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May 03, 2021

John McMullen: Eagles hit pause for DeVonta Smith before getting back to basics

Opinion Eagles

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021821HowieRoseman Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles GM Howie Roseman.

Fan response around an NFL Draft is fairly predictable in most cities.

Let’s use the Eagles’ haul from the 2021 selection process as an example.

Get an explosive skill-position player in the top 10 and you’ve got yourself a generational talent with Blair Buswell — that’s the somewhat aptly named Pro Football Hall of Fame chief sculptor (the Bustmaker) — getting booked a decade out.

Pick up the highly-productive college running back who slid a bit during Day 3 like Kenny Gainwell (in this case due to a COVID-19 opt-out) and you’ve got yourself tremendous value.

Ignore an obvious need like cornerback is for Philadelphia until the fourth round, couple that with a Tom Donahoe dirty look, add in a pinch of presumptive lip-reading talent on social media, and voila Aaron Robinson has turned into Deion Sanders while poor Milton Williams is already dealing with the punctuation of short arms and the stain of Louisiana Tech en route to a different kind of bust.

And then you have the linemen, the least sexy draft picks on the planet in perpetuity right up until you’re lifting the Lombardi Trophy thanks to great offensive line play or the pass rushers like Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul who chase the lead member of that generational talent club right into mediocrity, at least on one night in February.

After DeVonta Smith and less than 24 hours of peace for Howie Roseman, the embattled Eagles GM got right back into his foundational business, using four (or five depending on where seventh-round pick Patrick Johnson lines up) of his other eight picks on linemen, starting with oft-injured Alabama stud Landon Dickerson at No. 37 overall.

Absent the two torn ACLs and the tightrope ankle surgery, Dickerson would be as clean a prospect on the offensive line as first-rounders like Rashawn Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker.

“We also don't want to be risk-averse,” Roseman said when discussing Dickerson at his post-draft availability. “We want to take chances. When we think about Landon, think about what kind of player we think he is and what kind of player we think he can be in the National Football League. And then again our medical group giving us comps of linemen with these injuries and how long their careers last and what they're playing, how many games they're starting.”

In other words, if you’re cleared, you’re cleared and Dr. Arsh Dhanota and his medical staff felt comfortable with Dickerson bracing up and moving forward.

What’s fair to say, however, is that the Eagles’ did put red flags on players like DK Metcalf, Jaylon Smith, and Jay Ajayi in recent years, punting on each until at least Day 3, according to multiple NFL sources.

In Sidney Jones’ case, the Eagles felt comfortable in taking a flyer on a first-round talent in the second round. Things obviously didn’t work out although not because of the Achilles’ Jones tore at his pro day.

“We knew all that. But we just felt like this player is unique,” Roseman continued. “To quote [Eagles run game coordinator/offensive line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland, he's unusual. He's an unusual player with an unusual personality. And we think that the upside of what he can do not only as a player but as a person and the people he can bring along with that, with some of our young linemen, can make a huge difference in our football team going forward.”

Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks aren’t going to be around forever and Dickerson adds a high ceiling to the mix at any of the interior O-Line positions.

“When you have a guy with this kind of character and this kind of physical ability. He's a person you want to bet on,” Roseman said of Dickerson. “Especially as we start this program, we thought he was special enough. And I know I'm using that word because he is a special player and a special person. And that it was worth the risk.”

The undersized Williams has a chance to be an explosive situational three-technique rusher due to a rare athletic skillset even if his short arms probably do limit some of the versatility the Eagles trumped up with him.

“I think I'll be most comfortable playing defensive tackle, but also having the versatility to play outside,” Williams assessed.

As far as the third-day picks in the trenches, the Eagles certainly found value in sixth-round defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu and took a flyer on Tarron Jackon’s production and leadership at Coastal Carolina.

“Really heavy-handed guy. Can play the run. Get off blocks,” VP of player personnel Andy Weidl said of Tuipulotu.

As for Jackson, he seemed to win over the Eagles in the pre-draft process.

“We're fired up about Tarron Jackson,” Weidl noted. “... Team captain. A lot of negative plays. Got to interview him down in Mobile, watch him practice for the week. Really comfortable with the person.”

Johnson, a 240-pound edge player from Tulane, is interesting because he, along with the previous move of Genard Avery from defensive end to LB, might indicate a new template for the type of player defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon wants at the SAM linebacker position.

“{Gannon’s] got a good plan for where he thinks these guys fit,” Sirianni said. “ Again, we’ve got to get our hands on them and get them in here, but they definitely have versatility in what they can do. We like the players, we like their character – everything about them. So, again, the more they can do, the better, and that's the way we look at them there with the defensive side.”

In hindsight, the Eagles’ DNA never mutated. They just hit pause for Smith.

“I’m sure there are some people who are sick and tired of seeing the Philadelphia Eagles take linemen. But you know what? That’s how we won a championship, and that’s how we’re going to win another championship,” Roseman said emphatically.


John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, and the co-host of ‘Birds 365’ on PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

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