The Theory Behind Picking Oregon Players

Howie Roseman provided Chip Kelly with a guarantee.

The Eagles had identified Oregon defensive lineman Taylor Hart as a player they wanted to bring on board. They had a third-round grade on the 6-6, 281-pound defensive end. But the draft is about maximizing resources and properly assessing value. So the team’s decision-makers had to decide when to pull the trigger.

“We had him rated a lot higher,” Kelly said. “I know I say that a lot, but that’s true for us. We would have taken him in the third. We’re fortunate. I think Howie did a great job of how we ordered it today. The other guy [Florida DB Jaylen Watkins] would be gone first, so let’s take him. He guaranteed me Hart would be there in the fifth, and he was right.”

The selection of two Oregon players is representative of a greater philosophy the Eagles have adopted. As one reporter phrased it in a question to Roseman: Limit the variables.

So what does that mean exactly? It’s an evidence-based approach that de-emphasizes the idea of projecting how guys will fit.

Take the selection of Marcus Smith, for example. The Eagles could have drafted a prospect who played 4-3 defensive end in college and projected that he’d be a fit at 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. But they didn’t. They drafted a player who had already shown in college that he could rush the passer standing up, drop in coverage and set the edge against the run. Smith was a 3-4 OLB at Louisville who lined up in a variety of spots.

In the third round, the Eagles went with Oregon’s Josh Huff. They could have taken a wide receiver with more upside like Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief or Clemson’s Martavis Bryant. But they’ve already seen Huff exhibit the exact traits Kelly is looking for in a wide receiver.

In the fifth round, the Eagles drafted Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, and Kelly pretty much spelled out the Eagles’ draft philosophy.

“Sometimes it’s tough when you’re evaluating some guys on film, because you see their athletic ability, but you’re not sure how it’s going to translate when you see people that run similar schemes to what are run at this level,” Kelly said. “And what Stanford does, it helps in your evaluation because you’re not guessing or projecting. You say, here’s evidence that he’s done it.”

The philosophy extends to other areas as well. For example, you may have noticed that the Eagles have stayed away from small-school prospects the last two years. The reason? They require more of a projection because they’re competing against lesser competition. The same can be said for guys with character red flags. You won’t find any of those among the Eagles’ picks the last two seasons.

Of course, this is not to say the organization has found the perfect way to approach the draft. They may miss out on players who have great upside, even if that potential has not been tapped fully at the college level. In essence, it shrinks the draft board, eliminating players who could be fits, but who present what the organization considers to be significant risk.

The chances of a bust are reduced. But in some instances, so are the chances of hitting a home run.

“You’re trying to hit on as many guys as you can,” Roseman said. “And so the more times you roll the dice because of some level of competition, character, mental, any of those things that factor in, you’re decreasing your chances of hitting on a guy. I’m not telling you that we have a secret formula, certainly not, but I think that that’s what we feel most comfortable with.”