The Eagles are in a tailspin. At 3-7-1, they are poised to finish near the bottom of the NFC East, a division on pace to become the worst division in NFL history. The team is a far cry from the 2017 team, which was so deep that it won the Super Bowl despite suffering significant injuries.
The precipitous slide begs the question: how in the hell did we get here?
There is no shortage of blame to go around. Carson Wentz looks like a shell of his former self, playing statistically and on film like a bottom five quarterback in the league. Doug Pederson, hired, in part, because of his experience playing quarterback, has been incapable of breaking Wentz out of his slump, and his offense has become as stale and predictable as the Chip Kelly-led Eagles in 2015.
But the problems go beyond just the quarterback and head coach. The roster is old, expensive, and bad. The man responsible for constructing this roster, Howie Roseman, has no one left to blame but himself.
It is no secret that Roseman struggles in the draft. The entire 2017 NFL Draft class flopped, with only two of the eight selections left on the team, one of whom – Nate Gerry – arguably does not belong in the NFL, and the other – Derek Barnett – has maxed out as a league average defensive end.
You might not have heard this before, but Roseman also drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin, then doubled down on wide receiver mistakes by taking Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson, who already looks like a legitimate superstar. Roseman also wasted a second round pick on a backup quarterback, and used his third round selection on a linebacker that is apparently so raw he cannot earn playing time with one of the worst linebacker units in the NFL.
But this article isn’t meant to rehash Howie Roseman’s mistakes in the draft. In fairness, every general manager misses in the draft. Just look at the last three New England Patriots drafts.
The more important question we should consider is how Roseman drafts relative to his peers.
In an article posted on Football Outsiders, Benjamin Ellinger helps us do just that. Ellinger analyzed how each team has performed in the NFL Draft from 2010-2019, relying on two basic metrics: Chase Stuart’s draft value chart, which is generally considered a more reliable measure of a draft pick’s value than the famed draft value chart created by Jimmy Johnson, and the career approximate value of the players drafted, a metric created by Pro-Football-Reference that attempts to quantify a player’s value relative to the league.
Using this information, Ellinger evaluates three aspects of the draft: (1) draft capital, or the amount of picks a team has had each year; (2) draft return, or the amount of return each team received from the picks it used; and (3) the team’s efficiency, or the return each team received relative to its draft capital.
This study is useful for Eagles fans because it coincides with Howie Roseman’s tenure as the Eagles’ general manager, with the exception of one year – 2015, when Chip Kelly was in charge of personnel. If you had asked me before I looked over this data where Roseman ranked relative to his peers, I would have guessed in the middle of the pack. Because, while he has some well-publicized misses, he also had a hand in drafting Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, and Carson Wentz, to name a few.
So I was surprised to learn that, in each of these metrics, Roseman ranked in the bottom half of the NFL over the last 10 years. If you narrow our focus to the last five years, when Roseman had total control over personnel, the Eagles rank in the bottom 5-10 teams in the league depending on the metric you viewed.
Before getting to the meat of the study, a few caveats to pacify the “well-actually” crowd:
- According to Jeffrey Lurie, Roseman did not have final say over personnel from 2010-2012. Andy Reid did. However, if you removed those years from the equation it would actually hurt Roseman’s performance more than it would help him. So I am leaving those years in to give Roseman the benefit of the doubt.
- As I mentioned above, this study includes 2015, the year Roseman did not have personnel control. I adjust for this by removing the 2015 season from the analysis. It is worth noting, however, that doing so did not change the outcome of the study in any meaningful way.
- This metric is by no means perfect, it is but one method for evaluating the evaluators. But the conclusions it reaches seem reasonable. Indeed, the teams at the top of the list – the Seahawks, Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens – coincide with the teams that have performed best in the NFL over the last decade, while the teams near the bottom of these rankings – the Jets, Cardinals, and Bengals – are typically at the bottom of NFL standings.
- We cannot discount the role luck plays in the draft. Ellinger reaches the same conclusion, stating: “What this all tells me is that drafting well is a lot of luck, mixed with some skill and an extra layer of a random ‘jackpot’ on top.” Of course, skill still plays a part. And that is why we this study is important.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s dig in.
Because the draft is a crapshoot, smart NFL franchises have stopped trying to “beat” the draft, and instead focus on volume based drafting. The theory, broken down in simple terms, is that having more picks gives you a better chance of finding good players. Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie used this concept when formulating his blueprint for the “Process”, as he once explained:
“We will not bat a thousand on every single draft pick. We also have them by the bushelful, in part, because of that. We don’t have any hubris that we will get them all right. We’re not certain that we have an enormous edge over anybody else. In some cases, we might not have an edge at all.”
The following charts represent the total draft capital each team had in the last 10 and five years, respectively. On the left, we see that the Eagles rank middle of the pack – 17th overall – in terms of overall draft capital in the last 10 years. That ranking was heavily aided by the 2010 and 2011 drafts, when the Eagles had a whopping 24 picks in two seasons.
The second chart measures draft capital from 2015-2019, which coincides with Howie Roseman having complete control over personnel. During this time period, the Eagles rank tied for dead last among NFL teams in terms of draft capital.
We know why this occurred: the Eagles traded five draft picks to move up to draft Carson Wentz in 2016. From 2017-19, Roseman traded numerous day two and three picks for veterans such as Jay Ajayi, Golden Tate, and Timmy Jernigan, to prolong the Eagles’ championship window.
The moves paid dividends in 2017, as they helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. But Roseman’s trades were not as effective in subsequent years. Armed with less draft picks than any team in the league, the Eagles went from Super Bowl champion to an old, injury depleted roster.
The draft return is measured by adding up the approximate value each draft pick has contributed during his career. Here is how the teams rank based on 10-year returns:
Perennial contenders Seattle, Baltimore, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, and Pittsburgh all rank in the top 10. Whereas some of the worst teams in the league, including the Jets, Chargers, and Bears, rank towards the bottom.
The Eagles rank 23rd in the NFL during this time period. Not surprisingly, the 2012 and 2013 draft classes, which saw the Eagles net Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, and Nick Foles, yielded the highest return for the Eagles. These drafts were also two of the better drafts in the NFL in those years, ranking second in 2012 and fourth in 2013 in terms of overall draft return.
But that’s where the good news ends. The 2014 class, where the Eagles took Marcus Smith, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff, had the fifth lowest return in the entire NFL. And if you examine the five-year window of 2015-2019, when Roseman had final say over the Eagles roster (save for one year), the Eagles rank second last, behind only the New York Jets, in terms of the overall return received from their draft picks.
Second to last!
Even if you remove 2015 from the equation – the year that Chip Kelly was general manager of the Eagles – the result is still the same: the Eagles draft return over this time period is 2.42%, which still ranks second to last.
The results should not be all that surprising. The Eagles draft classes ranked in the bottom ten in three out of the four classes when Roseman was in charge: 2017 (7th lowest return), 2018 (tied for dead last), and 2019 (8th lowest return).
Bottom line, the Eagles have not had successful drafts under Howie Roseman. That is especially true since he took over personal in 2016.
The final metric to consider is a team’s draft efficiency; that is, how much return did the team receive relative to its draft capital?
Again, we see that the teams towards the top of the NFL standings over the last 10 years rank towards the top of this list as well: Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baltimore, Kansas City, and New England. The Eagles rank 18th, which is almost identical to the amount of draft capital they had during this same time period (17th).
But if we again narrow our focus to the last five years, when Roseman had final say of the roster, the picture gets bleak: the Eagles rank 24th out of 32 teams in draft efficiency from 2015 to present. Even if you removed 2015 from the equation, the Eagles still rank 20th in the NFL in terms of efficiency in draft, which is not a recipe for prolonged success in the NFL:
Again, the purpose of this article isn’t to rehash the mistakes Howie Roseman has made in the draft. The purpose was to instead provide you with some objective evidence to measure Howie Roseman against his peers. Based on these metrics, Howie Roseman ranks in the bottom third of the NFL in some instances, and the bottom five in others.
Roseman used to compensate for his suspect track record in the draft by making shrewd free agent signings, winning trades, and deftly managing the Eagles’ salary cap. Since 2018, however, he no longer excels in those areas either. The end result is an old, expensive, injury prone and, quite, frankly, bad, roster that is perfectly reflected by its 3-7-1 record.