There is a reason it's not fair to judge an NFL Draft for at least three years, so looking back now at the Eagles' 2018 selections gives a more accurate picture of that class. The team's first pick in the second round was Dallas Goedert, now an established NFL tight end who is as talented as any player at the position in the league. Avonte Maddox was the first of two fourth-round picks, and he's slated to be the starting nickel cornerback for Jonathan Gannon's defense. Defensive end Josh Sweat was also taken in the fourth round, and in his fourth season Sweat is expected to rotate among the defensive ends and continue his yearly rise.
Offensive lineman Matt Pryor was a sixth-round pick, and after three seasons here with 27 games played and 10 starts under his belt, Pryor was traded to Indianapolis last week along with a seventh-round draft pick for a sixth-round draft pick in 2022.
Then there's seventh-round draft pick Jordan Mailata, whom the Eagles moved up to take with the 233rd pick. Mailata was about as much of a project as you can imagine coming from the world of Australian professional rugby via IMG Academy in Florida, where he was taught the very basics of American football.
It was a long shot worth taking the draft after the Eagles won a Super Bowl.
That long shot is going to start at left tackle for the Eagles on Sunday in Atlanta, and recounting the story is a lesson in trusting your eyes, your coaching staff, and a player who chased a dream.
"Jordan was a guy we had done so much work on," Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman said, recalling that draft. "(Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland) had gone down to see him work out and train in Florida. Stout's passionate, and he started sending me videos of the workout as he was going. We were trying to trade up in the seventh round to get him (the Eagles dealt the 250th pick and a 2019 seventh-round pick to New England to select Mailata), and I think the rationale was that this guy was so physically gifted and we had spent so much time on him that if he was going to succeed or fail, we wanted him to do it in Philly. We committed when we drafted him that the first two years we were going to develop him. He's a freak show. It was all new to him. Those first two years (2018 and 2019, when Mailata spent the seasons on Injured Reserve), I'm not sure we got a lot of return on the investment, but it started last year when he played.
"Stout continued to work with him and, like all of our young players, you could see Jordan getting better and better. Really, he won the job."
After playing 15 games last season, with 10 starts, Mailata entered Training Camp this summer locked in a battle with 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard for the starting left tackle job. Dillard suffered a knee injury that set him back midway through camp, but he rebounded with a strong finish, including excellent play in the joint practices and in the final preseason game against the Jets, but by then Mailata had taken his game to a new level. Head Coach Nick Sirianni announced last week that Mailata would start Sunday against Atlanta.
"When it came to the starting position, I had no idea how this was going to play out," Mailata said. "The only thing I knew for sure was whether it was going to be me or Andre, I was going to prepare myself as a starter. That was my one biggest things from last year that I needed to work on was how to prepare as a starter and train like a starter and live that way of life. My focus was never on who was going to be the starter, but rather the process of being a starter, how to be a starter, not who's going to be. It's not going to change anything. Andre is a hell of an athlete and a player and we're going to sharpen each other to keep pushing each other every day.
"My focus is on Week 1, preparing for Week 1. Haven't had time to really reflect on the journey."
Mailata's tale is important to consider on many levels. He was only 20 years old when the Eagles drafted him and he knew almost nothing about the game of American football. He watched video of some of the game's left tackles, leaning toward Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the former Eagle who stepped in for Peters in 2017 and helped the team win Super Bowl LII. Mailata also watched Alejandro Villanueva, a hulking left tackle who, at 6-foot-9, helped the 6-8 Mailata understand pad level and pre-snap stance.
Of course, once Mailata joined the Eagles, he worked under the direction of Stoutland, one of the game's best offensive line coaches who specializes in making players better on a daily basis. His "one percent better" mantra resonated with Mailata, who says it is now part of his "way of life."
"Coach Stoutland has played a big part of my life and my development as a player and as a person. He's helped me achieve a lot of things and has just made me the player that I am today. He's taught me a lot about work ethic, about putting in the hard yards, coming in every day with the same attitude and the same goal to get one percent better. For me, when I look back at my rookie years, it was kind of nice to have that kind of coach who every day was pushing me to be better and who wanted the best for me. That's something that I have adopted to my everyday life now," Mailata said.
"Being in my fourth year, I can finally understand what he means – living that way of life that he's been coaching every day for the last three years to me. Without Stout, I probably wouldn't have made it this far. I owe a lot of credit to him."
It has taken a village to make Mailata what he is today and what he can be down the road. The organization showed great patience with Mailata. The strength and conditioning staff helped build his body to withstand the rigors of the NFL. The athletic training department got him healthy after two seasons on IR. His offensive line teammates and those on the defensive line who worked against Mailata in practice helped sharpen his game. With Stoutland and Assistant Offensive Line Coach Roy Istvan leading the way, the coaching staff invested time and effort and care and tough love building Mailata's technique.
And, of course, Mailata put in the work and continues to do so. He wants to take another big step in Year 4, citing the need to improve his ability to read the pass rush and counter a defensive lineman's many moves more effectively. The NFL has a way of humbling everyone, so Mailata is not content.
"I have a lot more work to do," he said, "and that's never going to change. One percent better. That's going to be with me for the rest of my career and my life."