Three picks into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Eagles have changed the complexion of the offense, if not for the season ahead certainly in the years to come. They have addressed the present and the future with the selections of offensive tackle Andre Dillard (first round, 22nd overall), running back Miles Sanders (second round, 53rd overall) and wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (second round, 57th overall). Staying put on Day 2, the Eagles added the versatility and production of Sanders, a tough downhill runner with some wiggle who reminds the Eagles, in a way, of LeSean McCoy, who was chosen with the 53rd overall pick 10 years ago, and then brought the catch-everything, weapon-in-the-red-zone Arcega-Whiteside on board four picks later.
After two days of the NFL Draft, we are reminded to exercise some patience for a team building a roster. When free agency began on March 13, many wondered what in the world the Eagles would do to improve the wide receiver and running back positions, and who would be the eventual replacement for All-World left tackle Jason Peters. Anybody have questions now?
"We had the flexibility here to just follow our board and take the best guys," Howie Roseman said, "and that's what we've done here."
At wide receiver, the Eagles traded for DeSean Jackson and his game-breaking speed and then drafted Arcega-Whiteside, who has an insane 80-inch wingspan on top of his 6-2, 225-pound frame. Arcega-Whiteside was highly productive at Stanford last season, producing 63 receptions for 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is a defense-breaker in the red zone, he's got more speed than some give him credit for having, and he's got terrific hands. He boxes out with his big body. He creates separation as basketball players do in traffic. The Eagles love that they Arcega-Whiteside was there at 57. They wasted no time picking him.
Now, the Eagles have a deep and talented and versatile unofficial depth chart at wide receiver that includes Alshon Jeffery and his brilliance, the blistering speed of Jackson, and the catch-and-run talents of slot receiver Nelson Agholor, who can also move outside. Arcega-Whiteside comes in and will compete with Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, and a host of younger players who will try to make the roster.
At running back, a position that had Eagles fans in a mini-panic just one month ago, the Eagles have Jordan Howard, who was acquired in a trade with the Bears, Corey Clement, recovering from a knee injury after a terrific rookie season in the Super Bowl LII campaign, a productive player in Wendell Smallwood, second-year back Josh Adams, and, now, Sanders, who took over for Saquon Barkley at Penn State last season and ran for 1,274 yards. He added another 193 yards on 24 receptions as well, and was a dynamic kickoff return man.
Said Roseman of Sanders: "We think he's a special talent and a perfect fit for our offense."
On Day 1, of course, the Eagles traded up to acquire Dillard, a left tackle the Eagles called one of the "top 10 players in the draft," and the best left tackle in the entire field.
Offense, step on up. A team that dropped off in 2018 in key categories like third-down conversion rate and red zone touchdown percentage has a chance to get a whole lot better, not just with the infusion of talent at the key positions of left tackle, wide receiver, and running back, but also with the additions of Jackson and Howard, a pair of impact veterans.
Instead of stockpiling draft picks, as some expected, the Eagles targeted these three slots with the intention of making sure to maximize the value of all the selections. Impact, impact, impact. How quickly the Eagles turn that young talent into production on the field remains to be seen, but there's no question the talent level and the competition just took a significant jump on the offensive side of the ball. How much playing time, for example, can Arcega-Whiteside earn with the likes of Jeffery, Jackson, and Agholor here? And is Sanders ready to get reps in a backfield that is expected to be led by Howard, one of the most durable players in his three seasons in the league? Dillard, we know, has Peters ahead of him, along with Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who played left tackle, you remember, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
It comes down to this: The Eagles said they were going to go with the "best player on the board" approach in this NFL Draft, and they're doing just that. Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas listened to talk around the league, considered some offers, and decided to stay put and make the most of their picks.
"We didn't want to lose these guys," Roseman said, "and we didn't want to get too cute and be in a situation where we lost guys that we thought had an Eagles mentality, really fit what we were trying to do going forward, not only fit what we're trying to do now, (but also) fit our team in 2020 and 2021 and kind of build that roster up as well."
For head coach Doug Pederson, the infusion of talent gives the X's and O's part of the game more personnel options. The Eagles can go "big," with two tight ends and Jeffery and Arcega-Whiteside in the red zone and create matchup problems, and they can move pieces like Jackson and Agholor and Sanders around the formation.
"We continue to add depth and we continue to add talent," Pederson said. "That's something that Howie and Joe bust their tails to do. We obviously help our roster that way, not only for this year but for the future. The guys we have are guys that we can work them into different positions. We can take guys, for instance Miles, we can work him in space. We can take JJ and work him inside and work him outside. There is position flex (flexibility) with those guys.
"Even with our current guys – Nellie (Agholor) has been a guy that has worked inside and outside. Alshon, DeSean … we do put letters and we say, 'OK, he's inside. He's outside.' Quite frankly, we move so many guys around in our system that they have to play inside from time to time."
Said Roseman: "It's a matchup league and that's what we're looking to provide to our coaching staff, guys who can win one-on-one matchups, who can play in specific situations so there is not a play that he can't call because he doesn't have the right skill set there."
Three picks down, two to go. The third day of the 2019 NFL Draft awaits, followed by the frenzy of the post-draft signing spree. The Eagles have three new players they spent a lot of time and resources on, and they've bolstered the offense for now and years to come.