Who’s Lovin’ Donovan McNabb

I think some additional consideration has to be put into the conversation. I cannot blast the Eagles for the fact that Freddie Mitchell was a mediocre (or otherwise shitty) wide receiver. Further, I’m still not sure that I am willing to conclusively state that Black QBs have less WR support than similarly talented white QBs (At least not in this case.). A big part of the reason, for me, is that the position of WR is one of the most difficult to draft. Look around the league: its chock full of the most talented, hardest working cats in the league. Who has worked harder to make themselves into elite players than Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Derrick Mason and Hines Ward? Seriously. You’d be hard pressed to find another position where guys have a stronger work ethic — and yet, the position is considered to be full of nothing but part-time primadonnas who loaf for a living.

Let’s take a look at the draft the year that Freddie Mitchell was drafted. It was 2001. 6 receivers came off the board in the first round. Mitchell was the 5th receiver chosen — five slots before Reggie Wayne (not an instant success in Indianapolis, lest we forget there were plenty of second thoughts about the wisdom of that pick). The receivers taken before Fred X were David Terrell (BUST), Koren Robinson (Star-BUST-Star-BUST), Rod Gardner (UNDERPERFORM), and Santana Moss (Ka-Boom). You could even argue that Moss has underperformed since he’s only had 2 1,000 yd seasons and only one of those was with the franchise that drafted him.

You could blame the Eagles for having poor scouts. You could blame the Eagles for a great many things, but the receivers they didn’t take in that draft include Chris Chambers, Steve Smith, Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmazilli. Fred X was at UCLA — he performed in big games against big competition. He was widely deemed to be better than both Oregon State receivers — and every scout had a chance to see all 3 of them. Smith was at Utah and still didn’t get under everyone’s radar. Chambers played in the Big 10 at Wisconsin. I simply don’t think that the drafting of Fred X can be used against the Eagles. Its simply a miss. I also don’t think that the excellence of Steve Smith or Chad and TJ can be used as an example of franchises providing support for white QBs. I believe those are examples of Black folk willing to seriously, seriously, seriously GRIND. The credit goes to the receivers, not the franchises. If Chad and TJ flamed out chasing hootchies around the Queen City with Chris Henry, what would be said then? Not much.

Beyond the question of Fred X, what else have the Eagles done to procure quality wide receivers.

They acquired the overall #1 Wide Receiver selected in the 2002 draft — Donte Stallworth after his career best year in New Orleans. Right?
— Now, I don’t love Stallworth (and haven’t loved any Tennessee receiver since Anthony Miller/Carl Pickens — and that means YOU Peerless Price, Joey Kent, Bobby Meachem, yadda, yadda, yadda), but he was on the roster. He averaged 19 yds/catch. He got injured. He’s gone.

They acquired Kevin Curtis one year removed from his career best year with the Rams. Right?? Curtis, ideally, could have been a Welker-esque slot guy with wheels who would open up seams in the offense. He’s been injured just a bit, though, as well.

They acquired a pass catching tight end with skills in LJ Smith. Right? He’s been a bit banged up as well. When he’s on, though, he’s as good at pass catching as anyone short of Gates and Gonzalez. Agreed?

In 2003, they tabbed a 6’4″, 215lb receiver with tremendous promise out of UVa in Billy McMullen. He was a highly regarded 3rd round pick. He wasn’t blazing fast — but didn’t need to be given who was on the roster at the time. He was taken just after the Rams took Curtis and before the Rams took Shaun McDonald; the Niners took Brandon Lloyd (not so much!); the Bears took Justin Gage (bust for them; ok for Titans). The most productive receiver taken in that draft after McMullen? Kevin Walter (Eastern Michigan, 7th Round) – by the New York Giants. He’s productive for the Texans and I hope he’s not used as an example of the Texans going all out for white guys like Matt Schaub. McMullen was a miss. It happens.

As a related point, the Eagles went for Jerome McDougle #1 in that year and LJ Smith #2. Who did they miss out at WR? Since they took McDougle at #15 and had a need, its fair to say that the price for Charles Rogers (#1) and Andre Johnson (#3) was too steep. So what did they forego by trying to get a Miami DE who didn’t pan out? Bryant Johnson, Taylor Jacobs, Bethel Johnson, Anquan Boldin (2nd round – 6th WR taken, 54th overall), Tyrone Calico, Kelley “The Body” Washington (another Tennessee flame out!) and Nate Burleson. Aside from Boldin (WORK ETHIC guy, not a gift to white QB) and Burleson (oft-injured, several teams), the Eagles didn’t miss much. The next guy taken after Burleson was Kevin Curtis. He’s on the Eagles now. The next guy taken was McMullen.

Pinkston, to my mind, was a terrible draft, but of the guys selected later in the draft (and there were MANY), only 2 were better than Stinkston (Laveranues Coles — a WORK ETHIC guy and not a gift to a white QB; and Darrell Jackson — a guy whom I’ve never liked because of those extensions at the ends of his arms that he persists in calling hands.)

Wiki on Pinkston:

Pinkston again came under fire later that season after Super Bowl XXXIX when he left the biggest game of his career with leg cramps after having made four receptions for 82 yards.

On August 5, 2005, Pinkston sustained a torn Achilles tendon in training camp practice, putting him out for the 2005 season.

During the 2006 pre-season, he was still hobbled from his Achilles injury, only catching one pass for four yards. On August 29, 2006, Pinkston was released by the Eagles following the acquisition of Donte Stallworth. After Pinkston was cut from the Eagles, a Philadelphia football writer offered this explanation: “Toughness has never been Pinky’s forte. Two years ago, he sat out the second half of a Super Bowl that was played in 60-degree Jacksonville temps with cramps. That same season he was involved in three memorable plays in which he basically backed off passes from Donovan McNabb because he was afraid of a pending hit from the safety.”[1]

On September 3, 2006, Pinkston signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, whose head coach, Brad Childress, was the former Eagles offensive coordinator. Pinkston was cut six days later.

On August 13, 2007, Pinkston, recovered from his Achilles injury, signed with the Washington Redskins, but failed to make the team’s final roster.

Pinkston was no star, but the Eagles very likely could not have done much better during that season. The only player taken before him with substantially better production is suspended for the year after shooting himself in the leg. I will say, though, that when they down in Tallahassee scouting Corey Simon, they should have walked over to the offense and checked out Coles. Maybe they knew the deal about his childhood, but not about his CHARACTER and were scared off. Who knows.

In 2005, the Eagles took a guy that has also been injured, but was supposed to represent a sound pick. He played in a solid program with a good, creative coordinator. He ran routes over the middle and had decent hands. Reggie Brown — another miss so far, but as countless other picks have demonstrated, its too early to close the book on this guy. Who was drafted before Brown? Braylon. Nice…sort of. Troy Williamson. Bust? Mike Williams. Bust? Matt “Cocaine Jones” Jones. Mark Clayton – inappropriately used in Baltimore — would probably thrive in Philly. Roddy White. That’s the list. More misses than hits — again. Roddy White was supposed to a gift for Michael Vick. Remember?

In the first round, the Eagles drafted to fill a need on the d-line and snatched Mike Patterson at #31. Brown was the next receiver taken. No receiver taken after that has become a reliable, every down performer at the position.

Only the Lions are so sound across the board that they can draft WRs with high picks every year. The Eagles didn’t go that route in ’06 or ’07. In ’08, they tabbed the 7th WR taken – DJ. He’s had a few bumps along the way, but for the most part, he’s a keeper. He’s outperformed the rest of the draft class — so that’s a win.
—————————————————————

I think when you factor in some of the randomness that defines professional football, the Eagles have made attempts to have solid WRs around McNabb — but they’ve simply missed. They expended high draft picks (Mitchell, Brown, Jackson, Pinkston). They’ve traded for guys coming off of career years while still in their prime (Stallworth, Curtis). They’ve had some success with later round picks (Avant). They’ve brought in 1 big name free agent (Owens). They’ve kept pass catching tight ends (Chad Lewis, LJ Smith, Celek). They’ve attempted to keep a talented offensive line in place.

The Eagles took risks on Stallworth and Owens that were mitigated by the contract terms. If they were willing to pay the price for Owens all of this would be moot — just as it would if Fred X were 10% as good as Reggie Wayne. Which begs the question for me (since I honestly don’t know): Has Donovan gone out of his way to forge chemistry and a seamless operation with his receivers?

What they haven’t done is establish an offense based on a power runner to ease the burden of uncertainty in the passing game. Striking gold with wide receivers is like finding a needle in a haystack. The list of 1st and 2nd round busts is long. And there are guys like Joe Horn, Hines Ward, Kevin Walter and TJ who worked and worked and worked to forge themselves into players in this league. The Eagles don’t bear the mark of hot pressed iron in their receiving corps. Until they do, I believe the failure may not be rooted in a lack of effort, but in a lack of skill. Moreover, I don’t deem “race” to be a factor — not yet.

9 comments

  1. Yet, somehow, McNabb set the consecutive passing (24) record in 2004. As for this year, it seems to me that McNabb is no longer pulling out all of the stops to win, which I don’t fault, considering the pure hatred leveled at him by many Philly fans of all stripes. Games against the Bears and the Bengals it seemed that McNabb could have possibly made a difference with his feet, but he chose not to, which I’m not mad about. I think he’s tired of Philly and can’t wait to get out. When I googled McNabb and total wins, I stumbled upon an interesting work entitled, “The Wages of Wins.” They give it up to McNabb (and others)when most others won’t.

  2. Read it again. This is also a great post. I also would say race isn’t a factor regarding front office decisions. As you very well state, effort is not a problem, scouting is. The draft is hit or miss with receivers in mind. The guy who comes to mind most recently is Chad Jackson. I absolutely thought he was going to be a monster coming out of the combine but damnit man he hasn’t panned out. What I didn’t mention is the years the Eagles were way under the cap. I made up a quote to motivate my children: The good are separated from the great simply by the risks they take. The Eagles risked everything on Owens, played in the Super Bowl, didn’t feel he was worth the money and subsequently hell bent on publicly getting him out of here. They dropped the ball in my opinion. Now you have to factor in McNabb’s sports hernia and all the sit ups Owens did in his driveway, but this should have been worked out. I have some minutes set up with Owens Sunday, we’ll see how he responds to some not so soft balls.

  3. I concur unreservedly. Excellent post. Also, I wouldn’t say race was a factor, either, and, I’d even go so far as to say that perhaps maybe even too much emphasis has been placed on the receiving corps rather than on securing another running back that would have constituted a genuine two-headed monster back there, such that the team wouldn’t overwhelmingly sink or swim solely as Westbrook goes.

    That said, it killed me to see those dropped passes ‘gainst the ‘Skins in a game, I hate to say, that I sadly figured the Eagles would lose. Neither Reid nor McNabb seem interested in gambling on fourth downs, a la the gutsy call the Ravens exacted upon the ‘Boys the previous week in what I call, “the death knell” game. Neither of them seem to want to go off script anymore and win via a killer instinct.

    Stunningly to me, since my previous comment, McNabb’s been quoted in ESPN.com as saying he wants a new deal, which truly boggles my mind because, as much as I love his game, he no longer seems to play with a sense-of urgency; a sense of “win-at-all-costs.” [he used to play this way and, he has the injuries to prove it] If his replacement didn’t stink up the joint completely versus the Ravens when McNabb was unceremoniously benched, I’d say that he’d need to be looking for a job, based upon his benching coupled with seemingly a majority of fans raising the hue-and-cry for his ouster.

  4. Mizzo:

    I’ve gotta say that we agree on the Cheapness Factor. As I said before, I think there is something to be said for the economics of fielding a competitive team vs. fielding a champion. I thinks its more expensive to field a champion and maintain a champion. I’m not sure too many franchises have been willing to go there purely behind finances.

    The last three NFL dynasties were built uniquely. Patriots – through free agency and video tape; 90’s Cowboys through the draft; 80’s 49ers through the draft and a “new” offense. Even the Steelers of the 70’s were built through the draft. Only the Patriots imported their triplets to support the work of a #5 at QB.

    The Eagles should’ve spent the money on Moss — but again, its not as if Moss didn’t have question marks and “baggage” in Oakland. Hindsight is 20/20. I’d say that like the Dillon choice, folks picks the Pats to implode as much as to succeed last year. This is the year where Moss has REALLY proven haters wrong. No Brady, no problem. He’s producing and leading. This is the guy the Eagles would love to have.

    I also think the Strength and Conditioning crew for the Eagles needs to be put on blast. I’m guessing they’re not doing nearly enough Flexibility work with guys who keep getting the same type of little nagging injuries in the legs. There’s probably a nepotism factor there or something.

    Totally agree on Chad Jackson.

  5. Great point that Moss should have been targeted by the Eagles. Quiet as is kept, Moss may very well be why Favre got booted outta GB. I read somewhere that he seriously fell outta favor with mgt when they refused to go after Moss.

  6. Heard Brett fought really, really hard and may have said somethings during that time that folk found extremely offensive. They just weren’t thinking offensive enough.

  7. I think Favre got exactly what he deserved in that scenario. Javon Walker was an excellent receiver in Green Bay. Favre went out of his way to endorse management’s position during negotiations with Walker. That poison pill injected into the Packer mix was what made the acquisition of Moss so important in the first place. The Packers would have been fine if Favre had kept his mouth shut and kept throwing passes to Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Javon Walker. When healthy, that’s as good a group as there is in the league. Favre made his own bed.

  8. Next to drafting a QB, grading receivers is the most difficult task GMs and their scouts face. I tried explaining this to a likely moron in a sports bar while watching last week’s games. In today’s NFL, receivers are required to make almost as many reads as QBs, anticipate adjustments, then communicate all that to the QB before the snap of the ball. Unlike QBs however, most receivers are not groomed to develop this skill set while in college. This is why you see so many ex-collegiate QBs (Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle-El, etc.) converted to playing receiver in the pros. On top of that, the speed of the pro game is much, much faster than what any of the players have experienced in college. Therefore, a GM is left to make a semi-educated guess for wideouts by extrapolating from 40 times, leaping ability, and actual production.

    Every once in a while comes a no-brainer like Randy Moss or Tim Brown. The Eagles’ drafting DeSean Jackson was a no-brainer; the guy was a game changer in college. Jackson’s transition to the NFL will depend on his ability to mature emotionally — and the coaches’ ability to nurture that maturity along with his physical talent. But for the rest…

    I wouldn’t use a high draft pick on a receiver unless he registered a Desmond Howard-type, new-kew-ler explosion on the college level. In fact, whenever I had a need for receivers, I’d prioritize the free agent lists and the middle rounds of the draft. I’d also take my chances with an Eric Crouch or post-prison Michael Vick over some guy from Florida with gaudy stats, or a workout warrior from any major program.

    With regard to Tom Heckert and the Eagles, I suspect the owner gives him a mandate of getting the best players available for a budget of $’X’. So if the GM is going to err, it’s going to be on the side of caution. I can understand any team passing on a Randy Moss after being subjected to Terrell Owens, especially if said team isn’t a bona fide contender for the Super Bowl.

    However, the Iggies did handle the Owens situation badly. The Packers made out a little better dumping Favre on the Jets for picks.

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