Howie Roseman’s strategy for this offseason has been clear: surround Carson Wentz with as much talent as possible and leave no room for excuses. That strategy held true in the draft as well, with the first three selections for the Birds being offensive players.
With the amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball in this draft it was a bit surprising that the Eagles only selected one defensive player, Penn State edge rusher Shareef Miller. But Howie and Joe Douglas stuck to their board and took who they believed was the best player available for each pick, can’t knock them for that.
The Birds only ended up making five selections in this draft along with trading their seventh rounder for Colts defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. Howie will surely add a handful of undrafted free agents to the mix too, something he’s made good use of in recent years.
Like I’ve stated before, this was huge draft for Howie. And as always, it’s impossible to truly grade these picks right away simply because we haven’t seen them on an NFL field yet. Here are my initial grades for each selection the Birds made in this year’s draft.
1st Round Selection (no. 22 overall), Andre Dillard. OT, Washington State.
I predicted that their first-round selection was going to be on the offensive or defensive line, so this pick didn’t surprise me at all. I thought Cody Ford may have been a better fit because of his versatility, but Dillard is a better pure offensive tackle, so there’s no complaints about this pick on my end.
Dillard was the best pass blocking tackle in this draft, allowing only one sack on 722 pass attempts last season. Pretty insane to think about. And Washington State quarterbacks were only hit 14 times in the four seasons Dillard started at LT. Just ridiculous consistency at the left tackle position.
Ideally, he’ll take over for Jason Peters at left tackle in the next year or two. I’m not sure exactly how Doug Pederson plans to utilize Dillard this season, but if I had to guess, I would say either he or JP will have to play some guard this season.
If Brandon Brooks isn’t healthy to start the season, that’ll leave Isaac Seumalo and Kaleb Johnson as the only healthy guards on the roster. Unless the team trades for another guard, it’ll be hard to find a quality starter who can mitigate the absence of Brooks. Realistically, either Dillard or Peters might have to fill that hole.
Moving Dillard there could stunt his development at tackle, something no one in the organization wants. So moving Peters there would make more sense, and it may even extend his career another year or so. Plenty of great tackles have made the transition to guard in the ladder half of their careers, so there’s no reason Peters can’t do the same.
As for Dillard, his run blocking is one of the only concerns that scouts had with him heading into the draft. At Washington State, he was never asked to put his hand in the ground, he was in a two-point stance on almost every play. That’s the norm for offensive tackles in an Air Raid system, but he’ll obviously have to make an adjustment at this level.
Jeff Stoutland is one of the best O-line coaches in the business, so he should be able to get the most out of Dillard. Not to mention that he has a solid group of veteran lineman to learn from. Peters was instrumental in preparing Big V for games during the Super Bowl run while he was sidelined with an injury. There’s no reason to think he won’t mentor Dillard in similar fashion.
Howie is envisioning Dillard as the future at left tackles, and I believe he’ll be just that.
2nd Round Selection (no. 53 overall), Miles Sanders. RB, Penn State.
With their second pick in this year’s draft Howie FINALLY addressed running back with a high draft pick. He used his no. 53 pick on Miles Sanders out of Penn State, the first time they’ve taken a running back that high since LeSean McCoy, the all-time leading rusher in Eagles history.
Although the Birds traded for Jordan Howard earlier this offseason, Sanders should still see a high percentage of snaps this season. His quickness and elusiveness will be the perfect complement to Howard’s bruising running style. He and Clement will likely split time as the third down back throughout the season, as it seems unlikely that Darren Sproles is brought back at this point.
Sanders’ strengths mirror the same strengths that Shady had coming out of college. His vision is superb and he’s at his best when he allows the blocks to develop in front of him. He loves to hit the backside cut and get up field, exactly what Shady loved to do.
And like Shady, one of his only drawbacks is his weight. At 215 pounds, Sanders could benefit from some added bulk, and an NFL training program will surely do that for him.
He’s also versatile and can line up anywhere on a given formation. At PSU, he was heavily involved in their passing game and regularly line up in the slot. We all know how much Doug loves to get his RBs involved in the passing game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Sanders leads all running backs on the team in receiving yards and catches this year.
Sanders also shows the willingness to pass protect in the backfield, something that makes or breaks most RBs at the next level (though he’ll need to get stronger).
If it wasn’t for Saquan Barkley overshadowing Sanders for a large portion of his collegiate career, he probably would have been the first running back taken in this draft. But luckily the Birds were able to stay put and snag him in the second round.
With his versatile skill set, Sanders has the potential to be a star in the Eagles’ offense.
2nd Round Selection (no. 57 overall), JJ Arcega-Whiteside. WR, Stanford.
Now this pick caught me a bit off guard. Not so much because of the position, but more so because of the player.
Wideout was a need the Eagles had to address in this draft, after the top three receivers (Alshon, DeSean and Agholor) there isn’t much of anything. But I thought Howie was going to target a slot receiver, someone who can possibly take over for Agholor if he’s traded before the start of camp or walks next year in free agency.
Arcega-Whiteside isn’t a slot receiver at all, he’s your prototypical outside receiver. Standing at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his frame is best suited for an outside role. And the Birds already have a big outside threat in Alshon and their other outside guy, DeSean Jackson, is their deep threat. So barring any injuries to those two players, it doesn’t seem like Arcega-Whiteside will see a lot of time this season.
But that doesn’t mean the Eagles didn’t get a good receiver with this pick. During his senior year at Stanford, Arcega-Whiteside caught 63 balls for 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was a touchdown machine in college, amassing 28 receiving touchdowns during his collegiate career.
He’s made a living as a jump ball specialist, and he was easily the best receiver in this draft in that regard. His ability to position himself against the defenders and pluck the ball out of the air is second to none.
Although he is lacking in the speed department, he’s refined his route running throughout his college years, and it’s become one of his strengths. He relies heavily on his technique due to his lack of pure athleticism.
Usually when a college wideout enters the NFL, it’s the opposite – they rely heavily on their speed and quickness to get open, not so much technique. Route running can be a big learning curve at the next level, so it’s great to see Arcega-Whiteside is already making a conscious effort in this department.
JJ definitely has the ability to step on the field day one, but allowing him to develop behind Alshon and DeSean will also benefit him greatly.
I would imagine his level of production this year will be similar to Dallas Goedert’s production from last season – start off slow and steadily increase as the season goes on.
Arcega-Whiteside may not be household name, but I believe the Eagles got a solid receiver with this pick. They could’ve used a slot receiver more so for this season, but looking at things long-term, this could end up being a great pick for the Birds.
4th Round Selection (no. 138), Shareef Miller. Edge Rusher, Penn State.
With their fourth-round selection, Howie decided to draft Philly native Shareef Miller out of PSU.
A lot of fans, including myself, thought the Eagles were going to add a defensive lineman with one of their first three picks. But with how deep this draft was with defensive talent, they were still able to add a solid prospect in the fourth round with Shareef Miller.
Miller is a developmental type of player who likely won’t see the field much this year. But he adds great depth at the defensive end position, something the Eagles needed badly.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds, Miller is surprisingly quick for his size. At the Scouting Combine, he ran 4.69 40-yard-dash and a 4.45 20-yard-shuffle.
He has an explosive first step, and he utilizes his speed to get past tackles. But if his first move doesn’t do the trick, he doesn’t have much of a pass rushing arsenal after that. His hands are going to need to get a lot better at the next level if he wants to eventually become a starter.
It’ll take some time for Miller to truly develop into a solid pass rusher in this league. But Jim Schwartz’s specialty is defensive line, so Miller is in good hands here in his hometown.
5th Round Selection, Clayton Thorson. QB, Northwestern.
I really didn’t think the Eagles were going to spend one of their draft picks on a QB, I figured they’d just add an undrafted free agent if anything. But according to Howie, Thorson was just too good of a prospect to let go.
He’ll come in and likely battle for the third QB spot with former AAF QB, Luis Perez. I would hope after spending a fifth-round pick on Thorson he’ll easily be able to secure that spot on the roster.
Doug loves his QBs and he loves developing young ones behind his starter. They’ve developed Nate Sudfeld into a backup QB, and if all goes according to plan, Thorson will probably take over as the backup whenever Sudfeld leaves.
It goes without saying that the organization views Carson Wentz as their franchise quarterback, so Thorson will likely never get the opportunity to start here in Philly. But if Doug and the rest of the Eagles offensive coaching staff can develop Thorson into a solid backup, they may be able to trade him down the line.
Either way, Thorson will serve as the team’s third QB this season. The team was going to add a body to the QB room for camp anyway, so I can’t really complain about this pick.