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2019 NFL Draft Grades: Eagles are loading up on weapons for Carson Wentz

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What they’re saying about Philly’s Day 2 picks.

Stanford v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles selected Miles Sanders at No. 53 overall and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at No. 57 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. There was thought the team might trade down and/or take a defensive player with at least one of their picks but instead the Eagles are loading up on offensive talent.

Now it’s time to see how the so-called “experts” have graded these selections. Draft grades are hardly the ultimate determination of whether a pick is actually good or not, but it’s still interesting to see what non-Eagles fans are saying about the selection.

But before we do that, let’s look at how Eagles fans reacted to the picks here at Bleeding Green Nation. With just over 3,700 votes cast, 89% of Eagles fans are giving the Sanders selection either an “A” or “B” grade.

I’ll give the Sanders pick a “B” grade.

Some things I do like about the Sanders pick:

  • The Eagles FINALLY drafted a talented running back. They’re no longer going overboard in neglecting the position.
  • Sanders has low mileage after only logging 308 total touches in three years at Penn State.
  • Sanders fits the Eagles’ need for a back who can make defenders miss and is able to contribute as a pass catcher.
  • Sanders can be the 1A in the Eagles’ running back rotation but he doesn’t necessarily need to carry the ground game right away with Jordan Howard in the fold.
  • Sanders is only 21 and might have some untapped potential after being used in a limited role in college. There’s some thought he could end up being the best back from this class.
  • Sanders has a strong athletic profile:

Some things I don’t like about the Sanders pick:

  • Ball security issues. Sanders had five fumbles in 2018.
  • Sanders gets knocked for poor vision and struggles in pass protection. These issues, combined with the fumbling thing, remind me of why Wendell Smallwood can be so frustrating. Sanders is better than Smallwood but, still, this line from Thor Nystrom sums up my concern with this pick: “If Sanders hits his ceiling, he’s going to become one of the best backs in this class — perhaps even the very best. If it turns out that this is just sort of who he is, then he’ll be a solid-enough committee guy, eminently replaceable.” You don’t take a running back at No. 53 overall to be “Just A Guy.” There’s pressure on Sanders to produce at a fairly high level.
  • Sanders only ranked 13th among draft eligible running backs in yards after contact per attempt, per Pro Football Focus.
  • The downside to Sanders’ low usage is that’s there isn’t a huge track record of production and experience.

Now let’s take a look at how Eagles fans are grading the JJAW pick. With just under 4,200 votes cast, only 65% are giving the pick a “B” grade or better.

I’ll give the JJAW pick a B-.

Some things I do like about the JJAW pick:

  • The Eagles are loading up on weapons for Carson Wentz. That’s always nice to see. Investing in offense in general is a good philosophy. It’s no coincidence the top four offenses in the NFL (Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, Rams) were all playing in the Conference Championship Games this year.
  • JJAW is absolute beast at the catch point. Ever since Terrell Owens entered my life, I’ve always had a soft spot for big guys who look unguardable on jump balls.
  • The Eagles have a lot of size with JJAW, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and even Mack Hollins. Their red zone efficiency could improve in 2019 after dropping to 17th last season.
  • JJAW can potentially replace Jeffery down the road. Jeffery has a near $16 million cap number in 2020 and can be cut to save just over $10 million. To be clear, I’m not rushing Jeffery out the door. Just saying the option will be there.
  • The Eagles have talked about how they believe wide receiver is a position that really takes time to learn in the NFL. JJAW won’t immediately be forced into a huge role.

Some things I don’t like about the JJAW pick:

  • Not perfectly sure how JJAW fits into this offense. Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor are the current projected starters. Does Agholor get traded? There’s been buzz that he’s available but Howie Roseman downplayed that idea on Friday night. How much playing time does JJAW get if Agholor stays?
  • JJAW reportedly ran in the 4.4’s and actually ranked 11th in explosive players in 2018 but there are questions how his play speed will translate to the NFL.
  • It felt like the Eagles had the most tackleable offense in the NFL last year. Too many guys who can’t make stuff happen with the ball in their hands. JJAW is another guy who isn’t going to get this team YAC.
  • Speaking of translation issues, how much will JJAW be able to rely on catching jump balls in the NFL?
  • The Eagles weren’t able to trade down and acquire more picks ... or address their defense at all so far.
  • It’s going to be annoying to type out JJAW’s full name at times. Will no one think of the bloggers?! Also: how are we pronouncing JJAW out loud? Jay jaw? Jay jay ay doubleyou? You have to be concerned JJAW doesn’t pass the Jack Fritz name test.

Now for more hot takes and draft grades from “experts” around the web.

ESPN (Winners)

When I had to pick my “favorite” prospects in this class at every position -- regardless of ranking -- I chose Sanders as my running back and Arcega-Whiteside as my receiver. And the Eagles got them both at the end of Round 2. Sanders has some explosion, can play on third downs and has limited tread on his tires after sitting behind Saquon Barkley for two years. He could complement Jordan Howard’s skill set and help in the receiving game. The 6-foot-2 Arcega-Whiteside is like a basketball player in the red zone, boxing out corners to snag touchdowns. He had 28 career scores. He also ran a 4.49 at his pro day, so he can be a really good No. 2 receiver. Now, what does this mean for Nelson Agholor’s future in Philly?

The Athletic (A- and B for Sanders; B and B- for JJAW)

Sanders:

There’s definitely a projection here. Sanders had just 276 carries in college, but that could also be seen as a positive. He doesn’t come into the league with a lot of wear and tear. Running back was the Eagles’ biggest need on offense coming into the draft, and they filled it with a well-rounded player who has some upside. Sanders should provide an immediate upgrade, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t take over the starting role from Jordan Howard. I think this move made plenty of sense.

[...]

It should be clear, though, that the expectations are high for Sanders in Philadelphia. Roseman was not shy about comparing him to LeSean McCoy. He should be considered the heavy favorite to lead the Eagles in rushing in 2019 and it will be a disappointment if he doesn’t play out his rookie contract as the team’s lead back.

JJAW:

It’s totally reasonable to wonder whether the Eagles should have targeted a wide receiver with more upside — such as Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf or Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin — but they clearly liked Arcega-Whiteside better. They also could have found value at a different position with someone such as defensive tackle Trysten Hill, safety Juan Thornhill or defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones. And the pick comes with some question marks. Is Arcega-Whiteside’s skill set duplicative with the players they have like Jeffery on Goedert? And will Carson Wentz trust him enough to throw him 50-50 balls? In the end, I really like the player but probably would have liked the value more if they’d gotten Arcega-Whiteside in the third round or later after a trade back.

[...]

At first blush, his skill set is somewhat duplicative with Jeffery, Ertz and Goedert. Throw in Mack Hollins, if you can remember what it was like to see him on the field. Arcega-Whiteside’s greatest skill is making contested catches, which is an iffy projection in terms of translating to the NFL. Even though he ran a faster-than-expected 4.49-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, he does not really help solve the Eagles’ lack of spacing that stagnated the offense in 2018. One wonders whether the Chiefs’ selection of Mecole Hardman, who visited the Eagles on a top 30 pre-draft visit, sniped the Eagles’ target at No. 57. Arcega-Whiteside’s addition is a show of faith from the front office that Wentz won’t be as trigger-shy as he was last season in trying to throw balls into tight windows.

NFL.com (A)

The Eagles decided not to pick Alabama RB Josh Jacobs in the first round, but they got the second-best back in the draft in the second round. Sanders will be an impact back who could see his role grow quickly with Jordan Howard due to become a free agent after the 2019 season. Arcega-Whiteside will be a red-zone stud and general safety valve for Carson Wentz. Expect the Eagles to go defense with their limited Day 3 selections (two picks).

Bleacher Report (B for Sanders, A- for JJAW)

Sanders was Saquon Barkley’s rarely used backup for two seasons before coming into his own with 1,274 rushing yards last season. He has quick feet, swively hips and excellent cutback ability, which led to some video-game-caliber highlights. He also lost a critical fumble against Ohio State and three others during the season, and there are some significant holes in his game: He’ll often make one move too many or bounce outside when he doesn’t have to, and his receiving experience is almost exclusively limited to screens and flare passes. Sanders tested extremely well at the combine, and there’s a chance his ball security will improve and he will become a more versatile receiver. If the Eagles are getting the guy on the highlight reel, this is a steal. If not, Sanders should at least produce a few big plays in a rotation with Jordan Howard and running into six-man defensive fronts on RPOs.

Arcega-Whiteside lacks deep speed and suddenness, though he is just quick-footed enough to beat defenders to his position off the release, making him a useful possession receiver. He catches the ball away from his body well. He looks like he should be effective as a blocker but isn’t super physical or alert when working downfield on runs or screens. Arcega-Whiteside looks more like an H-back or small tight end than a receiver, but he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, so he should have the speed to get separation against NFL cornerbacks. This pick, combined with the Miles Sanders selection earlier in the round, significantly reshape the Eagles offense. Arcega-Whiteside is going to be a matchup headache near the end zone, and it will be fun to see what else Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz can do with his unique battery of skills.

DraftWire (B for Sanders; B for JJAW)

Another receiver not named D.K. Metcalf comes off the board. Getting more weapons for Carson Wentz is a priority, and this is one of the best red-zone targets in the draft.

After seeing one running back go in the first round, we finally get another one. Sanders is one of the most complete backs in this year’s class, and he’s well worth a second-rounder.

Another receiver not named D.K. Metcalf comes off the board. Getting more weapons for Carson Wentz is a priority, and this is one of the best red-zone targets in the draft.

CBS Sports (A for Sanders; B+ for JJAW)

I give this an A grade, you know why? You draft a running back in the second round and it’s okay, you can get away with that. Not in the first round, second round is fine. One-year wonder, right? He only played one year behind Saquon Barkley. That’s okay when you are a running back, there’s no wear and tear.

I think there were better options on the field. He didn’t play to that speed. When you watched him on tape you say he’s a big, physical guy but he doesn’t run that well, well he did run that well. I worry when guys don’t play to their speed.

Sports Illustrated (A for Sanders; B for JJAW)

In 2017 Philly had a deep backfield and the NFL’s most expansive ground game. That changed last year, and now we’re seeing the correction. Jordan Howard, an excellent all-around zone runner, was acquired for a conditional sixth round pick that can rise to a fifth. And he’ll eventually take a back seat to Sanders, a smooth, patient three-down back who has the lateral agility to create his own space.

A steady possession target is just the thing for an Eagles offense that found its much-needed speed in free agent signing DeSean Jackson but was looking for receiver depth and a possible replacement for Nelson Agholor, who has long been rumored to be on the trading block (and whose contract expires after this year).