Embed from Getty Images
By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The takes on the Eagles draft are varied in 2019, and for good reason. The team drafted only one player on defense despite safety and linebacker being arguably their biggest need.
The team had only five picks in the draft this year and seemed to follow their board by taking the best available player for their top three picks. It is a philosophy that really can’t be argued with when a team is already built as solidly as the Eagles are.
Still, it is possible to critique the picks or have differing opinions on which players are better than others. With that in mind, Sports Talk Philly’s grades for the Eagles 2019 draft are included below.
A quick side-note that will not be accounted for in this grade, but could easily be so by others is the deal to acquire Hassan Ridgeway. It was not really a piece of the draft since he is entering his fourth year in the league, but it should at least be mentioned as he was essentially acquired for trading back a few picks in the fifth round during the draft.
Offensive Tackle Andre Dillard
Dillard was an excellent pickup and a selection that requires foresight. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson starting means that Dillard will ride the bench unless there is an injury to either starter. Dillard will, however, give Peters rest during the preseason games, so he will gain valuable experience there.
Dillard should continue to protect the blindside for Wentz extremely well. He was arguably the best tackle, and possibly, best offensive linemen in this draft, so the Eagles getting him where they did was a no-brainer.
The only reason that the move does not garner an A+ was that the Eagles had to trade away two picks to move up just three spots. Dillard would certainly not have been there at 25, so the trade up is understandable, but that fourth-rounder they gave up really stings in a draft where they were left with only five picks.
Running Back Miles Sanders
It seemed like a pipe dream that the Eagles would land an impact running back in the 2019 draft. There were only three highly touted backs in the draft, but the Birds managed to get one.
The Eagles were able to fill a need by taking the best available player. While Josh Jacobs coming out of Alabama pushed him into the first round, Miles Sanders fell to the end of the second round and right into their lap. He should be an excellent value, especially with a fifth-year option in his deal.
After sitting behind 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders has little mileage on his legs and should be a productive and healthy back longer than many other backs coming out of college. Training with Saquon for two years has helped Sanders model his game after one of the best backs in the league and Sanders shows the patience of another second-round pick of the Eagles – LeSean McCoy.
Sanders lacks the same speed and acceleration that Barkley has when he gets into the open field and has some ball security concerns, but he comes with excellent upside and a character that will mesh well in the locker room, especially with Duce Staley and the entire staff sold on him. Duce can certainly help Sanders improve on his flaws and round out his game.
Wide Receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside
There are those who believe that JJ Arcega Whiteside was a first-round talent in this draft. I am not sold on that.
Arcega-Whiteside should absolutely be able to contribute and can become a major player that fits in well with a receiving corps almost designed to catch jump balls, but it would certainly seem that there were some better options at the time that better fit the Eagles needs.
As mentioned before, JJAW was obviously the top player left on the Eagles’ board and making a pick based off of that is not a philosophy to be argued with. The Eagles though he would have been long gone by their third pick, but both Nasir Adderley and Juan Thornhill should have been gone long before that point, too, and would have fit the team needs better.
Still, Arcega-Whiteside has a large upside and could eventually replace Agholor in 2020, so it is a pick with some foresight.
Defensive End Shareef Miller
As a Penn State alumnus, I loved the Eagles selecting a second Penn Stater on a personal level. From a value perspective, it did seem like the Eagles reached a bit.
That said, Miller is a high-character, local guy who should mesh well and help get the most out of himself and the rest of the team. It also made sense for the Eagles to reach a bit in the late rounds for someone with that personality and a huge ceiling, especially with only two picks in the final four rounds.
Miller is raw. His technique is not great and his fundamentals need work. Despite those shortcomings, he was a highly successful player on a ranked defense that regularly played against ranked opponents. Plus, if you think he won’t do anything he can to improve the team he grew up with, you’re out of your mind.
Shareef is a guy who likely will not contribute much in 2019, however. He is simply too rough around the edges to make much of an impact right away. Luckily, the Eagles don’t need him to be a major contributor right away as this was yet another move made with foresight.
The Eagles defense has plenty of studs like Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Fletcher Cox. They also have veterans, like Malik Jackson, Vinny Curry and potentially Chris Long, on their defensive line already. Those guys should help Shareef iron out his play in limited reps in 2019 which will allow him to grow into a true force in the years to come.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson
Clayton certainly fits the bill for a quarter who could be underrated in the draft, but the pick was still questionable.
Thorson is a big guy who will hang in the pocket to make throws and he is someone with a big arm, but he is coming from Northwestern, a school that has lacked major talent in recent years, and started off his career rather poorly. Those two things certainly pushed him down in the draft to where the Eagles got him.
If Thorson can improve his accuracy and vision a bit, he actually plays a style that is a lot like Nick Foles. He will take a hit to make a throw and take deep shots that are jump balls to his receivers. He is also not a runner, but will take yardage if it is given to him. That comparison may be why the Eagles took a chance on him. Why not take a chance on getting a new Nick Foles?
The reason this pick stings is not that Thorson isn’t good or that taking another QB is a bad move, but that the Eagles seemingly love Nate Sudfeld and only had the five picks. Perhaps the Eagles expect Sudfeld to walk following this season, in which case it would certainly make sense to get a dependable backup into the system to marinate for a season before becoming a key part of the team, but to take a guy in the fifth round of a draft where you only have five picks? That just seems like a big risk to push any other needs off. It forced the team to rely heavily on other teams drafting poorly in the final two rounds and look to get their impact players in undrafted free agency.
Undrafted Free Agents
While I won’t go through each and every undrafted free agent signing or rookie minicamp invitee here, the whole outlook of the group seems very positive.
The Eagles seem to have found a strong candidate with a lot of potential to backup the interior of the line, at least as well as Chance Warmack could, in Johnny Gibson Jr. Another offensive lineman with versatility to watch will be Penn State’s Ryan Bates, who has previously been limited to the two tackle positions, but could learn the inside.
Wisconsin linebacker TJ Edwards seems like a steal as an UDFA and, at this point, would seem to be as close to a lock to make the roster as possible for someone who went undrafted. He will be joined by Joey Alfieri, another strong candidate to make the roster at the position.
Other solid additions include Deandre Thompkins, who could very well make the team as a return man and deep threat improvement over Shelton Gibson, Temple’s Delvon Randall, a safety who should be on the practice squad if nothing else, Iosua Opeta, a high-potential offensive lineman coming from a small school who put up massive numbers at the combine, and Ryan Fulse, a running back from the FCS level who put up enormous numbers. Fulse and Opeta will likely find themselves on the practice squad in 2019, but could become big contributors in the seasons following after they adjust to the NFL level of competition.
Aside from the issues stemming from the lack of picks in the draft (trading up for Andre Dillard and taking a quarterback), there is not much to dislike about the players the Eagles took. Each and every guy that was drafted is a locker room presence with high character and enormous potential on the field. The team also landed some guys who should be impact players undrafted in free agency.
It is difficult to look at the draft and see the Eagles take only one defensive player, but the team went with value. While the other teams fought over which specific defensive backs and defensive linemen they wanted, the Eagles were able to use that as a smokescreen to use their first three picks on offensive players who fell far below where they should have been taken.
Combine that with multiple players who should crack the roster in the coming seasons signing as undrafted free agents and the Eagles had themselves an above-average draft despite limited draft capital.