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January 28, 2020

Re-grading the Eagles' 2019 draft

Eagles NFL
40_01052020_EaglesvsSeahawks_JJ_Arcega-Whiteside_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside during the Philadelphia Eagles wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks.

At the conclusion of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles received mixed reviews locally, however, their draft was received very favorably among most of the national draft analysts. Soon after the draft, we did "an Eagles draft grade roundup," and they received a "GPA" of 3.37.

gave them a B-, which many at the time felt was too low, if I recall correctly. As it turns out, it probably wasn't low enough. Let's go pick by pick, and re-grade the Birds' 2019 draft.

Andre Dillard

Dillard played 343 regular season snaps in 2019, appearing in all 16 games, and starting four, as a backup to Jason Peters. His first extended action came against the Minnesota Vikings, when he had to fill in for Peters, mid-game, against a combination of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, a pair of great pass rushers with two different styles, without much help. 

That was a bumpy outing, but he played better in each subsequent game against the Cowboys, Bills, and Bears, before the team made the ill-advised decision to start him on the right side against the Seahawks, which is something that even Dillard knew was not going to go well.

Dillard's 2019 season was about what should have been expected. He showed that he can easily handle speed rushers in the NFL, but he clearly needs to get stronger in order to anchor against bull rushes.

Dillard should be the starting LT in 2020, barring some kind of insane decision to retain Peters. Dillard was drafted to be the "left tackle of the future," and in my view, he still is.

Grade we gave last April: A-

Re-grade: B+

Miles Sanders

Usually with any pick, there isn't going to be 100 percent agreement within an organization on a player. With Sanders, immediately after the draft, the Eagles said that all areas of the organization really liked him, from the coaches, to the scouts, to the front office guys, to the analytics nerds.

Obviously, they got this one right.

As a runner, early in the season, Sanders was either hesitant to hit holes when they were there, or a little too eager to bounce runs to the outside. As he became acclimated to the speed of the game as the season wore on, there was less dancing in the backfield, and more explosive runs. On the season, Sanders rushed 179 times for 818 yards (4.6 yards per carry), and 3 TDs.

While that's good, there wasn't much worry that Sanders would be able to run the ball in the NFL. The more exciting part of Sanders' rookie season, at least in terms of the hope that he could become a three-down back, were his contributions in the passing game, both in pass protection and as a receiver.

After a college career in which he only caught 32 passes at Penn State, Sanders caught 50 passes for 509 yards (10.2 YPC), and 3 TDs, leading all NFL rookies in yards from scrimmage. In fact, Sanders joined a list of only seven players with at least 800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards as a rookie. The other six? Edgerrin James, Saquon Barkley, Billy Sims, Marshall Faulk, Abner Haynes, and Gayle Sayres.

Sanders has a chance to be a great running back.

Grade we gave last April: B

Re-grade: A

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

As we noted in our initial grades, we didn't bother profiling Arcega-Whiteside during our Grocery Shopping series all year because his skill set too closely mirrored that of Alshon Jeffery's. We immediately made the logical leap that the selection of Arcega-Whiteside probably meant that Jeffery's days in Philly were probably numbered. We gave the Eagles a B- on their selection of JJAW with that premise in mind. Had we known that the team was going to guarantee Jeffery's 2020 salary a few months later, their grade on this pick would have been substantially lower.

Still, Arcega-Whiteside had a good camp (for a rookie), and he flashed in the preseason against the Baltimore Ravens, when he had eight catches for 104 yards, and a TD. Things were looking OK.

And then... the regular season did not go well, as you all saw. Arcega-Whiteside failed to make what should have been a game-winning catch against the Lions, and by the end of the season, despite the Eagles' top three receivers going down, he only had 10 catches for 169 yards and a TD. In the playoffs against the Seahawks, he got fewer snaps than a trio of guys pulled off of practice squads during the season, while DK Metcalf, a player drafted shortly after him by Seattle (and in my view, was clearly a better prospect), hauled in seven catches for 160 yards, and a TD.

Grade we gave last April: B-

Re-grade: D

Shareef Miller

Given the Eagles' numbers at DE, it wasn't likely that Miller was going to get much playing time as a rookie, however, he didn't manage to get on the field at all. Not in the regular defense. Not on special teams. Six other Eagles defensive ends did. Yikes.

In our write-up last April, we noted that there were a number of good linebackers available when Miller was picked, and a run on them went soon after his selection. Some of those backers had pretty good seasons

Grade we gave last April: B-

Re-grade: D

Clayton Thorson

Like Arcega-Whiteside above, Thorson was a player on my radar all season long (mainly because of his size), but I never profiled him during our Grocery Shopping series, because his numbers stunk.

While I liked the idea of the draft-and-groom concept, and still do, Thorson was obviously a bad choice. Somehow, I gave them a B- in April. I guess I just trusted that they saw something that I didn't? That benefit of the doubt on quarterbacks is probably gone now.

Anyway, it was very quickly apparent in OTAs and minicamp that Thorson did not look like an NFL quarterback, and after a rough training camp and preseason, the team made the correct decision to cut their losses on a bad pick.

Grade we gave last April: B-

Re-grade: D-

Extra credit

We should note that the team did seemingly hit on a promising undrafted free agent in T.J. Edwards, who had a high ratio of tackles to snaps played. Edwards lacks ideal athleticism, but he is an instinctive young linebacker who can perhaps serve as an early-down role player in 2020.

Final re-grade

Grade we gave last April: B-

Re-grade: C

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