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Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Eagles must find a building block at No. 4

By Dan Graziano

What do the Philadelphia Eagles need to get with the No. 4 overall pick in April's draft? A superstar.

Yeah, I know: "Who doesn't?" "Being a little non-specific there, aren't we, Dan?" "Thanks for enlightening us." But I'm not trying to be overly simplistic as much as I'm trying to drive home a point for Eagles fans who aren't used to this. Throw out everything you've ever heard or thought about drafting for need. It doesn't apply here. The pressure is on Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman to use that No. 4 pick to find a crucial, building-block player who can be one of their team's anchors for years to come. That's what picking in the top five means. That's the only priority.

Donovan McNabb
The last time the Eagles had a top-five draft pick, they used it on quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The last time the Eagles picked in the top five was 1999. They had the No. 2 pick that year. They took Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb, who won 101 games (including nine playoff games) and five division titles in 11 years as their quarterback. That's called nailing it. That's the kind of thing the Eagles need to be trying to do this year.

And no, it doesn't have to be a quarterback. This draft does not appear, from three months out, to have the franchise-quarterback talent at the top that last year's did. Maybe by April 25 the Eagles have convinced themselves that someone like Geno Smith or Matt Barkley or Mike Glennon is their quarterback of the future and they use the pick on him. There's enough time for the landscape to shift like that. But they shouldn't force a quarterback into that pick, because they can't afford to miss here.

The Eagles' goal with this year's first-round pick is to find a player -- be it a tackle, a defensive back, a defensive lineman, a quarterback, whatever -- who they believe can be a reliable, star-caliber contributor for them for the next decade. You don't get the No. 4 pick because you're in a great place in your franchise's history. You get it because you just went something like 4-12, and the system is designed to help keep you from going 4-12 over and over again. You get it because you need help -- and not just position-of-need help but franchise-altering help. The Eagles already know this about where they are, and it's why they changed head coaches for the first time in 14 years. Now it's about building a roster with which Kelly can succeed.

The Eagles have eight picks in this year's draft, and they would do well to use the final seven to address the many needs they have on defense, to build and add depth along the lines, to maybe find a receiver they can develop ... the usual draft stuff. But the No. 4 pick in the first round is not usual. You don't often find yourself picking there. Current NFL players who were picked No. 4 overall include A.J. Green, Trent Williams, Darren McFadden and Philip Rivers. High-level contributors. Long-term studs. Pro Bowlers.

That's the goal for the Eagles with their first-round pick this year. That's the pressure that is on their decision-makers as they head to the scouting combine this week and begin assessing their options in earnest. They need to make a list -- and the nice thing is that it doesn't need to be any longer than four names -- of players they can plug into their lineup for years to come and expect them to dominate for them. Because the most important thing for the Eagles to do with this pick is to get a difference-maker to hasten their turnaround and help sustain it. If they nail their first top-five pick since 1999, then that's what they'll have. If not ... well, they could find themselves back in the top five again sooner than they'd like to.