The NFL draft is a strange and often confusing event. It's impossible to accurately predict how well a prospect will play in the NFL. Sometimes a guy deemed to be the future of a franchise can set an organization back five years (Ryan Leaf).
Other times a guy picked late in the sixth round can come out of nowhere to lead a team to three Super Bowl championships in four years (Tom Brady).
Andy Reid has certainly had his fair share of first round-busts (who can forget Freddie Mitchell or Jerome McDougle), but he's certainly made some good moves. Ignoring the city's vote for Ricky Williams to pick Donovan McNabb in '99 was the best decision Reid ever made.
He hit the jackpot with his first four picks in the '02 draft – Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, and Brian Westbrook – but perhaps his most underrated decisions came in back-to-back years in '05 and '06, when he drafted defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, both in the first round.
Patterson played pretty well as a rookie, even starting the final seven games of the season while finishing tied for third among rookie defensive linemen and first among rookie defensive tackles in sacks (3.5).
Bunkley followed that up by barely stepping onto the field in his rookie campaign of '06. I remember being frustrated, thinking Reid had blown it again in the draft.
I was way wrong.
Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and the selections of Patterson and Bunkley to restore the team's defensive line has had a major impact on the defense as a complete unit.
Neither Patterson nor Bunkley has made a Pro Bowl and neither is flashy—other than that 98-yard fumble return touchdown by Patterson in '06, the longest fumble return touchdown by a defensive lineman in NFL history—but perhaps the most effective measure of their contribution has been a run defense that ranked 21st in the league in '05 and 26thin '06 to seventh in '07—the first full season Patterson and Bunkley played together—to fourth in '08.
Patterson and Bunkley aren't pass-rushing specialists. Neither has ever registered more than four sacks in a season, but the nearly 600 pounds between them bull-rushing the offensive line has enabled teammates Trent Cole and Juqua Parker to rack up the sacks.
In fact, the Eagles as a team last year finished fourth in the NFL in total sacks (48). The defense's ability to apply constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks helped the secondary finish third in the league in total passing yards allowed (182.1 per game).
For every team, players come and go on the defensive side of the ball. All-World safety Brian Dawkins departed for Denver just several weeks ago and the linebacking corps is always changing, but what will help the Eagles' defense remain the class of the NFC is the abilities of Patterson and Bunkley on the defensive line.
When Eagles fans remember the team's defense from 2008, they'll remember Brian Dawkins, who played his last season in an Eagles uniform, knocking down passes and forcing fumbles.
Or Asante Samuel, the Pro Bowl corner who took a pick all the way in the playoffs. There's Sheldon Brown and Quintin Mikell, who may have been BETTER than Samuel and Dawkins. There's Trent Cole, the Pro Bowl pass-rushing defensive end or Stewart Bradley, the future All-Pro middle linebacker.
Not many people would remember either Patterson or Bunkley but they are two quality first-round draft picks and very underrated pieces of a championship-caliber defense.