The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the new future of the team is set. All told, the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed nine players in the draft and signed seven undrafted free agents. They made one trade before the draft, which moved them down from pick six to 12, and then made three trades during the draft, one on each day. It was a busy draft for the Birds, and overall I’d call it a success. Let’s get to the Eagles draft grades.
Day 1 Eagles Draft Grades
Pick 10: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Wide receiver was a major need for the team, and the Eagles got the guy that produced one of the finest wide receiver seasons in college history. Before his size concerns became more pronounced, DeVonta Smith vs. Ja’Marr Chase for first receiver taken was a real debate. Smith is the ultimate competitor, and his skills aren’t measured in physicality. He’s a technician, with crisp route-running, soft hands and an unbelievable knack for getting open. He may not be the biggest or fastest, but he could easily be the most skilled. A Stephen Curry rather than a Zion Williamson.
What makes the pick even better was the fact that they got an extra first round pick from the Miami Dolphins, when the Eagles moved down from six. They did give up a third to go up to 10, but it was worth it to jump the New York Giants, who took a wide receiver with their pick. It seems pretty clear the Giants also wanted Smith. So, in essence, the Eagles got a guy that very well could’ve been worth their original sixth pick, and got another first rounder to do so. That’s great value and it deserves a high Eagles draft grade.
Day 2 Eagles Draft Grades
Pick 37: Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
The talent for Landon Dickerson is not the issue. He’s a guy that, barring injuries, would’ve been a clear first rounder. He was one of the best linemen in the country last year, as shown by his numerous accolades at Alabama, and his leadership and drive are next level. Dickerson is also positionally flexible, which is a major boon considering how injury-prone the Eagles’ offensive line often is. If Dickerson can stay healthy, he could be one of the steals of the draft, and he could very easily be the best lineman to come out.
That’s all a big if though, and with Dickerson’s injury history, it’s far from a guarantee. He’s suffered four season-ending injuries, all to his lower body, including two ankle issues and two torn ACLs.
The second factor is need. While drafting best player available is usually the best strategy, the Eagles roster has plenty of holes. For this upcoming season, center is not one of them. The Eagles have three-time All-Pro Jason Kelce manning that spot, and they have multiple other Pro-Bowlers on the line. At the same time, the whole right side of the line (and Kelce) are closer to retirement than not, and are not injury-free themselves.
Pick 73: Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech
The need for Milton Williams is somewhat similar to the Dickerson situation. The Eagles’ top three at that position are very good. However, they are also not immune to the injury bug, and beyond those three, there is pretty much no one. The Eagles have always loved having depth on the defensive line to keep a steady rotation of fresh pass rushers, so Williams will likely see play right away. For that reason, tackle was a much bigger need than center, but still not as big as other positions.
Also like Dickerson, there is a major red flag with Williams, which would be his size. He’s undersized as a tackle, although going outside wouldn’t be a huge issue for him, as he has experience there. The bigger size problem is his really short arms. Arm length matters on the line; it’s how you get leverage. If you don’t believe me, find a friend with longer arms, have them put their arms on your shoulders and try to push them back.
His saving grace is his absurd, unicorn-like athleticism. He tested in the 90th+ percentile in basically every drill: speed, agility, explosiveness, strength, you name it. His closest comparison in athleticism and size is Aaron Donald. On one hand, that’s great, being the same makeup as one of the greatest DTs in the game. On the other hand, when your only successful predecessor is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, that’s not good odds for your success. Having to be as good as Aaron Donald to overcome your limitations is worrying.
Day 3 Eagles Draft Grades
Pick 123: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech
The Eagles waited until the fourth to address arguably their biggest need, which was a second cornerback. It’s not ideal, but Zech McPhearson has a couple things going for him. Physically, he’s far from a specimen, not hitting ideal height, weight or speed for an outside corner. He doesn’t fail any of those categories hard either, but he’s definitely not an amazing athlete.
What McPhearson does have is strong production and analytics. He’s primarily a zone corner and, according to PFF, he was a really good one, ranking fourth in college cornerbacks in zone coverage since 2019, and fourth overall in coverage in 2020. If you go just by that, he’s only slightly worse than Patrick Surtain II, who went in the first round. His four interceptions last year would also tie him seventh in the NCAA, although about 20 guys had four as well. Still, it’s certainly not a bad spot to be. PFF obviously loved him, as did Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com’s draft guru, who rated McPhearson 85th on his big board, 38 spots higher than the Eagles got him.
Pick 150: Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
As the draft progresses, you can either try to hit homeruns on sleepers or get guys that will most likely be special teams players. I prefer to go for homeruns, and Kenneth Gainwell definitely has that potential. His draft stock fell because he opted out of the 2020 season, and he has only one real season of work under his belt. That season, however, is a really good one. In 2019, he had 2,069 yards from scrimmage (1,459 rushing, 610 receiving) showing the well-roundedness that the modern NFL favors. Gainwell was the starter over Antonio Gibson, who had a great rookie year for the Washington Football Team, and helped lead Memphis to a 12-2 record.
Physically, Gainwell doesn’t really lack much either. While 5-8, 201 is a bit small, it’s far from a deal-breaker. Christian McCaffrey is 205 and we know how good he is. He ran a 4.44-second 40, showing he certainly has wheels. Combined with his agility and pass-catching ability, Gainwell at worst is a third-down back in the mold of Nyheim Hines or a possible slot wide receiver option. At best, he can be much more. PFF had him 79th overall, while Daniel Jeremiah had him at 78. Getting a talent like this that seems to have fallen only due to not playing in 2020 (less tread on his tires too) at pick 150 is a steal.
Pick 189: Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
Pick 191: Tarron Jackson, DE, Costal Carolina
Pick 224: Jacoby Stevens, S, LSU
Once you get about here, the chances of these guys making an impact is rather low and it gets almost impossible to grade them. That being said, there are a couple nice things to say about them.
Marlon Tuipulotu was first-team All-Pac 12 in 2020, and also made it on Jeremiah’s top-150. He’s a big, strong run defender in the middle, which definitely has its uses considering the Eagles tend to not invest in linebackers.
Tarron Jackson was a consensus All-American and his pass rushing was a big part of Coastal Carolina’s Cinderella 2020. He had 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, which would put him tied seventh in the NCAA last year. Just like with DT, the Eagles have a solid three at the DE position, and after that, it falls off massively, and Jackson could get into the rotation right away.
Jacoby Stevens was a two-year starter at LSU, including their 2019 championship run. He’s not good at coverage, but he’s a great tackler. The Eagles basically said he’ll be a linebacker for them, addressing a weak position. He can be a foil to the newly-signed Eric Wilson, who excels in coverage but is one of the worst linebackers against the run. Starting for an SEC powerhouse against SEC competition is also a plus, and after a few years of trying to dig through PAC-12 and small schools it’s nice to see Howie Roseman focus on a strong conference.
Pick 243: Patrick Johnson, OLB, Tulane
Patrick Johnson also landed on Jeremiah’s top-150, at #124. Going by that list, Johnson might be one of the biggest steals in the entire draft. PFF also had him with a third-round grade, so by all consensus this was a pretty astute pick. The fit isn’t perfect as he’s a 3-4 OLB, but he could be used as a situational pass-rusher, a role he should excel in. He had 10 sacks in two different seasons at Tulane, and has their school record for sacks.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
Trevon Grimes, WR, Florida
Trevon Grimes was a highly-rated prospect out of high school, but a messy campaign at Ohio State led to a transfer to Florida, and he never really got his footing in college. His production isn’t incredible, (although he somehow scored nine times on just 38 catches in 2020) but physically, he has a ton of potential. He’s 6-4 and ran a 4.47-second 40 at his pro day, which is a rare size/speed combination. That alone warrants an undrafted flier, and with Alshon Jeffery gone and J.J. Arcega Whiteside a bust, the Eagles could use a big red zone threat.
Overall Eagles Draft Grade
Howie Roseman and the Eagles stayed pretty consistent with their philosophy. They highly value the trenches, and honestly, it’s not exactly the wrong way to go about things. If the quarterback is the most valuable position, then the next most valuable positions are the guys that get the quarterback and the guys that protect him. They spent a high-round pick on an offensive linemen, and four of the nine picks were spent on defensive linemen or pass rushers.
Going into the draft, I thought the three biggest Eagles draft needs were wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback. One of each did get taken (counting JaCoby Stevens as a linebacker and Patrick Johnson as a pass rusher), but only one position got a day two or higher pick used, which was DeVonta Smith in the first. While I would have liked to have seen the clearer needs addressed, reaching for players also isn’t helpful.
Considering this season is most likely going to be rather non-competitive, getting high potential guys in the most important positions that WILL be needs in a year or two is a pretty astute move. Combined with the fact that the Eagles got a lot of value in the later rounds, and I give the overall draft a B.