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June 22, 2019

Eagles rookie NFL player comparisons: The full series

Eagles NFL
Miles-Sanders_052819_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

Over the last week, we compared each of the Eagles' rookie draft picks to current NFL players. In case you missed any of them, here's the full series in its entirety.

Andre Dillard

Who did Dillard pattern his game after?

"Jason Peters was a big one," Dillard said. "Tyron Smith, I watched him a lot. Joe Staley. Trent Williams. I like to watch guys like that. There are unique things about each one of them. Jason Peters is a master technician, has a great kick, can move that large body really well. It looks effortless when he does that. Tyron Smith, he has the fastest feet I've ever seen, long arms. Trent Williams, mean silverback. Joe Staley, master technician as well."

Who does Dillard remind me of?

During a media session with local media, Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland was asked who Dillard reminded him of.

"I don't ask myself that question because I have my list of critical factors that I use, but that will come to me as I watch the film," he said. "I'll say, 'Boy he reminds me of this guy, or he reminds me of that guy. I didn't have anybody that I had coached in the past or that I really thought of that reminded me of him."

Me neither, but we'll still give it a go.

Coming out of pass-happy Washington State, Dillard was thought of as extremely athletic offensive tackle prospect with elite pass protection abilities. One area where he is unproven, however, is as a run blocker. 

Though he hasn't demonstrated that he can blast defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage against their will, he certainly has the athleticism to be a good run blocker in other ways, such as pulling all the way across the line, executing combo blocks and then getting to the next level to cut off linebackers and defensive backs at the second level, or getting out in front of the screen game, which is essentially an extension of the run game.

In that respect, he reminds me of the Saints' Terron Armstead, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2018 on the strength of his pass protection abilities. In 2013, Armstead had one of the best performances ever at the NFL Combine, when he broke the record for the best 40 time by an offensive tackle, in addition to other impressive measurables.

061719TerronArmstead

While Dillard's 40 time isn't quite what Armstead's was, his overall Combine performance in 2019 was similarly impressive, as he earned an outstanding SPARQ score:

 MeasurableAndre Dillard Terron Armstead 
 Height6'5 6'5 
 Weight315 306 
 Arms33 1/2" 34" 
 Hands10" 9 1/4" 
 40 time4.96 4.71 
 Vertical jump29" 34 1/2" 
 Broad jump118" 112" 
 3-cone7.40 7.72 
 20-yard shuttle4.41 4.48 
 Bench press24 reps 31 reps 


The expectation is that Dillard will continue to be very good in pass protection at the next level, and while he likely won't ever bully defensive ends in the run game like the Trent Williams example Dillard himself noted, he should be effective in the run game in other areas, like Armstead is.

Miles Sanders

Who did Sanders pattern his game after?

"There are a lot of good running backs in the league," Sanders said. "Ezekiel. Saquon, being teammates with him, I think my game is pretty similar. There's Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack, all types of running backs. I don't really compare myself to anybody, but I like to watch film and see different things that they do and put different tools in my toolbox."

When asked what he likes about those backs, Sanders said, "They're physical, they run hard, and finish. They're scoring a lot so that's probably the main thing."

Who does Sanders remind me of?

The player I landed on as the closest comparison to Sanders was Patriots 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel.

061719SonyMichel

To begin, Sanders and Michel have nearly identical height-weight measurements. Both are exactly 5’10 5/8, and Michel is three pounds heavier. Sanders’ athletic measurables are slightly better:

 MeasurableMiles Sanders Sony Michel 
Height 5'10 5/8 5'10 5/8 
Weight 211 214 
40 yard dash 4.49 4.54 
 20 yard shuttle4.19 4.21 
 Bench press20 reps 22 reps 


Sanders' and Michel's college experiences were also quite similar, in that both played most of their college careers with other excellent running backs. Michel played second fiddle at Georgia to Nick Chubb, while Sanders had to sit for two years behind Saquon Barkley. 

Their rushing numbers were also similar, in that they (a) had a low number of career carries, and (b) had almost the same yards per carry average:

Player Rush Yards YPC TD 
 Miles Sanders (PSU)276 1649 6.0 12 
 Sony Michel (Georgia)590 3613 6.1 33 


Michel ran 209 times for 931 yards (4.5 YPC) and 6 TDs as a rookie. As runners, both players are 
physical enough to run between the tackles, while also possessing the ability to stretch the field on outside zone runs. Here's a taste of Michel's best runs as a rookie: 


As you'll see, Sanders' running style is similar. Both players have good-not-great speed, and while they're both on the slighter side at around 210-215 pounds apiece, they run through arm tackles and typically fall forward when they're tackled. I'll give Sanders the edge on "wiggle."


As receivers, both players lacked impressive production in college
:

Player Rec Yards YPC TD 
 Miles Sanders (PSU)32 193 6.0 
 Sony Michel (Georgia)64 621 9.7 


However, the belief was that they could both do it in the pros. As we've noted in the past, the Eagles have had mixed success with running backs lacking receiving numbers in college that they thought would become passing game weapons in the pros. Corey Clement proved them right. Wendell Smallwood proved them wrong. To note, Michel only had 7 receptions as a rookie in 2018 in an offense that loves to utilize their running backs in the passing game.

It's also noteworthy that both players had fumbling issues in college. Michel had 12 career fumbles at Georgia. That was one fumble for every 54.5 touches, which is bad. Sanders had a fumble every 30.8 touches, which is awful. Michel cleaned it up as a rookie, fumbling just once on 216 touches.

The one area where Sanders is definitively behind Michel entering the pros is in pass protection, where Michel was thought of as a polished back in that regard.

Heading into his rookie season, Sanders has three issues to clean up:

  1. Ball security
  2. Pass protection
  3. Receiving ability

Sanders is a little behind having missed all of spring practices with a nagging hamstring injury, but if he can make strides in training camp in all three of the above concern areas, most importantly ball security, he could play as much as a rookie as Michel did a year ago with the Pats.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Who did Arcega-Whiteside pattern his game after?

"There are a lot of players I looked at," Arcega-Whiteside said. "Alshon (Jeffery). I looked at Mike Thomas, Steve Smith, a little bit of everybody, because I don't want to try to be one guy. I want to try to (implement) what everybody does well and put that in my game so that I can become a complete player.

"(Smith) was a local guy. He's one of the biggest competitors to ever play football. When I was at a football camp in North Carolina, he came out and gave me a lot of advice and tips. I was already a fan before that, but he became my favorite then. We just keep interacting. Even in college he would call me from time to time. During the Combine, we did an interview. He's just always been there. He's been a reliable source for me. 

 "(Thomas) is just a great football player. He works hard. He's not the fastest guy, the strongest guy, but he goes out there and makes plays. He's smooth, and at the end of the day, that's what you have to do to be a receiver, is run routes, catch balls, make plays."

Who does Arcega-Whiteside remind me of?

When Arcega-Whiteside was drafted, many (self included) made the obvious comparison to Alshon Jeffery, because of both players' abilities to win on contested catches. That's too easy though.

After giving this one a lot of thought, I've settled on the guy he reminds me of most, and it may come as a bit of a surprise. Dez Bryant!

061919DezBryant

Like, watch Arcega-Whiteside highlight reels vs. Dez Bryant highlight reels, and tell me they don't look a whole lot alike. First, Arcega-Whiteside:


And now Bryant: 


They also had identical heights and weights coming out of college, as well as similar athleticism measurables:

 MeasurableJ.J. Arcega-Whiteside Dez Bryant 
 Height6'2 6'2 
 Weight225 225 
 Arms33 1/4" 34" 
 Hands9 1/2" 9 3/4" 
 40 time4.49 4.52 
 Vertical jump34" 38" 
 Broad jump119" 133" 
 3-cone7.23 7.21 
 20-yard shuttle4.41 4.48 


To be clear, we are not predicting the same type of career for Arcega-Whiteside that Bryant had. There were three years from 2012 to 2014 in which Bryant was a top five receiver in the NFL. During that span, he racked up 273 catches for 3935 yards and 41 TDs. That was an average of 91 catches, 1312 yards, and 14 TDs per season.

In his prime, Bryant was more explosive, and had more ability to make plays after the catch. But they do have common traits, most notably the ability to win contested catches (especially in the red zone), awareness and comfort on back shoulder throws, and boxing out corners like a rebounder on slant routes.

In the same way that tandems like Tony Romo and Bryant, as well as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, mastered back shoulder timing throws, Carson Wentz and Arcega-Whiteside should make a conscious effort to do the same.

Shareef Miller

Who did Miller pattern his game after?

"My favorite player was Von Miller. Chandler Jones is a guy I like to pattern my game after, just because he's the same height, same weight, tall, lanky dude. Mainly those two guys there.

"Miller's speed, just how he bends. His get-off is key. He gets off the ball before dudes get out of their stance. And then with Chandler Jones, he's not as fast as Miller, but he picks his spots."

Who does Miller remind me of?

To begin, the Eagles drafted Miller late in the fourth round, knowing that he's something of a project. They also feel that they got something of a steal on Day 3 because the loaded defensive line class pushed him further down the draft than normal.

"When you look at today, a guy like Shareef, we think in a normal draft, that guy goes yesterday," Roseman said in his recap press conference on the final day of the draft. "Because so many teams took defensive linemen, we had an opportunity to get a young pass rusher we think we can work with and develop and has some tools in his body."

The "work with and develop and has some tools in his body" comment from Roseman jibes with pre-draft scouting reports, such as Lance Zierlein's of NFL.com:

Projection based defensive end who with good size and athletic traits but a lack of functional skill at this point. Miller doesn't play with early, aggressive hands in the run game or as a rusher and that severely limits his consistency in both areas. His lack of instincts as a rusher is a concern, but improving his approach at the top of the rush should be coachable. He's a rangy edge defender with moldable traits, but until he'll be stuck in a holding pattern of "potential" until he develops his fundamentals.

New Eagles defensive line coach Phillip Daniels revealed what the Eagles look for in their defensive ends, and how that applies to Miller.

"I think the first trait that you want to see in a guy is being smart," Daniels said. "He's a smart player. And then you want a guy who can run. In our defense, you have to run as an end, because you have to close, and run and make tackles down the line. If you can get to spots, and you can run, we're almost there, where you need to be. The other part is the physicality part. We won't (see) that until training camp. Other than that, we just like his ability, his size, his length, and the things that he can do. You want to have length in this defense to get separation from blocks, get off blocks, and make plays."

Miller can indeed run, but where does he still have to develop? I think a lack of strength shows up in his play, and it certainly showed up at the Combine, when he only put up 16 reps on the bench press (5th percentile at DE) and a vertical jump of 29 1/2" (12th percentile). He also lacks a pass rushing repertoire. In college, he could get to the quarterback on raw athleticism. In the pros, he'll need to develop go-to pass rush moves. 

His skill set reminds me a little of Mathias Kiwanuka, the former DE/LB for the Giants. 

Coming out of college, Kiwanuka was a little bigger than Miller, slightly more athletic, and much more productive (over 30 sacks in college). As a result, he was drafted much higher than Miller. However, he also had some of the same functional strength concerns, and was clearly a better pass rusher than run defender. Their Combine measurables were similar:

 MeasurableShareef Miller Mathias Kiwanuka 
 Height6'5 6'6 
 Weight254 266 
 40 yard dash4.69 4.70 
 Vertical jump29 1/2" 32" 
 20-yard shuttle4.45 4.15 
 Bench press16 reps 17 reps 


Kiwanuka was drafted to a Giants team that already had Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, but as a first-round pick, he was expected to produce immediately as a role player. In his second season, the Giants (mistakenly, in my opinion) moved Kiwanuka to SAM linebacker. He toggled back and forth between DE and LB during a solid, but unspectacular career.

Miller is a tall, fast edge rusher who can be a good all-around player if he puts in the time in the weight room, and takes coaching on his technique.

Clayton Thorson

Who did Thorson pattern his game after?

"I always watched Peyton Manning and Brett Favre growing up, Tom Brady, all those guys," Thorson said. "But who did I model my game after? I don't know. I try to take a few things from each guy. Aaron Rodgers gets out of the pocket and makes plays. You see how Peyton moves within the pocket and made plays. Obviously Brady does all that stuff too. I just try to learn from all of them, and then being around Carson Wentz, I can learn from him too. I don't know if there's one certain guy. I try to take a lot of things from all those guys."

Who does Thorson remind me of?

Being a fifth-round rookie quarterback, I tried to comp him to a career backup, but I really couldn't come up with anyone that fit. The guy he sort of reminds me of that you've all heard of? Jay Cutler, minus the cannon arm

061919JayCutler

Let's go through the similarities.

• Thorson and Cutler have similar size. Thorson is 6'4, 222. Cutler was 6'3, 226 coming out of college. 

• Their college careers were similar in many ways. They were both four-year starters at schools that are traditionally overmatched against their conference opponents. Thorson went to Northwestern, while Cutler went to Vanderbilt. While both of those schools have occasional decent seasons, both quarterbacks didn't have a lot of help from their skill position players or offensive lines during their tenures. Partly as a result, they both had bad completion percentage, yards per attempt, and INT numbers.

Player Comp-Att (Comp %) Yards (YPA) TD-INT Rating 
 Clayton Thorson, Northwestern991-1696 (58.4%)10731 (6.3)61-45 118.1
Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt710-1242 (57.2%)8697 (7.0)59-36 125.9


• They were also both effective runners near the goal line, as Thorson had an impressive 27 career rushing TDs, while Cutler had 17.

• Thorson reportedly scored a 31 on the Wonderlic, while Cutler scored a 29, for whatever that is worth.

The biggest difference between the two, obviously, is arm strength. I've seen Cutler close up in action, when the Eagles and Dolphins had joint practices in 2017 for a week in Philadelphia. At the time, Cutler was 34, and had just come out of retirement after Miami lost Ryan Tannehill with a knee injury. And yet, that dude could still rip it. I've attended Eagles training camps since 2010, as well as a smattering a Giants camps, and have seen a few big-name quarterbacks in my day. In terms of arm strength, Cutler was second only to Michael Vick in terms of arm strength, in my opinion.

So to be clear, Thorson does not have Cutler's arm strength, which was by far Cutler's best attribute. That's why Cutler got drafted in the first round, while Thorson went in the fifth.


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