The NFL Draft is about adding talent at its most basic tenet. Too many people think of it as a way to fill roster holes. That is the objective of free agency and trades. The draft is where you find players who will be part of your organization for the long term. Focus on talent.
Howie Roseman did exactly that.
The Eagles added some outstanding pieces in the 2019 draft. I was shocked that offensive tackle Andre Dillard was still on the board when it got close to the Eagles' pick. I hadn't given him much consideration as a target. Dillard was the best left tackle prospect in the draft and those guys typically don't last long. I didn't think the Eagles had any shot at him.
Somehow, Dillard was sitting on the board when the Baltimore Ravens went on the clock at No. 22. Roseman saw that and knew it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. He jumped at the chance to draft a potential long-term fixture at left tackle. Roseman gave up No. 25 overall, a fourth-round pick, and a sixth-round selection to add a gifted athlete with great feet. Dillard is a natural left tackle and those guys are not easy to find.
There was a lot of talk prior to the draft about the Eagles going for defensive linemen. This was a great class for finding them. A lot of teams in the top 20 did just that, with half of them taking a pass rusher or a defensive tackle.
This is where all of the roster building done by the Eagles prior to the draft is so important. Roseman, Joe Douglas, and the pro personnel staff have built an excellent roster with a strong starting lineup already in place. All of the good moves in the past two months gave the Eagles the freedom to let the draft board come to them, as the saying goes.
The run on defensive linemen pushed Dillard down the board. The Eagles had him rated as a top 10 prospect and were thrilled to get him at 22. This is what good roster management is all about. If you aren't focused on plugging roster holes, you can take advantage of good players who last longer than expected.
Dillard had a great senior season for Washington State. He followed that up with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a great performance at the Combine. He is a worthy successor to Tra Thomas and Jason Peters.
While Dillard might not play much as a rookie, second-round pick Miles Sanders could be an impact player right away. He is another player who I didn't think the Eagles would have a shot at. The reports leading up to the draft indicated that Sanders was likely to be gone by the 50th pick.
I was ecstatic when Sanders was on the board at No. 53 and the Eagles took him. Sanders has the potential to be a franchise back. He has an excellent combination of size, skill, strength, and athleticism. He is a good fit for the Eagles' offense. This is a terrific pick
Sanders can be a volume runner or a big-play guy. He had three games last year of more than 22 carries. He had three other games where he had 17 or fewer carries, but still ran for 118 or more yards. You can feed him the ball if you want to, but even if you just mix him in, he can still deliver chunk plays.
Sanders does need some work in pass protection and as a receiver, but he's got outstanding potential in both areas. You can bet Duce Staley is excited about getting to work with such a talented player. I expect Sanders to contribute as a rookie. The offense needs a running back with his ability.
Just a few picks later, the Eagles selected J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, the highly productive receiver from Stanford. I watched him in the season opener last summer when he caught six passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns against San Diego State. I said to myself that this is a guy to keep an eye on.
Arcega-Whiteside had a great year, catching 63 passes and 14 touchdowns. He is the kind of big, physical receiver the Eagles like. There are times when he will remind you of Alshon Jeffery. Arcega-Whiteside plays through contact. He uses his size and strength to get good positioning and then he just plucks the ball. He was the best receiver in college football last year on contested catches. That skill should absolutely translate to the NFL.
Some questioned Arcega-Whiteside's speed, but he ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. That is plenty fast for a receiver who is 225 pounds. He can play in the slot or outside. He has great hands. Arcega-Whiteside can beat you with size, speed, or route-running. He is also a good blocker.
It will be interesting to see how much Arcega-Whiteside plays this year. The Eagles have three veteran receivers already in place in Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor. There's also Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson set to enter Year 3. They should eat up most of the snaps. Roseman has talked publicly about how it takes time for most receivers to adjust to the NFL. With that in mind, you draft them a year or two early. Let them develop before you really need them. Arcega-Whiteside is more a draft pick for the future than the present. That said, if he shows he's ready now, the coaches will mix him in. They love having weapons.
The Eagles went defense in the fourth round, selecting defensive end Shareef Miller from Penn State. Miller is 6-4 and 254 pounds. He got better each year at PSU and finished his career with 14.5 sacks. Miller is quick off the ball. I think he stands out with his ability to turn the edge. Some pass rushers are good in a straight line, but struggle to turn. Miller has excellent agility, which helps him to beat blockers.
Miller reminds me of Derek Barnett. The Eagles would be thrilled if he turned out anything like the player they took in the first round back in 2017. Miller can play right away. The Eagles already have a good set of defensive ends, but they love to rotate guys. There will be snaps available. Miller would be ideal for a rotation. I think he could be a starter down the road.
With their final pick, the Eagles took quarterback Clayton Thorson from Northwestern. He is one of the few quarterback prospects I had listed as an Eagles target. I felt like he would be their type of player. The Eagles like big guys who are pocket passers, but also have athletic ability. That's the perfect description of Thorson.
The Eagles also want winners and high-character guys. Thorson won three bowl games in his college career. Northwestern had only one bowl win in its history before Thorson so that stat actually has some meaning. He got Northwestern to the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game. No one expected that.
Thorson isn't ready to hit the field right away. He is a prospect to develop. Timing and accuracy will be critical for his success. It can take time to develop those traits within an offense. Thorson does have the ability to run when plays break down. He ran for 27 touchdowns in college.
The Eagles have talked about wanting to get back to adding young quarterbacks on a regular basis. That is the most important position in football. If you see a player you like, and you think you can develop, go get him.
When Donovan McNabb was in his third year, the Eagles spent a late pick on A.J. Feeley. They loved McNabb, but felt Feeley could become a quality backup. Feeley turned out to be a great pick. He started and won games for the Eagles when McNabb was hurt. Always be on the lookout for quarterbacks.
The Eagles' personnel department did a great job of checking out hundreds of prospects and narrowing the list down to a manageable size. Joe Douglas and his staff set the draft board. Roseman was able to move up and down, identifying players the Eagles wanted. The result was an outstanding draft class where the Eagles got serious talent. They are better now and for the future.