Joe Banner

The 2 draft picks Joe Banner is most proud of from time with Eagles

The 2 draft picks Joe Banner is most proud of from time with Eagles

The Eagles drafted 162 players during the 18 years Joe Banner in the team’s front office.

There were 20 Pro Bowlers, one Hall of Famer and three members of the NFL’s Team of the Decade. All but 17 of them got into at least one NFL game. 

Today, 25 years after Jeff Lurie made Banner his first hire after buying the Eagles, Banner looks back at two of those draft picks with particular fondness.

Banner appeared this week on the Eagle Eye podcast and we asked him for a draft pick or two that he’s the most proud of. Maybe not the best player or the highest pick but the pick he looks back on with the most pride.

“I’ll give you two names: Brian Westbrook and Trent Cole,” Banner said. 

The Eagles selected Westbrook in the third round in 2002 with the 91st pick overall and Cole in the fifth round in 2005 with the 146th pick.

Trent we got at the end of the fifth round,” Banner said. “He could have been picked in the first round and you would have felt good about the pick. And we wanted Brian so bad that we literally tried to trade up every pick in the entire third round, which I think was like 20 spots. We were on the phone with every single team once we got into the third round, and we could not get anybody to trade with which meant they probably weren’t too anxious about it because not only did they didn’t trade, they didn’t pick him. He was a guy that wasn’t projected that highly, partially because of his size, some people thought he couldn’t be more than a third-down back, and obviously he turned out to be much, much more. So those were two key positions, key players, who contributed massively to our success for a long time that the rest of the league just didn’t think of the way we did.

Westbrook piled up over 10,000 scrimmage yards in his career, made two Pro Bowls and an all-pro team and along with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk is one of only two running backs in NFL history with 6,000 rushing yards, 400 receptions and 30 TDs both rushing and receiving.

Cole recorded 85 1/2 sacks as an Eagle, had four double-digit sack seasons, made two Pro Bowls and ranks second only to Hall of Famer Reggie White in sacks in franchise history.

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Joe Banner reveals Eagles considered drafting Akili Smith instead of Donovan McNabb

Joe Banner reveals Eagles considered drafting Akili Smith instead of Donovan McNabb

When you look at the other quarterbacks in that Class of 1999, it’s easy to forget that this was not a no-brainer.

Sure, in retrospect, Donovan McNabb’s career was infinitely more successful than the other quarterbacks in that 1999 draft. 

Daunte Culpepper had a couple big years, but McNabb finished with more wins (98) than the four others combined (69) as well as more playoff wins (9 to 2) and a far better winning percentage (.612 compared to the four others all at .410 or worse).

Looking back 21 years to a pivotal Eagles draft pick, long-time team president Joe Banner said the decision in the Eagles’ draft room in April of 1999 was not clear cut.

On the Eagle Eye Podcast Tuesday, Banner revealed that there were some in the Eagles’ draft room who wanted the team to take Akili Smith at No. 3.

“Donovan McNabb was not a consensus pick,” Banner said.

The Browns wound up taking Tim Couch first, the Eagles picked McNabb second and the Bengals took Smith third. Culpepper went to Minnesota with the 11th pick and Cade McNown to the Bears with the 12th.

Smith only won three games in his brief NFL career.

There were a few of us on Donovan, but Akili Smith was probably the next-highest guy,” said Banner, who was with the Eagles from 1995 through 2012. “We had people who felt very strongly about Akili. We didn’t have Couch (as a top prospect). We had Donovan first when we finished the board, but we had three that we projected as quality NFL starters - Donovan, Culpepper and Akili Smith. We were a little worried about some character stuff with Akili Smith -- not overly, but just a little bit more than the other guys -- and then, ironically, Jon Gruden (who had been with the Eagles through 1997) coached Donovan at the Senior Bowl and was very close with Andy, and Andy trusted him and he was very strong in his recommendation of Donovan. … Andy felt strongly about it, he was the offensive mind of the team. He was a guy that had to base his real career and success as a head coach in his initial years on that. And that cleared the way for us taking Donovan. And really Donovan’s the only one whose career you would feel really good about if you picked him in the top five or seven picks.

The Eagles’ brain trust back then was Banner, executive vice president, Tom Modrak, director of football operations, and Reid. 

Offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower, quarterbacks coach Brad Childress and college scouting director John Goeller would all have been part of that conversation.

One last thing on a key 1st-round draft pick in the 1990s: Banner said the Eagles came very close to not drafting Tra Thomas, who went on to make three Pro Bowls and hold down left tackle here for a decade.

The Eagles took Thomas with the 11th pick in 1998.

We came very close to not picking Tra Thomas,” he said. “There was another tackle in the draft that some people liked more. A guy named Mo Collins that turned out to be not good a player. Huge difference from a Pro Bowl player to a guy who really wasn’t much of a contributor. We really had a tough decision between those two guys.

Banner had some other very interesting things to say about some of those early drafts with the Eagles. He spoke about the Eagles' draft picks he’s most proud of and revealed what running back the Eagles liked the most in that 1998 draft (hint: it wasn’t Ricky Williams.) And he also explained why he was so surprised the Eagles moved on from Malcolm Jenkins.

For the full interview, check out the latest Eagle Eye podcast below.

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Eagle Eye podcast: Joe Banner joins the podcast

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eagle Eye podcast: Joe Banner joins the podcast

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro are joined by former Eagles president and NFL front office executive Joe Banner. 

The NFL will have virtual workouts this spring to follow up on a mostly virtual pre-draft process. Which teams have an advantage? Which teams are at a disadvantage? 

Banner remembers a few of the Eagles’ big draft hits during his time in Philly and remembers how split the room was on Donovan McNabb back in 1999.

Plus, Roob and Dave remember a few draft picks they were wrong about in the past. 

• Virtual spring workouts 
• Joe Banner joins the show 
• Challenges of a remote draft/spring schedule 
• Banner’s legacy in the NFL 
• Memories from past drafts 
• Banner’s view of the Eagles’ offseason 
• Rounding up mock draft possibilities 
• Players we were wrong about 

Subscribe and rate the Eagle Eye podcast: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles