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May 03, 2021

Philadelphia Eagles 2021 draft grades

Eagles NFL
050321DeVontaSmith Gary Cosby/USA TODAY Sports

With their first-round pick, the Eagles acquired DeVonta Smith and a 2022 first-round pick.

The Philadelphia Eagles entered the 2021 NFL Draft with 11 picks. They ultimately walked away with nine new players, and they now own 10 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Let's grade their draft.

Round 1: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (6'0, 166)

In 2019, Smith led Alabama in receiving yards and TDs, despite playing alongside a pair of first-round picks in Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy.

Alabama WR: 2019 Rec Yards YPC TD 
DeVonta Smith 68 1,256 18.5 14 
Jerry Jeudy 77 1,163 15.1 10 
Henry Ruggs 40 746 18.6 
Jaylen Waddle 33 560 17.0 

Smith could have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, but he stayed in school for his senior season, which turned out to be a wise move, as he became a top 10 pick in the 2021 draft.

In 2020, Smith had a monster season. I mean, obviously. He was the Heisman trophy winner. On the season, he had 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 TDs. He also had a 21.5 yards per return average on 11 punt returns, including a TD.

Smith is a smooth route runner, he gobbles up yards after the catch, he has great hands, and he can make spectacular catches in traffic. The concern that teams are going to have about Smith is his lack of size, at a rail-thin 166 pounds. Can he beat jams at the line of scrimmage against big, physical corners? Can he be durable? Certainly, he plays much bigger than his slight frame, as you can see here. I mean, this is a 25-minute highlight reel, with no filler:

Done watching that? Impressive, right? 

Smith is a blue-chip, potential star talent, and he fills an obvious need for the Eagles at wide receiver. The Eagles' depth chart at WR now looks something like this:

Eagles WRs 
 WRDeVonta Smith Travis Fulgham J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 
 WRJalen Reagor John Hightower Khalil Tate 
 SlotGreg Ward Quez Watkins  

Beyond his play on the field, Smith will bring a competitive attitude to the locker room, and was appropriate value where the Eagles selected him. So that's all fine and good, golf claps all around. We'll see how Smith's career plays out in time. 

However, it is also the process that led to that selection that impressed.

Back in March, as you all recall, the Eagles traded the sixth overall pick to the Miami Dolphins for the 12th overall pick, a 2022 first-round pick, and a move up from the fifth round to the fourth round in this year's draft. In chart form:

 Eagles gotDolphins got 
12th overall pick 6th overall pick 
123rd overall pick (4th round) in 2021 draft 156th overall pick (5th round) in 2021 draft 
Miami's 1st round pick in the 2022 draft  

The risk in moving back was that an elite prospect like Florida TE Kyle Pitts or a great one in LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase might be available at pick No. 6, and the Eagles would have missed out on them by moving back. My feeling was that the difference between Pitts or Chase and a guy like Smith wasn't so great that the Eagles should turn down a 2022 first-round pick, and that they made the right decision either way.

As it turned out, neither Pitts nor Chase were available anyway, as Pitts went fourth overall to the Falcons, while Chase got picked fifth overall by the Bengals. In other words, if the availability of Pitts and/or Chase would have changed the Eagles' minds on the move back, they made the right read that neither were likely to be available at pick No. 6.

As the draft unfolded, it was not going well for the Eagles, as two quarterbacks, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, began to slide, thus taking more non-quarterbacks — or more specifically the best wide receivers and cornerbacks — off of the board prior to the Eagles' pick. Chase and Pitts were gone, as were Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (to the Dolphins at 6), South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn (to the Panthers at 8), and Patrick Surtain (to the Broncos at 9).

When the Cowboys were on the clock at pick No. 10, the Eagles' chances at landing the remaining wide receivers worthy of a top selection (Smith) were in doubt. The Giants were sitting at pick No. 11, and while they are already strong at wide receiver, they were heavily rumored to be interested in Smith.

The Eagles were prepared. With Dallas in desperate need of help at cornerback and the top two corners gone, the Eagles were able to trade up with the Cowboys ahead of the Giants to land their guy. The cost was the second of the Eagles' two third-round picks (84th overall), a reasonable cost to ensure the selection of likely the last slam dunk first round target on their board.

Again, the Eagles' read was very likely right that the Giants would have taken Smith, as evidenced by their subsequent trade out of the 11th pick, and eventual selection of another receiver, Florida's Kadarius Toney, at pick No. 20.

Had the Eagles just stayed at the sixth pick and selected Smith, it would have been an acceptable pick, though certainly not a coup. (They likely would have taken either Horn or Surtain, to be clear.) 

Instead, Roseman's maneuvering netted the Eagles significantly added draft capital, in addition to a player who makes a lot of sense for their roster. A snapshot of what the Eagles gained and lost, from the time they owned the No. 6 pick, until now:

The Eagles got... The Eagles gave up... 
DeVonta Smith 6th overall pick, which became Waddle, but probably would've been Surtain had the Eagles kept it. 
Miami's 1st round pick in 2022 84th overall pick (3rd round) in 2021 draft 
123rd overall pick (4th round) in 2021 draft 156th overall pick (5th round) in 2021 draft 


Round 2 (pick 37): Landon Dickerson, OG/C, Alabama (6'6, 333)

Dickerson is a really good player who would have easily gone first round — maybe even first half of the first round — if not for a slew of significant injuries, listed here:

  1. November 2016: Torn ACL, right knee.
  2. October 2017: Right ankle surgery ended his season.
  3. 2018: Nagging/recurring left ankle injury caused him to miss most of the season.
  4. December 2020: Torn ACL, left knee.

Some had him as a first-round pick anyway, largely because of his leadership qualities, toughness, nastiness, and versatility. In the National Championship Game, Dickerson came in and snapped in victory formation, less than a month after tearing his ACL.

You can see the respect he earned from his teammates in this video:

In college, Dickerson started at least one game at all five positions, but mostly at guard and center. His fit in Philly is likely to be Jason Kelce's eventual successor at center, long-term, and a guy who can fill in at multiple spots short-term.

There aren't any available starting spots open for Dickerson on this current Eagles roster, assuming an interior OL trio of Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Brooks. In a season in which the Eagles won't be Super Bowl contenders anyway, that doesn't really matter much. In 2022 and beyond, there's a very good chance that Kelce or Brooks (or both) will be gone, so the Eagles are right in looking ahead to replace them. 

Also, as you're all well aware, the Eagles had eleventy billion starting OL combinations due to injury last year, so assuming Dickerson will heal up in time to play in 2021, he will very likely be needed at some point during the upcoming season. It's not as if he'll redshirt, again, assuming he's physically able to play.

But to draft a player with the extreme list of injuries that Dickerson has suffered, at pick No. 37? You don't take a swing on a player profile like that unless you believe he can be an All Pro-caliber player. Big risk, but a potentially big reward. I'd have taken someone else, but I can also respect the gamble. 


Round 3 (pick 73): Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech (6'3, 284)

This pick will of course be remembered more for the negative reaction from the Eagles' draft room than the actual pick, when cameras caught Senior Football Advisor Tom Donahoe having no interested in Howie Roseman's fist bump, post-pick.

Asked about the awkward moment, Roseman didn't dispute that there was dissention on the pick.

"When we were at pick 70 there were a couple guys we liked on the board, and moved back a little bit to see how it would go," Roseman said. "Couple guys we liked went as well. You know, these guys spend all year scouting these guys and you get favorites, you get guys that you feel really strongly about. We all do. You know, that's the fun part about being in the draft room is the emotions of it.

"At the end of the day, Milton Williams is an exciting player for our football team. We’re excited to have him. You know, I don't want to take away from his day, but we're all excited about that pick."

To note, the Eagles originally held the 70th overall pick. They traded back to pick 73, and picked up a sixth-round pick, of which they already had three. The three players that got picked in the interim were as follows:

  1. Pick 70: Brady Christensen, OT, BYU (Panthers)
  2. Pick 71: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF (Giants)
  3. Pick 72: Alim McNeill, DT, North Carolina State (Lions)

It's unclear if the Eagles would have taken one of those three players instead of Williams, had they not traded out of that pick. If so, you have to question why adding a fourth sixth-round pick was so important. It's also unclear whether Donahoe wanted one of those three players, or someone else.

But certainly, the dissension in the Eagles' draft room, shown on national television, will do nothing to quell the criticisms detailed in pieces from The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Athletic earlier this offseason that painted a picture of organizational dysfunction, and a lack of collaboration.

Personally, I like Williams' profile more than any of the three players that got picked before him. He's as athletic (at his position) of a player as you'll find in this draft, as the following spider chart shows:

Williams was also productive the last two seasons, registering 10 sacks in 22 games from his DT position. A highlight reel: 

Give me the upside of that guy over a player like McNeill, for example, who is more of a short, squatty DT in the mold of Javon Hargrave. Donahoe's pouting feels a little silly to me. 


Round 4 (pick 123): Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech (5'11, 196)

McPhearson originally enrolled at Penn State, but transferred to Texas Tech, where he was a two-year starter. In 2020, he had 53 tackles, four INTs (including a pick six), and six pass breakups. A quick highlight reel:

McPhearson is 5'11, 196, with ability to play outside or in the slot. If the Eagles intend on having Darius Slay follow the opposing team's No. 1 receiver like he did in 2020, that inside-outside versatility will be important.

He has shown a willingness to tackle, he has some ball skills, and while he isn't a blazer (4.5 40), he has good athleticism otherwise.

McPhearson should be able to compete for playing time as a rookie, both in the regular defense and on special teams, as he had two blocked PATs in his college career, as well as long blocked FG return for a TD.

Cornerback was arguably the Eagles' biggest need heading into this draft. Look at the depth chart. This is certainly not ideal:

Eagles CBs 
 CBDarius Slay Michael Jacquet Jameson Houston 
 CBCraig James(?) Kevon Seymour  
 Slot CBAvonte Maddox Lavert Hill Shakial Taylor 

To the surprise of some, the Eagles did not address the position until Round 4, and they only drafted one corner. So what? The Eagles are in the midst of a multi-year rebuild, and drafting with (in zombie voice) a "must fill needs" mindset will only lead to passing on better prospects to fill holes in what is very likely going to be a losing season.

The Eagles are likely to add a corner between now and the start of training camp. That guy will be a Band-Aid, which is fine, for now. 


Round 5 (pick 150): Kenny Gainwell, RB, Memphis (5'8, 201)

Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season, after he lost four family members to COVID.

As a player, Gainwell has some running back / slot receiver versatility, much like a number of other players coming out of Memphis in recent years, like Tony Pollard (Cowboys) and Antonio Gibson (WASTEAM). Pollard was better than Ezekiel Elliott in 2020, in my opinion, and Gibson was a stud as a rookie for WASTEAM.

Gainwell had a huge season in 2019, rushing 231 times for 1,459 yards (6.3 YPC), and 13 TDs, while adding 51 catches for 610 yards, and three TDs. That would be over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. As you'll see in the video below, he's a really fun player to watch:

If Nick Sirianni intends on using his running backs heavily in the passing game, Gainwell makes a lot of sense, even if the Eagles already have a pair of quality pass catchers in Miles Sanders (or at least Miles Sanders, circa 2019) and Boston Scott.

"[He has] the ability to go outside and win one-on-one outside against the linebackers, against safeties, to come out of the backfield and be able to do that as well," Nick Sirianni said. "He's shown that he's been really good in protection aspects of it as well and that every time he's going in it's not [just] a pass play right to him. So, he can protect. He can run the ball."

When the Eagles were on the clock in Round 3, I was thinking, "Gainwell could be an option here." In Round 4, I thought, "OK, take Gainwell here." In Round 5, I wasn't sure how this guy was still available. Fantastic value. 


Round 6 (pick 189): Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC (6'2, 317)

After selecting DT Milton Williams in the third round, the Eagles continued to add to their DT depth with their selection of Tuipulotu, a shorter 6'2, 317-pount interior lineman.

Over the last three seasons, in 29 games, Tuipulotu had 102 tackles, 15 for loss, and 8.5 sacks. A highlight reel: 

Tuipulotu is a good run defender, and his value will likely be on early downs. As a pass rusher, even if he's not getting to the quarterback, he could be effective pushing the pocket and giving the edge rushers more opportunities to get home because the passer can't step up into the pocket. He might even play more early on in his career than Williams, the third-rounder.

Dane Brugler of The Athletic had Tuipulotu as his 69th overall prospect. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network had him at 126th. ProFootballFocus had him at 130th. So this was another nice value pick, at 189. 


Round 6 (pick 191): Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina (6'2, 254)

Jackson is a short, thick pass rusher with 18 sacks his last two seasons (23 games) at Coastal Carolina. He is known as a power rusher with hand fighting ability, and (Andy Reid alert!) a high motor, which are sort of a necessary traits given his lack of height. A highlight reel: 

Jackson reminds me a little of a poor man's Brandon Graham, in terms of stature, energy, style of play, and versatility to rush from the inside on occasion. He'd be a logical fit to back up Graham at LDE, where he can learn behind the 11-year vet. I certainly like the idea of drafting a guy like this on Day 3 and developing him instead of bringing back an aging vet like Vinny Curry again. 


Round 6 (pick 224): JaCoby Stevens, LB, LSU (6'1, 212)

Stevens was listed as a safety at LSU, but he played more like a linebacker, and unsurprisingly, the Eagles categorized him as a linebacker in their announcement of the pick. His career numbers:

 JaCoby StevensTackles (TFL) Sacks INT PBU 
 201835 (6.5)1.5 
 201992 (9)
 202063 (6)
 TOTAL102 (21.5)9.5 15 

As you can see, Stevens has high sack and TFL totals for a college safety. The Eagles' tendency to convert safeties to linebacker did not die with Jim Schwartz's departure, and will apparently continue on unfettered, which really, is a trend that is occurring league-wide. A highlight reel:

Perhaps I'm being influenced by the Eagles' failed attempts to convert safeties into linebackers over the last half decade or so, but maybe just draft a linebacker to play linebacker instead of taking it to a new level by converting a guy who's only 212 pounds? 


TRADE: Eagles trade picks 225 and 240 to WASTEAM for a fifth-round pick in 2022

Trading a sixth-round compensatory pick and a seventh-rounder for a fifth-round pick the following year would be a no-brainer in most drafts, but it was an especially good move this year.

The 2021 draft was thought to be thin on talent on Day 3 because a slew of players opted to return to school as a result of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It is expected that the 2022 draft will be much deeper in talent, particularly on Day 3.

The Eagles added to the 2022 draft bundle, bringing their total number of picks to 10


Round 7 (pick 234): Patrick Johnson, LB, Tulane (6'2, 240)

At Tulane, Johnson was a high energy pass rusher with some burst who at one point in 2020 led the nation in sacks, and finished in a tie for third with 10. Since 2018, Johnson had 24.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 11 batted passes. Johnson wins with speed, and can counter that speed with speed-to-power rushes. His 3-cone time is particularly notable:

A highlight reel:

At 6'2, 240, Johnson is simply too small to play as a base down DE in the NFL. The Eagles announced him as a linebacker, and his conversion to the second level will be an interesting one in the Eagles' scheme, as it is expected that linebackers will have more blitzing opportunities under Jonathan Gannon than they did under Jim Schwartz. Maybe this is a hint that Gannon will have an Anthony Barr-like role in the Eagles' defense? 


Overall grade

On Day 1, the Eagles picked a player in DeVonta Smith that many would have been happy with had they gotten him with the sixth overall pick, and yet, they were able to still get him while also siphoning off a 2022 first-round pick from a Dolphins team that might not be good in 2021.

On Day 2, they took a couple of swings on high upside players. Many fans didn't like the selection of Dickerson, and Tom Donahoe didn't like the selection of Williams, lol. However, Dickerson could be an All-Pro if he's able to stay healthy, and Williams' athletic profile was absolutely worth the price of a third-round pick. I can understand being fearful of gambles because they've gone badly in the past (Sidney Jones, for example), but this does not feel the same to me.

On Day 3, the Eagles made some nice value picks, most notably in my opinion in Gainwell, Tuipulotu, and Jackson.

Overall, I liked what the Eagles did on all three days of the draft. They made smart picks, while not trying to be too smart for their own good, if that makes any sense. 


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