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June 13, 2023

Eagles rookie NFL player comparisons: The full series

Finding an NFL comparison for each Eagles rookie ahead of the 2023 season.

Eagles NFL
060223JalenCarterNolanSmith Colleen Claggett/PhillyVoice

Eagles rookies Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith

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

As a disclaimer, I'm not necessarily projecting Jalen Carter to be Jeffery Simmons, or Nolan Smith to have the same career that Clay Matthews had. And if we're being honest, the player comps are almost always going to be successful NFL players because we never really get to know the crappy ones. So to be clear, it's more likely than not that most of the rookies in this series do not live up to the comps. It's really just an exercise for me to say, "Here's a player you probably recognize that I think this rookie reminds me for reasons X, Y, and Z." Good? Great, with that in mind...

Round 1: DT Jalen Carter

The player who Carter reminds me of in many ways is Jeffery Simmons.

Coming out of Mississippi State, Simmons was an extremely talented defensive tackle prospect with power, explosiveness, speed, and change of direction ability. Absent serious character concerns (we'll get to that momentarily), he likely would have been a top 10 pick, and possibly top 5. Instead, he fell to the Titans at pick 19, and has since become a two-time All Pro. As you can see below, he was pretty close to the full package as an on-field prospect who won in a variety of ways:

Still, even with his obvious physical ability, Simmons did not have eye-popping stats (just 7 career sacks at MSU) and was thus thought of by some as a "high upside" prospect, as opposed to a pretty clear stud player with a high likelihood for success at the pro level.

Carter possesses all of the same athletic traits as Simmons, and more. At Georgia, Carter won with power, explosiveness, speed, and change of direction skills, just like Simmons did, but he was also very stout, as he could anchor against double teams and was very effective when two-gapping, which was not necessarily of strength of Simmons' in college.

Like Simmons, Carter's college production (6 career sacks) is a worry for some. Also, as noted above, Simmons had a disturbing incident to overcome. He has been able to put that behind him and find success in the NFL. Carter's character concerns are of a different variety, but like Simmons, they caused him to fall in the draft.

There are no questions about Carter's overall ability. Whether he can make the most of his talents in the pros will determine whether he can become a redemption story like Simmons, or not.

Round 1: EDGE Nolan Smith

Smith was a highly rated prospect coming out of high school (2nd in the nation, via Rivals), who had the best SPARQ rating in his recruiting class. That means that he's an incredible athlete, in case you're unfamiliar with SPARQ. He also crushed the Combine, running an absurd 4.39 40 and vertical jumping 41 1/2" at 238 pounds.

Compare those numbers to Micah Parsons, for example:

Measurable Micah Parsons Nolan Smith 
Height 6'3 6'2 
Weight 246 238 
Arm length 31 1/2" 32 5/8" 
Hand size 11" 9" 
10-yard split 1.59 1.52 
40-yard dash 4.36 4.39 
Vertical jump 34" 41 1/2" 
Broad jump 126" 128" 

We're not comping Smith to Parsons, to be clear. We're just showing what level of athlete he is. And yet, Smith isn't just an athlete. In addition to his speed off the edge, he is also a physical run defender willing to set the edge so that his teammates can collect tackles, and it's pretty easy to see early on that he's going to be culture fit in Philly due to his love of the sport and his relentless energy.

Smith had an immediate role in Georgia's defense as a true freshman, but his production has left something to be desired. 2021 was his best year, as he had 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one INT, and three forced fumbles. Some highlights: 

The popular comp for Smith throughout the draft process was Haason Reddick, which we even made here. However, after some consideration I think his game more closely resembles former Packers and Rams edge rusher Clay Matthews.

Above we noted that in Smith's best college season he had 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, and 3 forced fumbles. Interestingly, in Matthews' best season at USC, he had 57 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles while playing on a loaded defense that included 13 future NFL players.

Matthews' hallmark traits over his 11-year NFL career were his motor, toughness, instincts, versatility, and ability to bend around the edge with his athleticism. During his NFL career, Matthews played at around 250 pounds, but he weighed in at just 240 at the 2009 Combine, just two pounds heavier than Smith at the 2023 Combine. Don't watch this following video if you're part of the Kevin Kolb family:

I see a lot of those same traits in Smith.

Round 3: OL Tyler Steen

Steen played his entire college career at offensive tackle, but the Eagles are playing him initially at guard, which makes sense, given his short, 32 3/4" arms. It should be no surprise by now that if the Eagles take an offensive lineman with a high pick, that guy is going to have impressive athleticism. And, well, Steen does.

Here he is protecting the blind side of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, Bryce Young. As you can see below, he has nimble feet for a 6'6, 320-pound guy, and he's a finisher in the run game. He's No. 54:

While the Eagles listed Steen at guard, they think that he has guard/tackle versatility, which makes sense. The player he reminds me of is the Dolphins' Robert Hunt, who started games at Louisiana-Lafayette at LG, LT, and RT, but has found a home along Miami's offensive line as the starting RG. He is probably best known for the greatest moment in Thursday Night Football history:

Like Steen, Hunt has good feet for a big-bodied lineman. For example: 

Short arms necessitated a full-time move to guard for Hunt at the pro level, where he has become a quality starter after three NFL seasons. In addition to their respective moves from tackle to guard, Steen and Hunt have similar size measurables:  

 MeasurableTyler Steen Robert Hunt 
Height 6'6 6'5 
Weight 321 323 
Arm Length 32 3/4" 33 1/2" 
Hand size 10 1/2" 10 3/4" 

Hunt is a little bit more of a violent finisher than Steen, but their overall skill sets and play styles mirror each others' closely.

Round 3: S Sydney Brown

Brown is undersized, at least in terms of height, but he is a high-level athlete.

Brown was also a highly productive player for Illinois in 2022, making 60 tackles, 6 INTs (including a pick-six), a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a TD. He makes plays, and he's a big hitter:

I've seen a number of interesting comps for Brown, including the Cardinals' Budda Baker and the 49ers' Talanoa Hufanga, but the player that he reminds me of is Donte Whitner, who formerly played for the Bills, 49ers, Browns, and Washington.

Like Brown, Whitner was a short safety with some heft who displayed impressive speed, explosiveness, and strength at the Combine:

Measurable Sydney Brown Donte Whitner 
Height 5'10 5'10 
Weight 211 204 
40 time 4.47 4.40 
Vertical jump 40 1/2" 40" 
Broad jump 130" 132" 
Bench press 23 18 

Also like Brown, Whitner was always willing to throw his body around, and became known around the NFL as an enforcer in the secondary. To be determined if Brown can make receivers wary of going over the middle like Whitner did (probably not in today's rule-changed NFL), but Brown has similar size/explosiveness measurables, and they both bring energy and physicality to the safety position.

Round 4: CB Kelee Ringo

Personally, I thought Ringo was going to be a late first-round pick, on the basic premise that he's 6'2, 207, he's tough, and he runs a 4.36. But he's not just "a traits guy." He's a good player. He uses his size to his advantage, both in press coverage, on contested catches, and as a tackler. He also has good awareness in zone coverage.

Over the last two seasons, Ringo had 76 tackles, 4 INTs, 15 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. On the downside, while Ringo is gifted with size and athleticism, the knock on him on the field is that he gives up too much separation at times in man coverage. But overall, as a player, there's just no way this guy should have still been available on Day 3. 

He reportedly slid due to character concerns.

We'll see in time if Ringo's ambiguous "makeup questions" ever amount to anything, but as a player the tools are certainly there, and the Eagles will have plenty of time to groom him for an eventual starting role behind Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

The player Ringo reminds me of is the Buccaneers' Jamel Dean, who like Ringo was a height/weight speed freak who played in the SEC at Auburn.

 MeasurablesKelee Ringo Jamel Dean 
Height 6'1 3/4" 6'1 
Weight 207 206 
Arm length 31 3/4" 31 3/4" 
40 time 4.36 4.30 
Vertical jump 33 1/2" 41" 
Broad jump 122" 130" 

Ringo was selected 105th overall. Dean went 94th in 2019, falling to the back end of the third round due to medical concerns. Dean was a raw player who struggled at times early in his career due to technique issues, but has developed into a quality starting corner. 

Similarly, Ringo will have to iron out some deficiencies at the pro level, like pattern recognition for example, but unlike Dean he isn't as likely to be thrown to the wolves as a rookie.

Round 6: QB Tanner McKee

McKee is a big quarterback at 6'6, 231 pounds. He has a strong arm, but has very limited mobility. In two seasons as Stanford's starting quarterback, McKee completed 63.2 percent of his passes on 7.1 yards per attempt. He threw for 28 TDs and 15 INTs in those two seasons.

In the leadup to the draft, there was some speculation that the Eagles could pick a quarterback, but most assumed it would be one with a similar skill set to that of Jalen Hurts and Marcus Mariota. Instead, they basically went with the complete opposite type of quarterback. A look: 

A scouting report, via Lance Zierlein of NFL Network

Long, tall pocket passer with better arm strength than arm talent as a passer. McKee throws with an unorthodox delivery that becomes even more irregular when he feels rushed. He can make all the NFL throws and delivers a tight spiral with good velocity on intermediate and deep throws to the field side. However, his heavy feet and a lack of agility limit his effectiveness outside of the pocket and make him a magnet for pass rushers when protection becomes spotty. McKee clearly improved his throwing process in 2022, but he might lack the decision-making and functional mobility to make it in today’s NFL.

If you watch McKee's highlight reel above, you can see what Zierlein is talking about with his "unorthodox delivery." It actually reminds me quite a bit of former Panthers, Saints, Giants, Raiders, Titans, Colts, and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins

Like McKee, Collins had a strong arm, but wasn't much of a threat to run. McKee and Collins also had very similar physical measurables coming out of college:

Measurable Tanner McKee Kerry Collins 
Height 6'5 5/8 6'5 
Weight 231 240 
Arm length 32 7/8" 32 3/4" 
Hand size 9 3/8" 10" 

Of course, McKee was a sixth rounder, while Collins was a Heisman finalist who got picked fifth overall in 1995 in sort of a different era of football. If it were 1995, McKee probably would have been picked higher than the sixth round, while there's little chance Collins would have gone fifth overall in today's NFL.

Round 7: DT Moro Ojomo

Ojomo is a Nigerian-born prospect who played in 42 games at Texas. In 2022, he had 32 tackles (5 for loss), and 3 sacks. He is thought of as a stout run defender, and like the rest of the Eagles' draft picks this year, he has some athletic traits.

A scouting report, via Lance Zierlein of NFL Network

Naturally powerful defensive lineman caught somewhere between end and tackle. Ojomo is best-suited as a base end but doesn’t really have the get-off quickness to exploit interior blockers as an inside rusher on passing downs. He’s tight in his lower body, and his movements lack fluidity, but he can fight his way through blocks with upper-body power and a will to make it happen. Ojomo plays hard throughout the rep and will find production with his secondary effort, but he might cap out as a solid backup in either an odd or even front.

Some highlights: 

Ojomo was rated a lot higher than his 249th draft slot. Daniel Jeremiah, for example, had Ojomo as his 111th ranked player. Dane Brugler of The Athletic considered him a 4th/5th round prospect. He likely fell because he is undersized, and sort of a "tweener" who is an imperfect fit in many schemes.

Ojomo reminds me of another seventh-round player in Shelby Harris, a nine year vet who is currently a free agent but has played for the Raiders, Jets, Cowboys, Broncos, and Seahawks. Like Ojomo, Harris is an undersized interior lineman with long arms and some nice athletic traits.

Measurable Moro Ojomo Shelby Harris 
Height 6'2 1/2" 6'2 1/8" 
Weight 292 288 
Arm length 34 1/2" 34 5/8" 
Hand size 10 3/8" 9 1/2" 
40 time 5.04 4.88 
Vertical jump 33" 32" 
Broad jump 112" 110" 

Harris didn't play much his first three seasons in the NFL, but he broke out in his fourth season as a nice role player for the Broncos. He became a full-time starter in his sixth season and beyond. He has some hustle in his game, and wins with power.

Ojomo could maybe eventually develop into that kind of player for the Eagles, ideally in a rotational role.

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