The NFL Draft is in the books. The Eagles added eight players, starting with quarterback Carson Wentz. We've had time to look at the picks and do some thinking about the draft class. Here are some additional thoughts on the 2016 Eagles draft picks.
The first four picks were on the offensive side of the ball. This will really be known as the Carson Wentz draft. He was the second overall pick and it felt like the Eagles wanted to build around him. They drafted a pair of offensive linemen to help block for him. They added a running back to pair with Wentz as key skill players of the future.
Doug Pederson was the quarterback for the Eagles back in 1999 when Donovan McNabb was the second overall pick in the draft. The Eagles added a pair of offensive linemen in the middle rounds. Doug Brzezinski started some games at guard, but didn't pan out as a long-term starter. John Welbourn got hurt early in his rookie year and missed most of the season. He started for the next four seasons.
Pederson has talked all offseason about wanting to build up the offensive line. There is no point in adding a franchise quarterback if you aren't going to protect him. Some teams have failed to do this and it ruined the quarterback. Wentz isn't likely to play this year, but the Eagles have added key pieces to help the line in the short and long term. Whether it is Sam Bradford this year or Wentz in the future, the Eagles want to make sure the quarterback is protected so he can focus on getting the ball to his receivers.
The Eagles added an interior lineman in Isaac Seumalo and an offensive tackle in Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Both are versatile players who can move around. Seumalo could start at center or either guard spot. Vaitai played both left and right tackle in college. Welbourn began his Eagles career at right tackle before moving to left guard and becoming a Pro Bowl-level performer. The Eagles can try Seumalo and Vaitai out in different roles to see where they fit the best and then give them some time to develop.
Wendell Smallwood was the other offensive player chosen. He is a running back who can run, catch and block. Time will tell if Smallwood can become a starter, but he can have real value even if he is just a role player. Howie Roseman talked about how Smallwood led the NCAA in runs of 10-plus yards. One of the ways to help a quarterback is to give him skill players who can deliver chunk plays. Grinding away for short gains is tough. Offenses are much better off when they can get runs of 10 or more yards or passes of 20 or more yards. Whether you get the ball to Smallwood as a runner or receiver, he can make things happen.
After spending the first four picks on offense, the Eagles turned their focus to defense. These were late-round picks and you generally don't anticipate them becoming starters. The Eagles focused on players who could provide depth for the 2016 team and who might develop into starters down the road.
Coach Pederson talked a lot about the offensive line this spring. The group he discussed the most after the line was the secondary. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that the Eagles added a pair of versatile defensive backs in Blake Countess and Jalen Mills. They both started at cornerback and safety in college. The Eagles are listing them as safeties for now, but that's written in pencil. The coaches will figure out the best way to use the talented rookies.
While both players were late-round picks, these aren't your normal sixth- and seventh-round picks. Countess transferred from Michigan to Auburn as a graduate student. I think the late school change and the fact he played two positions hurt his draft value. If you watch his game tape and check his workout numbers, Countess looks more like a third- or fourth-round pick. Mills had an ankle injury that cost him part of his senior season. He also had an off-field issue that hurt his draft value. I had Mills rated as a third-round pick so getting him in the seventh is one heck of a steal. Countess and Mills offer a lot of value. They can play special teams, safety, corner or in the slot.
The final two picks are good depth picks. Joe Walker can be the backup middle linebacker to Jordan Hicks. That spot is wide open now so Walker has a great opportunity to make the team. Defensive end Alex McCalister is very talented and could end up being a key role player right away. He is a talented pass rusher and those guys have value even as rookies.
Think about the four defenders that were picked. The Eagles added a pair of versatile defensive backs. They added a very talented pass rusher. They also added a middle linebacker who runs well and can help in the pass game. All of these picks were added with the passing game in mind. In today's NFL, you must be able to throw the ball and to defend the pass. If you really think about it, the whole draft was about the passing game. Smallwood might be a running back, but he caught 68 passes in college and West Virginia would line him up in the slot at times. While Vaitai is a massive blocker, he is more natural as a pass protector than as a road grader.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in what the Eagles did, strategically. In a few years, we'll find out if they added the right players.
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