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How The Eagles Went From Catastrophe To Champion In Two Years

At long last, the Philadelphia Eagles are finally world champions, after knocking off the New England Patriots in a shootout of historic proportions. Like most Pats Super Bowls, its outcome came down to the wire, as unheralded backup QB Nick Foles ultimately outgunned Tom Brady to win MVP honors. Philly fans celebrated in the only way they knew how: They danced atop cars, scaled lampposts, ran naked through the streets and generally lost their minds in a night of jubilant mayhem. No matter who you were rooting for, it was a lot to process.

What might have been forgotten Sunday night, though, was just how far the team had come in such a short period of time. A little over two years ago, the Eagles were in a state of disarray after a series of failed personnel moves by former coach/GM Chip Kelly. They’d sputtered to a disappointing 6-9 record before Kelly was fired in 2015, and were staring at a roster stocked with far too many overpaid veterans. It seemed like it might take a while to restock the team with enough talent to contend again.

But once-and-future personnel honcho Howie Roseman moved quickly to erase Kelly’s miscues. He ditched DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and Sam Bradford — the cornerstones of Kelly’s madcap offseason plans of a year before — and used some of the spoils to eventually pick up receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Jay Ajayi. And although he traded up in the draft (usually a no-no) to grab franchise QB Carson Wentz — a gamble that so far has panned out extremely well, at least until Wentz went down with an ACL tear in Week 14 — Roseman also made a smart, low-risk play to bring Foles back to Philly as an insurance policy.

Needless to say, the repair job paid big dividends. And the Eagles’ Super Bowl team might provide a new (old) blueprint for future championship rosters, built as it was by stockpiling raw talent and amassing powerful offensive and defensive lines.

In addition to extending talented players already on the roster, Roseman admitted that one of his strategies while rebuilding the Eagles was to go after highly drafted players who washed out with other clubs. “Those guys, being drafted that high, they obviously have traits in their body that you can bring out with the right coaching system,” Roseman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. According to Chase Stuart’s system of measuring the amount of draft value on a roster (weighted by each player’s approximate value), the Eagles had more impact players who were high draft picks than any Super Bowl winner since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens — and they ranked sixth-best among champs during the free-agency era.1

Few champs have had as much draft talent as the Eagles

Average draft value on roster (weighted by approximate value) for Super Bowl champions since 1993

Year Team Weighted Draft Year Team Weighted Draft
1 1999 Rams 12.8 14 2007 Giants 8.6
2 1993 Cowboys 12.0 15 2015 Broncos 8.4
3 2000 Ravens 11.1 16 1996 Packers 8.4
4 1995 Cowboys 10.5 17 2009 Saints 7.7
5 1994 49ers 10.3 18 2001 Patriots 7.6
6 2017 Eagles 10.3 19 2012 Ravens 7.4
7 2002 Buccaneers 10.3 20 2008 Steelers 7.2
8 1997 Broncos 9.4 21 2014 Patriots 6.8
9 2011 Giants 9.2 22 2004 Patriots 6.8
10 2003 Patriots 9.0 23 1998 Broncos 6.7
11 2006 Colts 9.0 24 2016 Patriots 6.7
12 2005 Steelers 8.8 25 2013 Seahawks 6.1
13 2010 Packers 8.7

Draft value is determined by the expected value of the pick where the player was selected, based on AV.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Much of that talent was concentrated up front, where six of the team’s nine starters on the offensive and defensive lines were taken in the first two rounds of the draft (and a seventh, Brandon Brooks, was drafted in the third round). By concentrating on the big guys in the trenches, Roseman built a team whose strengths resembled those of the champions of a different age, such as the 49ers, Cowboys and Packers teams that dominated early in the salary-cap era.

Between its offense and defense, Philly got 101 total points of approximate value out of its linemen this season, including 62 from the quintet of Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Brooks. The last Super Bowl winner that got more combined approximate value from its offensive and defensive lines were those 2000 Baltimore Ravens again. And here, too, Philly was only bested by a handful of champs:

The Eagles were built along the trenches

Total approximate value (AV) contributed by offensive and defensive lines for Super Bowl champions, 1993-2017

AV FROM … AV FROM …
Year Team OL DL TOTAL Year Team OL DL TOTAL
1 1999 Rams 62 53 115 14 2006 Colts 66 24 90
2 1996 Packers 55 50 105 15 2016 Patriots 49 41 90
3 2000 Ravens 43 61 104 16 2004 Patriots 56 33 89
4 1994 49ers 67 36 103 17 2005 Steelers 56 27 83
5 2017 Eagles 57 44 101 18 2003 Patriots 42 40 82
6 1995 Cowboys 61 38 99 19 2011 Giants 44 38 82
7 1993 Cowboys 57 41 98 20 2001 Patriots 48 33 81
8 2013 Seahawks 47 51 98 21 2007 Giants 40 38 78
9 1997 Broncos 55 42 97 22 2008 Steelers 42 32 74
10 2002 Buccaneers 35 62 97 23 2010 Packers 48 26 74
11 1998 Broncos 59 36 95 24 2012 Ravens 40 32 72
12 2009 Saints 62 31 93 25 2015 Broncos 35 27 62
13 2014 Patriots 54 39 93

Uses Pro-Football-Reference.com’s positional designations, which are incomplete for players who did not start or were primarily backups.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Given those powerful lines and a talented array of skill-position players who saved their best production for the games that mattered most — Ajayi, Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Corey Clement and Torrey Smith all put up more scrimmage yards per game in the playoffs than in the regular season — it makes sense that Foles was in a position to thrive during his magical postseason run. Losing Wentz to injury was a major blow, but this roster might have been uniquely equipped to adapt to and overcome that loss.

That was a testament to how quickly and effectively Roseman overhauled the Eagles in the wake of the Chip Kelly era. It wasn’t very long ago that Philly’s first-ever Super Bowl crown seemed like a pipe dream — but with the help of some shrewd roster shuffling, it became a reality.

Footnotes

  1. Since 1993.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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