Many football analysts and draftniks praised the Eagles for their five man draft haul. The Eagles made Carson Wentz’s comfort a priority with three straight offensive players to open up the draft. The Eagles used their acquired seventh round pick to trade for DT Hassan Ridgeway, and have been active in the trade market all offseason long. With the Eagles roster beginning to take shape for 2019, what can be expected from the rookies?
Andre Dillard OT, Washington State
The crown jewel of the 2019 class was always going to be the guy to help protect Carson Wentz. The Eagles addressing the offensive line early was a foregone conclusion. Dillard was regarded by many as the best pass blocking tackle in the draft. His athletic profile checks every box for a modern offensive tackle; excellent feet, great balance, and a high football IQ. Dillard will most likely start off in a low pressure situation as a backup. Jason Peter’s status as the starting left tackle isn’t much of a question, but his availability is. Peters was often periodically on the sidelines with minor ailments. He played through a torn bicep, and his toughness is undeniable, but the aging bodyguard’s body may not be able to hold up for a minimum of 16 games. Dillard may start the year as JP’s understudy, but I’d be highly surprised if he doesn’t get a handful of first-team reps at some point.
2019 Prediction: Five games played with two starts.
Miles Sanders RB, Penn State
Many Eagles fans breathed a sigh of relief when a running back got selected on Day 2. Miles Sanders filled an immediate need in the backfield. Jordan Howard will most likely receive the most carries, but after him the position was major question. The Eagles weren’t going into the 2019 season (assuming Darren Sproles retires) with Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott, Josh Adams, and Corey Clement competing for backup jobs. Sanders is capable of receiving Week 1 snaps, but will need to erase his fumbling tendencies and improve his pass protection if he wants to stick in the rotation.
Assuming he’s healthy, Corey Clement will most likely be the third-down back, which leaves Sanders with carries spelling for Jordan Howard on first and second down. His skill set compliments the Eagles’ offense well. Penn State’s offense was never under-center, and at least 99-percent of Sanders’ college rushes came from the shotgun. He’s shifty and always seems to find ways to fall forward. Sanders’ balance is outstanding. He almost always has his feet underneath him and his pads behind him. Sanders pulled in 24 catches his senior year, which will assuredly be a focal point for him in the Eagles offense. He has experience returning kicks which could turn into a way for him to get extra touches.
Miles Sanders has an NFL ready skill set and potential to evolve into a consistent three-down running back. His workload may not be much, but he’ll get his chance to prove he’ll be a productive rotation back from the start.
2019 Prediction: 63 carries 301 yards 3 touchdowns, 13 receptions 120 yards 1 touchdown
JJ Arcega-Whiteside WR, Stanford
The Eagles were widely expected to take a wide receiver early in the draft. Throughout the draft process, the Eagles were linked to speedster wide-outs like Marquise Brown and Parris Campbell. The Eagles opted for a bigger receiver known for his soft hands and ability to snag 50-50 balls. Jose Joaquin Arcega-Whiteside put himself on draft radar thanks to his ability to make tough catches. This past season in Palo Alto, JJAW pulled in 63 balls for 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns.
At six-foot-two and 225 lbs., Arcega-Whiteside has the measurables you want in a red-zone target. His ability to plant and stick his defender on his back will immediately translate to the NFL. Unnecessary basketball analogies in football is a pet peeve of mine, but JJAW literally boxes out defenders before he skies for touchdowns.
The Eagles have ample options for pass catchers. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are a lethal tight end duo that could very well combine for 150 catches in 2019. Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor will give Carson Wentz weapons at all three route levels. Arcega-Whiteside is starting out as the fifth receiving option, and that’s not accounting for a running back group that will probably catch roughly 50 passes. JJAW will most likely start the year no higher than fourth on the depth chart.
The selection of JJ Arcega-Whiteside was made with eyes towards the future, but it doesn’t mean he won’t show flashes in 2019.
2019 Prediction: 31 catches 338 yards and two touchdowns
Shareef Miller DE, Penn State
I’d like to think I wasn’t alone when I was surprised it took until the fourth round for the Eagles to add a defensive lineman. North Philly native Shareef Miller was the first defensive selection by the Eagles. Jim Schwartz and Howie Roseman can never have enough pressure generating d-linemen. Miller looks the part of a 4-3 defensive end. He’s six-foot-five and nearly 260 lbs. Miller ran a 4.69 forty and looks like a plus-athlete on the field. He’s fluid in his movements and has impressive range. There was debate whether Miller would be a 4-3 end or a 3-4 linebacker. The main caveat with Miller is he’s unpolished. Much of his success in college was due to his pure athleticism rather than technique.
A combination of lack of refinement and defensive end depth will prohibit Miller from seeing major playing time in his rookie year. The Eagles will most likely start Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, with Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat receiving the backup snaps. Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman will also be competing for time in a system that values rotations and d-line depth. Even with Chris Long looking likely for retirement, the Eagles could very well keep six defensive ends. Shareef Miller’s rookie year workload will most likely be light and he’ll be given the chance to see the field on special teams. Shareef Miller wasn’t drafted with this year in mind.
2019 Prediction: 10 tackles and one forced fumble
Clayton Thorson QB, Northwestern
The Eagles adding a quarterback shouldn’t come as a big shock. Nate Sudfeld is sought after by other NFL teams and Carson Wentz’s health has been far from perfect. The Eagles needed a little insurance at quarterback. Clayton Thorson was added to learn under Wentz and Sudfeld. He helped the Wildcats stay relevant in the B1G Ten during his collegiate career and competed in one the toughest conferences in America. Thorson threw for over 10,000 yards and 61 touchdowns during his time in Evanston. He holds the school record for completions with 991 and made 53 career starts. Thorson threw 15 interceptions during his senior season, which was second among FBS quarterbacks.
Clayton Thorson in the fifth round just feels odd. The Eagles only made five picks, and got just-value for the first four. Although Thorson is a four-year starter, I think Trace Mcsorely and Gardner Minshew in the sixth round and Tyree Jackson as an UDFA held more value respectively.
He’s the third quarterback on the roster. This isn’t a pick getting upset over, but I can’t help but think that pick could have been used elsewhere for a more immediate need. Thorson threw 15 interceptions during his senior season, which was second among FBS quarterbacks and his career completion percentage is below sixty.
I’m not trying sit here and say I know more than the Eagles’ decision makers, but there are backup quarterbacks in every draft. The fifth round pick used on Thorson could have been used on a safety, linebacker, or even another running back. I wouldn’t have hated a Jordan Mailata-esque gamble either.
I hope I’m wrong, but this pick is just blah. This selection was made with the hope Clayton Thorson doesn’t have to play. Backup quarterbacks aren’t selected to move the needle or be sexy picks, but its hard to feel any way other than neutral about Thorson as QB3.
2019 Prediction: N/A