The Eagles walked away from the 2019 draft with just five players, which might seem alarming because they also walked away with just five players in the 2018 draft.
Those are historically small draft classes.
In fact, just the Eagles’ 1989 class (four players) was smaller. And since the draft moved to its current seven-round format in 1994, the Eagles had never had a five-player draft class until last year and now they’ve done it twice in a row.
It’s nothing to worry about too much, though. While they had five picks again this year, having one first-round pick and two second-round picks at the top is a lot different from last year, when the Eagles’ top picks were a second-rounder and two fourths. And the Eagles used some of their 2019 picks in trades: A sixth-rounder for DeSean Jackson (and they get a seventh back in 2020), a third-rounder for Golden Tate (they’ll probably get a fourth-round comp pick back), a seventh-rounder from moving up to get Jordan Mailata last year, a seventh-rounder from last year when they traded for Deiondre’ Hall and a seventh during this draft to get veteran defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway.
And thanks to the compensatory pick formula, the Eagles are expected to have plenty of draft picks starting next year. Don’t worry. The stockpiled draft picks are coming.
For now, this is a small class, but the Eagles don’t really have a ton of 53-man roster spots up for grabs anyway. Even if they had a bunch of sixth and seventh-round draft picks, there’s no guarantee those guys would have made the roster. The Eagles have also done well in the undrafted rookie pool, not being afraid to throw some money around.
I’m not much for draft grades — Roob broke down what some people are saying — so here’s a look at each of their five picks with some analysis:
1-22: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Howie Roseman kept saying the Eagles weren’t going to draft for need, that they were going to worry about what was best for the franchise long-term. Turns out he was being honest about this, even during lying season. The interesting thing about this pick is that if everything goes well this season, meaning their starting tackles stay healthy, Dillard isn’t going to play much. But based on Jason Peters’ 2018 season, Dillard ought to stay ready. There’s a good chance the Eagles will call on him early and often if Peters can’t play through injuries again.
I liked this selection because of the value. After every pick, we always seem to find out the Eagles just loved the guy, he was their favorite and blah, blah, blah. But with Dillard, I actually believe it. He’s a player who many teams thought of highly and he got pushed deeper into the first round because of the run on defensive linemen. Would the Eagles have loved to get one of those DL like Christian Wilkins? Absolutely. And I think they tried. But a modest trade-up to get a guy like Dillard is a pretty major coup. If Dillard ends up being the left tackle for a decade, which is what the Eagles are hoping, then obviously this pick was a success. The Eagles could go from Tra Thomas to Jason Peters to Andre Dillard and secure one of the most important positions on the field for three decades.
Coming from Washington State, Dillard was the most polished OT in terms of pass protection. He needs work in the run game, but I think that’s easier to learn than pass pro and, honestly, less important. This is a passing league and the Eagles got a guy whose speciality is blocking on passing plays. He’s also a great athlete.
What does this pick mean for the guys who are already on the roster? Well, Halapoulivaati Vaitai might not be here much longer. He’s in a contract year and I really thought there was a chance the Eagles would try to move him on Day 3. I know a lot of people saw this Dillard pick as a damning sign about Jordan Mailata, but I don’t think it is. As excited as everyone got about Mailata, he’s still a long-term project and the Eagles couldn’t pass on Dillard because they have a guy who started playing football a year ago. It is a shame for Mailata that his progress hasn’t better fallen in line with Peters’ decline. If JP was still just 35 and had a couple more years in him, then maybe the Eagles would have had enough time to prepare Mailata to play. Now, the young Australian is looking at the roster and seeing both tackle spots locked up for a long time. But if he develops into a good player, the Eagles will have tackle depth, which is never a bad thing.
2-21-53: Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State
I liked the Dillard pick, but I loved the Sanders pick. You guys have probably gotten sick of me saying the Eagles needed to find a feature back. After adding DeSean as a speed guy, the lack of a feature back was the last missing element from making the Eagles’ offense as dynamic as possible. I call Sanders a feature guy because he can run though the tackles and spring outside, he can catch balls out of the backfield (he didn’t do a ton of it in college, but he has that ability) and I think with Duce Staley’s help, he can become above average in protection. That’s the type of player who never has to leave the field. I know the rotation has worked for the Eagles and because of that, many folks thought that was Doug Pederson’s preference. But I’m not so sure. I think they’ve used the rotation because that’s what they’ve had to work with. The Eagles haven’t had a feature back since LeSean McCoy. I really think Sanders can be that.
Based on his combine performance, Sanders has all the tools.
The most interesting aspect of Sanders is his low mileage. He was a starter for just one year at Penn State and I think that definitely factored into the Eagles’ decision. Here’s a true feature back who had just 308 offensive touches in college. To put that in perspective, the next RB off the board, David Montgomery from Iowa State, had 695 offensive touches in the same three college years. The Eagles still need to get as much out of Sanders as they can in his four-year contract, but there’s an opportunity here to give him another contract after that, if things work out.
2-25-57: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
I questioned the Arcega-Whiteside pick and not just because I feel for the equipment guy who will have to make his name fit on the back of a jersey. I’m not questioning the player. Really. I think he’s good. I just really thought the Eagles were going to pick a defensive player with this pick. Instead, they made Arcega-Whiteside the third consecutive offensive player off the board. I know the Eagles are an offensive-minded team with a offensive head coach, but Jim Schwartz couldn’t have been happy on Friday. Guys like Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp and Juan Thornhill were available at the safety position. Zach Allen, Jachai Polite and Dre’mont Jones were defensive linemen available in that “historic” defensive line class. This could have been a way for the Eagles to find a defensive player who would help them immediately. I don’t hate this pick; I just wonder if they would have been better suited getting an impact player on defense. But they stuck to their board, so good for them.
Getting back to the player, I like Arcega-Whiteside and understand why the Eagles saw value getting him at pick No. 57. Assuming the three starters are still on the roster Week 1, Arcega-Whiteside will give the Eagles depth at a spot where they did really need it. I get the Alshon Jeffery comparisons, too; one thing this kid is great at is winning 50-50 balls. It actually makes me wonder about Jeffery's long-term future here after the Eagles drafted a player with similar skills. Jeffery is 29 and has three more years on his deal, but the Birds could move on before that if they wanted. For now, Arcega-Whiteside will help as a backup, especially in the red zone. There’s a reason he caught 14 touchdowns in 2018.
Think about this: The Eagles now have a ton of targets over 6-foot-3 when they get inside the 20 (Zach Ertz, 6-5; Dallas Goedert, 6-4; Alshon Jeffery, 6-3; Arcega-Whiteside, 6-3). Just throw it up, Carson! That could be dangerous.
4-36-138: Shareef Miller, DE, Penn State
I love this story. It’s the first time the Eagles have drafted a kid from Philly in a while and Miller is clearly excited to get a chance to play for his hometown team. Miller was the very last pick of the fourth round and that sounds about right for him. The consensus heading into this draft was that he was a Day 3 pick. There were a few other edge players left on the board (Charles Omenihu from Texas stands out), but I thought Miller (6-4, 254 pounds) was a fine pick where they got him. The one thing he really needs to work on his his strength. He did just 16 bench reps at the combine. That was the worst total of all DL and edge players there and that lack of strength shows up on tape. Time to get in the weight room.
But Miller has a frame that can hold more weight and I think he has more upside than I see some other folks giving him.
He is a solid run defender and there’s a lot of untapped potential as a pass rusher, so it’ll be up to the coaching staff to get the most out of him. For a late fourth-round pick, the Eagles could have done a lot worse. The nice thing is he’s behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry and possibly even Josh Sweat. If the Eagles get Chris Long to return, even better. But either way, Miller will just need to be a rotational player and he’s ready for that. If he gets 8-10 snaps per game, he could give a little boost as a spot pass-rusher.
5-29-167: Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
The Eagles found the developmental quarterback they’ve been talking about for a while. With a late fifth-round pick, I suppose this is fine. I don’t know a heck of a lot about Thorson, but I’ll defer to Pederson and the Eagles’ scouting department. They like the kid, so we’ll see what this outcome is. For their sake, I hope the Eagles didn’t just take a quarterback because they wanted to take a quarterback. I know it’s a late fifth-round pick, but the Eagles could have found a player who would have a better shot of contributing sooner. I was all on board with taking a QB when I thought the Eagles were going to have three sixth-round picks. But to use one of five picks on a developmental QB is a little more troublesome for me. Still, they’re preparing for the future and that’s a smart thing.
The upside here is that Thorson could possibly grow into a backup quarterback or perhaps even trade bait. Nate Sudfeld is the backup this year and will make $3 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020. The Eagles would probably like to keep him, but how much would they be willing to spend? If Thorson develops into an adequate backup, maybe they won’t feel the need to spend a bunch of money to keep Sudfeld. But if Sudfeld does stick around and the Eagles still develop Thorson in their system, there’s a chance he could became an asset to trade. Grooming QBs like this is an old Andy Reid trick.
7-32-246: Traded for DT Hassan Ridgeway
Ridgeway has already played three years in the league and 2019 is the last of his rookie contract. Making this trade meant two things to me: 1. The Eagles didn’t see enough value at this point late in the draft. 2. In their win-now mode, they think Ridgeway will help more than an unproven defensive tackle. I’m fine with the move. He’ll add depth behind Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan. Not great news for playoff hero Treyvon Hester, though.
The Eagles have found some contributors from their recent undrafted classes, including Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Tre Sullivan and Bruce Hector. The three with the best chance to make the roster from this group: LB T.J. Edwards, OL Ryan Bates and OL Nate Herbig.
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