How The Eagles Built A Winner By Overdrafting Quarterbacks
According to most of the football world, Jalen Hurts should not be a Philadelphia Eagle. Even Hurts was incredulous at the beginning. When his phone rang on draft day and the area code was 215 — a Pennsylvania number — at first Hurts thought it was the Steelers calling. Instead, it was Eagles general manager Howie Roseman telling Hurts they were selecting him with the 53rd pick of the 2020 NFL draft.
“I had no idea I would come here,” Hurts said on New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce.
Hurts wasn’t alone. Philadelphia fans — folks not known to be particularly temperate in expressing their emotions, even at the best of times — were apoplectic. NFL talking heads said the pick didn’t make sense; that Hurts couldn’t help enough immediately to justify his second-round selection; that owner Jeffrey Lurie should fire everyone if the Eagles moved on from 2019 starter Carson Wentz. Even sharp young analysts with an analytical bent declared it extremely unlikely that Hurts would ever deliver value to the Eagles. It seemed as if the entire football world was convinced Roseman had bungled things badly.
Perhaps the world can be forgiven for not imagining a future where Wentz would lose his job, or that just two short years later, Hurts would lead the Eagles to the NFC championship game. After all, Wentz was coming off a solid year in 2019 (6.7 YPA, 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions for a 62.8 QBR) and had led the team to the wild card while staying healthy. Perhaps more importantly, he’d just signed a $128 million extension the previous June. Most viewed Hurts as either an expensive insurance policy taken out against another Wentz injury, or an upscale version of the New Orleans Saints’ do-everything gadget player Taysom Hill. But no one gave the notion that Wentz could suddenly turn into a pumpkin any real credence … until it happened the very next season. In 2020, Wentz led the league in sacks (50), tied for the lead in interceptions (15) and ranked 28th in QBR. By the end of the year, Hurts was starting; soon after the season, coach Doug Pederson was fired and Wentz was traded.
Did the Eagles see the implosion coming when no one else did? Probably not. In his news conference after the Hurts pick, Roseman said that having a strong QB room was the bedrock of the team’s philosophy. When Roseman said, “Our priorities are that … quarterback position,” he was expressing the attitude that having multiple quarterbacks was simply sound team-building — not that Wentz’s downfall was assumed to be imminent.
We should probably take him at his word. Just look at how Roseman has allocated draft capital since he reclaimed personnel power over the Eagles in December 2015. If we include trades involving first-round picks,1 the Eagles have spent more draft capital (as defined by the net expected future value of each pick plus the net future value of players acquired for traded picks) on quarterbacks than any other position besides wide receivers — and they’ve used three times as many picks on receivers.
Roseman spent draft capital at the most valuable positions
Philadelphia Eagles draft picks by position and draft capital*, 2016-22
|Position||Total picks||Draft capital|
|Interior defensive line||4||254|
In fact, the Eagles’ allocation of draft capital has been nearly identical to what “the analytics” say about positional value. From the series of trades that landed the Eagles the No. 2 overall pick (ultimately used on Wentz); to the Hurts pick; to the nine selections that the team has spent on wide receivers;2 to the eight picks spent on edge rushers and the four shots taken on interior linemen3 to provide a stout inside push (allowing those edge rushers to flourish): Roseman has followed an evidence-based approach to team-building almost perfectly.
And when Wentz went all pear-shaped in 2020, that approach helped save the team. It certainly wasn’t Roseman’s ability to “pick the right players.” Every team misses on picks, and the Eagles are no exception. Roseman spent a first-, fourth- and sixth-round pick to move up three spots and draft tackle Andre Dillard at No. 22 in 2019. Dillard is a first-round bust who still hasn’t played more than 35 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in a season. Second-round cornerback Sidney Jones was waived after just three seasons in Philadelphia. And most egregiously, Roseman missed out on perhaps the best receiver in the league in 2020. He bet and lost on wide receiver Jalen Reagor in the same draft that he took Hurts, picking Reagor one spot ahead of future Minnesota Vikings superstar wideout Justin Jefferson. Reagor was eventually traded to the Vikings (of all teams) this past August for a 2023 seventh-rounder and a conditional 2024 pick.4
Yet despite all the failure, the power of allocating draft capital to high-value positions is that it gives a franchise the cushion to absorb the calamity of a missed premium pick, an unexpected injury or a precipitous decline in performance. It can even help a team survive the chaos of firing the only Super Bowl-winning head coach in franchise history.
Spending premium draft capital selecting extra quarterbacks is an expensive insurance policy, but it’s insurance that should become table stakes across the league. It’s so obviously advantageous to have a better-than-average Plan B for your starting quarterback, as both the Eagles and the 49ers have shown, that other teams can’t help but take note. And it’s why it shouldn’t be shocking if the Eagles use a high pick on yet another quarterback this offseason. Injury or ineffectiveness lurks around the corner every year, and preparing for the worst is the most important thing a GM can do.
So Hurts’s rise proves that another famous Philadelphian, Ben Franklin, had it backward: When it comes to quarterbacks, if you’re not planning to fail, you’re failing to plan.
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CORRECTION (Jan. 26, 2023, 2:20 p.m.): A previous version of this story said Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a sixth-round pick. Jones was waived by the Eagles and later traded to Seattle for a sixth-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.