Eagles

Depth and runs: Eagles' Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas detail inexact science of draft

Depth and runs: Eagles' Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas detail inexact science of draft

Last year around this time, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas were in a similar situation. 

While Douglas was still with the Chicago Bears, both he and Roseman thought their respective teams would be able to wait a while to select a defensive tackle in a draft class that was considered to be exceptionally deep at the position. 

They were both wrong. 

"Even though a draft may be deep at a position, it doesn't mean that they're not going to come off," Douglas, hired last May, said Thursday morning at the Eagles' pre-draft availability. 

There was a run of defensive tackles in the 2016 draft. Every team, it turned out, wanted their guy. 

So the Bears' draft board was wiped clean of defensive tackles by the end of the second round and the Eagles' board was wiped clean not long after. Both teams were left without a player from a position that was considered to be deeper than others. 

"But you don't know," Roseman said. "There are years where positions that are deep and you get into the fifth, sixth, seventh round and you see guys that you really like. It will be really exciting to see what happens at some of those positions." 

This year, most experts, including Roseman and Douglas, have said the deepest positions from the draft appear to be defensive back, running back and tight end. As you might have noticed, the Eagles have glaring needs at two of those positions heading into next week's festivities. 

Having needs at positions of strength in the draft is obviously a good thing. But the problem is, no one knows exactly how things will shake out after the draft begins next Thursday night. 

The Eagles just try to predict the future as best they can. 

"The way that we do that, is our pro department, led by (director of pro scouting) Dwayne Joseph, they go through team needs," Roseman said. "So you can kind of figure out, or try to figure out, teams that have a particular need that may be addressing that position in the first couple of rounds anyway, especially with a strong draft. Or guys that have put a lot of resources in a position. We do that to the best extent that we can, but it's an inexact science." 

That scientific process is made more convoluted by the fact that all positions are not created equal. Does a running back or tight end have as much value as a cornerback? For some teams, yes. For others, no way. 

Some teams, for instance, just simply won't take a running back in the first round of the draft. 

"There are teams that are just philosophically opposed," Roseman said. "We have had a lot of philosophical conversations over the last year and I think it's important you stick to your core beliefs, whatever that means. And you have to be disciplined."

Of course, when it comes to running backs in the first round, Roseman declined to say on which side of that philosophical line the Eagles fall. 

And while Douglas said he could argue running back is a premium position after the success of Ezekiel Elliott last year, the Eagles haven't taken a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986. And Baltimore, where Douglas cut his teeth, hasn't taken a running back in the first since Jamal Lewis in 2000.

After taking philosophy and the depth in this particular draft under consideration, the work isn't done. The Eagles -- and assuredly other teams -- don't act as if individual drafts are in a vacuum. They've already analyzed the depth at upcoming drafts in an attempt to maximize this year. The weakness in this class at quarterback is one of the reasons the Eagles made a strong push to get Carson Wentz last year.

"We have done that for a couple positions to make sure that we're not sitting there saying, 'this position is so great,'" Roseman said. "And then next year, and go it's pretty good next year too, maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. We've done that to a couple positions in this draft that we think are strong and we looked ahead and said, 'is it uniquely strong? Or is it a position that every year, there are good guys coming out?'"

In recent history, the Eagles have had considerably more success in the first round when drafting in the teens than in the 20s. The last three picks in the 20s have been Nelson Agholor, Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins, while the last three picks in the teens have been Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Jeremy Maclin. So while they will listen to trade offers as they come in, it might behoove them to stay put. 

If they do, two of the biggest names associated with that 14th pick just happen to be two positions of need and two of those deep positions we mentioned earlier: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State CB Gareon Conley. 

Both have followed a similar path over the last few weeks, in that they have risen up media draft boards. When it comes to Conley, Douglas seemed to think the lag was on the media's side, not with team evaluations. 

"Our staff has done a great job of getting Conley on the board early for us as a guy that has unbelievable talent," Douglas said. "With Gareon, the speed jumps out, the length jumps out. One of the best leaders on their team, on their defense."

The recent news with McCaffrey is that he has reportedly decided to not work out privately for any teams. Roseman made sure to point out this is not unique to just this player and Douglas made it seem like it wasn't a big deal to him. 

There have been no reports of the Eagles' bringing McCaffrey in for a visit, but that doesn't mean they're not interested. His history is clean and without the ability to work him out, using a private visit on him might not be worthwhile.  

"Every player, every running back in this draft has his strengths, his weaknesses," Douglas said. "Christian is a versatile back. There's a lot of versatile backs in this draft." 

Which begs the question: Where will the Eagles pick one? 

We won't find out for another week. The draft is like an iceberg. What we see is about 10 percent. The rest of it is behind the scenes in preparation. It's a science, as inexact as it might be. 

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Redskins at Eagles (8:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Because they have the best record in the NFC, the Eagles have a huge target on their backs and everybody is gunning for them. On Monday night, the Washington Redskins are hoping to take them down a notch. The ‘Skins come limping to the Linc. Their star rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Their starting cornerbacks Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee) both might miss this key divisional showdown.

Carson Wentz has the Eagles offense rolling, and the defense has been rock solid against the run. Kirk Cousins will go after a Birds secondary ranked 29th against the pass (273.5 yards per game). One of the key matchups to watch closely is how the Eagles will try to defend against ‘Skins running back Chris Thompson, who is Washington’s leading rusher. More importantly, he’s their leading receiver, averaging 18.9 yards per catch.

In Week One the Eagles sacked Kirk Cousins 4 times, but since then he’s only been sacked 4 times. The Birds broke the ‘Skins jinx in the season opener. I look for the home team to make it a season sweep.

Pick: Eagles 28, Redskins 24

Buccaneers at Bills (1 p.m. on FOX)
The good news for the Bucs is Jameis Winston is expected to play despite dealing with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. The bad news for the Bucs is they’re playing against a Bills team coming off a bye and a Bills' defense that is No. 1 in the league in points allowed at 14.8 points per game. Tampa Bay is also winless on the road. That won’t change this week.

Pick: Buffalo

Panthers at Bears (1 p.m. on CBS)
The Panthers have had a long time to lick their wounds after their encounter with the Eagles. The Bears are riding high after a stunning road win at Baltimore. Until the Panthers learn how to run the ball effectively, better teams will make them one-dimensional. Chicago has a potent run game, averaging 136 yards, but has difficulty scoring, putting up just 17.5 points per game. The Panthers go into the Bears' den and claw out a win.

Pick: Carolina

Titans at Browns (1 p.m. on CBS)
Desperate men take desperate measures and Hue Jackson is desperate to change the misfortunes of his 0-6 Browns. Jackson is going back to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer who has 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this year. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, but he fought through it last week and threw for 306 yards against the Colts. The combination of running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray takes a lot of pressure off Mariota. Look for the Titans to ground and pound the Browns.

Pick: Tennessee

Saints at Packers (1 p.m. on FOX)
These are dark days for Packers fans with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, the Saints have been marching, winning three straight. New Orleans has averaged 35 points in its last three and Drew Brees hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1. The Saints will be doing more Lambeau Leaps than the Packers will this Sunday.

Pick: New Orleans

Jaguars at Colts (1 p.m. on CBS)
At 3-3, the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston and Tennessee. Indy is just one game off the lead at 2-4. Jags rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who is second in the league in rushing, is questionable with an ankle injury. These Jaguars are an odd bunch to figure out and their wins have come in Weeks 1, 3, and 5. Since this is an odd week, I guess you know who I’m picking here.

Pick: Jacksonville

Cardinals at Rams (1 p.m. on FOX)
Looks like all the Cards needed was to find a running back to cure their offensive problems. In his Arizona debut last Sunday, Adrian Peterson had 26 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns, along with a Cards win. The Rams have the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Todd Gurley. Both teams' offenses have the capability to light it up through the air, but if it comes down to the run game the Rams could be in trouble, as they allow 139.5 yards per game. With that said, I like the Rams at home in a close game.

Pick: Los Angeles

Jets at Dolphins (1 p.m. on FOX)
After falling behind 17-0 in Atlanta last week, the Dolphins mounted an impressive rally to pull off an upset win. The Jets have surprised many with limited offensive talent and have found a way to win three games. Division matches are usually difficult to pinpoint. The Jets are not the Falcons and since the Dolphins beat Atlanta on the road, they should handle New York at home.

Pick: Miami

Ravens at Vikings (1 p.m. on CBS)
Who are these Ravens? They look like contenders one week, then unravel against a team like Chicago the next week and look like pretenders. Minnesota’s defense is fast and rugged. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has a firm grip on the offense. The Vikings will win their third in a row.

Pick: Minnesota

Cowboys at 49ers (4:05 p.m. on FOX)
These Niners are an interesting bunch. They haven’t won a game, but they’re in most of them. The Niners have set an NFL record by losing five consecutive games by three points or less. The 'Boys are coming off a bye and look to regroup. Their defense has been hot or cold. In this case, their D can be lukewarm because the 'Boys have just enough offensive firepower to hold off the Niners.

Pick: Dallas

Seahawks at Giants (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
This should be one of those good old rock’em sock’em type matchups. The Seahawks' and Giants' defenses can both bring it. Big Blue shocked the world last week by manhandling the Broncos in Denver. Russell Wilson is one of the best in the game at extending plays with his feet. Eli Manning is a stationary target with very few weapons to work with. Yes, I remember they found a run game against the Broncos but the legion of boom and company will be ready for it.

Pick: Seattle

Bengals at Steelers (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
The Steelers put it all together last week to hand the Chiefs their first loss. Do you want defense? This game is about defense. The Bengals are ranked second and the Steelers are third best in the NFL. The Bengals are well-rested coming off a bye and will be waiting for Le’Veon Bell. The wide receivers in this AFC North showdown are exciting … Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, John Ross. The Bengals two-game win streak stops in Da Burgh.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Broncos at Chargers (4:25 p.m on CBS)
Remember how we were all snickering at the Chargers for inventing new ways to lose close games? Well, laugh no more. The Chargers have won their last two by a grand total of six points. Meanwhile, the Broncos have lost two of their last three. This game features premier pass rushers on both sides —Von Miller, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are 0-3 at home. This is a pick’em game. After closing my eyes and throwing at a dart board, I’m picking the Chargers. Don’t ask me why.

Pick: Los Angeles

Falcons at Patriots (8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC)
A rematch of last season’s Super Bowl. It would be a small measure of revenge for the Falcons, but Atlanta is having problems finding the end zone. In each of their last two games, the Falcons have been held to just 17 points and lost both. Brady and company know how to score, but the Pats' defense has been inconsistent stopping the opposition from scoring. However, maybe that’s changing. In its last two games, New England held Tampa Bay to 14 points and the Jets to 17 points. Atlanta presents a much bigger test, but never bet against Bill Belichick at home.

Pick: Patriots

Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

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Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

The same Zach Ertz who's never had more than four touchdowns in a season now leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown catches. With four.

It's all part of the natural evolution between Ertz and Carson Wentz.

Ertz shares the NFL TD catch lead among tight ends with the Buccaneers' Cameron Brate and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

And going back to last year, Ertz has six touchdown catches in his last seven games and eight in his last 13 games.

In his previous 40 games? He had five touchdown catches.

“I think it's just all the offseason work with Carson," Ertz said. "I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in me down there, and I think that stems from all the red-zone emphasis that we had all spring and summer.

"And then I’ve just made plays, the offensive line has held up, I think Carson is putting the ball in amazing spots, and I just go up and get the ball. I have the easy part."

Ertz had TD catches to give the Eagles 14-0 leads against the Giants and Cards and then caught two last Thursday that turned a 10-3 deficit into an 18-10 lead as the Eagles beat the Panthers in Charlotte.

He's the first Eagles tight end with four TD catches through six games since Pete Pihos in 1955.

“The biggest thing is A) He puts in the work and B) He’s a really intelligent football player," Wentz said. "He knows coverages, recognizes things, knows when he’s hot (on a blitz).

"He’s really kind of in my head. He knows when I’m about to change his route, those types of things. With a guy like that, that knows how to create separation and play on time and be on the same page as me, that makes it tough to stop."

The touchdowns are most notable, but Ertz is off to the best start of his career in every category. His 34 catches and 405 yards are both second-most among all NFL tight ends to Travis Kelce's 37 and 423 (in seven games).

The Eagles, 5-1, face the 3-2 Redskins Monday night at the Linc. Ertz already has 54 career receptions against the Redskins — third-most ever by a tight end.

“It’s just Year 2 in this system," he said. "I’m a lot more comfortable in my role this year as opposed to last year. I was hurt, missed two games, and I was slowly integrated back into the gameplan.

"I think this year I’m extremely confident in my role, I think they have the confidence in me to go out there and make plays when my number’s called, and it’s not going to be 10 targets every game. Last week it was two targets, 20 yards. It’s going to vary each and every week but I’m very happy with how they’re using me right now."

Ertz and Nelson Agholor are the first Eagles tandem with four touchdown catches each through six games since Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams each had four back in 1992.

The red zone was a point of emphasis this offseason, and Wentz's numbers in the red zone are off the charts — 62 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.8 passer rating, fourth-highest in the NFL.

Ertz is third in the NFL with five red-zone first-down catches and fourth in the NFL with both six red-zone receptions and 49 yards.

“It’s timing," Wentz said. "It’s a timing thing and being on the same page.

"Red zone’s all about making plays. Playmakers making plays and playing on time down there is so crucial and that’s something we’ve really focused on. I think we’ve gotten better at all our spots on playing on time but he’s a guy that we feel creates mismatches and we take advantage of them."