Every team in the NFL has their hits and their misses when it comes to the annual draft. No matter how much scouting, analysis and debate swirls around the front office, picking a quality NFL player is an inexact science, even with the premium resource of a first round selection. Least of all, the Philadelphia Eagles are not immune to this. Throughout the history of the franchise, we've seen some of the marquee names in the league come from their first round picks, and some of the most abject failures that have ever put on a pro uniform.
In recent years, the Eagles have had some soaring highs, alongside crushing lows when considering their first round picks. This inconsistency is somewhat of a Jekyll & Hyde dynamic, but one that is understandable in a league that is as unpredictable as the NFL. The jury is still out on 2016 first rounder Carson Wentz, but needless to say, Philadelphia hopes that he falls into the category of a rousing success. All of the others are fair game here; the good, the bad and the ugly. There's certainly plenty of each to go around.
Ranked below are the eight best, and seven worst first round draft picks in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
17 15. BEST: Mike Quick
Although the Eagles weren't one of the league's better teams during Quick's prime, he was an elite talent at wide receiver, and probably the best player at the position for the team until they signed Terrell Owens in free agency many years later. His size, speed and skill set was ahead of its time in the mid-80s, and Quick set the league on fire almost right out of the gate. He remained with the Eagles for almost a decade, and spanned multiple quarterbacks, including Randall Cunningham and Ron Jaworski, two of the most beloved players in team history. One of the rare first round receivers that was a success for the Eagles, as they've had plenty of misses in that category over the years. Quick was one of the best of his era.
15 14. WORST: Marcus Smith
It seems that the Eagles reached a bit for Smith when they took him late in the first round of the 2014 draft. Considering he couldn't get on the field as an outside linebacker his first two seasons in the league, it was fair to wonder if he would see any kind of significant playing time. Now that he was moved back to his native defensive end position for the 2016 season, he was able to achieve middling production as a rotational player. It's doubtful that Smith will ever truly live up to being a first round pick, but he seems to have found his role as a complimentary piece on the Eagles defensive line. While that is better than nothing, he still has to be considered one of the bigger first round flops out there, as he's never started one game with the team in his three years in the league. First round picks simply need better production than that.
14 13. BEST: Lito Sheppard
Going into the 2002 season, the Eagles knew they needed young playmakers at the cornerback position to supplement the quality play at safety that All Pro Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis were providing. Sheppard was the result of that realization, and was the team's 26th overall pick in the '02 draft. He quickly turned himself into an elite player at the position for multiple seasons, and further bolstered an already effective Eagles defense. Sheppard holding down the outside of the field was a big reason why the Eagles made the Super Bowl in 2004, and appeared in five NFC Championship games during the 2000s. He stands as one of the best cornerbacks in team history, and one of the best in the league during his prime.
13 12. WORST: Michael Haddix
The Eagles had the eighth overall selection in 1983, and decided to spend that pick on a running back out of Mississippi State in Haddix. It turned out to be a disaster from the beginning. Haddix produced like a seventh round pick instead of a first rounder, and never topped 300 yards rushing in any season he was with the Eagles. The team tried to move him to fullback for a few seasons in order to salvage any ability that may have been left, but it was a lost cause at that point. As a top ten selection, Haddix was a total bust, and a missed opportunity for the Eagles when they needed a playmaker the most in the early-80s. He simply didn't have the skill to be a lead running back, and his career produced very underwhelming statistics as a result.
12 11. BEST: Corey Simon
Having selected a franchise quarterback the year prior in Donovan McNabb, the Eagles knew that the 2000 draft should be used to bolster their young defense that had flashed signs of potential in recent years. Simon was the team's sixth overall selection in that draft, and had a very productive run. He wasn't flashy, but a defensive tackle doesn't have to be, and Simon could effectively rush the passer, or clog up the run game. He gave the Eagles an identity on the defensive line, and was present for most of the deep playoff runs the team went on in the 2000s. Some may say that his career lasted on the short side, playing in just five seasons in Philadelphia, and seven in the NFL overall, but he helped make the Eagles into one of the top defenses in the league, and produced well for his draft position. Simon is one of the more underrated players in team history.
11 10. WORST: Freddie Mitchell
I mentioned earlier how is mostly went downhill for first round Eagle receivers following the selection of Mike Quick in 1983, and Mitchell is a glaring testament to that statement. Taken at 25th overall, Mitchell couldn't even consistently find his way onto the starter end of the receiving corps in the early 2000s. He was high on personality, but low on production, and his numbers read more like an overachieving undrafted free agent, than a first round pick who should have been the centerpiece of an offense. He's noted for some big catches during his career, but they were few and far between. Mitchell is ultimately one of the biggest busts in team history, playing just four seasons in the league. Not to mention that he's one in a long line of wide receiver busts for the Eagles.
10 9. BEST: Keith Jackson
Jackson was a tight end ahead of his time, and was predominantly a receiving threat in an era where most tight ends were asked to be blockers first. He was the prototype of a Gronk or Jimmy Graham type player in today's game. Jackson lived up to the hype of his first round selection in 1988, and gave an Eagles team that already had a dominating defense, a greater identity on the offensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, due to ownership issues (read: previous owner Norman Braman sold off all of the quality talent for no reason), Jackson only ended up playing four seasons with the team. However, he produced well in every single one, and is one of the best tight ends in team history. If he played for a more offensive minded coach in lieu of Buddy Ryan, or had an owner that valued his talent, he could have stayed much longer.
9 8. WORST: Mike Mamula
Mamula was slated to give the Eagles an identity on defense for Ray Rhodes, who was the new head coach in 1995. Selected seventh overall, Mamula was a defensive end drafted out of Boston College, but fell way short of expectations. He wasn't horrible in any regard, but he also didn't produce the way that a top ten overall selection should, particularly with a defensive oriented head coach. His sack totals were middling, and he only played in five seasons with the team, before retiring in 2000. He doesn't reach the level of disappointment that some others at his position have for the Eagles, but Mamula is the definition of a missed opportunity. It's a pick the team wished they could have back.
7 7. BEST: Fletcher Cox
Cox is a recent Eagles draft pick that has been worth the hype. Selected in the 2012 draft, he's been one of the most dominating defensive tackles in the league during his time with the team, and just signed a massive contract extension in the 2015 offseason for his efforts. Cox is only outmatched by several players at his position in the entire NFL, and has shown time and time again that he is a playmaker on defense, consistently wreaking havoc on the oppositions offensive line. He can stop the run and rush the passer with equal measure, and is one of the most feared defensive players in the league. Cox figures to be around for the foreseeable future, and will provide the Eagles with the type of anchor that they'll need on their defense in that time. Overall, a great first round selection.
6 6. WORST: Danny Watkins
One of the last first round picks of the Andy Reid era in 2011, Watkins was supposed to be a bulldozer of a guard that could anchor the offensive line for the next ten years. Instead, what the Eagles got was a player who couldn't adapt to the NFL, and decided that his true dream in life was to become a firefighter. In total, he spent two years with the Eagles, and never materialized into the player that a first round pick should be, even as an offensive lineman. It's hard to knock Watkins too much for realizing that the NFL was not where he wanted to be, but it would have been nice for the Eagles to know that after they took him 23rd overall. While offensive guard is one of the more replaceable positions in the NFL game, Watkins remains a massive first round bust for the Eagles.
5 5. BEST: Keith Byars
Byars is probably one of the more underrated players in team history, and it's fair to say that the Eagles offense wouldn't have been nearly as effective without him in the late-80s. He didn't post eye popping numbers, but it's important to remember just how much of the Eagles offense ran through Randall Cunningham back then, and his seemingly superhuman abilities. The Eagles were not a traditional run-first team, and Byars was used accordingly. He was a good power back, elite receiver out of the backfield, quality blocker, and had a knack for big yardage gains when it mattered most. In short, he could do pretty much everything well. He's one of the better first round picks in team history, even if he is often overlooked for more highlight-heavy players.
4 4. WORST: Nelson Agholor
While the jury isn't 100% out on Agholor quite yet, his time with the Eagles will be wearing thin if he continues to play like he has so far in his career. Selected out of USC in the 2015 draft, Agholor has simply been one of the worst receivers in the league in his two years of playing time. He plays with too much hesitation, and is one of the league leaders in dropped passes; with many of them coming in important situations. He hasn't lived up to his billing, and the Eagles may be looking to move on from him sooner rather than later. Chalk Agholor up as another major disappointing first round wide receiver for the Eagles. It's a depressing prospect to consider how much the team has failed in this regard, but the fact bear out, and Agholor is just another spoke in that wheel.
3 3. BEST: Jerome Brown
With all-time great defensive end Reggie White already on the team in 1987, the front office decided that it was time to pair him with a defensive tackle of equal measure. They got it right when they selected Brown at ninth overall. The former Miami Hurricane was immediately a force to be reckoned with. With Brown bulldozing the middle of the offensive line, White was free to rush the passer more than he ever had been, and this tandem immediately turned the Eagles defense into arguably the best in the league. Brown was simply an all-time talent, and would have gone on to a Hall of Fame career, had he not tragically passed away during the offseason in 1992. His life was taken too soon, but Jerome Brown was still one of the best players of his generation, and an all-time great Philadelphia Eagle.
2 2. WORST: Jon Harris
Harris was taken 25th overall in the 1997 draft out of Virginia, and was supposed to give the Eagles the pass rusher at defensive end that they had been missing since the days of Reggie White. That did not end up happening, and Harris crashed and burned almost as soon as he arrived in Philly. He spent a mere two seasons with the team, and accumulated a destitute two sacks in that time span. It's rare that a first round pick can actually be considered a detriment to the team, but it's not an exaggeration to say that Harris was that bad, especially since so many of his defensive teammates were actually productive when new head coach Andy Reid came in a year or so later. Harris simply couldn't play, and is undoubtedly the worst first round selection in the history of the Eagles.
1 1. BEST: Donovan McNabb
Coming off a three-win season in 1998, the Eagles front office knew that the first step in rebuilding the team was a new franchise quarterback. Despite overwhelming fan anticipation for running back Ricky Williams, they took a swing a young quarterback out of Syracuse in Donovan McNabb. The rest is history. While there are certainly detractions that can be made about McNabb's game, the fact remains that the Eagles probably wouldn't have made five NFC Title games without his presence as a franchise quarterback. He gave the team stability in an area that they required it most, and for that, his services to the team are invaluable. McNabb was an anchor for them, and provided some of the best memories and accomplishments in team history. For that, he is the best ever first round selection the team ever made, and will remain so until another quarterback (looking at you, Carson Wentz) can match his level of production for Philadelphia.
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