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The Eagles didn’t outsmart themselves in the 2021 NFL Draft

Playing it smart by not keeping it dumb

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Before this year’s NFL Draft, I looked at recent Eagles drafts and how they stacked up to the consensus draft board compiled by the Athletic’s Arif Hasan. So why not look at how the 2021 draft rates.

One thing that stood out in early rounds was how teams didn’t drift much from the consensus board. In mocking the previous years, there were always a handful of teams that made enormous reaches of players 60+ spots down the board in the early rounds. That didn’t happen in the first two rounds at all, and only a few times in the 3rd. Did teams suddenly wise up? Almost certainly not. Were the boards that formed the consensus board simply more in tune with reality? Possibly, though with no seasons for some players and partial seasons for others, it would be reasonable if the discrepancies between the pros and the joes were even higher than usual. The closeness was probably that this was a one-off coincidence, but it’s something to keep in mind a year from now.

The Eagles were no different, for most of their draft they didn’t deviate too far from the pack. How that will play out in games is another matter, but all we have for now is an immediate post-draft reaction.

1st Round - 10th Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
5 Justin Fields QB 2
8 DeVonta Smith WR 2
9 Rashawn Slater OT 2
11 Micah Parsons LB 1
15 Kwity Paye EDGE 1

Strictly going by the board, the Eagles took the #2 player. But since they weren’t interested in drafting a QB, they got the top guy on the board. A good start.

In the end, the Eagles did well to turn the 6th overall pick, the 84th overall pick, and 156th overall pick for the 10th, 123rd, and a future 1st. While the Eagles got their guy, this pick illustrates how much of the draft is about luck, or factors out of your control. If Denver or Carolina draft a QB that they need instead of a CB, then is Dallas trading back with Horn or Surtain on the board? If not, then the Giants take Smith, and the Eagles are left empty-handed.

2nd Round - 37th Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
17 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah LB 2
20 Azeez Ojulari EDGE 3
21 Teven Jenkins OT 4
25 Trevon Moehrig S 1
26 Christian Barmore DL3T 1
32 Landon Dickerson OC 1

Landon Dickerson was the 6th player on the board, so this is good value. Dickerson is the Rorschach test on how you view this draft.

The Eagles do need a succession plan for Jason Kelce. Isaac Seumalo turns 28 during the season, the idea of him sliding over to center in the near future feels less and less realistic, he hasn’t played the position since 2013. At this point, the best solution is to keep Seumalo in place at guard, where he’s a quality player (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and bring in someone who has actually played center, which Dickerson did for the past two seasons. On talent, he was a good pick at 37th overall.

But he’s also got the injury history of an offensive lineman Jason Kelce’s age. Dickerson, if you’re unaware, has suffered four injures in five seasons: he tore his left ACL as a true freshman in 2016, and tore his right ACL in December. In between, he suffered season-ending ankle injuries in 2017 and 2018. Dickerson hasn’t played an NFL game yet and his injury history since 2016 is worse than Jason Peters’.

3rd Round - 73rd Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
53 Wyatt Davis OG 3
56 Ifeatu Melifonwu CB 6
58 Jabril Cox LB 6
61 Daviyon Nixon DL3T 3
62 Dyami Brown WR 6

At 73, the top five on the board was the same as at 70, so from this point of view, the Eagles did well to trade back. Facts don’t care about Tom Donahoe’s feelings.

That said, Milton Williams was the 23rd player on the board here, though he was the top 5-tech DL on the board, for whatever that’s worth. This was a mild reach, which isn’t a huge deal, and it least it was for a guy who teams excellent measurables with respectable production. There are worse reaches to make.

But this is another Rorschach test pick. 8 CBs went between this pick and the next Eagles pick, however, 9 defensive linemen were drafted during that time too. With draft needs at every position for the Eagles, there is no way to please everyone.

4th Round - 123rd Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
61 Daviyon Nixon DL3T 3
70 Tylan Wallace WR 8
72 Trey Smith OG 4
83 Brevin Jordan TE 4
87 Kenneth Gainwell RB 4

Zech McPhearson was the 102nd player on the board and 10th outside corner on the board. The next outside corner on the board was Oregon’s Thomas Graham, who was the 29th player on the board. This was the biggest reach in their draft this year.

5th Round - 150th Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
61 Daviyon Nixon DL3T 3
72 Trey Smith OG 4
87 Kenneth Gainwell RB 4
94 Hamsah Nasirildeen S 5
95 Quincy Roche EDGE 10

Kenneth Gainwell was the third player on the board and having taken interior offensive and defensive lineman in the 2nd and 3rd, taking the next position on the board, and one who is the 4th player at his position on the board is a good move if you were going by the consensus board, which the Eagles clearly weren’t.

6th Round - 189th and 191st Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
72 Trey Smith OG 4
95 Quincy Roche EDGE 10
108 Marvin Wilson DL1T 2
110 Dylan Moses LB 10
111 Marlon Tuipulotu DL3T 7
116 Ar'Darius Washington S 8

The board at 189 and 191 is, as you can imagine, the same. A tale of two views here. Marlon Tuipulotu was the 5th player on the board, so good consensus value here. Tarron Jackson wasn’t, he was the 60th player on the board and the 8th edge rusher. Between the Jackson pick at 191 and the next Eagles pick at 224, only two edge rushers were taken, one of them being Quincy Roche, the top edge and second-best player left on the consensus board. Both the board and the way the draft went say this was a reach, there were still plenty of defensive ends at 224. But we’re at the point in the draft where everyone takes players way off the consensus board in draft value, so the Eagles didn’t do anything out of the norm, and the 60th player on the board isn’t that big of a consensus board reach for the 6th round.

6th Round - 224th Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
72 Trey Smith OG 4
108 Marvin Wilson DL1T 2
110 Dylan Moses LB 10
116 Ar'Darius Washington S 8
134 Cade Johnson WRS 7

At 224, JaCoby Stevens was the 32nd player on the board and the 3rd safety. But the Eagles announced the pick as a linebacker, which would make him the 2nd linebacker on the board after Dylan Moses, who went undrafted and isn’t a coverage linebacker that the Eagles are looking for. Again we’re at a point in the draft where real draft boards and the consensus draft board wildly diverge.

I do not want to overstate a day three trade, but as far as late-round trades go, the trade with WASTEAM was professional, Robert DeNiro movie robbery (the ones early in the movies, not the heists near the end where nearly everyone dies in the aftermath). The Eagles gave up picks 225 and 240 for a 5th next year. Giving up those picks has historically moved a team up to the early 200s. The Eagles got a pick that will be in the 150s to mid-170s in what is considered a deeper draft. If WASTEAM is really bad, it could be in the late 140s. Adding to the hilarity of the deal, WASTEAM used the first of the two picks on a long snapper, and as a cherry on top, his name is Cheeseman. WTF, WFT?

7th Round - 234th Overall

Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
Rank Name Pos Pos Rank
108 Marvin Wilson DL1T 2
110 Dylan Moses LB 10
116 Ar'Darius Washington S 8
134 Cade Johnson WRS 7
140 Trill Williams NCB 5

At 234 the top two players from 224 are gone. The Eagles selected Patrick Johnson, the 19th player on the board and 4th edge. But the Eagles announced this pick as a linebacker as well, once again taking the next linebacker after Dylan Moses. Trill Williams would have been a fun pick on name alone. Like the previous pick the consensus board thinks this is a reach but not a ridiculous one, and the position changes leave some room for discrepancy.

UDFA

The Eagles signed seven undrafted free agents at the time of this writing. Only two of them made the top 300 on the board: QB Jamie Newman was the 11th overall player left on the board and the top QB; Kayode Awosika was the 47th overall player, as a tackle he was the 5th best left, as a guard, where he projects to play, he was 4th best.

Overall

The point of this exercise isn’t to say that scouting departments don’t matter. They do. Nor is it to say that the consensus draft board is the one true draft board that will guarantee great picks. It won’t. The 2018 board had Josh Rosen as the 4th best player and Lamar Jackson as the 4th best QB.

The utility of the consensus board is that it is an unbiased tool, and just one among others, to measure if a team is overthinking things to their detriment. Nobody can consistently beat the draft, but you can consistently have poor drafts by thinking you know something that no one else does to beat it. The Eagles have been guilty of that in the past. For this year, not so much.

Strictly in terms of consensus draft board grade, I’d give the Eagles a B+. They didn’t make any “look how smart we are” picks that were dumb at the time, like Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson or Davion Taylor in the 3rd round. They made just one really questionable reach, (sidenote: with the 99th pick the Cowboys drafted a player not on the 300-man board, they also spent the 84th pick on the 180th player on the pre-draft board). Other than Zech McPhearson, their reach picks were the typical picks that the board doesn’t like that every team, even the ones considered smarter than the rest, make. For example with the 104th pick in the 3rd round, the Ravens took the 255th player on the board.

However they didn’t have any steals, and their pick at 37 has huge injury concerns and is now on a team that can’t seem to keep players healthy.

Overall they mostly kept to the board without wowing. That’s a solid draft, reflected by that they had the 9th best return on investment.

What this means going forward, only time will tell. It may not be worth a room full of fist bumps, there is reason to feel more confident about this draft than other recent ones. That’s progress, for now.