By Connor Donald, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
The rollercoaster ride that we call the Philadelphia Eagles offseason continued with the 2021 NFL Draft. The offseason of turmoil has seen head coach drama, the trade of Carson Wentz, a free agent period filled with Howie Roseman dealing with the ghost of prior re-structures and trading back and trading up in the 2021 NFL Draft.
With part one of my post-draft series, I plan on taking a look at the offensive players drafted by Howie and the Eagles while looking at their fit in the offense. So without further adieu, lets dive in.
Eagles WR DeVonta Smith: 51 catches of 20+ yards since 2019— PFF (@PFF) May 6, 2021
17 more than any other player in college football👀 pic.twitter.com/ZJgut9f3KL
Howie traded back from six with the feeling Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts would be gone and it turns out, despite the ridicule post-trade, he was right. So the Eagles picked up an additional 2022 first to add to the stockpile and then turned around and traded up with the Dallas Cowboys at 10 to sneak ahead of the New York Giants and grab their future alpha wide receiver, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, Devonta Smith. Sorry, not sorry, angry Giants fans.
Smith’s resume speaks for itself. In addition to the Heisman, Smith was the Biletnikoff (nation’s top pass catcher) and Paul Hornung (nation’s most versatile player) award winner. He’s also the proud owner of the most receiving touchdowns in SEC and Alabama history with 46; second place has 31! Plus, he is the SEC and Alabama receiving yards leader with 3,965! Apparently, despite the resume in arguably the strongest division in college football, his 170ish-pound frame remains of concern… pfft!
Smith fits the Eagles perfectly and should compliment and help some existing Eagles weapons excel. Smith can play Z, X or slot, but will likely be used primarily outside at the X. He's got the hands, the body control, the route running and the ability to produce after the catch - 51.7% of his total college yardage came after the catch. Oh, and we ripped him out of the Giants hands; bonus points for Howie!
After seemingly having this denial of Alabama players in prior drafts, Howie goes back to back ‘Bama studs. Jason Kelce gave Howie one more season to find his replacement, and he must have heard me screaming to do it and do it early, as he grabbed the second graded center in the country in 2020, per PFF. Landon Dickerson does come with some major injury red flags: he’s currently four months removed from a torn left ACL. He has also torn his right ACL and dealt with a nagging ankle injury in back to back seasons.
This early in the draft, it had to be Dickerson or Creed Humphrey; ultimately the Eagles chose the Rimington trophy (nation’s top center) winning Dickerson and his versatility is likely a major factor. Dickerson has played 50 plus snaps at all five positions across the offensive line. His snaps were mainly at center (1189) and right guard (698). Despite his movement across the offensive line, his stats pop off the screen. In 1,202 pressure opportunities he’s allowed only six sacks.
Spoke to an outstanding source at the University of Alabama, who told me that Saban says the best two leaders he's ever had are Landon Dickerson and Devonta Smith. Makes sense to draft both on a team that's had the culture the Eagles have had the last two years. @Kevin_Kinkead— Mike Small (@realmikesmall) May 7, 2021
If this year is anything like last year from an injury standpoint, knock on wood, Dickerson could play right away at either guard position or center. However, the likely route is letting Dickerson completely heal from his ACL tear and learn from one of the best centers in the game for a year. His game will be loved by Eagles fans as he is an extremely physical mauler with great strength and high-end football IQ. The center position could be secured for another ten years!
Let the running back factory meet the quarterback factory. Memphis is churning out quality running back after quality running back and the Eagles get their chance to grab one in Gainwell. Gainwell, who opted out of 2020, is an aggressive runner but doesn’t necessarily have the size to challenge; this is where Sanders would come in. Gainwell compliments Sanders as one of the best receiving backs in the nation in 2019, producing an 86% receiving rate, 610 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Sanders struggled in 2020 with his receiving game and drops.
"To me, Gainwell is the most Alvin Kamara-like RB in this class. He presents similar value with multiple running game experience, can line up everywhere, and run receiver level routes."— Thomas R. Petersen 🦅 (@thomasrp93) May 2, 2021
Greg Cosell had very high praise of new Eagles RB Kenneth Gainwell!#Eagles pic.twitter.com/2qflUvBy6H
Gainwell will add even more versatility outside of the backfield as he took 21% of snaps in the slot and 3.7% of snaps out wide. He is a big play waiting to happen when he makes people miss and in 2019 he did so ranking second in the nation in missed tackles forced after reception and had 38 runs of 10 plus yards and 24 designed runs of 15 plus yards. He should immediately push for work over Boston Scott, Jordan Howard and the recently acquired Kerryon Johnson. Expect him to plant himself as the RB2 behind Sanders and a versatile weapon to move around the formation for Sirianni.
Despite the rumors swirling about the Eagles not being out on Deshaun Watson or Russel Wilson should the opportunity present itself, they have provided Jalen Hurts with weapons and put their faith in him for 2021 to prove himself as the Eagles franchise quarterback. On the offensive side of the ball in the 2021 draft, the Eagles have certainly hit a home run.