Sorry Jesse Pinkman, the Philadelphia Eagles actually can keep getting away with this.
With the ninth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Eagles selected a Georgia Bulldog. Later that Thursday night, with the 30th overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted another Georgia Bulldog. Seventy-five picks later, they again selected a Bulldog from the University of Georgia, and just for kicks they traded for the ‘Dawg who averaged 5.5 yards per attempt last season for the Detroit Lions.
Add it all up, and the Eagles acquired four Georgia talents over the course of the 2023 NFL Draft in Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, Kelee Ringo, and D’Andre Swift, adding on to their Bulldog-themed haul of last year’s draft when they walked out of Vegas with Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean. Six Georgia players in total, five of whom started on the legendary defense that carried the Bulldogs to back-to-back national titles in 2021 and 2022. The Eagles are a good biology program and a couple of frat houses away from being a satellite grad school for Georgia.
The weekend served as a 72-hour-long celebration of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman (which apparently got on the nerves of executives around the league), who finally cracked the code to the NFL draft—just pick all the players from the overwhelmingly dominant national championship team. Even if the entirety of the 2021 Georgia defense couldn’t have been transplanted to the NFL as a whole unit and performed well (argue as CFB fans may), taking all of the best players from said defense and developing them in the NFL seems like such an obviously great strategy that it seems odd that more franchises haven’t tried it.
This all begs the question—is the Bulldogs-to-Eagles pipeline that Rosman has constructed a new team-building philosophy that we’ve yet to see at the NFL level, or is it just a rehash of what other general managers have tried in the past?
Not even leaving the NFC East, the Washington Commanders franchise is the most recent example of a similar trend in how they valued defenders from college football’s mainstay empire in Alabama. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Commanders added Alabama EDGE Jonathan Allen in the first round, and linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second. Just a year later, they spent another first on Daron Payne to boost up the interior of their defensive line, and a sixth in order to get another Alabama linebacker in Shaun Dion Hamilton.
It’s a good parallel to track given that Payne, Anderson, and Allen were all taken with Washington’s three best picks from that two-year stretch. Plus, drafting every player from Alabama has a certain, “duh, why wouldn’t you do that?” feeling to it, similar to how people have reacted to Philadelphia’s Georgia turn. Going all in on Alabama didn’t turn out great for the Commanders, as both Anderson and Hamilton no longer play for the team, and it took five years for Payne and Allen to both turn into Pro Bowl linemen. Washington has not had a winning season since 2016 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005.
Roseman’s acquisition of five Bulldogs over the course of just two drafts (six if you count Swift) can’t really be matched on that scale, as most teams don’t load up so heavily on one college’s players over such a short time frame. However, teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the early 2010s consistently went to the same well in consecutive drafts, selecting five players from Ohio State in five drafts, two of whom were stars on the 2015-16 Steelers (Ryan Shazier and Cam Heyward) that nearly made the AFC Championship.
Weird as it may sound, the closest comparison for what the Eagles are currently doing in the modern era is … what the Chicago Bears did back in the 2003 NFL Draft?
The 2002 Florida Gators team was a perfectly fine 8-5 squad, but nothing to write home about. Yet, the Bears selected four players off that team in the subsequent draft, picking up Todd Johnson, Ian Scott, Tron LaFavor, and the legend himself, Rex Grossman. It’s a bit different given that Johnson, Scott, and LaFavor were all fourth and fifth-round picks, and none of them went on to produce at a significant level in the NFL. Still, it might be the best example of putting all of its draft class eggs in the basket of a single college football team, as then Bears’ general manager Jerry Angelo drafted more Gators than Florida alum Howie Roseman took Bulldogs last week.
There are plenty of other examples to draw upon since the turn of the millennium. The Cleveland Browns loaded up on eight different draft picks all from the University of Oklahoma from 2018 to 2022 and basically struck out on every single one of them. The Eagles might have fully embraced all of the Georgia jokes right now, but the Cincinnati Bengals were actually the first to run the grand Bulldog experiment, selecting five Georgia players over four drafts from 2010 to 2013. Two—Geno Atkins and A.J. Geen—became franchise cornerstones for a playoff-contending team.
But what ultimately separates the Eagles from other franchises that fall in love with a college team’s crop of prospects is the position that Roseman and others have currently put them in. They’re coming off a dominant season in which they just barely lost in the Super Bowl to one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport. Jalen Hurts is still young, the lines and core of the team are set, and after swindling teams like the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and so on in several trades, they entered both the 2023 and 2022 NFL Draft with premium first-round picks that were slotted much higher than where the Eagles’ own draft pick actually was. Managing a team this well means that at some point you’re just playing with house money.
Roseman and the front office already used 2022’s draft capital to acquire A.J. Brown to give Hurts the dominant No. 1 wide receiver that he so clearly needed after his first season as a starter. From there, they just waited at their draft slots until the Georgia defenders fell to them. The Eagles might have had bigger needs than adding to their already stacked defensive line, but saying that the Eagles “need” anything at any one position is already a stretch. Unlike so many teams around them, Philadelphia had no glaring hole on its roster, so why not just take the uber-athlete from the national champion who other teams passed on? Players like that drafted this early on have high baselines, almost guaranteed to find a way to contribute to the team’s success at some point.
Even better, with the wealth of talent the Eagles have, they don’t need any one of the Georgia Bulldogs they picked to be an immediate standout. Davis got to fill run-stuffing duties early on in the season before an injury. Dean rode the bench most of last season but is now hopefully ready to start after a year of experience. Carter joins that same defensive tackle rotation with Davis. Smith and Ringo are depth pieces and are going to be trained up behind stars at the positions in Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, and Darius Slay, who can take the tougher assignments for now while the younger guys learn. The last two drafts for the Eagles are simply the rich getting richer.
In the end, it’s all pretty simple. Why take risks hoping the guy you scouted on a Mountain West team can translate to the next level and prove your evaluation skills right by beating the odds? It’s so much easier to just look at the championship team at the college level, understand your franchise is one that’s currently in the midst of a title window, and load up the talent that keeps winning at the lower levels.
We don’t have the intel to say that Roseman and the Eagles are working harder than everyone around the league, but just a few days removed from the 2023 NFL Draft, it sure does feel like they’re working smarter.
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