Eagles

10 interesting facts about Eagles' 2019 rookie class

10 interesting facts about Eagles' 2019 rookie class

The Eagles' rookies had their three-day minicamp last weekend and the veterans will join next week at OTAs. That will be a big moment for them.

Until then, here are 10 interesting facts about the 2019 Eagles’ rookie class: 

1. The Eagles drafted just five players for the second straight year. The only draft class in team history that was smaller was the four-player class back in 1989. The Eagles have taken just 10 players in the draft over the last two years, tied with the Titans for the fewest in the NFL. Excluding the Eagles, the 31 other NFL teams averaged 16.13 players drafted over the last two years. 

Because of the lack of draft picks, the Eagles in the last two years have thrown money at undrafted players, trying to bring in the top talent of the guys who didn’t hear their names called. 

2. By now, you might have heard that JJ Arcega-Whiteside interned for Condoleezza Rice last summer. But you might not know he was born in Spain and his parents were both professional basketball players. English is his third language. Interesting guy.  

3. Undrafted guard Sua Opeta from Weber State did 39 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. That was the most of every player invited to this year’s combine. Just eight players have done more on the bench at the combine in the last 10 years. Just three of those eight were offensive linemen. Mitch Petrus from Arkansas did 45 reps back in 2010. Petrus was a fifth-round draft pick and played 27 career games. For more perspective, Brandon Brooks did 36 reps (nothing to sneeze at) at his pro day in 2012. 

4. The Eagles took Miles Sanders in the second round with the 53rd pick. That’s the exact same pick the Eagles used 10 years earlier to draft LeSean McCoy in 2009. Sanders is from Pittsburgh and Shady went to school in Pittsburgh. 

In the modern era, five running backs have been taken with the 53rd pick — and three of them by the Eagles! The Birds also took Perry Harrington out of Jackson State in 1980. In four years with the Eagles, Harrington rushed for 635 yards. He played two more seasons with the Rams to make for a six-year career.

5. Because Saquon Barkley was ahead of him for two years at Penn State, Sanders had just 276 rushing attempts in college. In the last five years, there have been 19 running backs taken in the top two rounds. The only other one with fewer rushing attempts in college was Josh Jacobs (251), this year’s No. 24 pick. 

From 2015-2018, the average collegiate rushing attempts for the 17 running backs taken in the first two rounds was 591. Sanders had less than half of that. 

6. When the Eagles took Shareef Miller with the last pick in the fourth round, he became the first Philly native drafted by the Eagles since running back Bruce Perry out of Maryland in the seventh round back in 2004.  

7. According to ProFootballFocus, Andre Dillard gave up just one sack in 748 pass-blocking opportunities in 2018. He gave up two sacks in 810 pass-blocking opportunities in 2017. So that’s three sacks in 1,558 drop-backs during his last two college seasons. That’s just one sack in every 529 opportunities.  

8. Eagles fifth-round QB Clayton Thorson had more career rushing touchdowns at Northwestern (27) than Jacobs, Sanders, David Montgomery and Damien Harris had in their respective college careers. Thorson is seventh on the all-time Northwestern list for rushing TDs.  

9. The Eagles drafted two Penn State players — Sanders and Miller — for the first time in four decades. In fact, the Eagles hadn’t drafted a single player from Penn State since 2007, when they took Tony Hunt in the third round. Back in 1979, the Eagles took WR Scott Fitzkee in the fifth round and C Chuck Correal in the eight round. They drafted just four total Nittany Lions in the 40 years between their two double-dips. 

10. Cornerback Jamalcolm “Jay” Liggins was signed as a UDFA from NAIA program Dickinson State. If you haven’t heard of Dickinson State, you’re certainly not alone. Dickinson, North Dakota, is west of Fargo and Biskmark on Interstate-94, about an hour drive past Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the Montana border. A former track star, Liggins turned heads when he competed at the North Dakota State pro day in late March. 

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse along the offensive line?

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse along the offensive line?

The Eagles invested their first-round draft pick into the offensive line, but injuries were more widespread than one position last season. Will the unit be better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Andre Dillard (draft, first round) 

Key departures: None

Why they could be better: Healthy bodies

Noticing a trend in this series? The Eagles’ bad injury luck in 2018 hit the offensive line hard, even though the affected players somehow missed a grand total of one game. Jason Peters was coming off a torn ACL to begin with, then went on to exit somewhere around half the games early with various dings. Jason Kelce battled injuries all year, yet hardly missed a snap, and Lane Johnson only failed to suit up once when it turns out he wasn’t practicing pretty much the entire season.

All three were already playing better down the stretch, a sign the unit was getting healthy. Kelce hasn’t missed a game since 2014, Johnson is traditionally very durable (suspensions notwithstanding) and Peters is another year removed from major knee surgery. Obviously, injuries can strike at any time, but 2019 is setting up as a clean slate for 60 percent of the Eagles’ front, which is a good sign.

Why they could be worse: Brandon Brooks’ injury

The injury gods giveth, but primarily they taketh. Brooks has designs on being ready to return potentially as early as Week 1 — it’s just hard to fathom that timetable is based in reality. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in January. That’s less than eight months turnaround from an injury that could take upwards of a year to fully recover from, if it doesn’t derail an athlete’s career entirely.

It’s plausible, if not likely the Eagles won’t have Brooks in uniform until November or December, and then what kind of player will they be inserting at right guard? A two-time Pro Bowler, or a guy working his way back from a major injury? And whoever is replacing Brooks until then — from the looks of things at OTAs, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who’s never played guard before — has massive shoes to fill, as this is one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL the past two seasons.

The X-factor: Left tackle

There’s an old saying around here: 80 percent of Jason Peters is better than 80 percent of the left tackles in the league. So when the 37-year-old legend occasionally gets beat because he simply doesn’t get around like he used to, it’s accepted because he’s probably taking care of business the rest of the time.

Except the trouble with Peters isn’t necessarily his performance. It’s the matter of availability, which has been an issue the past few seasons. He tapped out of games with injuries in 2015. He was shelved by an ACL in 2017. Then last year, it not only took a while for Peters to return to anything remotely resembling form, but actually finish whole games. It will be interesting to see how much work the nine-time Pro Bowler can actually handle, and if wear and tear accumulate, whether either first-round draft pick Andre Dillard or rugby star-turned-football prospect Jordan Mailata can plug the hole. Recent history suggests one of them may need to.

Is the Eagles’ offensive line better or worse?

It’s hard to get around the strong likelihood Brooks will miss time. It’s also hard to project a 16-plus-game season where Peters doesn’t exit an important game early. Dillard may help ease the loss of a Hall of Fame talent at left tackle, but it’s a lot to ask of a rookie. And while the Eagles have some nice depth pieces in Vaitai and Stefan Wisniewski, the appearance they are needed and not just luxuries is worrisome.

WORSE

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Eagles mailbag: Biggest 2019 concern, rookie of the year, LBs

Eagles mailbag: Biggest 2019 concern, rookie of the year, LBs

I answered half of your questions yesterday and saved the rest for today. 

The first batch were about Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins, training camp and I picked a candidate to have a breakout season.

Let’s get to the rest right now: 

I’m tempted to say the health concerns about the offensive line, but instead I’m going on defense to the defensive end position. In my last mailbag, I picked Derek Barnett as a breakout candidate for 2019, but even if he does break out, the Eagles don’t have great depth at the position. They started last season with these top four defensive ends: Brandon Graham, Barnett, Michael Bennett and Chris Long. This year, their top four are probably: Graham, Barnett, Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat/Shareef Miller. That could be a problem. 

At least the Eagles now have much better depth at defensive tackle with Malik Jackson and a presumably healthy Tim Jernigan. But will that be enough to cover of the deficiency of depth at edge rusher? Not sure. 

I’ll make the safest bet here and say Miles Sanders. I don’t like that Sanders was forced to miss the entire spring with an injury, but among all the rookies, he has the best chance to get significant playing time. Andre Dillard won’t play unless Jason Peters gets hurt. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is behind three very talented receivers. Shareef Miller has room to grow. And Clayton Thorson won’t play. Maybe there’s an undrafted guy who carves out a role, but we know Sanders is going to play and be a complementary player with Jordan Howard and Corey Clement. In fact, I still think Sanders can have a big year as long as he can stay healthy during training camp. 

I think they’re doing it to give themselves flexibility. If a team were to trade for Halapoulivaati Vaitai, they’d do it because they think he can play tackle, not because he learned how to play guard. And based on the spring, it seems like the Eagles are preparing Vaitai to play right guard if Brandon Brooks isn’t ready for Week 1. Doug Pederson even mentioned the importance of Lane Johnson learning how to play next to Big V; that comment wasn’t lost on me. Ultimately, I think the versatility can only help Vaitai and it might help extend his career. 

It’ll be Kamu Grugier-Hill. He played 32 percent of defensive snaps last season and I think he can handle even more this season. I thought he played well when he got the chance last year and he’s in line to have a big role in the defense this year. Zach Brown is kind of playing catch-up as he learns the defense. He’ll play in base defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Nigel Bradham and KGH on the field in nickel situations. 

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