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Evaluating the Eagles’ trenches

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Fireside Chats #16 w/special guest Brandon Thorn!

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If you believe the cliché, NFL games are won, or lost, in the trenches. As such, it’s concerning that the Philadelphia Eagles enter the 2020 season with questions on both the offensive and defensive lines.

There’s few people I trust more with trench play evaluation than Brandon Thorn of Establish the Run, the Trench Warfare podcast, and The Scouting Academy. Whenever I have a question about a specific play, he’s the guy I reach out to knowing I’ll get a detailed breakdown. Thorn has worked with the gentleman from the yearly OL Masterminds summit, tapping into the knowledge from the best in the business, so he was an obvious choice to talk trench play with on Fireside Chats #16.

In his yearly rankings for Establish the Run, Thorn ranked the Eagles offensive line as the 12th best in the league, with the defensive line’s pass rushing unit checking in at 6th.

I’m less concerned with rankings as I am with having more detailed discussions about these units, especially with an evaluator like Thorn at my disposal. With that in mind we focused on a variety of trench players with the following quotes coming from Thorn...

On Jason Peters’ transition to guard...

“If I go back over the course of the past 10 to 15 years or so, if you give me one left tackle at 38 years old who could possibly do this, I think Peters might be the first or second choice...

I think it’s either going to go really well or really bad, and I don’t really think there’s any middle ground here...”

Thorn also noted that we may know right away if Peters can hold up with the opening slate of defensive tackles he’ll be facing. Washington boasts Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis on the inside for the season opener. Aaron Donald comes to town in Week 2. Geno Atkins and DJ Reader of the Bengals are no slouches. Follow that up in Week 4 with a stud like Arik Armstead and first round pick Javon Kinlaw from the 49ers. It’s a tough slate that should reveal a lot about Peters ability to transition.

On Andre Dillard’s second year hopes...

“I thought he needed some time for a couple different reasons. Adjusting to the level of competition I thought was major... he needed just to work on his body a little bit, get stronger... and work on a little bit of technique transitioning to his anchor...

He didn’t look great, but I still think that there’s enough there, as long as his confidence is right... and he’s right mentally, I still think he has all the tools, the traits to develop here and be a solid player...

I think he’s going to take some lumps early on... For the long term sake of the franchise I think that being patient with him is probably smart...”

To start the show I played a clip of me and Thorn talking before the 2019 NFL Draft. We were lower on Dillard than the consensus in our thinking that he should ideally be selected in the 25-40 pick range, even though we knew that wasn’t likely to happen. His rookie struggles and the reasons for them were no surprise to us, and his second and third years were always going to tell the bigger story.

On the plus side, on that show we said landing with a coach like Jeff Stoutland would make us feel much more comfortable with his second and third year projection.

On Isaac Seumalo being underrated...

“I think the arrow’s pointing up... he has a chance to be in tier 3 and be an above average guard... Last year was his first year starting all 16 games... He’s already at a place where he’s definitely solid and he’s well rounded too... With his age, with his relative inexperience, and assuming he’s going to gain more of it... I expect him to get better with time.”

Seumalo might represent the best value for a player not on his rookie deal after signing a three-year extension last off-season. If he can put together another solid season, that’ll be two years of competent starting play for an average cap hit of only $2M per year.

On Jason Kelce staying elite...

“Just the functional strength and power isn’t quite at his peak level, but it’s still good and I think he’s an elite player overall. I expect him to be elite this year... when he’s healthy I still think the things that he offers in the run game are special, that they’re kind of unmatched...

He’s so quick to process things and keeps things together on the inside... I need to see more of a drop off before I regard him as anything less than elite.”

Kelce has played through a litany of injuries in the past couple of years but has still maintained an incredibly high level of play. I hope he plays forever, as replacing him is a frightening prospect.

On Lane Johnson being the glue...

“He beats most competition handily and then when he goes against elite guys I think he wins more often than not... He’s the best player on the line right now. He’s the most valuable piece and he’s kind of what keeps everything together at this point, even maybe a little bit moreso than Kelce in some ways.”

We saw what happened to the Eagles line when Johnson was out last year and that, along with his elite level of play, makes his 4-year, $72M extension all the more logical.

We dig more into the offensive line, defensive line, and individual players (Javon Hargrave love!) on Fireside Chats #16! Listen on the media player below or click here if the player doesn’t load. New to podcasts?! Check out our guide on how to listen and subscribe to BGN! FLY EAGLES FLY!