April 28, 2019
The 2019 NFL Draft is complete, and the Philadelphia Eagles' draft haul includes just five players, like it did a year ago. Here we'll grade each move they made during draft weekend.
Dillard is a classic pass-protecting offensive tackle, who will be the heir to Jason Peters at left tackle. To get him, the Eagles traded up with the Baltimore Ravens from pick No. 25 to pick No. 22. The cost to move up was a fourth-round pick (127th overall) and and sixth-round pick (197th overall). That cost fell in line with what the draft value chart would suggest:
|Eagles get||Ravens get|
|No. 22 overall (780 points)||No. 25 overall (720 points)|
|No. 127 overall (45 points)|
|No 197 overall (12.2 points)|
|TOTAL: 780 points||TOTAL: 777.2 points|
We'll compartmentalize our thoughts on the pick:
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 health or legitimate character concerns. To note, there was some concern by insane people that Dillard maybe didn't love football back when he was in eighth grade, but we'll save the absurdity of football over-scouting for another day.
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:
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 SI.com 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 will listen to offers for Vaitai as this offseason continues.
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, as noted above. While the price to move up was reasonable, it left the Eagles with only four remaining picks -- two second-round picks, a fourth-round pick, and a fifth-round pick. We'll get to that later.
As the first round unfolded, the Eagles were surprised that Dillard fell to an area of the first round where he could be had with a modest move up. For sure, had they not moved up, the Houston Texans would have gladly taken him at pick No. 23. Instead, they reached for OT Tytus Howard at that spot.
Eagles fans haven't tasted a full season of bad OT play since they trotted out Demetress Bell and others in 2012. In that sense, this city has been spoiled by great play on the edges for years, with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson having played stellar football for years, when many other teams see their seasons ruined by an inability to protect the quarterback.
Spending a couple extra Day 3 picks to move up three spots was very much worth proactively acquiring a player who can solidify one of the most important positions on the field, protecting the injury-plagued Carson Wentz for what the Eagles hope will be the next 10 years.
An unexpected opportunity arose and they aggressively capitalized. That's how drafts should be run.
Sanders' 2018 season was his first as the lead back for PSU, as he sat behind Saquon Barkley for a couple years. In his lone season as "the guy" at Penn State, Sanders ran for 1,274 yards and nine TDs on 220 carries. While it's not fair to compare Sanders to an elite player like Barkley, it's noteworthy that Sanders' career yards per carry (6.0) were better than Barkley's (5.7), though obviously, Barkley was the focus of opposing defensive game plans every week, and Sanders was not.
Sanders has good feet, change of direction, and balance. He has a knack for picking his way through traffic, while also running with some power, and he had a good Combine, shown here:
The Eagles see Miles Sanders as a three-down back.
"We are always trying to look for complementary guys on our roster but by the same token, Miles is a guy, he can play all three downs," Joe Douglas said when asked how Sanders complements Jordan Howard. "Jordan has got better hands than maybe advertised. But you have these guys that can do different things and for Coach [Pederson] he's looking for guys who have different skill sets so he can provide different looks to the defense, and it's a matchup league. That's what we are looking to provide our coaching staff, guys who can win one-on-one matchups and who can play in specific situations so there's not a play that he can't call because he doesn't have the right skill-set there."
The Eagles believe that Sanders will allow Pederson to have more options open in the playbook, as Sanders is a well-rounded back. A highlight reel:
If there's a concern with this pick, it's that Sanders had just 32 career receptions at Penn State. To be a three-down back, he'll have to be productive as a receiver. In the one season in which he was the starter, Sanders had 24 catches for 139 yards (for a low 5.8 YPC), and no TDs.
The Eagles believe he can be a weapon in the passing game, despite that lack of receiving production in actual games. They thought the same thing about Corey Clement, and they were right. They also thought the same thing about Wendell Smallwood, and they were wrong. We'll see soon enough if they are right with Sanders.
Still, running back was a major need this offseason, after the Eagles had one of the worst set of backs in the NFL a season ago. They have addressed it with legitimate resources, trading for Howard, and now adding Sanders in the second round.
Arcega-Whiteside is a very interesting choice, in that he has a similar skill set to that of Alshon Jeffery. In 2018, he had 68 catches for 1059 yards and an impressive 14 TDs. You can see his Alshon-ness here:
During the 2018 college football season, I took a look at Arcega-Whiteside several times, and considered profiling him in our "Grocery Shopping" series, but never did because his skill set so closely resembled Jeffery's. I figured he would simply be a redundant player.
Now that the Eagles have made this pick, I wonder about Jeffery's long-term future with the team. Ever since the Eagles acquired Jeffery in 2017, he has been playing on reasonable cap numbers. That changes this season. He'll cost $14,725,000 on the cap in 2019, and $15,975,000 both in 2020 and 2021. The Eagles would save over $10 million if they traded or released him next offseason.
The front office has cleared up a lot of immediate cap space by restructuring the contracts of players they believe are slam-dunk long-term Eagles, by converting their base salaries in signing bonuses, and stretching out their cap hit over the life of the contract (and beyond). It's perhaps interesting that they have not done the same with Jeffery. The reality is that Jeffery is going to have to perform at a very high level to see that money. If he doesn't, the Eagles now have a player who can fill his role.
While it's noteworthy that there have been several reports this offseason that Nelson Agholor is available for trade, I view Arcega-Whiteside as more of a threat to Jeffery than Agholor.
The Eagles are now loaded up at wide receiver, which is fine, but Arcega-Whiteside isn't likely to help much in 2019, in a draft in which the Eagles only took five players, four of whom likely won't see much action, barring injury.
If indeed my read is correct that Arcega-Whiteside is an eventual replacement for Jeffery, possibly as soon as 2020, then I get it. However, with the disclaimer that I have no idea what kinds of offers the Eagles may or may not have had to move out of this pick, I'd have tried to move back and acquire more draft picks here.
Miller is a 6'4, 254-pound local kid from Philadelphia, who had 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss at PSU last season. Over his college career, Miller had 100 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and 31.5 tackles for loss.
If I'm being completely honest, Miller is a player who was not on my radar at all leading up to the draft, but after having watched him a bit, I can see why the Eagles like him. He's thought of as a good run defender, and with improved technique, he has some nice upside as a pass rusher.
A highlight reel:
The Eagles' starters at DE are set, with Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Beyond them, they have a rotational player in Vinny Curry, and a second-year project in Josh Sweat. The feeling here is that Chris Long won't be back. Assuming everyone stays healthy, Miller will be competing for a chance to see some snaps in the Eagles' defensive line rotation.
I will note that I think that there were a number of linebackers available at this spot who would have been good value, and a run on them happened at the beginning of the fifth round.
Thorson is a big quarterback at 6'4, 222, and he fits the physical profile of some of the other quarterbacks the Eagles have brought in since the Howie Roseman / Doug Pederson regime began.
Back in the Andy Reid days, the Eagles used to draft a quarterback every two or three years, which is something Jeffrey Lurie has stated he would like to get back to doing. The following is a list of quarterbacks the Eagles have drafted since the start of the Andy Reid era:
The Eagles would eventually trade McNabb, Feeley, Kolb, Foles, and Barkley, once they were no longer of use to the team, and in three of those cases, they received great value in return.
While drafting quarterbacks has been a good long-term investment strategy for the Eagles, it wouldn't have made sense for them to draft one last year, with Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, and Nate Sudfeld in place. This year, with Foles now in Jacksonville and Sudfeld scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, it absolutely makes sense to reintroduce that draft-and-develop tradition.
But what kind of quarterback would they be looking for?
"We’re very conscious of the culture," Lurie said at the NFL annual meetings, when asked about the getting back to the strategy of drafting quarterbacks with regularity. "We’ve had an incredible quarterback room, with Carson, Nick, and Nate. It’s one of the reasons they’re all so poised for success. That quarterback that we bring in – let’s say it’s this year’s draft or next year’s draft – it needs to be a great fit in that room, so you’re not just drafting a player that can be a good backup quarterback, but somebody that can help the culture with the quarterback who is starting. You want a relationship that is healthy, where they help each other. That’s a key part of it too."
Thorson is thought of as an intelligent quarterback, who would fit Lurie's description.
There's a decent chance that Sudfeld is going to get a chance to play in 2019, and if he shows anything, he's going to be pursued in free agency in 2020. (Comp pick!)
The Eagles are smart to prepare for potentially losing Sudfeld by drafting Thorson, and having time to develop him behind the scenes. There's a reasonable chance he could be the No. 2 as soon as 2020, and as recent Eagles history has shown, having a backup who can fill in is kind of a big deal.
In 2018, the Eagles made just five picks. The Eagles are tied with the Titans for the lowest number of picks made over the last two years:
Jeffrey Lurie said at the 2019 owners meetings that the Eagles want to be a "volume" drafting team. Making 10 picks in two years is the exact opposite of that.
The Eagles have a need to find as much young, cheap talent as they can get in preparation of a Carson Wentz contract extension, which is going to be huge rock in the salary cap jar. Those young players are found in the draft, and they're cheap on their rookie contracts for four years.
While the Eagles have acquired a number of veterans with their draft picks, and some of them (not Golden Tate) panning out in the short-term, this trend of making a low number picks has to stop in 2020.
Overall 2019 draft grade: B-
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