DiCecco's Draft Notes: Grading Eagles 2021 Draft Haul
Howie Roseman came out guns-a-blazin' from a tactical and competitive standpoint Thursday night.
After all, the prospect taken by the Eagles after they jumped two spots, former Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, is a proven playmaker who's poised to ignite an incredulously dormant unit.
“Again, we stuck to our board on this,” Roseman said late Thursday evening. "This is a guy whose grade stuck out. This was one of the top players in the draft for the Eagles. We thought it was a great player and we didn’t want to bypass that to fill a need.”
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – from a division rival, no less – ultimately set the tone for days ahead.
The harmonious vibe that infused the city on the heels of the Smith selection would quickly fade, however, as ensuing picks yielded mixed reactions. Sure, the Eagles selected a player or two who weren't exactly household names, but team brass appeared to remain true to the board while following the blueprint of a proven, successful formula: building the trenches.
Round 1, No. 10: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Roseman navigated the board perfectly in the early goings, executing a deal with the Dallas Cowboys to jump to No. 10 to secure Smith. Listed at 6 foot, 170 pounds, Smith is known for his big-play ability, route-running savvy, positional versatility, and toughness. The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner also reunites with his former college quarterback, Jalen Hurts, which could ultimately expedite Smith’s transition to the pro level. Smith will team with 2020 draftees Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, Quez Watkins, and holdovers Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward to comprise a young and diverse aerial attack for head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to mold. It wouldn’t shock me if Smith assumed the role of top receiver in Philadelphia by the end of training camp. He'll be a target monster for Hurts.
Round 2, No. 37: Landon Dickerson, G/C, Alabama
Were it not for multiple ACL and ankle injuries, Dickerson would have been a surefire first-round pick. Still, it's entirely likely that the former Crimson Tide standout emerges as one of the top offensive linemen of this class after the dust settles. The 6-foot-5, 333-pounds Dickerson is an extremely fluid-mover, boasts superhuman strength, a high level of intelligence, and plays with a mean streak.
Dickerson is listed as a guard, though he was targeted with the intent of becoming Jason Kelce’s heir apparent in 2022. Dickerson could be available by the start of the regular season, so I’d view the second-rounder as valuable interior depth with a chance to unseat an incumbent or step in due to injury in 2021. Presuming Dickerson returns to full-strength, he has the requisite intangibles and mindset to become regarded as a top player at his position before long.
Round 3, No. 73 (from CAR): Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech
Aside from DeVonta Smith, I was most partial to the Williams selection. I had a late third-round/early fourth-round grade on the Louisiana Tech standout, as I became enamored with his explosive traits and upside throughout the pre-draft process. Officially listed at 6 foot 3, 284 pounds, Williams lacks the prototypical build to shoulder the burden of a three-down defender initially, but should thrive as the third defensive tackle while adapting to the speed and nuances of the pro level, refining his skill set, and increasing his play strength. The sizable financial investments allocated to Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave will likely incite a sweeping change to the defensive tackle position in the near future, and Williams should be prepared to assume a larger role when the time comes. What Williams lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his power at the point of attack, processing, lateral agility, and positional versatility to make an impact out of the gate.
“I feel like I'll be on the edges on early downs with my strength and being able to hold point on the edge,” Williams said on Friday when asked about his scheme fit. “But third down, obvious passing downs, I feel like I'll bump inside and be able to be productive inside. Like I said, in my college career I played under three defensive coordinators, so I played in a three-man front, four-man front, and lined up all across, so I'm comfortable with every position.”
Round 4, No. 123: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech
Patient in pursuit of retooling the secondary, the Eagles landed McPhearson in the early stages of Day 3. McPhearson, 5-foot-10, 196 pounds, has experience playing inside and outside, and while he'll certainly contend for the vacant outside job opposite Darius Slay, I imagine the bulk of his snaps will come from manning the slot. The Columbia, Md., native began his college career at Penn State before transferring to Texas Tech in 2019, where he started 21 of his 22 games in two seasons. McPhearson yielded 89 tackles (3.5 for loss), 11 passes defended, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown over that span. McPhearson possesses exceptional short-area quickness, natural instincts, eye discipline, and a high-level football IQ. McPhearson is tough as nails, but his tackling can be inconsistent and his frame may reveal some limitations against big-bodied pass-catchers. That said, McPhearson should have little trouble usurping Kevon Seymour or Craig James, one of which would currently be the team’s third cornerback in training camp.
“Like I said, I don't really constrain myself to just one thing,” McPhearson said on Saturday. “I take pride in being versatile and being able to do multiple things on the field whether it's inside, outside, or even back at safety. So, I find that as a positive trait that I'm open to use with this program.”
Aside from Darius Slay, McPhearson, and Avonte Maddox, the cornerback group is abysmal. With the perimeter depth in such dire straits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a late veteran addition , via free agency or trade, in the coming months.
Round 5, No. 150: Kenny Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Sure, the absence of a power running game eliminated a crucial dimension from the offense last season, but with Miles Sanders limited to 12 games in 2020, the lack of explosiveness and home-run factor from the bench depth was perhaps even more glaring. The Eagles effectively addressed that need on Saturday, when Memphis running back Kenny Gainwell was unexpectedly waiting for them at pick No. 150. Gainwell, who reminds me a bit of Tony Pollard or Nyheim Hines, is a natural pass-catcher with fantastic vision, balance, and burst. At 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, Gainwell will primarily be used as a change-up runner, with the ability to capitalize on matchups and align in a variety of positions. Gainwell provides big-play ability, as he wastes little time finding the crease, gets north and south, and pulls away from defenders like he was shot out of a cannon. Tremendous value here.
Round 6, No. 189: Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
I actually had a late third-round grade on Tuipulotu, so I was surprised to see him lingering around in the sixth round. The Combine is where teams typically poke and prod prospects and delve deep into their medical history, so if there were any questions or concerns about his injury history, that’s typically where they would be answered. Regardless of reasoning, the Eagles again stumbled on another value pick deep into Day 3. While Tuipulotu isn’t particularly forceful at the point of attack, he demonstrated terrific lateral quickness, first-step explosiveness, and overall fluidity in his three years as a starter. Tuipulotu is best-suited for a rotational role at the next level, and could very well stick as DT5 as a rookie.
Round 6, No. 191: Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
As I wrote shortly after the selection, Eagles fans are going to really take to Jackson this summer. Besides his incredibly high character, Jackson is a powerfully built edge rusher who wins with strength, leverage, and tenacity. Jackson isn’t particularly twitchy or fluid and lacks a deep pass-rush arsenal, but he has NFL traits and can be effective in limited usage. Perennial holdover Joe Ostman appears to be his primary obstruction to a roster spot, but I’m willing to bet on Jackson’s long-term upside every time. He isn’t the flashiest or most creative in his pass-rush approach, but the Eagles landed a productive football player with an enticing foundation with which Tracy Rocker can work.
Round 6, No. 224: JaCoby Stevens, S/LB, LSU
The Eagles waited until the sixth round to add to the safety room, though I’m not entirely sure how much safety Stevens will play in the traditional sense. Stevens (6-1, 212) lacks the long speed to cover downfield, isn’t the quickest processor, and doesn’t play with great anticipation. However, I do believe his frame can capably carry another 5-10 pounds in an effort to carve out a role as a coverage linebacker, where his sideline-to-sideline range and ball skills would be best served. While he’s hardly assured a roster spot, I like Stevens’ odds, especially if he can become a core special teamer. Touted for his leadership and coachability, Stevens is in prime position to endear himself to new special teams coordinator Michael Clay while doubling as an interesting back end of the roster project for LB coach Nick Rallis.
Round 7, No. 234: Patrick Johnson, LB, Tulane
I had a sixth-round grade on Johnson, who was likely bypassed due to his 'tweener frame. Johnson, who compiled 87 tackles (35 for loss), 21.0 sacks, 11 passes defended, and six forced fumbles over his four-year career at Tulane, was listed as a linebacker when the selection was made. The Green Wave standout demonstrated a knack for dissecting plays and possesses exceptional closing speed. At 6 foot 2, 240 pounds, he will presumably be given an opportunity to stick as a SAM linebacker. However, the ideal landing spot for his skill set and background would have been with a team that employs a 3-4 alignment.
My Draft Grade: B
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.