With the 2021 NFL Draft firmly in the Eagles’ rearview mirror, I’m going to fire off some takes about how the last few days have transpired for the Birds:
The Eagles did the right thing on Day 1
It’s something I harped on during the entire lead-up to the draft: don’t overthink it. Don’t go full galaxy brain. Don’t try to be the smartest person in the world. Don’t zig for the sake of zigging. Just draft the guy who freaking balls out.
Howie Roseman did just that when he made a small trade to move up and select reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. The former Alabama wideout is the rare high-floor, high-ceiling player who should be an immediate contributor from Week 1 on and who can be among the best receivers in the league by the end of his rookie contract.
I came into the draft nauseous with pessimistic anxiety, but the Eagles delivered me one hell of a Thursday night when they brought Smith to Philly.
Eagles fans deserve this.
The Eagles are still building through the trenches
Amidst the storm of fans who wanted the Eagles to draft Smith, conventional wisdom said that the Eagles would opt for a lineman. Before this weekend, the Eagles had used 12 of their 18 first-round picks in the 21st century on guys who played in the trenches. They diverted from that path and grabbed Smith.
Just because the Eagles didn’t select a lineman in Round 1, however, doesn’t mean that philosophical approach is over. It still rages on. On Day 2, the Eagles grabbed ‘Bama OL Landon Dickerson and Louisiana Tech DT Milton Williams. Dickerson is an oft-injured, but uber-talented player. Williams is undersized, but can bench press a house and had absurd athletic testing. It’s not wishing on a star to hope these dudes pan out. The Eagles are banking on it.
The franchise hopes to hit on sixth-round lottery ticket defensive linemen Marlon Tuipulotu out of USC and Tarron Jackson out of Coastal Carolina too.
The talk of the Eagles’ organizational dysfunction isn’t going away
In the third round, the Eagles traded from the 70th pick to the 73rd pick with Carolina, picking up a sixth along the way, which they used on Jackson. Whether it was because of players they missed out on while moving down or the selection of Milton Williams outright, Eagles senior advisor Tom Donahoe didn’t seem thrilled about it, as evident by this video that has made waves on social media:
Howie Roseman's reaction after Tom Donahoe wanted no part of his celebratory fist bumps. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/BN6cEhZZy2— Audacy Sports (@AudacySports) May 1, 2021
Look, no team is going to have a consensus on every pick. That happens. For a franchise under fire for its front office politics, however, this is a terrible look. It reflects poorly on both Roseman and Donahoe, who is more than a mere scout. Donahoe has been with the Eagles since 2012, served as the general manager for the successful Steelers teams of the ‘90s, and is responsible for VP of Player Personnel Andy Weidl being with the organization.
This is just another example of everyone in the NovaCare not being on the same page.
Milton Williams is amped to be in the NFL
Another thing that also came from the reaction to the Williams pick was much more heartfelt. The official Eagles Twitter account posted this clip of Roseman and Nick Sirianni calling and speaking to Williams after the selection:
Pure emotion.@miltonw_12 | #EaglesDraft— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) May 1, 2021
: NFLN/Draft-A-Thon on @NFL pic.twitter.com/fzkciVvPO8
You can hear the emotion swell in Williams’ voice here. He was getting choked up. I was getting choked up while watching it yesterday. I’m getting choked up now while writing this!
Williams is the exact player I wanted the Eagles to take in the third round. I’m all-in on the pick and all-in on this dude after that video.
The Eagles still don’t value linebacker highly
The chatter surrounding the idea that the Eagles would heavily invest in linebacker came because of new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Gannon, bringing a post-Mike Zimmer scheme with him, saw defenses in Minnesota and Indianapolis succeed with top-tier talent at LB. The thought that the Eagles would go for a linebacker on the first two days of the draft because of Gannon now feels misguided.
The Eagles were going to change a two-decade outlook on a position because of a 38-year-old, first-time defensive coordinator? It doesn't stack up in hindsight.
This is still a team that prioritizes the defensive line first and foremost. Gannon had to know that when coming in here and maybe he even believes that himself to a degree. Hell, you could see how elated Gannon was in that Williams reaction video, celebrating like Steve Ballmer when Windows 95 dropped.
Kenneth Gainwell: honorary From Here guy
During the pre-draft process, I didn’t even spend a ton of time looking at Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell (he now wants to be called Kenny) because I assumed he’d be gone by the late second round or early third round and the Birds wouldn’t even be in a position to take him.
Getting Gainwell with the 150th pick was a steal and the reasons for that go beyond just the playing field. The dude grew up an Eagles fan!
Grew up an @Eagles fan— Kenneth Gainwell19 (@KENNETHGAINWEL) May 1, 2021
Dream come true! #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/PzJXGKNykK
Gainwell loved Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick growing up. He was a fan of the Birds even before his cousin, All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, came to Philly:
Kenny Gainwell says he was an Eagles fan growing up even before his cousin, Fletcher Cox, was on the team. He really liked Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) May 1, 2021
Gainwell is a supremely skilled back who I am now designating an honorary From Here guy.
The Eagles are recreating the Colts’ backfield setup
In 2020, the Colts used three different runnings back that had 96 offensive touches: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins. As Nick Sirianni brings some of those Indianapolis ways to Philly, it’s starting to look like the Colts’ running back situation is one he may replicate.
With Miles Sanders taking the place of Taylor as the feature back, Gainwell can fill the Hines role. Gainwell is more Austin Ekeler than Hines to me, but he fits that mold. Hines had 63 catches out of the backfield last season. While at Memphis, Gainwell had 51 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2019 while also spending some time lined up as a slot receiver.
The addition of Gainwell will keep Sanders fresher, and better, as the 2021 season goes along. Don’t discount Giants killer Boston Scott from having a big game or two either, as Eagles fans know well.
The Eagles have faith in Jalen Hurts... for now
In trading down from the sixth to the 12th pick in the first round, the Eagles signaled that they were likely going to roll with Jalen Hurts as QB1 for 2021. As Draft Day came and Justin Fields fell down the board, the Eagles were in the position to grab a quarterback oozing with talent but opted to select Smith to pair with Hurts.
The Eagles are hesitant to commit to Hurts long term, but he will be put in a position to succeed this upcoming season with the additions of Smith and Gainwell, plus guys like Sanders and Dallas Goedert already in Philly.
Hurts is the man this year, but that boatload of early picks in 2022 remains the Eagles' lifeline in case they don’t like what they see from Jalen in the fall.
The Cowboys don’t know how to build a roster
The Eagles made a deal with the devil in order to leap the Giants and select DeVonta Smith in the first round.
In trading back down, Dallas selected off-ball linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th pick. It might upset some resident Penn State fans, but I love that fit in the worst possible way. Going into the draft, my dream was for Dallas to only come away with that archetype of player. The Cowboys then used a fourth-round selection on Jabril Cox, a linebacker many had pegged as a Day 2 talent.
Dallas going to run a 4-5-2 defense like a pee-wee football team?
I feel better about the Eagles’ chances of smashing the Cowboys this year now than I did before the weekend started.
The Eagles continue to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft
With three potential first-round picks coming next spring, the Eagles also picked up a 2022 fifth-round selection from Washington yesterday, giving up a sixth and seventh from this year in return. This gives them 10 picks already in the 2022 draft. Whether they feel as if they need to overhaul the quarterback position or simply want to accumulate as much talent as possible, the Birds are in a position to do as long as their eye for evaluation proves strong.