Prince Tega Wanogho (76) Auburn football vs Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, November 18, 2017 in Auburn, Ala. Photo by Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE – As the madness ends, let the sadness begin.
The NFL draft, with all its build-up – and enhanced by its opportunity to distract us during these historically tragic times of a pandemic – is now behind us.
The best we can hope for now is a football season – and maybe one that will take place without fans in the stands, as more germs will be passed around there than by superior athletes playing what is arguably the most violent sport on earth.
That’s the bad news.
And there is even more bad news. The Eagles clearly missed my memos and didn’t follow the four Shakespearean scripts – Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet – I laid out for them here in my four mock drafts (although I did hint at some of the players they took in my broader final preview).
But there is good news.
While they didn’t take who I would have – in most cases, anyway – I wouldn’t say any of the picks were all-out pathetic ones.
I am certainly not burning de facto GM Howie Roseman in effigy – especially since these are group decisions, with head coach Doug Pederson likely speaking for the coaches while Roseman factors in reports from the scouts. If anything is dysfunctional – and only time will tell – it is that the Eagles (unlike, say, Dallas with Jerry Jones) have too many chefs in the kitchen.
With that, let’s take a closer look at a draft that I ended up grading as a B-minus (after being as low as a D-plus at one point):
Round 1 (pick 21): The Eagles reportedly explored trading up for Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, but relished their second round pick (No. 53) too much. They could have traded down and added a second round pick, but stayed put and selected receiver Jalen Reagor of TCU, who was rapidly rising up draft boards into firm Day 1 consideration. Reagor was listed at 5-11, 195 in college, where his stats were not eye-popping in his final year (three different quarterbacks, including a true freshman) but bulked up to 210. It was presumed he would easily run a sub-4.4 40, but his time at the combine was a disappointing 4.47 (still fast, but not as fast as expected – especially for a smaller receiver). He dropped five pounds and ran again – virtually — and interested teams recorded it between 4.2 and 4.3. There is another metric, measuring game speed, which came more into play in the alternate universe of this draft, and his time was off the charts.
Where He Fits: Reagor (pictured below) — the son of a former NFL player, Montae, whose journeys included a stint in Philly — will be handed the punt returner job. The only way he will lose it is if he drops the ball, literally. As for the offense, we are probably looking at a DeSean Jackson understudy for a year. While he may not start, it is likely he will be integrated into the offense with specific plays in mind.
What I Would Have Done: I do agree that this year’s No. 2 pick, given the depth in the draft, was too valuable to package with No. 21 to move up. However, I would have thought long and hard about dangling next year’s No. 2 to move up for Ceedee Lamb. If that didn’t work, I would have taken LSU’s Justin Jefferson at No. 21. I had mocked him to the Eagles from the jump and still think he has the best skill set to impact the league as a rookie. Third option would have been to trade down a few slots and pick up either a late second or multiple picks (third and fourth). In that scenario, later in the round, I would have gone with the consensus in the Zoom room and gladly taken Reagor.
Round 2 (pick 53): This one was the head-scratcher of the draft, and it has nothing to do with not liking the actual player, quarterback Jalen Hurts (Alabama/Oklahoma). Like Reagor, his stock was rapidly rising and I regard him as an eventual Russell Wilson-type of quarterback in the NFL. While franchise quarterback Carson Wentz has been a tad bit injury-prone, this still seems like an extreme measure – unless Wentz has some sort of hidden, career-threatening medical issue we don’t know about.
Where He Fits: My first thought was as a gadget guy, like Taysom Hill in New Orleans, but I really don’t see that more than a few times, like a double-pass play (or something else that probably won’t work). And you don’t take gadget guys in Round 2. The reality is that he is here because he was the next best quarterback on the board – the rest of the draft kind of backed this up – and, after Nate Sudfeld puts in one more year of being an indentured servant, Hurts (pictured below) becomes the backup by 2021. When his rookie contract is nearing its end – 3-4 years from now – the quarterback scenario could look totally different. Maybe Wentz will be entrenched as a Top 5 guys and Hurts, with some nice play in relief appearances, will be a hot commodity to flip. However, unless they get back more than a second round pick, all they are doing to giving away a quarterback they spent time on developing for the same price they originally paid.
What I Would Have Done: In one of my mocks, I had the Eagles taking Baylor receiver Denzel Mims at No. 21. He was still there at No. 53, so you do the math. As for No. 2 quarterback, I would have brought in Joe Flacco.
Round 3 (pick 103): Yeah, I can see where outside linebacker Davion Taylor (pictured below) fits, both in terms of scheme fit and what the overall theme of their draft – speed with a side dish of smarts – comes into play here. Taylor runs in the 4.5 range, which is pretty impressive for his size (6-1, 225). He is also still developing. When I first heard he didn’t play much, if any, high school football because his religion kept him from it on Friday nights, I got excited. I thought they maybe took a Jewish guy. Then again, there are not too many black Jews from rural Mississippi. Taylor was a Seventh Day Adventist. He played other sports in high school, standing out in track, and didn’t really give football a real go until junior college. From there, it was on to Colorado, where his came into his own.
Where He Fits: Well, it was clear that Jatavis Brown was stop-gap signing for the hybrid-linebacker role Schwartz likes to deploy in his regular sub-packages, so logic would follow that Taylor learns that position while being unleashed on special teams. There is some talk about playing safety, long-term. Anything is possible, but I don’t believe it’s the plan (see fourth-round pick).
What I Would Have Done: I can appreciate the nice little back story, and certainly the fact that the arrow is pointing way up here, but one of my favorite guys in the draft – at the same position – was still on the board: Akeem Davis-Gaither (Appalachian State) and he had a full career of monster production that could have been brought to the field sooner.
Round 4 (pick 127): The Eagles had missed out on some safeties at this point, but they could have done a lot worse than – K’von Wallace (Clemson) – who was an anchor, playmaker and leader on one of the premier teams in the country. Aside from his size (5-11, 205), he checks all the boxes.
Where He Fits: This high school wildcat quarterback/receiver with extensive experience at corner in college might be one of their drafts picks best prepared to take on an active role from the jump, and certainly in some of the multi-safety packages that Schwartz likes to deploy.
What I Would Have Done: OK, from this point on, I am not second guessing. Were there guys I liked better? Yes. However, overall, the Eagles really started hitting their stride on Day 3 (pulling up their grade in the process), so we’ll go with God (or Roseman and Co.). To me, the choice of Wallace (pictured below) is when the draft starting getting onto some solid footing.
Round 4 (Pick 145): Yeah, I was screaming at the television at this point, wondering why certain players – weren’t drafted yet. The Eagles did take an Auburn offensive lineman (just not the one I wanted) here in Jack Driscoll, who transferred to the big time after starting his career at the University of Massachusetts. At 6-4 and just around 300 pounds, Driscoll played tackle but might project inside at guard in the NFL. With the track record of offensive line coach/running game coordinator Jeff Stoutland, he’s in a good hands. Moreover, Driscoll is a smart guy – earning an undergrad degree at UMass and a MBA at Auburn – so the learning curve should be crisp.
Where He Fits: Right in the mix with the likes of Matt Pryor as swing player who helps you at multiple positons, should there be an injury on game day. While his ceiling might be as an OK starter, his floor is as a quality backup. While you might hope for more in the fourth round, you could do worse than a safe bet. Driscoll (pictured below) could even project as the eventual center.
Round 5 (Pick 168): Roseman was wheeling and dealing so fast that my head was starting to spin, especially at a point in the draft where teams only have five minutes to choose. You think the Eagles are on the clock and then, suddenly, it’s three picks later and they didn’t pick. With my cell phone running low on battery power, it was immediately recharged with the selection of Boise State receiver John Hightower, a human highlight real. He’s 6-1, 190 pounds (soaking wet) and runs the 40 in the 4.4 range. In addition to exciting but raw receiving skills, he will likely be given a long look as the kick returner (the Eagles are likely to keep Reagor just with punts if they can help it).
Where He Fits: Other than an opportunity to be the kick returner, all that may be guaranteed Hightower (pictured below) out of the gate is a roster spot.
Round 6 (Pick 196): It had been since 2011 (no lie) since the Eagles drafted a player from Temple. And it’s not like the Owls haven’t had some good teams in that time, and certainly not like they haven’t seen several solid “Temple Tuff” players into the league that they could have used. The 2011 pick was Jaiquawn Jarrett, who was taken in the second round. He was an in-the-box safety who failed miserably at the wrong position (free safety). After 13 games over two seasons here, he ended up playing 34 games – starting seven – for the Jets. It’s hard to believe the Eagles felt so scarred by the experience that they would not only avoid drafting Temple products, but would avoid bringing them in as undrafted free agents (the last was quarterback Adam DiMchele in 2009). Well, all conspiracy theories about a hidden agenda (tenant-landlord issues at the Linc) can be laid to rest, as the Eagles used this pick – and wisely – on linebacker Shaun Bradley. Temple has now had as many players taken in the last five years as Florida State and more than the likes of Nebraska. It’s ultra-cool, with they are local (Bradley is from South Jersey).
Where He Fits In: Bradley (pictured below), is virtually the same player as the third-round pick, Taylor. While Taylor may be a bit more athletic, Bradley has more game acumen. It’s hard to believe the two would be battling for a roster spot, as no one like to cut draft picks, they could be battling it out for the same game-day niche while the other doesn’t dress.
Round 6 (Pick 200): There were still plenty of players I liked, and mocked, to the Eagles sitting there at this point – including receivers. One I was aware of, but hadn’t mocked, was Quez Watkins (Southern Mississippi). Upon further review, I should have. Like Hightower, he is a raw product, but his highlight reel is loaded with catches that guys on Sundays make.
Where He Fits In: There will be a lot of healthy competition at receiver. Consider it a much-needed good thing. A lot of “Iggles” fans were enamored with Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III, who ran the fastest time at the combine. Guess who ran the second fastest – at 4.28? Try Watkins (pictured below).
Round 6 (Pick 210): This might be my favorite pick of their whole draft. I mocked Auburn left tackle Prince Tega Wanagho (see pic all the way at top) to the Eagles in the second round of one of my mocks, with that the thought that he could be coached up by Stoutland to eventually be Jason Peters 2.0. That would be the ceiling. The floor? A high-level swing tackle, as he has experience on the right side, or maybe even a look at guard. It’s unclear why he went from a Day 2 pick to a late Day 3 pick. The only answer is that water on the knee at the Senior Bowl kept him on the sidelines. He came to this country from Nigeria to play basketball, but instead took to football while waiting for basketball season to start.
Where He Fits In: No need to bring back Peters – again – that’s for sure. There are whispered concerns about last year’s first-rounder, Andre Dillard, as the ultimate answer at left tackle. Tega Wenagho will be a hedge against Dillard, and a nice project for Stoutland.
Round 7 (Pick 233): For the Eagles, the opposite of Temple has been Stanford, with the most prominent being Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz. They fulfilled their Cardinal quota in the final round with Casey Toohill. At his size (6-4, 250), he would appear to a classic outside linebacker/defensive end ‘tweener who might be best suited a 3-4 defense, which the Eagles haven’t played since the Marion Campbell era, to succeed. On the plus side, he does have some athleticism and saved his best season – his first as a full-time starter – for last (8 sacks). He also finished as a finalist (as was Driscoll) for the William V. Campbell Trophy that is known as the Academic Heisman.
Where He Fits In: Since the Eagles curiously did not fill the edge rusher need earlier in the draft, instead doubling and tripling up on other areas of concerns, so Toohill (pictured below) could be positioned to play himself onto the roster as a deep reserve. Being from their favorite school doesn’t hurt, either.
Undrafted Free Agents: This one area that has consistently been strong for the Eagles, and a few names jump from this year’s group of post-draft signees:
-Cincinnati Running Back Michael Warren II
-Michigan State Defensive Tackle Raequan Williams
-Baylor cornerback Grayland Arnold
-Montana Inside Linebacker Dante Olson
Where They fit In: Warren (pictured below) was a workhorse in college and has that bowling-ball build (5-9, 225) and running style that earns a lot of guys places in the league’s running back stables. The MVP of the Military Bowl ran for more than 2,500 yards the last years and had 37 touchdowns in 38 career games. Rated as high as a fourth-round pick in some mock drafts, it is hard to say why he slid out of the draft. Sometimes teams are scared off by too much tread on the tires, or by lack of receiving skills. The Eagles only have Miles Sanders and Boston Scott locked into roster spots right now, so he would have a good shot of sticking on the roster – even if a veteran back is brought in.
Williams, like Warren, was often mocked as a solid fourth- or fifth-round pick. He played under 300 pounds but is now at 308 while standing 6-4. While the Eagles seem set at defensive tackle, he could play his way onto the team. It is believed he needs more moves, but has a pro-level bull rush.
Arnold had draft-worthy production, picking off six passes last season (including one on Hurts). However, his size (5-9, 186) and speed (4.6) may relegate him to only the slot in the NFL. However, he does have some chops as a savvy return man.
Olson has good middle linebacker size (6-2, 237) and did all he could do to play as his way onto the map, earning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Buck Buchanan honors with 179 tackles and 3.5 sacks. His 40 time (around 4.9) caused him to fall out of draft consideration.
Two others of note are Oregon State tight end Noah Togiai, who caught 102 passes for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. Even though he is 6-4 and nearly 250, blocking seems to be his weakness. Meanwhile, Elijah Riley, a corner from Army, is the primary person responsible for convincing the current president to overturn the rule preventing active service players from playing in the NFL. If he can follow orders well enough to maybe slide over to safety, he could emerge from a year on the practice squad as a helpful player in 2021.
Summary: In my Mock 1.0, I took four receivers just to prove it could be done. What do they do? Draft three and add a fourth — Marquise Goodwin (pictured below) — via a swap of draft picks with the 49ers. That’s a crowded receivers’ room, but I like that they created competition – not only there, but at several positions (including, theoretically, backup quarterback). The goal was clearly to add speed. As long as toughness and grit are not sacrificed, it is hard to argue with that. I think there is still some roster drama yet to unfold, but this – all told – was not a half-bad opening act. No Draftnik is ever going to be satisfied. Often times, we are proven right, but this isn’t about that. It’s about getting better and building an identity – in lieu of living off the fumes of the recent Super Bowl title.