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April 26, 2019

Grading the Eagles' selection of Andre Dillard

Did the Eagles make the right move in trading up to select the Washington State offensive tackle?

Eagles NFL

In the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Washington State OT Andre Dillard. Now that some time has passed and we've all had a chance to digest the pick, here are some thoughts on the Eagles' future at left tackle.

Dillard was excellent value at pick No. 22

I remember 10 years ago when the Eagles traded up from 21 to 19, and NFL Network's analysts all thought the pick would be TE Brandon Pettigrew. When Roger Goodell made his trip to the podium and announced that the pick was Jeremy Maclin, who many had projected as a potential top 10 pick, Mike Mayock admitted, "I completely forgot he was still on the board."

When I saw the Dillard pick pop up on Twitter after the Eagles made a similar move up from 25 to 22, I had a similar reaction as Mayock. In my only first-round mock draft, I had the Texans taking Dillard, on the premise that they would move up to get him. I did not think he would fall like he did, especially with no known character or health concerns.

In the same way that nobody projected Maclin to the Eagles a decade ago, Dillard was not a name linked to the Eagles, but the value was there, so the Eagles pounced.

"That wasn't really what we had anticipated," Howie Roseman said when asked if he thought there was a chance Dillard would fall all the way into the 20's. "When we look at kind of how drafts go, our evaluation was this was the best tackle in the draft, and so usually those guys go in the top 10. That's how we had him rated. When he started to fall, we just saw an opportunity to get a top 10 player. Again, when you have a top 10 player at an important position, it doesn't matter about the depth on our team. We're trying to load up on the lines. We've talked about that a lot with you guys, and that's how we roll."

Finding value, especially at such an important position, is a smart way to run the draft.

Dillard won't play right away, barring injury

Obviously, the Eagles are set at left tackle, as they brought back Jason Peters for one last season. Barring injury, Dillard will ride the bench during the 2019 season.

While Peters started all 18 games in 2018 (16 regular season, 2 playoffs), he missed at least one snap in 11 of them. As such, the thinking was that Peters was a liability because he couldn't finish games, a sentiment that I do agree with, to some degree. However, I think his full slate of snap counts in 2018 is worth examining:

Opponent Snaps Percentage 
 Falcons71 of 72 98.6% 
 Buccaneers8 of 79 10.1% 
 Colts82 of 82 100% 
 Titans78 of 78 100% 
 Vikings55 of 59 93.2% 
 Giants38 of 71 53.5% 
 Panthers61 of 67 91.0% 
 Jaguars43 of 62 69.4% 
Cowboys 62 of 62 100% 
Saints51 of 51 100% 
Giants 65 of 65 100% 
Redskins 70 of 75 93.3% 
Cowboys 52 of 52 100% 
Rams 61 of 64 95.3% 
Texans 5 of 82 6.1% 
Redskins 66 of 71 93.0% 
Bears 68 of 68 100% 
Saints 37 of 51 72.5% 
TOTAL 973 of 1211 80.3% 

While he missed at least one snap in 11 of 18 games, he also played at least 90 percent of the snaps in 13 of 18 games. He played at least half the snaps in all but two games, as he was lost early in both the Buccaneers and Texans games.

Peters was coming off an ACL tear at the age of 35, and he admitted that it was still barking at him during the season. In addition to the recovery from that ACL surgery, Peters suffered an assortment of other injuries, including a quad injury, which may have occurred because he was favoring one leg over the other, which is common for players coming off major surgery.

Will Peters' penchant for coming out of games accelerate at the age of 36, or will it stabilize a bit another year removed from his ACL surgery? 

We'll see, but at least now the Eagles have a player in Dillard who can fill in at left tackle, and who in my opinion is already a significant upgrade over Halapoulivaati Vaitai before he has ever played a single professional snap.

Can Dillard play offensive line spots other than left tackle?

Dillard was asked during his first conference call with Philly media if he has experience playing anything other than left tackle. 

"Since I started playing football, I primarily played left tackle all except for one season [when] I played at right tackle my freshman year of college," he said.

I don't know if he meant that he played some right tackle in practice, but according to Dillard's bio on Washington State's website, he has only played left tackle. Bolded emphasis mine: 

RS-SENIOR (2018): Named to All-American Second Team and Associated Press All-America Third Team…named to All-Pac-12 Conference First Team…started all 13 games at left tackle…earned team high five “Bone Awards” given to the WSU Offensive Lineman of the Week (SJSU, OSU, ORE, CAL, ARIZ)…rated third-best offensive tackle in the country, the top pass-blocking tackle and second best screen-blocking tackle in the country by ProFootballFocus College…allowed just one sack on 677 pass attempts.

RS-JUNIOR (2017): Named All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention…started all 13 games at left tackle…earned two BONE AWARDS following wins over Nevada and No. 5 USC, given to the team’s top offensive lineman after a win.

RS-SOPHOMORE (2016): Named to All-Pac-12 Second Team by Pro Football Focus…started all 13 games at left tackle…received “Bone Award” following Oregon State win, signifying WSU offensive lineman of the week.

RS-FRESHMAN (2015): Played in three games on season, all at left tackle…came in for second half against UCLA, and started against Colorado and the Apple Cup.

That's fine. If he's your left tackle of the future and you hope he can be a 10-year starter there, you just park him at left tackle and call it a day. However, it does hammer home the point that he's only going to play in 2019 if Peters goes down.

He may be a work in progress as a run blocker, but so what?

Playing in Mike Leach's extremely pass-happy offense at Washington State, Dillard almost exclusively operated out of a two-point stance. He rarely put his hand in the dirt and fired off at the snap as a drive blocker.

He is a polished, super-athletic pass protector, but is considered something of a work in progress, albeit with plenty of upside, as a run blocker. If he takes a little time to become better in the run game, so what?

Given the choice between a mauler and a pro-ready athlete who can protect the star quarterback, who oh by the way couldn't finish the last two seasons, I'll take the latter all day.

So what about Jordan Mailata?

Mailata is such a wildcard, because the Eagles' first preseason game eight months ago was his first game, ever. Like... ever. Mailata's growth from the first day of training camp to the final preseason game was unlike anything I've ever seen in the NFL. He is a size-athleticism freak of nature with a high ceiling, but obviously, he is such an unpredictable projection, having only begun playing football in 2018.

The Eagles have consistently said that they like the way Mailata is progressing as a pro, and I don't think the selection of Dillard is an indictment of Maialta's progression (or lack thereof). As noted above, the Eagles simply saw incredible value in a top 10 type of player still available at pick 22, and they made an aggressive move to go get him.

That said, any thoughts of Mailata as the long-term answer at left tackle are now over, unless Dillard is bust.

So what about Halapoulivaati Vaitai?

Vaitai has been a valuable swing tackle for the Eagles, capable of playing both LT and RT. Peters' aforementioned recurring theme of leaving games early kept Vaitai busy, and he had the unenviable task of coming in cold, mid-game. He is scheduled to become a free agent in 2020. I'm sure the Eagles would listen to offers.

The Eagles now have very few draft picks, again

By moving up from 25 to 22, the Eagles had to give up a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick. That is a very small pirce to pay if you think you're getting the top OT prospect in the draft, however, the Eagles now only have four picks remaining -- two second-round picks, a fourth-round pick, and a fifth-round pick.

In 2018, the Eagles made just five picks. That was the fewest number of picks they've made in a draft since 1989.

Of course, the Eagles have a pair of second-round picks that they can maybe turn into extra picks if they trade back, but for an organization that wants to be a "volume" drafting team, as Jeffrey Lurie said at the 2019 owners meetings, 10 picks in two years would be a very low number of drafted players, if the Eagles don't add more picks.

Grade: A-

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