The Philadelphia Eagles selected Elijah Qualls with their final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about the new Eagles defensive tackle (and fullback?), I reached out to SB Nation's Washington site: UW Dawg Pound. Huskies writer Chris Landon was kind enough to answer my questions about Qualls.
1) Can you sum up what his college career was like?
Elijah had star written across his forehead from the moment he committed to UW - which in and of itself was a spectacular event involving several other commits making their pledges on a day that Qualls himself masterminded.
Qualls followed a career progression that one would expect for a defensive tackle. He redshirted his first year under Sark and then became a major part of the rotation as a reserve DT his freshman year. His breakout occurred during his sophomore campaign when he finally had the opportunity to emerge from behind the daunting shadow of Cleveland Browns first round pick Danny Shelton. He racked up 4.5 sacks that year from primarily a DT role despite missing three games and parts of others to injury. He came into his junior year as the face of a very stout UW defensive line. The emergence of a few other young DTs allowed Qualls the opportunity to demonstrate his versatility by lining up in several positions throughout the season.
2) What are his strengths?
Qualls is not your average big guy - and he is big. He is astonishingly athletic - he was more than once seen ripping off standing back flips in front of gawking onlookers. That athleticism, enabled by a phenomenally strong base, allowed Qualls to deliver a hefty initial punch after each snap. His quickness then allowed him to put blockers in odd positions and, more often than not, ended up demanding a double team. This attribute makes him an exceptional run defender. He's a strong and slippery d-lineman who has the versatility to play three downs at the next level.
3) What are his weaknesses?
Qualls is a shorter d-lineman than what is ideal. Longer offensive lineman can neutralize him with reach. In addition, Qualls has been known to "take a few plays off" - though I think this is more about conditioning than effort. He's never going to be a sack guy.
4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?
Most projections that I saw had Qualls going higher, so I suppose I'm a bit surprised that he was available so late. I suspect that if he had believed he could fall past the fourth round, he might not have declared. However, even with great tape and setting the bench press standard at the combine for DTs, you can't easily get around his height and arm length limitations.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
Qualls is going to make the team, health permitting. I suspect that he'll end up being one of those guys that will be always in the rotation and always in the middle of something good happening, even if he's not getting the recognition. His style of play just seems to open opportunities for his teammates.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
I think Eagle fans are going to love Qualls. He's a gregarious kid who is a natural leader. He comes from a very tough background but benefited from people in his life reaching out and helping him along. As such, he is a pay-it-forward kind of guy who people just seem to rally around.
Here’s an awesome video of Qualls running over people as a running back in high school.