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June 20, 2022

Eagles rookie NFL player comparisons: The full series

Eagles NFL
Jonathan-Gannon-Nakobe-Dean-Eagles-05062022-UST Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon with linebacker Nakobe Dean.

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

DT Jordan Davis

Who did Davis say he patterned his game after?

"I used to look at Fletch when I was little. Fletch been playing since I started paying attention to football. It’s definitely nice to be in the same locker room as him, and get knowledge. I know I’ll be in good hands. I’m not really one for comparisons because everyone is different, but I try to bring a little influence from time to time and add a little knowledge to my book."

Throughout the draft process, we pointed to Davis as this year's "unicorn," or player that is unlike any we've ever seen. He's 6'6, 341, and he runs a 4.78 with a 10'3" broad jump. Go measure yourself in the broad jump if you have a free minute. It's easy enough to do. Have someone hold a measuring tape and let it rip. My guess is that most of you (no offense intended) will fall short of a 341-pounder's jump by two or three feet.

People with Davis' combination of size and athleticism simply don't exist in nature.

In fact, if you look up all the defensive tackles in NFL history who were at least 6'6 and 340 pounds, you'll only find six of them. Here are those six players with links to their spider charts:

  1. Alan Branch
  2. Jordan Phillips
  3. Daniel McCullers
  4. T.J. Barnes
  5. Kellen Heard (no chart available)
  6. Kwame Geathers

If you clicked on any of those (especially anyone other than Branch), those guys were just big bodies who couldn't really move.

And so, finding a comparable player to Davis is quite difficult. The player I landed on is Albert Haynesworth. Of course, we remember Haynesworth for a lot of the wrong reasons, most notably when he stomped on Cowboys center Andre Gurode's face, or perhaps this embarrassing moment against the Eagles: 

But for a few seasons with the Titans, Haynesworth was a beast. He was big, strong, and fast, and during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, he had 14.5 sacks in 27 games, earning first-team All-Pro honors both seasons, with second- and fourth-place finishes in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Davis was drafted 13th overall. Haynesworth was drafted 15th overall. Here are Haynesworth's pro day numbers from 2002 (via The Athletic), compared with Davis' Combine numbers:

Measurables Jordan Davis Albert Haynesworth 
Height 6'6 6'5 5/8" 
Weight 341 317 
40 yard dash 4.78 4.82 
Vertical jump 32" 30" 
Broad jump 10'3" 8'7" 


Again, it's hard to find a great match on that front because nobody in NFL history has Davis' combination of size and athletic testing measurables. But as far as play style goes, when he was at the top of his game, Haynesworth could win either with his brute size or his impressive quickness.

I believe Davis can be a bigger, more athletic, more personable, and much more motivated version of Haynesworth.

C Cam Jurgens

Who did Jurgens say he patterned his game after?

"I was such a big Husker fan. I kind of watched all the positions. For centers specifically in the NFL, Jason Kelce was a big one that I watched, Mitch Morse, so a lot of those athletic guys who can get out and move."

Jurgens is an undersized center at 6'3, 303, but with outstanding athleticism. At the Combine he ran a 4.92 40 (97th percentile among centers), with a 1.71 split (94th percentile). He's a weapon in the screen game, as he can get down the field, much like we've seen Jason Kelce do over the last decade. He's also a force in the run game, both as a puller and with his agility to get to the second level and hone in on his targets.

If given the opportunity to bully defensive backs and toss them around, he will. He has a bit of a mean streak, and has been lauded for his toughness. He is also a good technician, as he is able to execute reach blocks with his suddenness at the snap. He is able to use his quickness to seal off defenders from running lanes.

What you won't see much of with Jurgens is the ability to move bigger defenders against their will. He's not a pile pusher in the run game, and he'll have to prove that he can anchor in pass protection.

The player most commonly comped to Jurgens, has been, well, Jason Kelce. In fact, Kelce himself even said that of all the centers he has watched over the last few draft classes, Jurgens is player who most reminded him of himself.

Comping Jurgens to Kelce is boring, though, so I'll throw out another name. He reminds me a little of former New York Jets center Nick Mangold. First, their measurables:

 Measurables Cam JurgensNick Mangold 
 Height6'2 7/8" 6'4 
 Weight 303300 
 40 yard dash 4.925.05 
 Bench press 25 reps24 reps 


Like Jurgens, Mangold was undersized, but athletically gifted. Here's an old scouting report of Mangold's from 2006

There aren't too many centers that can move like Mangold. He has very good athleticism, can get out and pull, and blocks well on the move. He is a technician that rarely gets himself out of position. He gets out of his stance quickly and sets up immediately. He's tough and will not back down from anyone. His athletic skills give him the ability to play guard as well.

Mangold lacks the ideal size and strength to play center in the NFL. He has the frame to add more weight, and will have to do so to succeed in the NFL. He is on the lean side, and that combination of a lack of size and strength will give him fits in the league. He puts himself in great position but often loses out to bigger tackles because of his inability to drive them off the line.

Mangold has packed on some weight since the end of the season. He still needs to show he can carry that weight and use the extra power on the field. Mangold is an excellent center prospect, and will be the first center off the board.

There's a lot of overlap with Jurgens there.

Jurgens and Mangold both also each have their own food gigs. Jurgens sells his own beef jerky, while Mangold is a regular guest on food shows. I do this extra research for you out of love, friends.

LB Nakobe Dean

Who did Dean say he patterned his game after?

"I don’t feel like I compare myself to nobody. The people that I do watch – I’m a fan of football, so I do watch football, I do watch linebackers – but the people that I do watch I try to take little bits and pieces of each of their games that I like. Like if I see a pass rush move or the way somebody took on a block or a technique they used in coverage, I’ll take that and try to put it in my game and see if it works or not.

"I feel like the most recent guys I’ve watched are probably Roquan Smith, Zach Cunningham, the way he comes downhill, Darius Leonard the way he attacks the ball, Eric Kendricks in zone coverage, the way he attacks the ball in the air."

Dean was a star at Georgia, patrolling the middle of the field in Georgia's smothering, national championship defense. In addition to his team's success, he was a unanimous All-American in 2021 and the Butkus Award winner, which goes to the best linebacker in college football. In his final season at Georgia, he had 72 tackles (10.5 for loss), 6 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles.

Most draft experts assumed Dean would be a first-round pick, but he fell to the third round because of injury concerns, and the fact that is undersized. And really, to say he's undersized is probably putting it mildly. He's short and light with small hands and short arms.

There were also questions about Dean's athleticism, because he was unable to participate at the NFL Combine or Georgia's pro day.

So in summary, Dean is small with questionable athleticism, but he's an instinctive, productive, smart leader who was probably drafted later than he should have been.

Based on that description, his profile reminds me a bit of former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas.

Thomas measured in at 5'11, 233 pounds at the 1996 NFL Combine, compared with 5'11, 229 for Dean. Both players look more like squatty running backs than linebackers.

Thomas had terrible testing numbers, as he ran a 4.85 40 with a vertical jump of 28.5 inches. That wasn't quite as devastating to your draft stock in 1996 as it would be in 2022, but he no doubt scared some teams off with that performance.

Like Dean, Thomas was a highly decorated college player who was also a unanimous All-American in his final season at Texas Tech, and a finalist for the Butkus Award. However, also like Dean, he fell further in the draft than he should have, as Miami selected him in the fifth round.

Ultimately, Thomas carved out a stellar NFL career as a three-down linebacker mostly on his outstanding instincts. A look: 

Nirvana is a weird choice for a highlight reel. Anyway, give Dean some oversized shoulder pads and a neck roll and he'd look a lot like Thomas.

SAM Kyron Johnson

Who did Johnson say he patterned his game after?

"One of the players that’s here now, Haason Reddick," Johnson said in May. "I watched him, Von Miller. I used to watch J.J. Watt, Tyus Bowser. I used to watch a lot of edge rushers. I try to keep it to a minimum how many players I watch, but I like to see the types of moves that they do. I like to see their get-offs. I like to see what’s their game style, like how do they attack offensive linemen."

Johnson was both an off-ball linebacker and an edge rusher at Kansas, which likely makes him a fit at the SAM linebacker position in the Eagles' defense. Johnson is 6'0, 231, and he ran a 4.40 40 at Kansas' pro day. He had his share of moments at the Senior Bowl, flashing impressive athleticism in pass rushing one-on-one drills. He plays with speed and enthusiasm.

In 2021, Johnson had 63 tackles (8.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. He also had 17 career special teams tackles. He is a try-hard player who will likely contribute immediately on special teams, and could even get an opportunity here and there as a situational pass rusher.

The player he reminds me of is Dennis Gardeck, a similarly undersized 6'0, 232-pound try-hard pass rusher / core special teamer with the Cardinals, who also plays the game with enthusiasm.

In four seasons in the NFL after going undrafted in 2018, Gardeck has 38 special teams tackles, according to the Cardinals' website. In 2020 he broke out with 7 sacks (which also happens to be his career sack total).

Johnson can be a similar type of high energy player for the Eagles.

TE Grant Calcaterra

Who did Calcaterra say he patterned his game after?

"As a kid I watched a lot of Zach Ertz, to be honest," Calcaterra said in May. "I feel like he and I have similar body types. Not huge guys, skilled in the passing game, skilled in the blocking game, a guy that I watched a lot growing up, so it’s ironic that I’m here now."

Calcalterra is indeed "not a huge guy" at 6'4, 241. He ran a 4.62 40 at the NFL Combine and has decent athleticism.

In 11 games in 2021, Calcaterra caught 38 passes for 465 yards and 4 TDs. For his college career, Calaterra had 79 catches for 1102 yards and 13 TDs. He has good hands and body control, and runs good routes. A quick highlight reel:

The player who Calcaterra reminds me of (in sort of a best-case scenario) is former Texans, Ravens, and Broncos TE Owen Daniels. Over his 10-year NFL career, Daniels was known more as a quality pass-catching tight end than a blocker. In fact, he was a wide receiver in college at Wisconsin who transitioned to tight end in the NFL. Daniels and Calcaterra have similar size and speed:

Measuarable Grant Calcaterra Owen Daniels
Height 6'3 7/8" 6'4 
Weight 241 253 
Arm length 33 1/4" 31 3/4" 
Hand size 10" 9 1/2" 
40 yard dash 4.62 4.65 
Bench press 20 reps 23 reps 


A Daniels highlight reel (I recommend muting this awful background noise): 

If Calcaterra can carve out a career anywhere remotely close to Daniels', I think the Eagles will be happy.

QB Carson Strong

And finally, just for fun, as a bonus, let's find a comp for undrafted free agent quarterback Carson Strong, since many thought of him as a Day 2 type of prospect.

In his three years as Nevada's starting quarterback, Strong posted the following numbers:

 Carson StrongComp-Att (Comp %) Yards (YPA) TD-INT 
2019 237-374 (63.4%) 2335 (6.2) 11-7 
2020 249-355 (70.1%) 2858 (8.1) 27-4 
2021 367-524 (70.0%) 4186 (8.0) 36-8 


As you can see, he completed over 70 percent of his passes both in 2020 and 2021.

Strong has good height, a compact delivery, decent arm strength, good accuracy in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field, and he can decisively get the ball out quickly. A highlight reel:

On the downside, he's not a factor as a runner, and he has potential long-term knee issues, as described by nevadesportsnet.com:

Carson Strong missed his senior season of high school in 2017 after knee surgery when an MRI revealed an osteochondritis dissecans lesion and resulted in eight biodegradable nails being inserted to mend a crack in his lateral femoral condyle bone.

I understood a few of those words. More recently, there was concern over whether Strong would be ready for the start of the 2021 season:

In January, Strong had surgery on the same knee to clean up cartilage after he felt some uneasiness in the knee during his breakout 2020 season. Prior to the start of fall camp this month, Strong has an arthroscopy to clear out scar tissue in the knee. Strong was a full participant in Nevada's first fall camp practice Aug. 6, although his knee was bleeding heavily after the session. Strong has since had to have the knee drained a couple of times and has been limited to watching practice from a golf cart in recent sessions.

😬.

Strong's injury history is no doubt the reason he did not get drafted.

So who does he remind me of? 

012118SamBradford

That's right! Sam Bradford, AKA Sammy Sleeves, AKA Sleevie Wonder. Why?

  1. They're both very accurate passers with plenty of arm strength to make all the throws.
  2. Modest yards per pass attempt, relative to a 70+ percent completion percentage. 
  3. They have roughly the same build (Strong is a half inch shorter and 2 pounds heavier).
  4. They both have knees made of pudding and papier-mâché, which sapped their ability to make plays with their feet and made them major injury risks.

To be clear, we're not referring to the Sammy Sleeves that went No. 1 overall to the Rams in the 2010 NFL Draft. We're more referring to the mid-to-late-career Sleeves who could still throw, but was essentially a statue in the pocket and you held your breath every time he got hit.


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