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Brian Baldinger on the Eagles’ draft: Landon Dickerson is good enough to beat out Jason Kelce

A year ago, Baldinger said the Eagles “missed the boat” in the draft. This year, the NFL Network analyst thinks they did a much better job.

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger thinks Eagles second-round pick Landon Dickerson (69) could push Jason Kelce for the starting center job as a rookie.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger thinks Eagles second-round pick Landon Dickerson (69) could push Jason Kelce for the starting center job as a rookie.Read moreVasha Hunt / AP

Brian Baldinger pulls no punches. A year ago, he slammed Howie Roseman and the Eagles for an analytics-driven draft that saw them take Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round, a quarterback (Jalen Hurts) in the second round and project linebacker Davion Taylor, who ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, but didn’t play a down of high school ball and had zero takeaways in 24 college games, in the third round.

The boys down at 1 NovaCare Way will be happy to know that Baldinger was much more impressed with their decision-making in this year’s draft, which concluded Saturday.

“I thought they had a good draft,” said the NFL Network analyst who spent 11 years in the league as an offensive lineman with three teams, including the Eagles. “I thought it was much better than last year. I thought they collaborated well.

“The two Alabama kids [first-round wide receiver DeVonta Smith and second-round offensive lineman Landon Dickerson], they’re just difference-makers. We’ll see what [third-round defensive lineman] Milton Williams becomes. But I thought they hit a lot of spots of need in this draft.”

One gaffe Baldinger felt they made was bypassing cornerback Aaron Robinson of Central Florida in the third round with the 70th pick and trading back three spots to get an extra sixth-round pick.

The Giants ended up taking Robinson with the 71st pick. The Eagles then selected Williams at 73.

“If they had Williams rated higher than Aaron Robinson, God bless them,” Baldinger said. “But I think they need a slot corner, and they could’ve gotten a really good one right there.”

» READ MORE: The only honest evaluation of the Eagles’ draft is one that isn’t much fun | David Murphy

Baldinger thinks Robinson has a good chance to be the Giants’ season-opening nickel corner.

“If he ends up becoming the Giants’ nickel and Milton Williams just flames out, it’s going to be one of those kinds of things where you’re going to be asking, ‘What were they thinking,’ ” he said.

“The first time I put a tape on of Aaron Robinson, I said he’s a starting NFL nickel right now. Just his quickness, his tackling ability, his size, the whole thing. I felt he was going to walk into an NFL camp and win the nickel job immediately.”

Here are Baldinger’s thoughts on each of the Eagles’ nine draft picks:

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

6-0, 166 pounds

Round 1 (No. 10)

“I give the Eagles a ton of credit for jumping in front of the Giants and taking him. You can prepare for all of this stuff in your [predraft] meetings. But until you’re on the clock and faced with a situation like this, you don’t know how somebody’s going to react. I thought it was a really smart move.

“I know people have some questions about Smith’s weight and frame. But he played 54 straight games at Alabama. You see him get lit up by people. I showed a picture Saturday night of [Eagles sixth-round pick] JaCoby Stevens lighting him up this season. He just bounced up off the turf like it was nothing. I’ve seen all types of people lay him out and it doesn’t seem to bother him.

“He’s just so silky smooth. A tremendous route runner. Those route runners, those are the guys that are getting a lot of catches in this league. Whether you’re Davante Adams or Keenan Allen, guys that know how to run routes and separate and make things easy for the quarterback are the guys getting 80, 90, 100 catches.

“That’s what this kid can do. I don’t know exactly what he tested at. But he’s as fast as he needs to be and jumps as high as he needs to jump. He’s one of those guys that, when the ball’s thrown to the sidelines, he can just make his legs go dead and extend the field by 2 yards. He’s an advanced student at that position. Great, great pickup.”

» READ MORE: What you need to know about DeVonta Smith

Landon Dickerson, C/G, Alabama

6-6, 333 pounds

Round 2 (No. 37)

“He’s my favorite player in the draft. He’s as close to [Colts All-Pro left guard] Quenton Nelson as I’ve seen in the last three years. He just wants to be great. Nobody knocks more people down in college football than this guy. He’s as nasty as they come. He’ll start the fight and finish the fight. [Nick] Saban has called him the best leader they’ve ever had. He’s just a culture builder. Going in to play the Cowboys, you want this guy leading you out of the tunnel. He’ll make everybody around him better. Everybody. Just like Quenton Nelson did in Indy.

“I know there are injury questions about him. But I didn’t have any problem with them rolling the dice on this kid in the second round. Because if he stays healthy, he’ll be the best lineman in this draft. He might take over for [center Jason] Kelce this year. He’s 50 pounds heavier than Kelce. He’s much more physical. We all love Jason. But he’s flirted with retirement a couple of times and his body isn’t getting any fresher. His strength is on the perimeter and getting to the second level. This guy has Jason Peters-type power. He just knocks people in the dirt. Like over and over again. When you’re going against Dexter Lawrence and all these big nose tackles in the league now, I don’t see anybody backing this guy up. You look at all those [defensive tackles] in the SEC that are 320, 330, 350, he didn’t have a problem with any of them.

“I think he can be the best center in football. But if you want to put him at guard, I’m OK with that. The way he pulls and runs and knocks people down, he looks like [Hall of Fame guard] John Hannah out there.”

» READ MORE: With Alabama OL Landon Dickerson, Howie Roseman rolls the dice again on a medical red flag | Jeff McLane

Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech

6-3, 284 pounds

Round 3 (No. 73)

“This is where the analytics came in. He’s an undersized defensive lineman. To me, he looks like he could be Vinny Curry. He plays really hard. He’s a little bigger, a little faster than Vinny.

“I don’t know what their plans are for him. I don’t know if they’re going to play him at end or at 3-technique [tackle]. My guess is he’s going to play end in their 4-3 because he has the speed to play it, and plays really hard.

“If they’re thinking of using him as a 3-tech like Fletcher [Cox], it looks to me that he’s too small to do that. They fall in love with a lot of the workout numbers, the vertical jump and broad jump and all of that stuff. But we have to see how that transfers to being a dominant defensive lineman.

“He played at 260 last year and got swallowed up and knocked off the ball when they played him inside. Even at a pumped-up 280, the only way you can play inside is if you just have Aaron Donald-type quickness. Where you can see the double team coming and split it, and beat the backside cutoff block in the run game. But those guys are rare.

“So I don’t see the D-tackle thing right now. If they play him outside, he has a better chance of surviving.”

» READ MORE: Howie Roseman doesn’t care if you wish he’d drafted fewer linemen

Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech

5-11, 191 pounds

Round 4 (No. 123)

“I saw him at the Hula Bowl this year. Obviously, since he was at the Hula Bowl, he wasn’t at the Senior Bowl [with the top players]. He was a special-teams kid at Penn State, then transferred to Texas Tech. Nobody thinks Big-12 corners are NFL-type players. But I think this kid’s got something to him. I like him.

“He’s got good size. He’s got good ball instincts. He can run. I thought he was a really good zone corner. He’s got good eyes. Most of his interceptions came out of zone play. Can he start opposite Darius Slay? I mean, he’s probably going to get a chance.

“Some people say he could wind up inside, but I think the Eagles envision him on the outside. He didn’t play in the slot at Texas Tech. He was an outside guy. Doesn’t mean he can’t do it, but hasn’t done it a lot. Almost every offense in the Big 12 plays a four-wide receiver set and I didn’t see him go inside much.”

Kenny Gainwell, RB, Memphis

5-8, 201 pounds

Round 5 (No. 150)

“Antonio Gibson was Washington’s second-round pick last year and this kid started in front of him two years ago. He can do it all. I don’t know if he’s Charlie Garner, if he’s Brian Westbrook. But he’s like that. He’s a powerful kid.

“They played a lot of five-wide receiver sets at Memphis, so he was lining up at receiver a lot. Excellent route runner. Good hands. Dangerous after the catch. He’s excellent in pass protection, whether it’s chip-blocking or squaring up in protection.

“He played basically one year. There’s not much tread off the tires. He had 250 carries in 14 starts. Caught 50 balls. His quickness, his suddenness, he’s got all of that. He can make people miss. He and Michael Carter from North Carolina, who the Jets took in the fourth round, are pretty much the same type of player to me. They both run in the 4.4s and have breakaway speed.

“He’s probably not an every-down back. But there are very few of those guys in the league anymore. He and Miles Sanders have the potential to be a really good one-two punch for them.”

» READ MORE: What the Howie Roseman-Tom Donahoe awkwardness said about the Eagles’ 2021 draft process | Jeff McLane

Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, Southern Cal

6-2, 307 pounds

Round 6 (No. 189)

“It looks like he’s a two-down player at best. You just don’t see much pass-rush from him. But he’s a pretty good anchor in there at nose tackle. Is he a guy you can rotate with Javon Hargrave? That’s what he looks like right now to me.

“You just didn’t see him do much at USC. I want to see him in some one-on-ones in training camp. He’s an undersized guy. So I want to see him against [Isaac] Seumalo and some of those guys inside in one-on-one stuff. See if he can budge those guys. Because off what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like he has that type of ability.”

Tarron Jackson, ER, Coastal Carolina

6-2, 254 pounds

Round 6 (No. 191)

“He had some injuries in his first two years, then got healthy. He stayed all five years and was the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. Once he got over the injuries, he started 36 straight games. You watch him against BYU in their upset win this year, he’s a good player. There’s something to him.

“He tested really well. He has enough size. Can he be a poor-man’s Brandon Graham? That’s kind of what you’re probably hoping for right now because that’s what he looks like out there. He plays really hard. He makes a lot of plays on the other side of the field. He runs well. He was productive. He had 44½ tackles for losses and 26½ sacks at Coastal Carolina.

“They have to hit on one of these late-round picks eventually. Maybe it’ll be him. In the sixth and seventh rounds, you’re drafting off of production or measurables, generally. He had both. For a sixth-round pick, you have something to work with.”

» READ MORE: Meet the nine rookies the Eagles selected in the draft

JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU

6-1, 212 pounds

Rd. 6 (No. 224)

“I like him. First of all, I like LSU kids. He played a lot of football there. He was a part of a national championship team in 2019. He tested off the charts good. He’s kind of a hybrid safety-linebacker. He tackles well in space. He’s a good, physical player. I think there’s a lot to work with there. They need safeties. Everybody does.

“Last year, Washington took [Arkansas safety] Kam Curl with the 216th pick. This kid is the 224th pick. I don’t know if Washington would’ve won the division without Kam Curl. He was a real find. He took over for Landon Collins after he got hurt, and they got better on the back end.

“I’m not going to compare this guy to Kam Curl. But he wore No. 7 at LSU, which is a big deal there. That’s the number everybody wants to wear; to be the leader of the defense. Bottom line: I think he has a chance.”

Patrick Johnson, ER, Tulane

6-2, 240 pounds

Round 7 (No. 234)

“He looks like he’s kind of a stand-up outside linebacker. Had a lot of production in the Conference USA. Something like 25 sacks and 40 tackles for loss in his career. I thought he got off blocks well. In a typical year, he’d probably be an undrafted free agent. But taking a kid like this that had a lot of production and good measurables, sure, why not. He’s a solid prospect.”