The 2021 NFL Draft came to a close yesterday, and now the real off-season can begin.
The Philadelphia Eagles walked into Thursday night with 11 draft picks, needing to address their biggest weakness, the cornerback position. Closing out their ninth pick at No. 234, they didn’t sufficiently do this.
What they did do was draft big players who made an impression during their collegiate career with the hope that their playmaking abilities would carry over. And probably the most significant positive — it wasn’t a bust by general manager Howie Roseman, as seen in previous years.
A RECAP TIMELINE OF THE NEWEST EAGLES
Philadelphia began the night at No. 12 overall. During pick No. 10, Roseman traded with the Dallas Cowboys, dealing the 12th and 84th overall picks
NO. 10 — WIDE RECEIVER, DEVONTA SMITH (ALABAMA)
The Eagles needed a wide receiver, and they got one.
Philly’s first Heisman Trophy winner since 1964, Smith finished his collegiate career at Alabama with 235 receptions, 3,965 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns.
Though Smith lacks size, he isn’t too concerned about it. He’s a proven winner, known for his work ethic and leadership. He’ll also be walking into a familiar face — second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. The two have played together before and should find a rhythm that will aid in revamping the offense.
NO. 37 — CENTER, LANDON DICKERSON (ALABAMA)
Many fans expected to see a cornerback drafted here, but Roseman had other things in mind, and it’s clear this was a selection to ensure success in the future.
Dickerson, who will eventually become Jason Kelce’s successor, averaged an overall blocking grade of 91.3 and 99.6 on assignments in his 2020 season. Though he’s battled season-ending injuries each year of his collegiate career, when he’s healthy, he’s a roadblock for the opposing team.
Minutes before Philadelphia was supposed to make their next pick, they traded back with the North Carolina Panthers, acquiring No. 73 and No. 191.
NO. 73 — DEFENSIVE TACKLE, MILTON WILLIAMS (LOUISIANA TECH)
Williams is another player who lacks size, but he’s a great athlete with positional versatility.
During his draft combine, he clocked a 4.63-second 40-yard dash and a 6.96-second three-cone — the best times by a defender weighing 280 pounds or more in the last 20 years. His vertical jump at 38.5 inches also ranked second, according to Pro Football Focus.
Williams finished at Louisiana Tech with 108 tackles and led his team with ten sacks. Philadelphia will likely see him start early on.
NO. 123 — CORNERBACK, ZECH MCPHEARSON (TEXAS TECH)
The long-awaited cornerback draftee finally filled at No. 123.
Starting at Penn State, McPhearson transferred to Texas Tech, finishing his 2020 season with 53 tackles, two fumble recoveries, and four interceptions.
Though he isn’t always consistent, he’ll add a physical force to the Eagles and has experience playing on special teams.
NO. 150 — RUNNING BACK, KENNETH GAINWELL (MEMPHIS)
Gainwell played only one full season in Memphis, which doesn’t seem like much, but that year was epic.
In 2019, he finished with 1,459 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Gainwell also caught 51 passes for 610 yards and three touchdowns. He was also the only player with 85.0+ PFF receiving and rushing grade that season.
The RB will fit in nicely with the Eagles. New head coach Nick Sirianni used multiple running backs in Indianapolis, and its probable fans will see Gainwell as the No. 2 option behind Miles Sanders.
Gainwell will join his cousin in Philadelphia, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
NO. 189 — DEFENSIVE TACKLE, MARLON TUIPULOTU (UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA)
As the second defensive tackle selected by Philadelphia in the draft, Tuipulotu overcame injury early in his career, returning to be a productive player. Playing in just six games in 2020, he finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and two sacks.
He’s tough, has abundant upper body strength, and hopefully will continue to bring that force to the defense.
Before the Eagles’ next pick, Roseman traded No. 225 and No. 240 to the Washington Football Team in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round pick.
NO. 191 — DEFENSIVE END, TARRON JACKSON (COASTAL CAROLINA)
At 6-foot-2, 254-pounds, Jackson is a smaller defensive end, but that means nothing for this player.
He finished his collegiate career with 172 total tackles and 21.5 sacks. His strength and balanced base aid in his production, and he’s aggressive.
Similar to Dickerson, the Eagles were focusing on the future of the team here. Current defensive ends Joe Ostman and Matt Leo are competing to make the roster, and Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat are only under contract through this year.
NO. 224 — LINEBACKER, JACOBY STEVENS (LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY)
Stevens, who played the majority of his college career as a safety, spent the most time near the line of scrimmage. His eventual transition to linebacker made sense.
Throughout his collegiate career, he had 190 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, and four interceptions.
Though Stevens doesn’t necessarily fit the mold 100% at either position he’s played, his versatility may be a strength for Jonathan Gannon’s defense. He will likely compete with Davion Taylor and K’Von Wallace for the role.
NO. 234 — LINEBACKER, PATRICK JOHNSON (TULANE)
It’s apparent the Eagles focused heavily on defense during this 2021 NFL Draft. Johnson was the fourth consecutive defender selected by Philadelphia.
Though he didn’t have an exciting freshman year, he became a highly productive player, leading his team in sacks in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, he played in only nine games but finished with 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, and seven sacks.
Another small player (which seemed to be the theme for the Eagles this year), experts saw him as a “3-4 outside linebacker with the potential to become a rotational defender or eventual starter down the line”.
A CHANGE OF TONE FOR EAGLES 2021 DRAFT
Finishing out the 2021 NFL Draft with nine picks, Philadelphia didn’t exactly choose who fans initially thought. Some positions, more than others, clearly needed to be addressed and weren’t.
What it did show, however, is that the team is headed in a new direction.
Last year, in particular, the Eagles focused on players who tested well, and when it came time to play, the results fell short. This year, the concentration wasn’t necessarily to pick the best player but to pick a player with downright force and competitiveness — a theme Nick Sirianni has been relying on since Day One.