Prioritizing positions of need over your draft board can of course be dangerous, but finding a happy medium between those two extremes is probably the key. That's why it's a bit odd to see Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman refuse to rule out the possibility of his team selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
If we have a significant gap on who the best player on the board is and the next best player, it’s not really not going to matter the next best position because we don’t know where we’re going to be two, three, four years from now.
The "best player available" approach needs to have its limits. When you have the league's reigning passer rating champion as your starting quarterback and—at least as of right now—a talented veteran like Michael Vick as your backup, and when your defense ranked 29th in football last year, you don't use your top pick on another signal-caller.
I don't care if Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles drops to Philly in the 22nd spot. It still doesn't make any sense. You'd be better off trading that pick rather than selecting a quarterback for the fourth time in five years.
Roseman has no reason to rule anything out right now, so this might just be his way of displaying subtlety regarding Philly's draft plans in general, but it still has to be stated that any approach that doesn't land the Eagles an NFL-ready defensive player or another offensive weapon for Nick Foles would be a bad one.
Roseman has said consistently for the past couple years that the Eagles would not draft for need again after picks such as guard Danny Watkins and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett fizzled out. Starting in 2012, the Eagles’ policy has been to stick to their grades and take the best player on their board.
That was the explanation when they took tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Matt Barkley in last year’s draft.
But it’s one thing to take a second-round tight end after signing James Casey in free agency or picking up a young quarterback prospect in the fourth round. It’s another thing entirely to draft a quarterback in the first round. That changes the temperature in the team’s facility -- for Nick Foles, for Chip Kelly, for everyone involved.
Yes, sticking to grades is usually the safest and smartest approach and the best way to avoid busts like Watkins and Jarrett, but there have to be exceptions to that rule. It shouldn't apply at quarterback, because that position is far too specialized and unique. And it should only apply to a degree in the first round, where true difference-makers are found much more easily than later in the draft.
Having three or four good cornerbacks or outside linebackers or even offensive tackles is one thing. Having three or four good quarterbacks is silly and, generally, unnecessary.
For those who don't believe in Foles, what else does the guy need to do to convince you that he can be a franchise quarterback? He posted the third-highest passer rating in NFL history in 2013, but he also had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of all time, and the Eagles were 8-1 in games in which the 24-year-old played from start to finish.
He had 14 touchdowns and only one interception on deep passes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and was the league's fifth-most accurate quarterback under pressure. As a result, he had the highest yards-per-attempt average in football.
|Nick Foles, 2013|
|2013 rank||All-time rank|
|Yards per attempt||1st||8th|
|Pro Football Reference (Post-1970 merger)|
Vick might not stick around, but he'd be one of the best backups in football if he did. You also have Matt Barkley, who has a ton of talent and upside after being picked in the fourth round last year, and the first round isn't a place to find backup or third-string quarterbacks, regardless of how desperate you are for an insurance policy.
That's not a luxury this team—or any team—has. The Eagles have to get better on defense, period. Their 2013 sack rate of 5.2 percent was tied for the lowest mark in football, and that secondary was beat for more passing yards than any other D in the NFL.
Plus, there are potential holes at wide receiver. Let's not forget that both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are slated to become unrestricted free agents. Maclin has already been linked to the New York Jets, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, and his Twitter stream has been somewhat ominous of late.
If in May your top two receivers are DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, it's obvious who you should be targeting in Round 1.
So sure, the Eagles should be leaning toward drafting high-quality players over those who "fit," but there should be no hard and fast rules in the draft, and taking a quarterback early would be a huge mistake.