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NFL Draft

Philadelphia Eagles 2021 NFL Draft Class Breakdown

  • The Draft Network
  • May 6, 2021
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Philadelphia Eagles Post-Draft Team Guide

The Eagles are a team currently mired in change and, as recent reports from outlets such as The Athletic indicate, a power struggle within the organization. Finding success on the field with so much of the team hierarchy not rowing in the same direction is often rare—but not impossible. The good news for Philadelphia is that the team has been able to allocate significant future resources to help the team boost its talent. 

The objective of Philadelphia’s rebuild appears rooted in the NFL draft with two confirmed first-round draft selections in 2022 and a third pending based on the availability and/or performance of Carson Wentz in Indianapolis. But the rebuilding process started this past week as the Eagles tackled their 2021 NFL Draft class head-on, showing a willingness under Howie Roseman to jump up and down the board as desired and attack talent. 

How did they do? Let’s take a look back at their 2021 NFL Draft class:

Round 1: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The trade-up for Smith comes with a premium cost—Philadelphia surrendered the No. 84 overall pick to leapfrog the Giants and seal the deal here. If Smith can transition to the NFL with the same level of effectiveness as what he showed at Alabama, this will be worth it. But I’m not sure that that success will come in 2021. Playing with Jalen Hurts, Smith’s precise route-running and timing aren’t going to be weaponized to their full extent unless Hurts shows growth as a passer entering his second season with the Eagles. Add in Smith’s own transition from the college game and Smith’s rookie season feels destined to fall short of the expectations that come with being a Heisman Trophy-winning receiver. 

But in the long run, Smith projects as a consistent threat and should be a staple of the Eagles’ offense. Keeping him out of New York is the icing on the cake. 

Round 2: Landon Dickerson, IOL, Alabama

There’s plenty to love about this selection for the Eagles. Center Jason Kelce has been rumored to be on retirement’s doorstep more than once and getting out in front of that transition is a wise move for the Eagles. Dickerson is a different style of player than Kelce, but with his power and technical prowess, he has the potential to be every bit as effective as the heart of the Eagles’ line. As an added bonus, Dickerson has positional flexibility and can play guard—so as the Eagles try to shuffle the deck and find their best five players up front, Dickerson should be considered a part of that group as soon as he’s healthy enough to go. 

Dickerson along with Brandon Brooks, who returns from injury this season, gives Philadelphia a powerful pair of heavyweights at guard for ample push in the middle. But injuries will threaten this unit once again in 2021 as Dickerson continues to recover from a 2020 knee injury that caused him to slide out of the first round. 

This is a boom or bust type selection with durability lingering in the background as the only threat to Dickerson’s success in the pros. 

Round 3: Milton Williams, IDL, Louisiana Tech

If you drew up the ideal 3-technique, he’d have a lot of the traits that you see in Williams. Explosive, agile, and flexible, Williams’ projection to the pro game is an exciting one for him taking on a role that is tailored to his strengths. Williams spent a lot of time stacking and reading blocks at Louisiana Tech instead of shooting gaps and finding the football—that will be the challenge that the Eagles are faced with. 

In a now-viral peek inside the Eagles’ draft room, there appeared to be a rift regarding the Williams pick after Roseman decided to trade down a few spots and the team missed out on their reported ideal target, Alim McNeill of North Carolina State. And while McNeill is a more prototypical build and more versatile as a talent, Williams has a higher ceiling thanks to just how explosive he is. The question will be what ideal role to phase him into while he begins his pro career—and the challenge will be not asking him to do too much. 

Round 4: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech

Philadelphia felt fortunate to see McPhearson on the board at No. 123 overall, citing his versatility to play inside, his ball skills, and his smarts as a player. And the selection by Philadelphia will be something akin to a homecoming; McPhearson first played college ball at Penn State before transferring to Texas Tech and the Big 12. For the Eagles, McPhearson should be considered a sneaky contender to steal a starting role, particularly if he is everything the Eagles billed him as. 

The Eagles could certainly use his explosiveness in the secondary opposite Darius Slay or in the slot. He logged an 85th percentile or better in the 10-yard split, the vertical, the broad jump, the 3-cone, and the short shuttle. But his lack of size looms as a barrier that may prevent him from being a consistent outside threat. 

Round 5: Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis

Gainwell followed in the footsteps of Antonio Gibson but failed to command the same level of enthusiasm around his NFL draft evaluation in part due to his lack of rare size. Gibson’s appeal was in his versatility but also rooted in how big he was for a receiving back. Gainwell, at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, doesn’t offer the same appeal. 

But he offers the same level of versatility to win as a pass catcher in the slot or as a runner out of the backfield. Pairing in the offensive backfield alongside Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Jordan Howard may not leave much room for reps, but Gainwell’s pass-catching ability should (could?) carve out the specialized role he’ll need to make the roster.  

Round 6: Marlon Tuipulotu, IDL, USC

Consider this the discount version of the player Philadelphia missed in the third round after trading away from McNeill, but Tuipulotu’s projection is more straightforward than that of Williams and it shouldn’t be considered outside the realm of possibility for him to out-snap Williams early on thanks to his consistency at the point. But splash plays aren’t going to be a part of the equation for Tuipulotu, which is how he ends up falling into the sixth round.  

Round 6: Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina

Jackson is an interesting talent and a worthwhile flier to take as the Eagles start bracing to make a decision on the likes of Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. Jackson has a dense frame and plenty of power—and if he can trim up, his build logic would indicate there’s more twitch left to be discovered in his athletic profile. But if Jackson can’t find any more dynamic burst, he may struggle to find success stacking and disengaging at the point of attack. As is, he’s a bit of a tweener.  

Round 6: JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU

Consider Stevens the defensive back version of Jackson. How he slots in the NFL is a bit of a challenge—he’s a big safety who lacks short-area burst and length alike. He may need to find his living in the NFL on special teams and in the kick coverage units until the Eagles’ staff finds a logical spot suited for his skill. That won’t happen until they get their hands on him in person this summer. 

Round 7: Patrick Johnson, EDGE, Tulane

Versatility here is a big appeal, which makes it a bit of a theme for this Eagles’ class. Johnson is a plus athlete and was asked to fill a number of roles from a 2-point stance and as a reduced defensive lineman at Tulane—but the Eagles must focus on adding weight and stacking power onto his frame in order for those qualities to shine through at the next level. 

And, as always, bulking up a pass rusher is risky business. Can he maintain his same level of twitch with extra weight to work with?  

How did the Eagles do? 

As the Eagles transition into a new chapter of the organization, this draft can be looked back upon as a foundational group. There’s a potential star in Smith and a slew of versatility that follows—which hopefully will provide the Eagles with the necessary pathways to success with the majority of the group. As is always the case with this event, nothing is guaranteed. But the direction is admirable even before you take into consideration the in-house friction that is currently looming inside the Eagles’ organization. 

But that friction won’t be gone any time soon and upcoming power struggles are certainly a threat to this class and the team’s other young players. The less stability Philadelphia experiences in both management and coaching, the less likely these players beyond the Alabama pairing will see their potentials realized with the team. Add in Dickerson’s injury history and there’s plenty that can derail progress, which makes it all that much more important for Philadelphia to start rowing in the same direction sooner rather than later.

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