Carson Wentz, meet Andre Dillard: your new best friend.
The Eagles, to no great surprise, drafted in the trenches with their first-round pick Thursday night, but they thwarted expectations to some degree by selecting an offensive lineman. This year’s defensive line class was being hailed by some as special. Howie Roseman even called it potentially historic back in January.
But ten defensive linemen went in the first 19 selections, and it likely would have cost the Eagles one of their two second-round picks to move up for a target. They did eventually make a trade, jumping three spots from No. 25 to No. 22, but the move was for an offensive tackle — Dillard.
“It’s hard to find offensive linemen,” Roseman said at the NovaCare Complex moments after the pick was announced. “It’s hard to find guys with great feet, big bodies, big hands. They don’t grow on trees. … We like our offensive line depth. We liked it before today. We like the guys that we have on our team.
“But this is just an area we want to continue to invest in and be strong in and keep developing guys because you need it over the course of the season.”
Investing in the offensive line is almost never a waste, and with Jason Peters likely in the last year of his career, finding his replacement makes obvious sense. The Eagles have a few other candidates to protect Wentz’s blindside, but the drafting of Dillard likely drops a project like Jordan Mailata and a young reserve like Halapoulivaati Vaitai in terms of the team’s long-term prospects.
“This is certainly not a need position. We have a Hall of Fame left tackle,” Roseman said. “He’s got a great opportunity to come in and learn from Jason, and at some point in time, get a chance to play.”
Underestimating Peters, in relation to his longevity, has been a long game. He’s outlasted so many other potential replacements. But he’s 37 and clearly took a step back last season. He started in all 18 games, including the playoffs, but he missed parts of 10 games with various injuries.
The Eagles haven’t expended a first-round pick on an offensive lineman since they took right tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall selection six years ago. They believe they got another top ten talent in the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Dillard.
“Our evaluation was this was the best tackle in the draft,” Roseman said, “and so, usually those guys go in the top ten.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson wouldn’t cement Dillard in as a tackle, but he has all the traits. He’s long and rangy with 33-1/2-inch arms. He’s athletic with lower body flexibility that Roseman said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland raved about, and he thrived as a pass-protector in the Cougars’ air assault offense.
“They did throw the ball a lot at Washington State and that’s why he’s a good pass protector,” Pederson said. “We pride ourselves in running the ball here, and he’s going to come in and learn. That’s why Jeff Stoutland is here.”
Along with the No. 25 pick, the Eagles sent one of their fourth-round picks (127th overall) and their sixth-round pick (197th) to the Ravens. Roseman said he had actually tried to jump Baltimore, but settled for getting ahead of the Texans, who selected Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard.
“It was important to us that we protect those two second-round picks,” Roseman said.
As expected, defensive linemen flew off the board in the first round – 13 total. But aside from Ohio State end Nick Bosa and Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams going Nos. 2-3 to the 49ers and the New York Jets, few projected how the rest would fall.
The Raiders tossed a monkey wrench into the proceedings when they selected Clemson end Clelin Ferrell with the fourth pick, which prompted a few raised eyebrows across the NFL. No one can say with any certainty how the pick will pan out, but many evaluators had Ferrell going outside the top ten.
Defensive linemen then started to go like hot cakes. The Jaguars snatched Kentucky end Josh Allen at No. 7 even though they had a glaring need on their offensive line. Houston tackle Ed Oliver went to the Bills at No. 9. And Michigan end Rashan Gary was slotted to the Packers at No. 12.
If the Eagles were going make a significant leap for defensive tackle — and there was buzz that they would have been willing to forfeit multiple picks for Clemson’s Christian Wilkins — the 13th slot was the likely spot. The Dolphins were shopping their pick, but teams ultimately balked and they scooped up Wilkins.
There was a report that the Eagles had a deal in place with Miami before they backed out, but Roseman denied that was the case.
“This was the only trade we had,” he said.
After Wilkins went, the four picks between Nos. 16-19 were defensive linemen. The Panthers chose Florida State end Brian Burns, the Giants, with their second selection, tagged Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence and the Titans plucked Mississippi State tackle Jeffery Simmons.
Simmons has many of the traits the Eagles look for in prospects. He plays a premier position and has a high ceiling, although a February ACL injury could have potentially sidelined him for his rookie season. The Eagles had the luxury to wait, especially after they signed Tim Jernigan to a one-year contract earlier Thursday. But Tennessee took Simmons out of the equation.
“I think things fell exactly as we thought they would,” Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “It is a strong D-line class. I think you’ve seen at the beginning of this draft, a lot of teams value defensive linemen.”
Several projected early-round offensive tackles, meanwhile, were still available as the draft ticked into the twenties. Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford and Dillard were all waiting for calls by the time the Eagles moved up to No. 22 to take Dillard.