How the Eagles built a winner by overshooting quarterbacks

According to most of the football world, Jalen Hurts shouldn’t be a Philadelphia Eagle. Even Hurts was incredulous at first. When his phone rang on draft day and the area code was 215 — a Pennsylvania number — Hurts initially thought it was the Steelers calling. Instead, it was Eagles general manager Howie Roseman who told Hurts they would pick him with the 53rd pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

“I had no idea I was coming here,” Hurts said of New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce.

Hurts was not alone. Philadelphia fans — people who aren’t known for expressing their feelings, even in the best of times — were apoplectic. NFL talking heads said the pick didn’t make sense; that Hurts could not assist enough immediately to justify his second-round selection; that owner Jeffrey Lurie should fire everyone if 2019 starter Carson Wentz’s Eagles move on. Even astute young analysts with an analytical bent declared it extremely unlikely that Hurts would ever add value to the Eagles. It seemed like the entire football world was convinced that Roseman had done everything wrong.

Perhaps the world can be forgiven for not envisioning a future where Wentz would lose his job, or that Hurts would lead the Eagles to the NFC Championship game just two short years later. After all, Wentz had had a solid 2019 (6.7 YPA, 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions for a 62.8 QBR) and had led the team healthy to the wild card. Perhaps more importantly, he just signed a $128 million extension last June. Most viewed Hurts as either an expensive insurance policy taken out against another Wentz injury, or an elevated version of all-around gadget player Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints. But no one really believed the idea that Wentz could suddenly turn into a pumpkin… until it happened very next Season. In 2020, Wentz led the league in sacks (50), led the lead in interceptions (15) and ranked 28th in QBR. Hurts started at the end of the year; Shortly after the season, coach Doug Pederson was fired and Wentz traded.

Did the eagles see the implosion coming when no one else did? Probably not. In his post-Hurts press conference, Roseman said that a strong QB room is the foundation of the team’s philosophy. When Roseman said, “Our priorities are this… quarterback position,” he expressed an attitude that multiple quarterbacks was simply solid team building — not that it was thought Wentz’s demise was imminent.

We should probably take him at his word. Just look at how Roseman has allocated draft capital since retaking staff power over the Eagles in December 2015. If we include trades with first round picks,1 The Eagles have spent more draft capital (defined by the expected future net worth of each pick plus the future net worth of players acquired for traded picks) on quarterbacks than any other position except wide receivers — and they’ve used three times as many picks on receivers.

Roseman spent draft funds on the most valuable positions

Philadelphia Eagles Draft Picks by Position and Draft Capital*, 2016-22

position overall selection design capital
wide receiver 9 525
quarterback 3 514
Inner Line of Defence 4 254
Edge rusher 8th 238
Offensive tackle 5 180
cornerback 5 149
Offensive Guard 3 131
Back race 4 111
centre-back 4 75
Close end 2 69
center 1 56
security 4 49

* Draft equity is the expected future net worth of each pick plus the future net worth of players acquired for traded picks. Trades with first round picks are considered, including the AJ Brown deal.

Sources:, Statsbylopez

In fact, the Eagles’ draft capital allocation was almost identical to what “the analysts” say about position value. From the series of trades that earned the Eagles #2 overall (ultimately used by Wentz); to Hurts selection; to the nine selections the team has issued for wide receivers;2 to the eight picks given out for edge rushers and the four shots made for interior linemen3 to give a hefty inward boost (allowing those edge-rushers to thrive): Roseman has taken an evidence-based approach to team building almost perfectly.

And when Wentz went completely pear-shaped in 2020, that approach helped save the team. It certainly wasn’t Roseman’s ability to “pick the right players.” Every team misses picks, and the Eagles are no exception. Roseman spent a pick on laps one, four and six to move up three places and attack 22nd-place Andre Dillard in 2019. Dillard is a first-round buster who still hasn’t played more than 35 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in a season. Second-round cornerback Sidney Jones was traded to the Seahawks for a sixth-rounder. And most egregiously, Roseman missed what might be arguably the best receiver in the league in 2020. He bet and lost to wide receiver Jalen Reagor in the same draft in which he took hurts, picking Reagor a spot over future Minnesota Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson. Reagor was finally traded to the Vikings (of all people) last August for a 2023 seventh-rounder and a 2024 conditional pick.4

Yet despite all the failures, the power of allocating draft capital to high-value positions is that it gives a franchise the cushion to absorb the disaster of a missed award selection, an unexpected injury, or a precipitous drop in performance. It can even help a team survive the chaos of firing the only Super Bowl winner in franchise history.

Spending premium draft funds to select additional quarterbacks is an expensive insurance policy, but it’s insurance that should be tabled league-wide. There’s such an obvious benefit to having a better than average Plan B for your starting quarterback, as both the Eagles and 49ers have demonstrated, that other teams can’t help but take notice. And so it shouldn’t be shocking if the Eagles pick another big pick Another Quarterback this offseason. Injury or inefficiency lurks around the corner every year, and preparing for the worst is the most important thing a GM can do.

So the rise of Hurts proves another famous Philadelphian, Ben Franklin, got it wrong: When it comes to quarterbacks, if you don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan.

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