved by an eventual move to guard, because his struggles at offensive tackle have been well documented. Yes, the Eagles won the Super Bowl with him at tackle, but it wasn’t without sending him a little (a lot of*) help. Plus, in this scenario the Eagles already grabbed Wentz’s teammate Haeg, so I declined on the double dip of developmental tackles.
Instead, I’ll take a swing on a burner. Why? I’ll let BLG explain.
“It’s not ideal for the Eagles to still have a need at receiver despite spending significant draft resources on pass catchers in recent years (Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff). The Birds seem to be looking to add a deep threat to their receiver corps, which is something they haven’t had since losing DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.” - Brandon Lee Gowton, What is the Eagles’ biggest need?
Grant was extremely productive at Texas Tech with 3,485 yards from scrimmage and 29 total touchdowns. He added 4 kickoff return touchdowns and as a pro had both a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in 2018. He also burned a 4.38 40-yard dash.
Jakeem Grant has unbelievable speed pic.twitter.com/MOdNYPYSkm— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) October 7, 2018
As a receiver Grant has only amassed 471 career yards and 4 touchdowns, but that’s more than Shelton Gibson, who was drafted the next year for several of the same reasons.
I could’ve gone with Tyreek Hill here, but that would be... problematic.
6.196 KAMU GRUGIER-HILL - Linebacker, East Illinois
(Original Pick: Blake Countess)
Countess has made his money as a pure special teamer to this point, so securing a special teams ace with starter upside makes sense for me. Grugier-Hill was initially selected by the New England Patriots with the 208th selection, so this allows us to forego stealing him claiming him off waivers five months later.
7.233 JALEN MILLS - Cornerback, LSU
(Original Pick: Jalen Mills)
Love or hate him, Jalen Mills has been fantastic bang for the buck as a seventh rounder. Mills’ decent 2017 campaign is bracketed by two poor ones, but his trademark volatility hit on the positive side of the fence during the playoff run up to the Super Bowl win. Regardless if Mills doesn’t pan out in the future that’s enough of a contribution to select Mills again, for better or worse.
7.240 PEYTON BARBER - Running Back, Auburn
(Original Pick: Alex McCalister)
“There weren’t many “misses” in the Eagles’ 2016 draft haul with the first six players drafted still on the active roster and contributing. In the seventh round, McCalister was seen as a flexible edge rusher with upside, but his issues (both on and off the field) kept him from ever suiting up in an NFL game.” - Dane Brugler
With the bar set so low in terms of improving the pick and no Wendell Smallwood selected, the Eagles still had a need at running back.
“The injury-prone Ryan Mathews turns 29 in October. Darren Sproles, who is entering the last year of his contract, turns 33 in June. The Eagles’ top two running backs are players who aren’t reliable full-time players. The Birds need to spend at least one pick on a running back this year. A committee of Mathews, Sproles, and a rookie could work. Only relying on Mathews and Sproles would be irresponsible.” - Brandon Lee Gowton
Barber would end up going undrafted in part due to coming out a year too early, but I’ve always been a low-key fan of his game. Perhaps the versatile Barber would have performed better in Philadelphia.
Peyton Barber my goodness pic.twitter.com/DLnvja22Ux— Mark Dulgerian (@MarkDulgerianOS) January 2, 2018
7.251 BRIAN POOLE - Cornerback, Florida
(Original Pick: Joe Walker)
Walker failed to do much outside of special teams work for the Eagles which necessitated the midseason acquisition of Dannell Ellerbe during the 2017 season. Conversely, Poole has started 21 career games. He’s also been objectively better than Mills, or at least more consistently decent. The selection would’ve led to an incredibly crowded defensive back room for the Eagles, but so close to Mr. Irrelevant, there weren’t many other options outside of the undrafted Poole.
Things would look a lot different for the Eagles if the draft fell this way, but of course hindsight is 20/20. The Eagles landed a franchise quarterback and several contributors. All things considered, that’s not a bad haul.