This is the fifth of an 11-part series on the 2021 NFL draft in which, for the third straight year, Ben Fennell breaks down the draft for The Inquirer. Ben is an Emmy award-winning producer, editor, and researcher across several media platforms, most notably NFL Network and ESPN College Football. This will be his seventh draft for the NFL Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @benfennell_NFL.
The Offensive Tackles
For a team that’s coming off a four-win season, the short-term future of the Eagles’ offensive line looks pretty good.
Injuries forced them to use an NFL-record 14 different line combinations last season. Right guard Brandon Brooks (torn Achilles) and left tackle Andre Dillard (torn bicep) both missed the entire season.
Right tackle Lane Johnson missed nine games with an ankle injury. And left guard Isaac Seumalo missed seven games with a shoulder injury.
All of them are good to go for 2021, along with three-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce and Jordan Mailata, who played very well in 10 starts last season, including nine at left tackle. The Eagles also found a keeper in the fourth round last year in guard-tackle Jack Driscoll, who played 300 snaps as a rookie.
But Kelce is 33 and Brooks will be 32 in August and Johnson will be 31 next month. Which means there’s a pretty good chance that at least a couple of the Eagles’ 11 picks in this month’s draft will be used on offensive line reinforcements.
Whether they take one in the first round, like they did two years ago when they traded up to No. 22 for Dillard, or wait until Day 2 or 3 remains to be seen.
This year’s offensive tackle class, like last year’s, is deep. Not as rich at the top as 2020 when four of the first 11 selections and 5 of the first 18 were tackles. But if you need one this year, you’ll be able to get one.
“Last year was impressively top-heavy with tackles,” NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell said. “You had Andrew Thomas (fourth to Giants), Jedrick Wills (10th to Browns), Mekhi Becton (11th to Jets) and Tristan Wirfs (13th to Bucs). They averaged 15 starts and 925 snaps as rookies.
“This year, you’re not going to see that many go off the board quite as quickly. But you’re still going to have 3-4 Day 1 starters, and 11 or 12 could go in the first three rounds.”
Oregon’s Penei Sewell is expected to be the first tackle off the board. He could go anywhere from fourth to 10th. Sewell is only 20 years old, but won the Outland Trophy two years ago and has been compared to Hall of Famer Walter Jones.
Would the Eagles take him if he’s still on the board at 12? We’ll see.
Some other tackles expected to go in the bottom half of the first round are Christian Derrisaw of Virginia Tech and Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma State.
Northwestern’s Rawshawn Slater probably will be the second offensive lineman taken. He played left tackle in college, but Fennell projects him as a guard in the NFL.
“There are lot of interesting developmental guys that are going to go in the mid-part of the draft. Guys like Jalen Mayfield [Michigan] and James Hudson (Cincinnati), who has played 700 snaps at tackle in his career, or Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State).
“And there’s some really experienced guys too that I just don’t think have elite traits. Like Samuel Cosmi (Texas) and Alex Leatherwood (Notre Dame) and Leonard Jackson (Iowa). Jackson has 40 career starts and has played more than 3,000 snaps. I’m not ever counting out an Iowa offensive lineman with that kind of experience.”
Ben’s top five
1. Penei Sewell, Oregon, 6-5, 331 Round 1 (4-10)
2. Christian Derrisaw, Virginia Tech, 6-5, 322, Round 1
3. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State 6-1, 317, Round 1
4. Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame, 6-6, 306, Round 2
5. Brady Christiansen, BYU, 6-6, 300, Round 3
Arms: 33¼ inches
Hands: 10 3/8 inches
40-time: 5.09 seconds
225 bench: 30 reps
Fennell’s take: “Longtime NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who worked with Sewell after he opted out last season, has compared him to Hall of Famer Walter Jones. I trust that opinion. Sewell won the Outland Trophy as an 18-year-old at Oregon. He doesn’t even turn 21 until October. He’s an excellent combination of flexibility, length, strength, intelligence and awareness. He has very calm movements. He’s not a guy who seems to get overwhelmed by speed or power.
Taking a year off at such a critical point in his development is a little bit of a concern. But we saw enough of him previously to know what you’re getting. He has some technique stuff and timing stuff that he needs to work on. Ideally, you wish he played with a little bit more of an edge to him. But he’s a dynamic athlete.
“They threw him a screen pass and he shook a defender in space. He rugby-tackled a safety after an interception. He’s a guy who has some very unique qualities. If there ever was a this-is-what-Jordan-Mailata-should-be-in-a-perfect-sense, that’s what Sewell showed as a 18-year-old.
Round projection: 1 (5-12)
Arms: 33½ inches
Hands: 9½ inches
40-time: 5.01 seconds
225 bench: 36 reps
Fennell’s take: “Jenkins played a little bit of left tackle, but primarily was a right tackle. This guy looks like a refrigerator in cleats. He gets everything done out there. He’s really good running the arc against speed. He’s very strong against power. He can handle the inside moves. But the best thing about him is he’s big and he’s nasty and he’s heavy-handed. He jolts you on contact and finishes defenders. He’ll walk them out of bounds. He’ll put their face into the turf after the echo of the whistle. He’s that type of player.
“He doesn’t have an angular, sexy frame to him. He looks a little bit like a slug. Wears these big frame glasses off the field. But you put on the tape and watch four of his games and realize nobody sniffed the quarterback on his side. He had to step up immediately last year because their left tackle, Dylan Galloway, retired a week before the season because of head injuries. He had to kind of emerge as the leader of that offensive line and he did.
“Playing in the Big 12, he didn’t see a lot of elite pass rushers. You would’ve liked to have seen him against better competition. But the guys he faced he destroyed. He’ll likely be a right tackle in the NFL.”
Round projection: 1
Arms: 33¾ inches
Hands: 10 1/8 inches
40-time: 5.30 seconds
225 bench: 24 reps
Fennell’s take: “He’s one of the more interesting prospects in this class for a variety of reasons. He was a prolific player coming out of high school. A five-star recruit that everybody wanted. He got on the field immediately as a true freshman left tackle for Stanford and was pretty good. Had an awesome sophomore season in 2018. Then he played just 60 snaps in 2019 after tearing his ACL in the season-opener, and opted out in 2020. So, this is a guy who we’ve seen for about 60 snaps the last 2 ½ years.
“But he looks like a perfect NFL left tackle. He’s as good in his pass sets and pass-protection as I think I’ve ever seen. So he’s a really, really good player. It’s just that you haven’t seen him play in a long time. What’s happened to his body. What his mind like after going through COVID? Has he been living in the weight room? We think of these guys as soldiers, gladiators. But they’re 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids and they haven’t been in school this year for the most part. I’ve heard of guys getting addicted to fast food. I’m not saying that applies to Little. But it’s a gray area with these guys that you don’t know.
“He could go in the first round and I’d say, OK, makes sense. And he could go in the fifth round and I’d say, OK, I see that. But I think he’s going to go closer to the first than the fifth. Somebody’s going to fall in love with what they saw on tape and be willing to take a chance on him.”
Round projection: 2