Competition

Posted: May 9th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 5 Comments »

The key part of free agency is over. The draft is over. But that doesn’t mean the offseason is over. As Howie Roseman has pointed out quite a few times, the Eagles will continue to look for ways to improve the roster.

I love this move. Here is something I wrote about him prior to the draft in 2018.

RB Kerryon Johnson – 5-11, 213 – Auburn – The Eagles have publicly shown no interest in KJ, but he looks like an Eagles RB. Can catch the ball. Can block. Has terrific feet and is able to make defenders miss. Just feels like one of those players who could turn into a monster in the NFL.

Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie and showed real promise. He suffered a knee injury and missed part of the season. Johnson got hurt in 2019 as well. He was healthy in 2020, but the team had drafted D’Andre Swift and signed Adrian Peterson. They combined for 270 carries. Johnson only got 52 carries and caught 19 passes.

Obviously the new Lions coaching staff (which includes RB coach Duce Staley) did not see Johnson as worth keeping around. He has shown NFL talent and hasn’t even turned 24 so it surprises me to see Detroit cut him loose. Maybe they feel the knee injuries are going to be an ongoing issue.

Johnson doesn’t come to Philly as an answer. He isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. All he is guaranteed is a chance.

This move is about competition. Look at the RB group now vs last summer.

2020

Miles Sanders
Boston Scott – 6th round
Corey Clement – UDFA
Michael Warren – UDFA
Elijah Holyfield – UDFA
Adrian Killins – UDFA

2021

Miles Sanders
Jordan Howard – 5th round
Kerryon Johnson – 2nd round
Kenny Gainwell – 5th round
Boston Scott – 6th round
Jason Huntley – 5th round
Elijah Holyfield – UDFA
Adrian Killins – UDFA

First, there are simply more bodies. More importantly, the quality is better. Nobody will confuse this bunch with the ’97 Eagles (Watters/Garner/Staley/Turner), but this group is better than a year ago. There is more size, speed and overall talent.

There is competition.

Sanders is going to be the lead back. After that, everyone is battling for a roster spot and playing time. Make players earn their roles. Last year there was a lot of hope at the RB position and it didn’t work very well.

Nick Sirianni has talked about how much he believes in competition. He wants players to battle it out. Push each other. Earn jobs. That’s how you bring out the best in them, at least in theory. Not every player responds well to competition, but that’s part of the point. You want to weed out the players who don’t have the right mentality for your team.

Let’s talk more about Johnson. He is a good runner. He can block and catch. The big question is how the knee injuries have affected him. Did he lose speed? Agility? Only time will tell what he can and can’t do, but this is absolutely a player worth taking a chance on. If his knee holds up, he could be a good role player. Johnson can be a pure backup or he could be the third down back.

We know a couple of the guys will disappoint. That’s just reality. The key is for a few of them to pan out. If that happens, the Eagles will have a good group of RBs with versatile skill sets.

*****

Jimmy is the king of comp picks. Find out how things look for 2022.

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Going back to the theme of competition, the Eagles were looking to add to their WR corps.

Cole would have been a slot guy with good return skills. We don’t know if the Eagles are looking for that kind of player or if they are just looking for a talented receiver to add to the mix.

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An Interesting Comp

Posted: May 7th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson were the headline picks last weekend. They were big time players from the biggest program in college football. The most fascinating pick to me was third rounder Milton Williams.

Matt Alkire put Williams in a mock draft at some point and I told Matt I didn’t think that made any sense. The Vikings preferred bigger DTs. The Colts had bigger or taller DTs. Williams at 6-3, 284 didn’t fit the mold of many guys that new DC Jonathan Gannon had worked with.

Oops.

This is the downside of dealing with new coaching staffs. You can guess what they might want, but you sure as heck don’t know for a fact. When the Eagles made the Williams selection you can see that Gannon is really fired up. This is a player he definitely wanted.

As QBs get faster at throwing the ball, pressure off the edge becomes more challenging. The way to really affect QBs on a regular basis is with pressure up the middle. We see the impact of Aaron Donald, Grady Jarrett, Geno Atkins, DeForest Buckner and of course, Fletcher Cox. Williams has a chance to be a very disruptive interior player.

A few people compared Williams to Malik Jackson.

Jackson
6-5, 284
34-inch arms
4.91 in the 40
28 inch vertical
25 reps
4.41 SS
7.38 3-cone

Williams
6-3, 284
31.5-inch arms
4.67 in the 40
38.5 inch vertical
34 reps
4.33 SS
6.96 3-cone

Jackson was taller and had longer arms, but you can see that Williams is clearly more explosive and more athletic. Those numbers are very similar to Aaron Donald, who was 6-1, 285 at his Pro Day.

Clearly Donald is in a class of his own, but it is important to understand just how atheltic Williams is. Those are special numbers.

Malik Jackson was a disappointment in Philly, but he also signed here at age 29. Williams will be in his prime. Let’s watch some of Williams and then look at Jackson from his early NFL days.

And now for Jackson.

The link is giving me problems, but you can watch his Denver days here.

You can see similarities in their games. Both guys move incredibly well. Both have very good motors. Both are strong for their size and know how to use that strength.

Jackson was a key part of great defenses in Denver and Jacksonville. His ability to pressure up the middle and be disruptive was hugely valuable. The Eagles will be very happy if Williams can be a similar type of NFL player.

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Helping Hurts

Posted: May 5th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

Jalen Hurts showed us NFL talent in his four starts as a rookie. He also showed that he’s got plenty to work on. He was very hot and cold. When things were good, the offense was impressive. When things weren’t so good, he looked like a rookie who had no idea what he was doing.

In his defense, he played behind a makeshift offensive line. He didn’t have great skill players. Hurts is talented, but he’s not one of the rare QBs who can put a team on his shoulders and overcome mediocrity. As we saw in the Super Bowl, even a guy like Patrick Mahomes will struggle when he doesn’t have the right pieces around him.

The Eagles want to see what Hurts can do this year. One of the keys to the offseason was building around him so he would have a chance to succeed. The first order of business was the coaching change. Last year the offense was hampered by a group of coaches that were forced on each other and didn’t work great together.

This year Nick Sirianni, Shane Steichen and Brian Johnson will have a more cohesive relationship. Sirianni and Steichen are friends and have worked together in the past. Johnson is happy to enter the NFL and will have a clearly defined job.

Coaching will only get you so far though. One of the best sports lines is “The X’s and O’s aren’t as important as the Jimmys and Joes.” Talent wins. Coaching makes a huge difference, but talent wins. Did the Eagles help Hurts enough?

WR

The Eagles drafted DeVonta Smith 10th overall. That’s a serious investment. Smith will be the staring Z receiver and has a chance to make an immediate impact. He can be a workhorse who moves the chains, but also a playmaker. That’s part of what makes him special. Smith has great hands, is a terrific route-runner and is a very cerebral player. The Eagles haven’t had a wideout like that in a while.

Once the ball is in Smith’s hands, he can be a weapon. Sirianni has talked about how RAC yards are going to be a key to his offense. Smith should be a big help in that area. If Hurts can make a quick throw and Smith can then make something happen, that takes a lot of pressure off Hurts.

We don’t know where Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham will line up. Reagor would give you a speedy slot. Fulgham would give you a big slot. Sirianni said all three guys would move around, but they will at some point line up somewhere more than other spots. Reagor and Fulgham both showed excellent potential last year, but also showed warts. They need to be developed.

Sirianni is a former receiver and his teams have generally had good WR play. He and the staff will focus on that position and doing what they can to turn Smith, Reagor and Fulgham into a good trio.

Greg Ward is going to have a tough time making the team. His lack of speed/athleticism limits how effective he can be. Quez Watkins and John Hightower both showed big time speed as rookies, but each needs a lot of work. They could develop into good role players.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is hanging by a thread. Maybe the new coaches can turn his career around. But he’ll face competition from UDFA Trevon Grimes. I had a mid-round grade on Grimes, who is 6-4, 220 runs 4.5 and has a 35-inch vertical. Grimes could be the big receiver the Eagles are looking for. He will push JJAW. One of them will have to earn a roster spot.

TE

We don’t know what is going on here. Dallas Goedert is going to be the starter. Zach Ertz is almost certainly going to be traded. The Eagles could consider bringing him back, but Ertz wasn’t happy last year and I struggle to envision that changing.

The Eagles don’t have a proven backup in place. Maybe they are waiting to bring back Richard Rodgers. He’s been a good backup in recent years. There are several developmental guys. Maybe the new coaches want to work with them.

UDFA Jack Stoll is the only new face for now. He’s 6-3, 247 and is a pretty good athlete.

RB

The Eagles have their #1 guy in Miles Sanders. He is an explosive playmaker. He gives the offense a big play threat every time he touches the ball.

The team brought back Jordan Howard. We’ll have to see what that means. Howard was terrific in the first half of 2019. He got hurt and then went to Miami in the offseason. Howard struggled last year and got released. The Eagles felt like he was worth bringing back, as they didn’t have another big back on the roster.

Kenny Gainwell was one of the best value picks in the draft and gives the team another playmaker. He can line up all over the place. Gainwell is a gifted runner and reciever and will give the coaches another weapon to work with.

Boston Scott proved to be a valuable role player in 2019. In 2020, he proved he’s not meant to be the primary backup. Scott can still be a good role player, but you need other guys around him. He’ll compete for a roster spot and a role, but won’t be guaranteed either.

OL

Just getting this bunch healthy makes a world of difference. Jordan Mailata – Isaac Seumalo – Jason Kelce – Brandon Brooks – Lane Johnson is one of the better starting units in the league. That group can dominate in the run game and give Hurts time to throw in the passing game.

Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll were important backups last year. Both will have that experience under their belt and they should be even better this season. Andre Dillard got hurt before he could play last year. He will compete for the LT spot, but Mailata should win that battle based on how he played last year. We’ll see if Dillard has more of an edge now or if he just doesn’t have the right mentality for the NFL.

Landon Dickerson will be healthy before the season starts. He will be a backup at G and C. The Eagles will be in better shape to handle injuries, but hopefully they won’t go through anything like last year’s unprecendented gauntlet of despair.

*****

Hurts will have a more unified coaching staff.

He’s got better weapons.

The OL should give him better protection.

No one will confuse this team with the ’99 Rams, but I think Hurts will have enough pieces around him and a good enough OL that he and the offense can take a big step forward. Will that be enough for Hurts to convince the team he’s the QB of the future? That is the million-dollar question.

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Roster/Draft Talk

Posted: May 3rd, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 6 Comments »

Let’s talk some more about the Eagles draft class. One of the concerns coming out of the draft is the lack of defensive back picks. That was an area of need and the Eagles only spent a fourth round pick to help the group.

What gives?

1 – WR DeVonta Smith – Alabama – 6-0, 166
2 – OL Landon Dickerson – Alabama – 6-6, 333
3 – DL Milton Williams – Louisiana Tech – 6-3, 284
4 – CB Zech McPhearson – Texas Tech – 5-11, 196
5 – RB Kenny Gainwell – Memphis – 5-9, 201
6 – DT Marlon Tuipulotu – USC – 6-2, 307
6 – DE Tarron Jackson – Coastal Carolina – 6-2, 254
6 – LB JaCoby Stevens – LSU – 6-1, 212
7 – LB Patrick Johnson – Tulane – 6-2, 240

The Eagles went with the highest rated players on their board. Howie Roseman has admitted reaching based on need in the past. This is not the way you build a team. You must focus on who is available. The draft board doesn’t always fall the way you want it to.

Smart teams are disciplined. The Ravens have always done a great job of this. They add talent and then fill holes later on. Player acquisitions don’t stop until the trade deadline. Be patient. Don’t panic.

That’s easier said than done. What if the summer comes and goes, the trade deadline comes and goes and you can’t find any help? You have to trust the players on the roster to get the job done.

Luckily the Eagles have plenty of time to find solutions.

Back in August of 2017, the Eagles CBs looked like this:

LCB Jalen Mills
RCB Patrick Robinson
Slot Ron Brooks
Depth – Rasul Dougas, Jaylen Watkins

That is not a compelling bunch. Howie was able to pull off a trade in mid-August to bring Ronald Darby in.

LCB Jalen Mills
RCB Ronald Darby
Slot Patrick Robinson

That group was good enough to help the Eagles win a Super Bowl.

Right now we have:

CB Darius Slay ….. Michael Jaquet
CB Craig James … Zech McPhearson
NB Avonte Maddox
FS Anthony Harris … Marcus Epps
SS K’Von Wallace … Andrew Adams

I always leave Rodney McLeod off my depth charts because he got hurt so late and feels unlikely to play anytime soon.

That group isn’t compelling in any way, but Wallace, Maddox and McPhearson are young players with talent. They could be key parts of the secondary moving forward. Harris could be re-signed and play a few more years. Epps could develop into a good role player. We’ll have to see what the new coaches can get out of him.

There are some free agents who could be targets. Stevie Nelson is the primary guy there. His cost has to drop. There could be some CBs available via trade. We’ll have to wait and see what we hear over the next few months.

Next March the Eagles will have a lot of cap room. They can be aggressive in going after secondary help. The draft should be much deeper so they might have better options there as well. Howie and the front office know the secondary isn’t good enough. It is functional for now, but needs long term help.

*****

The front seven can help the secondary out by playing better.

DE  Brandon Graham …. Josh Sweat
DT  Fletcher Cox ……….. Milton Williams …… T.Y. McGill
DT  Javon Hargrave …… Hassan Ridgeway…… Marlon Tuipulotu …….Raequan Williams
DE  Derek Barnett ……… Joe Ostman ….. Tarron Jackson
WB Eric Wilson ……… Davion Taylor …… JaCoby Stevens ……..Rashad Smith
MB T.J. Edwards ……. Shaun Bradley ….. Joe Bachie
SB  Alex Singleton ….. Genard Avery …… Patrick Johnson

One thing all these guys have in common is that they are tough, physical players. None of them have great size, but you put on the tape and you see guys who play big. Some of them are gifted athletes, but all have good motors. All of them really battle. Johnson and Jackson consistently went up against OL much bigger than them and more than held their own.

Williams has legit starting potential. Tuipulotu might as well. The others are more depth pieces and that’s okay. One of the ways you have success up front is through depth. Nick Sirianni has preached the need for competition. The DL will have a lot of guys battling for jobs. That competition should help to bring out the best in some of the players. Those who struggle are just showing you they don’t have what it takes to play in the NFL.

*****

Here is a good piece on draft value. Arif  Hasan puts together a value board by studying pre-draft rankings from a lot of sources. He builds this into a consensus draft board. He then measures who went where against where they were valued.

The Eagles came up 7th in this.

I know the Kenny Gainwell pick helped a lot. I’m guessing Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu helped as well. They all went later than anticipated. This doesn’t mean they’ll pan out, but it is interesting to see how different teams fared based on perceived value.

*****

I need to write about the UDFAs. I’m waiting for the Eagles to officially announce the signings, in case there are any changes.

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Draft Recap

Posted: May 1st, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

The 2021 draft is over and the Eagles are a better football team. I’m not going to write super long reviews on these guys tonight, but wanted to try and put the overall class into some context.

1 – WR DeVonta Smith – Alabama – 6-0, 166
2 – OL Landon Dickerson – Alabama – 6-6, 333
3 – DL Milton Williams – Louisiana Tech – 6-3, 284
4 – CB Zech McPhearson – Texas Tech – 5-11, 196
5 – RB Kenny Gainwell – Memphis – 5-9, 201
6 – DT Marlon Tuipulotu – USC – 6-2, 307
6 – DE Tarron Jackson – Coastal Carolina – 6-2, 254
6 – LB JaCoby Stevens – LSU – 6-1, 212
7 – LB Patrick Johnson – Tulane – 6-2, 240

This group is more solid than sexy. And I’m fine with that. The Eagles went 4-11-1 last year with an aging, bloated roster. They needed an infusion of youth. They needed high character guys who would come in and battle their asses off. They needed hungry, driven players.

And talented.

All the character and effort in the world isn’t going to cover Amari Cooper or block Chase Young. You need good players for that.

Smith 

I think Smith can start right away. Jalen Reagor was an explosive athlete coming out of college. Smith is a polished receiver who understands the game at a very high level. He just had one of the greatest WR seasons in the history of college football. That didn’t happen because of a gimmicky offense, poor competiton or elite size/speed. Smith earned those catches and yards. His skills should translate to the NFL game right away.

Dickerson 

Dickerson joins the deepest spot on the team so there isn’t an obvious opening for him. He’s also coming back from a torn ACL so we’ll have to see when he’s ready. Howie Roseman said the team expects Dickerson to be ready to play this year. I think too many people saw this pick and assumed the team wanted a G/C prospect. This pick was about Dickerson himself. On the field, he is physically dominant. He is a punishing blocker that former OL all love to watch. This is their version of a super hero. Off the field, Dickerson is a natural leader and culture-setter. This is the kind of guy who helps a new coaching staff establish the right tone and get things headed in the right direction. Jeff Stoutland refers to Dickerson as special. He has Pro Bowl potential.

Williams

Great athlete. Disruptive player. Versatile defender. Williams is big enough to play DT and athletic enough to play DE. He is explosive, agile and has a good motor. He played a lot in a 3-man line at La Tech and that didn’t showcase his skills as much as a 4-man line would have. Put on the tape and you see a really talented player. His best football is definitely ahead of him. He could develop into an outstanding interior rusher. He should be a future starter.

McPhearson

The Eagles went into the draft desperate for CB help. Things didn’t work out in the first few rounds, but the Eagles got their man in the 4th round. They liked McPhearson enough that they considered trading back into the 3rd round to get him. McPhearson isn’t special in any way, but he is a good player. He can play in the slot or outside. He will tackle. He’s got good ball skills. McPhearson picked off 4 passes last year. He has starting potential. He was an outstanding STs player in college so at the least he could be a good backup and STer in the NFL.

Gainwell

Memphis has produced some really talented weapons in recent years. Tony Pollard and Antonio Gibson are talented playmakers and Gainwell has a chance to join them. He can help the Eagles as a RB or receiver. Memphis moved him around to get him into favorable matchups in the passing game. Nick Sirianni had success with a similar player in Indy (RB Nyheim Hines). The Eagles needed help behind Miles Sanders. Gainwell could be RB2. He’ll certainly be part of RB by Committee. He averaged more than 6 yards per carry in 2019 and delivered plenty of big plays. He gives Eagles coaches another weapon to work with.

Tuipulotu

I had a mid-round grade on him, but he apparently fell due to some medical concerns. He played in 12 games in 2018 and 2019 and then 5 of 6 last year so this isn’t a guy whose career was hurt by injuries. He stayed on the field and played well. Tuipulotu wasn’t much of a playmaker for the Trojans. They did some odd things with their DL and it was hard to get a feel for him. That changed when he went to the Senior Bowl. He showed the ability to beat blocks and be disruptive. Tuipuloto has a good motor and will make his share of hustle plays. He’s a powerful DT who can hold his ground and eat up blocks. He’s more of a NT type.

Jackson

I am an Appalachian State fan. Coastal Carolina is a big rival for us and I can honestly say I hated Jackson. He was relentless and had an annoying habit of making big plays at crucial moments. He drove me nuts. I’m now glad he’s on my side. Jackson has an uphill battle to make it in the NFL. He lacks ideal size and he’s not special athletically. He is tough and ultra competitive. He’s got the kind of personality and play style Jonathan Gannon will love. Jackson might remind you of Trent Cole. I don’t think he’s as quick as Cole was, but Jackson is more versatile. He showed the ability to get pressure off the edge or up the middle. Jackson had 8.5 sacks and 4 FFs last year.

Stevens

Stevens is the opposite of Jackson. Stevens is a gifted athlete from a big school. But he wasn’t the kind of consistently productive player that you would have expected from someone with his natural gifts. He played S at LSU. Stevens worked mostly at LB while at the Senior Bowl and the Eagles are expected to use him there as well. Stevens would be a WLB. He is a developmental prospect, but has the kind of athleticism you want in a back seven player. Could be a role player in sub packages.

Johnson 

Another tweener. He played LB/DE at Tulane. Sometimes they had him out in space. Other times he stood up at the LOS. Other times he was a DE with his hand on the ground. The Eagles seems to be thinking of him as a LB (not set in stone). Johnson is a good pass rusher. He had 21 sacks and 6 FFs over the past three years. Johnson is quick off the ball and has a great motor. I think he would play SAM for the Eagles. That would allow him to do a little of everything. Good athlete.

*****

The Eagles drafted multiple team captains.

They drafted 4 players from the Senior Bowl.

All of these players were productive in college. There were no underachievers.

This is a very versatile group. Tuipulotu is the only guy who is limited to one position. He’s a pure DT.

*****

I was surprised by only taking one CB. I thought for sure they would add at least a pair. It is possible this means the Eagles will target a veteran for that spot.

I was also surprised they didn’t address safety.

*****

UDFA Signings (so far)

QB Jamie Newman
OC Harry Crider
WR Trevon Grimes
WR Jhamon Ausbon
TE Jack Stroll
OG Kayode Awosika

DE Jaquan Bailey

Grimes might be the highest graded player on the list. OC Brian Johnson knew him from their time together at Florida and I’m sure that connection didn’t hurt.

Newman played at Wake Forest and then transferred to Georgia for 2020. He opted out and then had a poor showing at the Senior Bowl. That killed his value. He does have potential and is worth developing into an NFL backup.

Awosika played LT for Buffalo, but he’s a limited athlete and projects to OG in the NFL. Outstanding run blocker. Lots of fun to watch.

Bailey had 25 sacks in his career at Iowa State. The Eagles gave him a decent bonus so they must think he’s got a legit chance to make the roster or the practice squad.

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