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May 02, 2019

Projecting first-year roles for each of the Eagles' five draft picks

Eagles NFL

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected five players, only one of whom is likely to get immediate playing time, barring injury. Here we'll look at each of the Birds' additions, and project their roles as rookies.

Round 1, OT Andre Dillard: Dillard will be the backup left tackle in 2019. To begin, Dillard has only ever played left tackle. He said he played some right tackle his freshman year, and I don't know if that was just in practice or what, but his bio on his college's website essentially says that he only played left tackle. What is not in question is that he has never played guard. Asking Dillard to learn a new position to get him on the field in his rookie season could potentially stunt his growth as the team's long-term answer at left tackle, which is far more important than trying to replace a player in Isaac Seumalo at left guard, who the front office and staff very much believe in anyway.

Whenever Jason Peters has to come off the field, something that happened in 11 of 18 games last season, Dillard will fill in, assuming he isn't a complete mess in training camp and the preseason. He should get his share of playing time even as the backup. With a full year of learning Jeff Stoutland's techniques, specifically at left tackle, Dillard should be ready to go as the starter in 2020. 

As for the possibility of Dillard filling in at left tackle and Jason Peters moving over to left guard, that will almost certainly never happen. At one time Peters mentioned he would be fine with such a move, but more recently -- and more consistently -- he has bristled at that notion. Also, it's probably fair to note here that this isn't Madden. Asking a 37-year-old vet who has played one position for the last 15 years to suddenly master a new one may not be such an easy or seamless transition.

Round 2, RB Miles Sanders: Sanders is the aforementioned player who should get on the field immediately. The guess here is that Jordan Howard will begin the season as the "starter," but Sanders should be mixed in early and often.

One quote from Howie Roseman that stood out to me was in regard to Sanders' variety of skills.

"Miles is a guy, he can play all three downs," he said. "But you have these guys that can do different things and for Coach, 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."

When Doug Pederson mixed in tempo during the 2017 season, it was effective. If Sanders truly is the three-down back who opens up the playbook for Pederson, I believe that he should carve out an early role as the back in the game during those tempo situations, and I believe you'll see more of them if Sanders is effective.

Round 2, WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside (to be henceforth known as JJAW): JJAW will likely settle in as the co-No. 4 receiver for the Eagles in his first season, alongside Mack Hollins. Why the "co-No. 4?" While Hollins and JJAW both have great size, their skill sets are very different. Hollins is a speed guy who can stretch the defense and get yards after the catch, while JJAW has outstanding hands, and is very good at winning on contested catches.

Hollins was the missing man in 2018. He was quiet during training camp, despite getting an extended opportunity to run with the 1's, and then he missed the entire season with a sports hernia injury. The Eagles still want him to contribute, and the belief here is that he'll still get opportunities, even with the addition of JJAW. The guess here is that they'll find ways to get Hollins some looks between the 20's where he can use his speed, while it would make sense to make good use of JJAW's skill set in the red zone. Pederson should look to find ways to sprinkle them both in, even if the wide receiving corps stay healthy.

Round 4: DE Shareef Miller: At the time Miller and Josh Sweat were drafted, I believe Miller will be a little more pro-ready than Sweat was a year ago when he was a rookie, with Sweat having more long-term upside. As of May 2, it is looking a lot like Chris Long is not going to be back with the team in 2019, which would open up an opportunity for Miller or Sweat to win the No. 4 DE spot behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry. As the No. 4 DE, Miller/Sweat would have a role in the defensive rotation. 

That said, I don't think the Eagles are done addressing DE this offseason. We'll hold off on projecting a role for Miller until some more chips falls there.

Round 5, QB Clayton Thorson: Thorson will be the No. 3 quarterback behind Carson Wentz and Nate Sudfeld, with the chance of becoming the primary backup in 2020 if Sudfeld leaves in free agency. 

Some have wondered whether Thorson could find himself on the practice squad this season. To get players to the practice squad, you first have to waive him, and then they have to clear waivers. Unless Thorson is absolutely brutal in training camp and the preseason, there is no way the Eagles are going to risk losing a fifth-round pick in a draft in which they only had five picks. Hell, they'll probably still keep him even if he is terrible. 

Thorson will make the team and stay on the 53-man roster for the duration of the season, but as long as Wentz and Sudfeld stay healthy, he'll be a mainstay on the inactive list on game day.

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