By Connor Thomas
First off, the draft can always be argued one way or the other before the players even take a snap. If you want to check out the less optimistic spin on the Eagles’ selections, you can check that out here.
You won’t be getting that type of reaction here. I think the Eagles did a great job in the 2021 NFL Draft from just about start to finish. Again, a lot of draft reaction is conjecture; it’s reaction to stats from games that most of us never watched, put on the stat sheet by players that most of us have never seen play. Outside of some of the premier talents in college football, the average fan has no clue who these players are until their name is called and now their Sundays revolve around them. But despite the variables and the unknowns, we do have things to go off of such as pedigree, positional fit, perceived value of the pick, and more. When you consider those things and look at what the Eagles came away with, it’s hard to not be satisfied with what Howie Roseman and company did over the 3 days of the draft.
Ok, I’ll be honest, writing praise to Roseman just made my skin crawl. He still has a long way to go to re-ingratiate himself to the Eagles fan base, but let’s take a look at how he took a step in the right direction with a great draft. Right off the bat, he nailed the most important pick. In the NFL Draft, 1st round selections are exponentially more important than 2nd rounders, which are exponentially more important than 3rd rounders, and so on and so forth. So the 1st round is paramount, and Roseman played it perfectly. He started his perfect 1st round back on March 26th when he traded out of the #6 pick and moved back to #12, swapping with the Miami Dolphins and picking up another 1st round pick in 2022. I wrote about the best case scenario for the first round the day before the draft, and it played out almost to a T. The perfect scenario was that Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase would both be gone by pick 6, and that DeVonta Smith would be available for the Eagles at #12. The only thing that went awry was that the Eagles needed to give up a 3rd round pick to jump the Giants and get Smith at #10, but ultimately Philly got their guy, and stole him from a division rival in the process. It was a perfect day 1, which carries huge weight for the success of the draft as a whole.
On to round 2. I’m one of the few people who absolutely love the Landon Dickerson pick in the 2nd round. At 37 overall the Eagles very well may have gotten the best interior offensive lineman in the draft. Yes, he has major injury concerns. That cannot be overlooked. But he was an All-American for the best football program in the country at Alabama, where he was a dominating force, a team leader, and a locker room favorite. The upside far outweighs the downside. Another knock on Dickerson was that he will hopefully not be a day 1 starter, as he waits in the wings to replace an aging Jason Kelce when the All-Pro ultimately hangs it up. I don’t have any issue with that whatsoever. He gets a year in the building for his body to adjust to an NFL grind, the medical staff can evaluate his knee and ankle issues, he can pick the brain of the greatest center in the history of the team, and he can make an impact on the locker room while also giving a sense of security to some younger former Alabama players like Jalen Hurts or DeVonta Smith. Injury concerns are always scary, but the upside of getting a player like Dickerson is immense. Personally, I’ll take my chances.
In round 3, the fist bump heard round the world between Howie Roseman and Senior Director Of Player Personnel Tom Donahoe led to a lot of people questioning the pick of DT Milton Williams. It was a terrible look for the organization, but it does not take away from the fact that Williams was a player to watch for many draft experts, and he was incredibly productive at Louisiana Tech. The Eagles calling card during their Super Bowl year was their trench winners on both sides of the ball, and with that generation of lineman aging out of the league, Roseman did a good job at finding a potential stalwart on the defensive line here. Another solid pick (disagreement in the draft room notwithstanding).
Rounds 4-7 of the NFL Draft are essentially a crapshoot, but the Eagles even found some good value on day 3. I don’t love the round 4 pick of Zech McPhearson, a raw CB out of Texas Tech. The scouting report on him seemed to be all over the place, with a projection ranging from 3rd round to undrafted. It’s a bit of a risk at a position of need, but his college production shows an ability to hawk the football. The Eagles were 29th in the NFL in interceptions in the 2020 season, so I’m going to assume this selection was an attempt at remedying that issue. Round 5 may have seen the team’s best value pick of the entire draft, as Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell found his way to Philly. Gainwell has a high ceiling as a shifty receiving back, and some believe he will be a better option than Boston Scott from day 1. That’s another addressing of a need, and unlike McPhearson, there were very few that refuted the value of getting him in the 5th round. After the 5th round the draft seems to become completely random, so for sake of brevity I’ll evaluate the remaining players as a whole. The selections:
6th Round, No. 189: Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
6th Round, No. 191: Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
6th Round, No. 224: JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU
7th Round, No. 234: Patrick Johnson, DE/LB, Tulane
The individual players I know very little about. I remember hearing JaCoby Stevens’ name sometimes during LSU games. Other than that, we don’t know these guys from Adam, but look at the trends. Tuipulotu, Jackson, and Johnson can all play on the defensive line, lending to the idea that games are still won in the trenches. It’s a strategy that has been proven to work. JaCoby Stevens is listed as a safety, but the Eagles will attempt to transition him to LB, a huge position of need. Sure, they probably could have addressed the linebacker position earlier, but it did not go completely unaddressed. Small victories folks.
It wasn’t a perfect draft. Another offensive lineman may have been nice. A higher pedigree corner would’ve been a safer bet. But ultimately needs were addressed, a home run was hit, and a couple of great value high ceiling picks were made. For a team whose Achilles heel has been the NFL Draft, the Eagles can look back at this year as a great draft that should hopefully set the table for a rebuilding franchise.