For the last couple of decades, the Eagles have had a philosophy of building their teams by starting upfront with their offensive and defensive lines. Yes, they believe in having a franchise quarterback. Reid had Donovan McNabb, whom they drafted with the second pick in the first round and Doug Pederson has Carson Wentz, whom they also, drafted with the second pick in the first round.
I expect the Eagles to focus on their offensive and defensive lines early in this upcoming draft. Fortunately for the Birds, this draft is stocked with talented defensive linemen and the Birds could use additional talent on the front line of their defense.
Despite having All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson to pressure quarterbacks up the middle, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Birds draft a defensive tackle with their first pick because this year’s draft harvest is so rich at this position.
Alabama’s Quinnen Williams will be gone when the Eagles pick, but there’s a chance Houston’s Ed Oliver, Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, Mississippi State’s Jeffrey Simmons or Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence will be available.
Wilkins is an exceptional athlete at 6’3” 312 pounds. He stands out with his combination of size, speed (5.04 in the 40 at the NFL Combine, and agility. He put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks while in college, by beating his man and caving in the pocket. He has an uncanny ability to split double-teams and make plays. His quickness and athleticism is going to be too much for most NFL guards and centers. Wilkins has shown leadership ability and outstanding character. He would be a great fit into the Eagles team first culture. He’s not expected to be on the draft board very long, so the Eagles chances of drafting him are slim.
Oliver is a human wrecking ball because he’s so quick off the ball and extremely explosive. He belongs in a 4/3 defense, where he can use his speed and quickness to get penetration in the backfield. There are questions marks about Oliver’s size and weight but teams are excited when they hear comparisons to Hall of Famer John Randle and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald of the Rams. Like Randle and Donald, Oliver is undersized at 6’1”, 287 pounds, but his speed, quickness, explosiveness and passion make up for it. Oliver’s speed has allowed him to beat double and triple teams in college. He might be late in the first round for the Birds.
Lawrence is a massive human being standing 6’4” and weighing 342 pounds, but he also has the speed and quickness of a much smaller player. The big defensive tackle has shown the ability to cave in the pocket, when playing over the center or he can move to the three-technique position over the guard and get into the backfield. He has the ability to stun offensive linemen with his hands, then go around them.
His potential is astonishing because of the combination of size, speed and athleticism. At 340 he ran a 5.05 in the forty-yard dash. Lawrence needs to turn up his motor, but I could see him jumping into the rotation behind Cox and Jackson, and becoming a monster in a couple of years.
Simmons is the wild card in this group. He stands 6’4” and weighs 301 pounds. He has been a dominator in the SEC throughout his years in college. He has the size, power and explosiveness to be a first round pick, but he tore his ACL this past season. Chances are that he won’t be ready for part of the upcoming season, plus he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine because he was video taped and convicted of punching a woman in an altercation in 2016. Most draft experts expect him to slide to late in the first round or into the second round of this year’s draft.
If the Birds don’t select a defensive tackle in the first round, then I’m sure their first round pick will be a left tackle, who will be expected to replace Jason Peters in 2020. Washington State’s Andre Dillard could be just what the doctor ordered for the Birds, if they don’t feel comfortable about handing Peters left tackle position to Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Jordan Mailata, next season. Dillard stands 6’4” and he weighs 315 pounds. He has quick feet and quick hands and exhibits outstanding technique, when it comes to pass blocking. He isn’t a dominating run blocker yet, but has the potential to develop. Dillard is definitely ready to handle the NFL’s speedy pass rushers.