Even Jeffrey Lurie couldn’t help but draw parallels between the Eagles’ selections on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL draft and certain aspects of the class of 2002. The difference is the stakes might be even higher for Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas than they were when the club took Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown 15 years ago.
Cornerback was by far the Eagles’ most pressing need entering the draft this year, so it was no surprise they came away with two in the first three rounds. Watching the organization choose defensive backs in succession instantly brought back memories of ’02 nonetheless.
That was the last time the Eagles successfully located a long-term solution at cornerback — or any spot in the secondary for that matter — in the draft. The selections of Sheppard and Brown paved the way for seven years of stability at the position, a period during which the franchise went to the playoffs five times, won three division championships and made a Super Bowl appearance.
The Eagles are hoping history will repeat in some sense with Jones and Douglas, although the landscape of the roster is quite different this time around. Sheppard and Brown were able to sit behind Pro Bowl corners Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent for roughly a year-and-a-half.
The sooner Jones and Douglas are able to get on the field for the Eagles, the better.
As far as Jones is concerned, there’s no telling exactly when that will be. The two-time All-Pac-12 defender is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that dropped him from a potential top-15 pick or higher to No. 43 in the draft. Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman admitted Jones’ availability for 2017 is “to be determined.”
Assuming Jones makes a full recovery as expected — granted, far from assured — we’re talking about one of the best prospects in the draft. Along with the addition of defensive end Derek Barnett at No. 14, Roseman likened it to having multiple first-round picks.
“We just thought it was a really good opportunity,” Roseman said. “We’re really optimistic about it because [Jones] is 20-years-old and in doing all the research that our doctors and trainers did about this injury, we just thought it was a great opportunity for our football team.”
Lurie saw similarities to Jones and another member of the class of ’02, safety Michael Lewis.
Lewis was taken between Sheppard and Brown in the second round and wound up departing as a free agent after just five seasons, though not before earning an invitation to his only Pro Bowl. As it turns out, Lewis was only available to the Eagles in the first place due to a medical condition — one that didn’t prevent him from playing nine years in the league.
“[Eagles owner Jeffrey Lure] just talked a little bit about, ‘Do you remember that draft,’” Roseman said. “If you remember at the time, I think the point he brought up was Michael Lewis had a heart condition and he fell a little bit in that draft because of that, and we kind of took a chance on him here, and so he was, I guess, analogizing it like with Sidney.”
At least Douglas will have the opportunity to play right away, which is something the Eagles desperately need. It’s almost impossible to fault the front office for taking the best player available when he represents such amazing value, even if he is hurt, but the depth chart at corner was in a precarious state.
Had the regular season started on Thursday, the Eagles’ likely starting cornerbacks were 2016 seventh-round pick Jalen Mills and journeyman free-agent signing Patrick Robinson, with little-known Ron Brooks in the slot. At least Douglas serves as competition for the uninspiring group, even if he’s not ready to step in Week 1.
“The thing that really stood out in his week at the Senior Bowl, you guys probably heard me talk about it all the time, this guy is tough and very competitive,” Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “You saw it the entire week. Every rep was like the last rep he was playing. I love the way this guy competes.”
Obviously, the Eagles’ hope is Jones and Douglas are the next Sheppard and Brown, even if that wasn’t exactly the intention. Regardless, there are some potentially key distinctions.
Again, Sheppard and Brown had the benefit of tremendous veteran tutors and time to learn before being thrust into action. Douglas is competing for a job immediately, and if Jones is allowed to play in 2017, there’s a good chance he sees the field. The Eagles are in no position to bring these guys along slowly.
While Jones may be a better prospect than Sheppard was at the time, Douglas is less than Brown, at least in terms of draft capital. Sheppard and Brown were selected Nos. 26 and 59 in ’02. Jones and Douglas went Nos. 43 and 99.
The Eagles hope those will be remembered as minor details. The real plan is for Jones and Douglas to one day soon finally settle those corner spots that have essentially been up for grabs ever since Sheppard and Brown vacated them.
Even the Eagles don’t know if everything is going to work out that way, but based on the Lito-Sheldon draft, the optics sure seem good. Of course, it took the better part of two seasons for that plan to come together, too.