The Eagles entered the 2021 NFL Draft with 11 picks in total, and after a handful of trades they ended up making nine selections in all. Coming off a 4-11-1 season beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s fair to say the Birds stuck to the “best player available”/“build through the trenches” ideology that has characterized most of their recent drafts.
Here’s how we grade each selection.
1 (10) DeVonta Smith, WR Alabama
Howie essentially turned the sixth overall pick and 83rd overall pick into DeVonta Smith, a first round pick next year (from Miami), and the 123rd overall pick this year (Zech McPhearson). If that haul isn’t an “A” I’m really not sure what is.
Smith is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the best wideout in this class—possibly in a long time. Inside the Alabama building he’s widely regarded as the best football player they’ve seen, with the only knock on an otherwise flawless prospect being his weight; something that hasn’t proven to be an issue.
2 (37) Landon Dickerson, OL Alabama
Dickerson is a first-round talent with the versatility to play up and down the line. A history of injuries—a torn ACL in 2016, ankle injury in ‘17, ankle injury in ‘18, and a torn ACL in the 2020 SEC Championship game—understandably hurt his stock, but if he can find a way to stay healthy then he has the qualities to anchor the interior of an offensive line for a decade.
The reason I give this pick a lukewarm “B-“ is because there were a number of strong IOL prospects who went in the following thirty or so picks. Ultimately, given the players left on the board and the team’s need at other positions I have a hard time loving this pick at 37, despite the prospect being the real deal (injuries aside).
3 (73) Milton Williams, DT Louisiana Tech
Trading back from 70 to 73 (adding 191 overall) and missing out on Aaron Robinson (who was selected 71 by the Giants) is a tough pill to swallow, but if the team had a number of players on their board they liked then so be it. Robinson was my 8th ranked corner and he went 9th—had he been the pick this would be an easy “A” grade.
Separating the trade from the prospect, I like Williams a lot. His dense frame makes him appear small, but he packs plenty of strength and plays with the required leverage to absorb contact and move blockers. He’s about as twitchy as any lineman in the class, and quick feet allow him to disrupt the backfield in a hurry. Good hands and technique are apparent, and if he can improve his burst off the LOS then he’ll be a real difference maker on all three downs.
4 (123) Zech McPhearson, CB Texas Tech
In my opinion the team waited too long to take a corner, and I didn’t love the McPhearson pick at all when I initially heard it. But I’m willing to change my opinion as I gather more information, and the more I learn about this prospect the more I like him.
He’s athletic, versatile, strong against the run, smart/instinctive in coverage, has a track record of making plays, and has ample experience relative to most prospects. The team was apparently willing to move up to third round to draft him, and the fact that they were patient enough for him to fall boosts this grade in my book.
5 (150) Kenny Gainwell, RB Memphis
Gainwell isn’t very explosive, but he’ll be a reliable third down back from day one and will likely carve out a long career in this league as such. His ability as a runner is limited, though he should be effective behind certain zone concepts. That said, route-running, pass-catching, and blitz-pickup are why you draft him.
I only gave this pick a “B-“ because, while I like Gainwell, the Eagles could have added a number of slightly more dynamic, higher-ceiling playmakers in this range who also provide a floor as a role player. Nonetheless, I can’t argue with the fact that he fills a clear need/role for this team.
6 (189) Marlon Tuipulotu, DT USC
I was surprised to see Tuipulotu slide this deep into day three, and I think he can make an instant impact on early downs for an Eagles defensive line rotation that has thinned out in recent years.
He lacks desired size by some standards, but otherwise he brings good play recognition, plus-agility, and good body control to disrupt the run game and occasionally rush the passer. He may not have an obvious, bankable skillset; but he has three-down potential and high-character/football IQ have many scouts bullish on his ability to unlock his full potential.
6 (191) Taron Jackson, DE Coastal Carolina
Jackson doesn’t have any upside whatsoever. With that said, he’s a versatile depth lineman who has experience as both a 3-tech as well as on the EDGE. Average athleticism and explosiveness cap his ability as a pass-rusher, but high energy, plus size/strength, and sound fundamentals should help him carve out a role on run downs.
I give this pick a low grade mostly because it doesn’t justify the trade back from 70 to 73. I don’t necessarily dislike Jackson as a prospect in this range, but if I’m betting on any of these draftees being cut it’s probably him.
6 (224) JaCoby Stevens, LB/S LSU
I love this value. Stevens was a safety who mostly played in the box at LSU, and with the Eagles announcing him as a LB it’s pretty clear they view him as a hybrid who can help in sub-packages early on.
He misses the occasional tackle in space, but in terms of triggering downhill and making plays he’s no slouch—in fact, there are moments on tape that make you wonder why he’s a sixth rounder. He’s developmental in coverage, but he has enough lateral quickness to stick on TEs, and he’s not afraid to make pass-catchers pay in shallow zones or in the flat. There’s plenty to like here, as the talented LSU DB falling to late day three is beginning to feel like a cliche.
7 (234) Patrick Johnson, EDGE Tulane
Johnson likely could have found a better schematic fit elsewhere, but he can contribute here early as a rotational defensive end on passing downs with an eye for developing more off-ball traits down the line. Impressive agility, polished technique, and a nose for finishing plays are apparent on tape, and his experience filling a number of linebacker responsibilities at Tulane are a bonus.
From what I can tell there are some within the scouting community who absolutely love Johnson, and I can see why. He’s a lunch-pail rusher who doesn’t realize he’s a sack artist. If he was a little bit longer or from a bigger school he would’ve been a day two pick, and if any of these late round picks will turn out to be a steal it’s him.