Aside from the actual games, one of the favorite parts of football season for most fans is the NFL Draft.

It starts on Thursday, when Eagles fans will be glued to TVs, laptops, and cell phones to see who owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and coach Nick Sirianni will choose in the first round.

Various mock drafts have linked a variety of players to the Birds with the 22nd overall pick.  The list includes defensive backs Terrion Arnold (Alabama), Cooper DeJean (Iowa), and Quinyon Mitchell (Toledo); offensive linemen Graham Barton (Duke), Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State),  Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma), and Amarius Mims (Georgia); and edge rusher Laiau Latu (UCLA).

If one of those players or someone else the organization covets is available a little earlier, don’t be shocked if Roseman works his magic and moves up.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman at NFL Combine
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the most-hyped Eagles draft in recent memory.

In April of 1999, the Eagles and first-year coach Andy Reid held the No. 2 overall pick. There were five quarterbacks available, led by Kentucky’s Tim Couch, UCF’s Daunte Culpepper, Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb, UCLA’s Cade McNown and Oregon’s Akili Smith, UCLA’s Cade McNown, and Oregon’s Akili Smith, not to mention Texas running back Ricky Williams.

Everyone knew the Browns were taking Couch with the first pick and Reid was said to be favoring McNabb as his future franchise quarterback.  More than a few Eagles fans were enamored with Williams, who had won the Heisman Trophy.

Philly sports radio station morning host Angelo Cataldi and former Mayor – and later Pennsylvania governor – Ed Rendell were so taken with Williams that they dispatched a group of listeners – famously nicknamed the “Dirty 30” - to the draft at New York’s Madison Square Garden to hopefully convince Reid and then-Eagles executive vice president Joe Banner to take Williams.

When then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced McNabb as the Eagles’ pick, the contingent booed, thus adding yet another chapter to the city’s sometimes sketchy reputation.

Donovan McNabb
Ezra Shaw / Staff / Getty Images

Three picks later, Saints coach Mike Ditka traded all his picks to Washington for the right to draft Williams fifth overall.

As everyone knows, Reid made the right move. McNabb became the most accomplished quarterback in franchise history, leading the team to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season.

Upon his retirement, the team retired his No. 5 jersey and inducted him into the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

Williams lasted 11 seasons with the Saints (1999-01), Dolphins (2002-03, 05, 07-10) and Ravens (2011) and even led the NFL in rushing in 2002, but was considered a disappointment.

Ironically, he did have a tie to Philadelphia.  During his college football days at Texas, he played baseball for four seasons in the Phillies’ minor league system.

No one knows for sure who the Eagles will draft on Thursday night. But no matter who it is, he won’t get booed.


All-Time Eagles draft rankings

In honor of that 1999 draft, here is one opinion of the best and worst picks by the Eagles in the first three rounds over the last 25 years.

First round

Best: QB Donovan McNabb. Honorable mention: DT Corey Simon (2000), CB Lito Sheppard (2002), WR Jeremy Maclin (2009), DE Brandon Graham (2010), DT Fletcher Cox (2012), WR DeVonta Smith (2021).

Worst: OL Danny Watkins (2011). HM: WR Freddie Mitchell (2001), DT Brodrick Bunkley (2006), LB Marcus Smith (2014), WR Jalen Reagor (2020).

Second round

Best: WR DeSean Jackson (2008): HM: S Michael Lewis (2002), RB LeSean McCoy (2009), TE Zach Ertz (2013), QB Jalen Hurts (2020).

Worst: S Jaiquawn Jarrett (2011): HM:  LB Quinton Caver (2001), T Winston Justice (2006), CB Sidney Jones (2017).

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles
(Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

Third round

Best: RB Brian Westbrook (2002): HM: QB Nick Foles (2012), LB Jordan Hicks (2015), G Isaac Seumalo (2016).

Worst: LB Bryan Smith (2008); HM: RB Ryan Moats (2005), RB Tony Hunt (2007), WR Josh Huff (2014).


Local player headed to NFL

Cedar Creek High School graduate Max Melton is expected to hear his named called during Friday’s second and third rounds of the NFL Draft.

Melton, a cornerback from Rutgers University, visited the Eagles during the predraft process and has also been mentioned as a potential pick for the Chiefs, Jets, Packers, Panthers, Patriots, Steelers, and Raiders.

There is even a possibility he could be a first-round pick. NFL analyst Adam Caplan has the Chiefs taking Melton with the 32nd overall pick.

Rutgers Max Melton
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

If that happens, Melton would become just the second local NFL player to be drafted in the first round. In 2002, Holy Spirit High School graduate and Atlantic City native William Green, a running back from Boston College, went to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 16 pick.

Getting drafted in the first three rounds would also put him in some elite company.  He would become the fifth local player to get taken in that range, joining safety Cory Bird (Oakcrest High School, Mays Landing), linebacker Greg Buttle (Mainland Regional High School, Linwood), Green, and defensive lineman Austin Johnson (St. Augustine Prep, Galloway Township).

Bird (Virginia Tech) and Buttle (Penn State) were third-round picks by the Colts (2001) and Jets (1976), respectively. Johnson (Penn State) was drafted in the second round by the Titans (2016). He also played for the Giants and Chargers and recently signed with the Bills as a free agent.

Should Max Melton get drafted by the Packers, he would be reunited with older brother Bo Melton. Bo Melton has 16 receptions for 218 yards and a touchdown for Green Bay during the 2023 regular season and added three catches for 26 yards in the playoffs, including a 19-yard TD against the 49ers.

Check Out Greater Atlantic City, NJ Area Athletes Who Played Games In NFL

Many people are not aware of the number of athletes from the Greater Atlantic City Region who have played in the National Football League. Football players who played at high schools in Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, and Ocean Counties have a strong representation in the NFL over the last few decades.

One of the most difficult accomplishments in sports is to make a Professional Sports Roster and earn the opportunity to play in a game at the highest level of the sport. Check out some of the great South Jersey Athletes who have played in games in the NFL:

Gallery Credit: Joshua Hennig/Townsquare Media

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