10 Eagles who squandered their talent
These are the athletes that drove all of us crazy. High draft picks, loads of talent, and for whatever reason — off-the-field issues, an absence of drive and determination, no real love for the game — they didn’t come close to maximizing all that talent.
Some were out of the league after a year or two. Some were out of the league sooner than that. None of them played a snap in the NFL after turning 30. Nine of them began their career in Philly, and all of them make us wonder what could have been.
Here, in alphabetical order, is the all-time Eagles Underachieving Team. Who would you add?
Shawn Andrews was a first-team All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler, so maybe it seems strange to see him on a list of players who squandered their ability. But Andrews could have been an all-time great. He was that good.
There was a stretch in 2005 and 2006 when the 2004 first-round pick may have been the best offensive lineman in the NFL. At 24 in 2006, he was the third-youngest Eagle ever to make first-team All-Pro (only Eric Allen and Keith Jackson were younger).
Andrews did have legitimate back issues, but he also played just three full seasons in the NFL and played only 16 total games in parts of three seasons after his 25th birthday. It’s sad to think what could have been.
The Eagles drafted three wide receivers in 1990. Fifth-round pick Calvin Williams played seven years and caught 308 passes, third-round pick Fred Barnett played eight years and caught 361 passes and second-round pick Mike Bellamy played one year and caught no passes. Bellamy was the most smooth and polished of the group as a rookie, but while Williams and Barnett worked their butts off to make the team, Bellamy never really found his way.
Not only did he play in just six games as a rookie without a reception, he never played in another game, despite tryouts with the Bears, Raiders and Colts. He’s one of nine receivers in NFL history taken in the first two rounds who never caught a pass.
Reggie Brown is the ultimate player who never got the most out of his ability. Like many others on this list, he was a second-round pick — a high second-rounder at No. 35 overall — and his career started off well enough, with 150 catches for 2,167 yards and 16 TDs in his first three seasons. He had more catches in his first three years than Mike Quick, more yards than Harold Carmichael, more touchdowns than Harold Jackson.
But Brown often spoke about how he had other interests outside football and how football wasn’t everything to him, and it showed on the field. After just 27 catches for 407 yards and one TD in 2008 and 2009 combined, he drifted out of football before his 29th birthday.
Antone Davis did play seven years in the NFL, the first five with the Eagles, and started at right tackle on the 1992 and 1995 Eagles playoff teams, so it might seem strange that we included him. He was big and strong at 6-4, 330, which is why the Eagles made him the eighth player taken in the 1991 draft — long before Brett Favre, Aeneas Williams, Erik Williams, Ricky Watters and Herman Moore.
But the thing about Davis is that right from the start he just settled for being average. He was content just to float through his career and never pushed himself to be great. He had the tools, he just didn’t have the desire.
If you saw Dorial Green-Beckham at practice, you would think he was an all-pro. The guy had tremendous size at 6-5, 225, he could run, he had good hands. That’s why, despite off-the-field issues in college, he was a high second-round pick in 2015 — the 40th pick overall. DGB had 549 yards and four TDs for the Titans as a rookie, but they couldn’t wait to unload him after the season and he was traded to the Eagles for a backup offensive lineman, Dennis Kelly of all people.
He lasted one season with the Eagles, catching 36 passes for 392 yards and two TDs, and was released before 2017 training camp even began. He never played again and was out of the league before his 24th birthday, although his legal problems have continued.
The Eagles knew when they drafted cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu out of Wisconsin in the fourth round of the 2008 draft that he wouldn’t be able to play until 2009 because of an injury. Ikegwuonu had also had some legal issues in college that had to be sorted out. But the first-team All-Big Ten selection was such an impressive athlete they felt it was worth the risk.
One long-time Eagles scout told me Ikegwuonu was “the best athlete I’ve ever seen in an Eagles uniform.” Ikegwuonu played one game in 2009 and it was such a disaster he was released two days later and never played again. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to committing five armed robberies and was sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison.
The Eagles thought they had a linebacker for the next decade when they picked Alonzo Johnson in the second round of the 1986 draft. Johnson had been a flat-out stud at Florida, a two-time first-team All-American. He was later named to Florida’s All-Time Team and is in the Gators’ athletic Hall of Fame. But with the Eagles? He lasted a grand total of 18 games and was 24 when he played his final NFL game. Johnson played OK as a rookie, picking off three passes. But he began the next year in rehab, played only three games in 1987, and never played again in Philly or anywhere else.
If Freddie Mitchell had accepted a role as a steady slot receiver, he could have had a long, productive career along the lines of a Jason Avant. Mitchell didn’t have great speed, but he was tough and had great hands, characteristics we all saw on 4th-and-26. But Mitchell, the 25th pick in 2000, wanted to be that star outside receiver, something he just wasn’t built for.
He didn’t help himself with his inflammatory comments, either. After catching 90 passes for 1,263 yards and five TDs, the Eagles cut ties with him after the Super Bowl, soon after his 26th birthday. Nobody even brought him in for training camp, and he never played football again.
L.J. Smith’s career started off well enough. He had 172 catches for 1,991 yards and 14 touchdowns — plus a Super Bowl TD in 2004 — in his first four seasons as a second-round pick out of Rutgers. He should have been just reaching his prime at 26 years old heading into the 2007 season.
But his numbers began dropping, the Eagles cut ties with him after the 2008 season and after a two-catch cameo with the Ravens in 2009 he was out of the league. At a position where guys like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Ben Watson, Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and even Chad Lewis put up big numbers in their 30s, Smith was 26 when he reached 300 yards for the final time and was 29 when he caught his final pass.
Bernard Williams started 16 games at left tackle for the Eagles in 1994 and looked for all the world like the left tackle of the future. The 14th pick overall out of Georgia, he made first-team all-rookie that year. He was the first rookie in franchise history to start 16 games on the offensive line and only the third overall, after Roynell Young and Eric Allen. But Williams tested positive for marijuana his first offseason and never played again. He was 22 when he played his final NFL game. He bounced around the CFL a little but his story is one of what could have been.
(USA Today Images)