The Philadelphia Eagles signed undrafted rookie free agent center Luke Juriga following the 2020 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to SB Nation’s Mid-American Conference blog: Hustle Belt. Western Michigan Broncos writer Steve Helwick was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
Luke Juriga didn’t miss a single start in his four years at Western Michigan — 52 games, 52 starts (38 at right guard, 14 at center). Juriga’s redshirt freshman season was the most memorable in Western Michigan history. He started all 14 games at right guard for the Broncos in a historic 13-1 campaign where they ran the table in the regular season and qualified for their first New Year’s Six bowl. Although Western Michigan’s team success peaked during his freshman year, Juriga accomplished great things individually from 2017-19. At right guard as a sophomore, he landed a spot on the All-MAC Second Team. In 2018 as a right guard and in 2019 as a center, Juriga took his accolades to the next level with First Team All-MAC bids.
Juriga learned under talented offensive linemen in his time in Kalamazoo. Three Western Michigan linemen were drafted during his tenure — Willie Beavers in the 2016 fourth round, Taylor Moton in the 2017 second round, and Chukwuma Okorafor in the 2018 third round. In the past five years, Western Michigan’s rushing attack saw plenty of daylight with talented run blockers manning the trenches. But even after elite talent departed, Juriga held down the fort in 2019, paving the way for his running back LeVante Bellamy to rank first in the country in rushing touchdowns with 23 and 10th with 1,472 yards.
2) What are his strengths?
Juriga possesses great speed compared to most guards and centers. At center, he was adept at transitioning from snapping the ball to a strong block in an instant. Juriga especially excels in the run blocking department, and Western Michigan’s running backs enjoyed sustained success in the interior from 2016-19. His ability to drive not only one, but several assignments out of the play makes life easier for running backs. Ask LeVante Bellamy, who saw plenty of clear lanes while rushing for an FBS-best nine touchdowns of 35+ yards last season.
Two additional pluses Juriga brings to the table are reliability and durability, as evidenced by his First Team All-Conference success at both guard and center, as well as never missing a start in four years at Western Michigan.
3) What are his weaknesses?
Juriga is an all-around strong interior lineman, but I think he could make his skillset more dangerous by improving his pass-blocking skills. His footwork is noticeably better when driving forward on blocks in the run game than when backpedaling in pass protection. Along with making strides in pass blocking, adding a burst of athleticism to his game will make him a more complete player when facing more explosive defensive linemen in the NFL.
4) Are you surprised he went undrafted?
Not exactly, and it’s not Juriga’s fault. I thought there was a strong chance if he received an NFL Combine invite. Juriga played in the East-West Shrine Game in January, which assists prospects in boosting their draft stock and acquainting themselves with NFL scouts. But when universities were forced to cancel their pro days in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it stacked the odds against those who had not already showcased their skills in a combine/pro day setting. Missing out on those networking opportunities with NFL teams doomed so many potential draft picks too.
But regardless, plenty of linemen keep their NFL dreams alive after being snubbed on draft weekend. For instance, Juriga’s college teammate — former Western Michigan center John Keenoy — was undrafted in 2019 and recently landed an NFL roster spot in Pittsburgh.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
It’s always difficult to project an undrafted free agent’s career, because there’s no guarantee they’ll be on the roster of the team that signed them out of college. But I think Juriga has the tools to be on an NFL roster come September. It appears Eagles plan to utilize fourth round pick Jack Driscoll at right guard behind Brandon Brooks, so Juriga may be buried in a talented depth chart from the start. But he’s talented enough to remain a commodity in the NFL, and I see his career playing out similar to a pair of fellow undrafted Eagles linemen — Nate Herbig and Keegan Render. Juriga’s rookie year should either be spent on a practice squad like Render or shadowing behind a veteran right guard, similar to Herbig. But next May, he’ll remain an NFL player one step closer to receiving the opportunity all draft picks and free agents await.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
His father Jim Juriga was a fourth round pick by the Denver Broncos in 1986 and started Super Bowl XXIV at guard.
Also, Luke is a four-time Academic All-MAC honoree and three-time MAC Distinguished Scholar, with a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology.
Speaking of manufacturing engineering, Juriga is a skilled woodworker. On his Instagram profile @built_by_juriga, you can see the impressive structures he has crafted over the years. He’s clearly an expert in his field, building a variety of objects including benches, doors, skateboards, spoons, and barrels. My personal favorite is his home bar setup, dubbed “The 8th OT” in reference to Western Michigan’s 71-68 win in seven overtimes against Buffalo in 2017.
BLG’s take: The Eagles paid Juriga the highest guarantee out of their 13 UDFA signings. He’s a solid bet to at least make the practice squad. With Jason Kelce potentially retiring after the 2020 season, Philly needs to think about the future of their center position. 2019 undrafted rookie free agent signing Nate Herbig and Juriga are competing to be successors to Kelce’s throne.