It was Friday night, April 29, and the NFL Draft was starting its third round in Las Vegas.
The Eagles were exhilarated by what happened in the first two rounds. They traded up for massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round. In the second round, they grabbed center Cam Jurgens, whom they hoped would someday replace future Hall of Famer Jason Kelce.
They had a target for the third round but didn’t believe they would get him — Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean, the All-America linebacker from national champion Georgia.
Three linebackers were chosen in the first two rounds, including Georgia teammate Quay Walker at 22nd overall by the Packers. In the third round, Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah (Vikings), Wyoming’s Chad Muma (Jaguars), and Alabama’s Christian Harris (Texans) were selected before Dean.
So, what happened?
The talk before the draft was simple: Dean had an injury that prevented him from working out at the combine, an assertion he disputes.
Before the draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay said this about Dean:
“I still have him as one of the top 12 players in this entire draft class … I’m going to feel great about what Dean’s going to do in the NFL.”
When the Eagles’ turn arrived in the third round, they selected Dean with the 19th pick. He was the 83rd overall pick — not commensurate with the nation’s best linebacker.
Analysts called the pick a great one. One guy said Dean was the “steal of the draft.”
So, what happened?
NOT MUCH PLAYING TIME
In three regular-season games, Dean has three defensive snaps — all in the opener. He has 47 special teams snaps.
Dean wasn’t drafted to be a wedge-busting, special teams star on this 2022 Eagles roster. He was picked to be a game-altering force at linebacker.
But the Eagles are strong at his position with T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White and Haason Reddick contributing to the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense. That leaves Dean on the bench, waiting … and learning.
“The guy is a sponge,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said.
- “You should go into their meeting room. I think Nakobe talks more than [linebackers coach] Nick [Rallis], soaking up things.
- “It was funny. He asked Kyzir a question the other day. I happened to be in there. He says, ‘Kyzir, that was your gap, but how did you know to go that to that gap?’
- “Kyzir was like, ‘I just feel it.’ Nakobe was like, ‘Wow. That’s pretty cool.’
- “He’s learning from those two guys. Kyzir is a vet. T.J. has played a lot of ball for us.
- “Nakobe … continues to get better as well on the practice field. He’s going to get his chance and he’ll be ready to go.”
Coming into the season, general manager Howie Roseman received high grades for his draft class. In this promising 3-0 season, the nine rookies have only 89 non-special teams snaps. Davis has 67 of them, 32.3 percent of defensive snaps. Jurgens has 15 special teams snaps playing behind ironman Kelce.
It’s very early in a long, grueling season. It’s obviously way too early to make judgments on whether this draft class is a success or not. If Davis and Jurgens become 10-year starters, that’s probably a successful class.
It’s not nit-picky to evaluate the draft class, even at this early stage. Successful franchises should self-examine every method, every utilization. Fans should demand answers.
- “I thought he [Davis] played well [two tackles against Washington],” Gannon said. “Man, I don’t think a lot of people see it, but there’s a weekly improvement from him.
- “What [defensive line coach] Tracy [Rocker] is asking him to do and improve, he’s improving. We see that.
- “He’s going to continue to maximize his opportunities. That whole room, they know their role. That’s what we talk about with those guys, be a star within your role. When you get other opportunities that’s not your baby, maximize those opportunities. That’s what they’re doing.”
CALCATERRA ON STAT SHEET
The Eagles’ two other draft picks saw non-special teams snaps vs. Washington. Sixth-round tight end Grant Calcaterra played 17 snaps and had an impressive 40-yard catch and run.
- “Grant has just been continually improving,” coach Nick Sirianni said.
- “He missed some time, as we all know, during training camp and it took him a little bit of time to get up to speed.
- “We’ve always had a lot of faith in him in the passing game. We wanted to make sure we caught him up in the run game. I think he did a nice job there.”
Sixth-round linebacker Kyron Johnson had two snaps against Washington.
Among the undrafted free agents, returner Britain Covey has been brought up from the practice squad for all three games. Josh Jobe has 60 special teams snaps over three games. Reed Blankenship and Josh Sills have not played.
For now, the rookies seem to be in good standing with the coaches. No draft choices were cut.
When you’re one of two undefeated teams in the NFL, and expectations are through the roof, playing time for the young and inexperienced is doled out appropriately and with great discretion.