Perhaps the best word to sum up the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2020 Draft is... bizarre.
There were plenty of surprises, picks that were interesting, mystifying and also downright maddening. Starting with their first round selection of TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor all the way through to their final selection, Stanford defensive end Casey Toohill at pick No. 233, general manager Howie Roseman, with help from coach Doug Pederson and Andy Weidl, assistant director of player personnel, the Eagles zigged when most thought they would zag.
It was a volume game for the team this year, double the picks they made last year when they had only five. Here are the 10 picks the Eagles made over the last three days:
Round 1 (No. 21 overall) — Jalen Reagor (WR) TCU
Round 2 (No. 53 overall) — Jalen Hurts (QB) Oklahoma
Round 3 (No. 103 overall) — Davion Taylor (OLB) Colorado
Round 4 (No. 127 overall) — K’Von Wallace (S) Clemson
Round 4 (No. 145 overall) — Jack Driscoll (OG) Auburn
Round 5 (No. 168 overall) — John Hightower (WR) Boise State
Round 6 (No. 196 overall) — Shaun Bradley (LB) Temple
Round 6 (No. 200 overall) — Quez Watkins (WR) Southern Miss
Round 6 (No. 210 overall) — Prince Tega Wanogho (OT) Auburn
Round 7 (No. 233 overall) — Casey Toohill (DE) Stanford
So, was this a “good” draft? Was it a horrible draft at the beginning followed by an awesome draft in the end? Was it all bad? It’s impossible to know before a single player plays a snap, but it certainly was interesting... and controversial. Here’s a very early list of my 10 thoughts on the Eagles’ draft this weekend.
A Wasted Opportunity
It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around the team’s decision to use their coveted second round pick to take a quarterback when they already have a franchise quarterback with a huge contract and so many other good options that would have helped the Eagles at positions of need.
Edge rusher AJ Epensa, WR Denzel Mims, LB Josh Uche, CB Kristian Fulton, and S Jeremy Chinn all would have been terrific additions in the second round and would have bolstered obvious weak spots on the team. Was getting a back-up QB something that needed to happen this off-season? Absolutely, but spending their second round pick on a player who, if everything breaks right the next few years never really sees the field except on gadget plays or as a runner 3-5 times a game, was a complete waste. You don’t spend a second round pick to take a back-up QB who you hope you never need and at most might play 2-4 games a year for you.
It’s hard to imagine what kind of role Hurts is going to have with the Eagles if Carson is healthy. Is Pederson really going to use both quarterbacks on the field at the same time? If so, how often does it have to happen for it to be worth it? Would it mess with Carson’s flow? Does Hurts simply play more running back? If so, was that more of a necessity than linebacker, cornerback, safety or edge rusher?
The answer is no. Howie & Co. got too smart for the room and outthought themselves. This was a blown pick, plain and simple.
Poor Carson Wentz
The other aspect of the Hurts decision is what this means for the locker room and their perception of their franchise QB Carson Wentz. Roseman can say all he wants that the addition of Hurts changes nothing about their opinion of Wentz, the guy they just signed to a huge deal last off-season, but it’s fair to wonder if they truly have their wagons hitched to him at this point. And it’s fair for the players in the locker room to wonder that, too.
When Nick Foles left the Eagles, the thought was that this was now Carson’s team. The departure of Malcolm Jenkins this off-season seemed to confirm that the Eagles wanted to make this even more Wentz’ locker room. Now, if Wentz has a bad few weeks, there will be some in the fanbase who will call for Hurts (maybe not this year but next year for sure).
Why do this? Why not just go out and sign a veteran back-up quarterback, like you did with Foles prior to the 2017 season, and give Carson the weapons he needs to make the offense dangerous and fortify a defense with obvious holes? Why not just surround Wentz with as much talent as possible, like the Denver Broncos did in drafting Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler for a much worse quarterback, Drew Lock?
And let’s not kid ourselves, the Eagles are not a QB factory. Outside of Wentz, who have they turned into a great quarterback? Nate Sudfeld? Clayton Thorson? You could argue Foles I suppose, but he showed flashes of being very good when he was in Chip Kelly’s offense and has only been good when playing in Philadelphia. Wentz was a No. 2 pick that they moved heaven and earth to get. He wasn’t “developed.” This is not some factory churning out highly productive QB widgets ad nauseam. The whole thing muddies the Wentz waters and creates a controversy just at the time when it seemed the controversy was finally put to bed.
The Eagles Got Faster
One of Roseman’s stated goals heading into the draft was to add some speed to his team, and if nothing else, no other team in the league is going to beat his draft picks in a foot race. The team identified Reagor as their man seemingly early on in the process and stuck with it, unwilling to deal their second round pick to move up to No. 16 and try to draft Alabama’s CeeDee Lamb ahead of Dallas. Reagor had a down season numbers-wise last year, but much of that was due to pretty bad QB play, and he is the type of field-stretching burner fans said they wanted. But Reagor’s not the only guy with speed to burn.
Third round pick Taylor ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine and was a state champion sprinter. Hightower ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and also has a track record as a sprinter. Finally, Quez Watkins ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine. The Eagles have been a team that plodded along on offense in recent seasons and struggled to keep up with more athletic teams on defense. The mandate was to add team speed and they clearly met that goal this weekend.
Wide Receiver Crazy
We knew the Eagles were going to focus on wide receivers in this draft, but I don’t think most thought they would use three of their 10 picks on wideouts. It’s the first time since 1990 that the team took three wide receivers in a single draft, when they took Mike Bellamy in Round 2, Fred Barnett in Round 3 and Calvin Williams in Round 5. Reagor is the headliner, and the youngster out of TCU needs to make an impact in his rookie season, unlike last year’s second round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside. If the Eagles get anything out of Hightower, the first of their two fifth-rounders, or Watkins, a sixth-rounder, they should consider themselves lucky. Roseman also traded for another burner, former 49ers wideout Marquise Goodwin, in a swap of sixth round picks, a player who has a ton of speed but missed most of last year with knee and foot issues and has been inconsistent throughout his career.
What does this influx of new legs at wideout mean for the returning group? Clearly, DeSean Jackson is going to be on this team this year. Greg Ward has also seemingly earned a spot in the slot. What about Arcega-Whiteside? Is he going to have to earn a roster spot in camp later this year? Will Alshon Jeffery start the season on the PUP list to make room for the draftees? Does he get released or traded? Lots of unanswered questions lie ahead.
14 WRs on the Eagles’ roster— Brandon Lee Gowton: Quarterback Factory (@BrandonGowton) April 25, 2020
Linebacker Help, But Probably Not This Year
The Eagles are hoping that late bloomer Davion Taylor has a lot more game lurking within him. Their third round pick from Colorado didn’t play any high school football because, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, he was not allowed to play sports from Friday night through Sunday morning. It’s clear the Eagles needed help at linebacker, with Duke Riley, T.J. Edwards and Nate Gerry tentatively scheduled to be the starting ‘backers for the Eagles this year, but it might be asking a lot for him to make an impact on defense right away. He’ll likely start on special teams as the coaching staff tries to teach him more about the game he didn’t actually start playing competitively until he was 18. This is a boom-or-bust pick, one in which you’re relying on your coaching staff to coach up a player with a tremendous skill set.
In the sixth round, the Eagles took Shaun Bradley, a terrifying name if you’ve been familiar with Philadelphia sports at all in the last 30 years. The Temple product was a productive linebacker for the Owls who should make an impact on special teams to start, but I’m unconvinced either player is going to do much to help an unproven linebacking corps.
The Next Dawkins ... Or Jenkins?
Not really, but with the first of their fourth round picks, the Eagles grabbed a safety from the same school that produced Brian Dawkins, K’Von Wallace out of Clemson. The Eagles have Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod penciled in as starters, and Wallace projects as more of a blitz-type, in-the-box strong safety who can tackle and play a pseudo-linebacker position when the team goes into the nickel. Sounds like a Malcolm Jenkins replacement to me!
When the season starts, it’s likely Mills and McLeod who will be your starting safeties, but of all the rookies outside of Reagor, Wallace could have more of an impact in 2020 than any other draft pick the Eagles selected this year.
Offensive Line Depth
The Eagles didn’t go out and find a potential replacement for center Jason Kelce, who annually hints at retirement like an aging cop who’s “getting too old for this s**t”. One of these seasons, he will, and for the moment, the likely scenario is to slide Isaac Seumalo to center. When that happens, it will leave a hole at left guard, and with the versatile Halapoulivaati Vaitai now in Detroit, the Eagles had to find someone in the draft to add to the offensive line rotation.
Enter Auburn guard Jack Driscoll, who played tackle in college but could switch to guard in the NFL. He can play on the left or right side and could serve the Vaitai role as early as his rookie season. The Eagles’ plan at the moment appears to have Andre Dillard at left tackle (after numerous reports surfaced suggesting the Eagles were trying to trade him ahead of the draft), with Seumalo at guard, Kelce at center, Brandon Brooks at right guard and Lane Johnson at right tackle. That’s still a solid offensive line, with Driscoll being coached up by the best offensive line coach in the game in Jeff Stoutland.
A Nigerian Prince
But Driscoll will not be Stoutland’s only pupil. Whatever scout the Eagles sent to Auburn to look at offensive lineman must have really been sold that day because the Birds took Driscoll’s teammate, Prince Tega Wanogho, a native of Nigeria who had some medical issues that caused his stock to drop. He’s another player who came to the game late and will need some coaching in the pros, but some analysts believed he could have gone as high as the third round if his medicals hadn’t scared people off, so getting him in the sixth round could pay huge dividends. This is the type of pick an NFL GM should be making late in a draft — a guy with big upside and lots of room to grow into a starting left tackle in the NFL.
Upside Over Production
It’s pretty clear the Eagles were using their massive quantity of picks, 10 in all, to add players with raw physical tools who were generally unpolished. The idea is simple: if you have two runners and they both run about the same speed but one of them has terrible form and the other has perfect form, you take the runner with the terrible form because if you teach him the proper way to run, he’s going to be even better.
In recent drafts, they’ve preferred polished college players who filled up the stat sheet, but that philosophy hasn’t gotten them very far. Taking high upside project guys who could flame out is a smart tactic, especially on Day 3. That being said, you can’t rely on these projects to give you anything in their rookie seasons. Patience is going to be required. The good news is, we Philadelphia fans are renowned for our patience.
Get Some Help
All in all, this was a mystifying draft for Howie Roseman. I truly do not know what he was thinking with the Hurts pick. It’s a potential killer, especially if the projects the Eagles took on Day 3 don’t pan out. Not using that second rounder to go get CeeDee Lamb and then watching the Cowboys snag him was especially tough, and by choosing Reagor over Jefferson, Roseman has set himself up to be second guessed forever if Jefferson proves to be the more productive NFL player.
Overall, it was an unsatisfying draft for me. The Eagles may have landed themselves a diamond in the rough or two late, and we’ll see about Reagor and Taylor. There are optimists trying to spin the Hurts pick into something positive — good luck with that. Unless the Eagles managed to pluck a star from somewhere in Round 4 or later, this draft is largely going to be evaluated based on what they did on Thursday and Friday.
Are the Eagles better now than they were at the end of the season? Probably. Was it enough to keep up with the Dallas Cowboys, who by all accounts were universally praised for their draft? Was it enough to help Carson Wentz maintain his stature as the team’s franchise QB? I have my doubts.