Howie Roseman might have found the heir apparent to Jason Kelce.
The Eagles drafted Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the second round with the 37th pick in the NFL draft Friday night, taking their second player from Tuscaloosa in as many days. Later, in the third round, they added Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Milton Williams.
The reaction to the Williams pick, which came after the Eagles traded back from the 70th to 73rd pick, was mixed. Senior football adviser Tom Donahoe and Roseman had an awkward exchange caught on the ESPN broadcast when Donahoe appeared upset as Roseman approached him to celebrate the pick.
After the trade with the Carolina Panthers and the pick, Roseman conceded the team missed out on a player they liked by moving back three spots in order to pick up Carolina’s sixth-round pick. The player they missed out on, presumably either defensive tackle Alim McNeill or cornerback Aaron Robinson, was apparently a favorite of Donahoe’s.
“When we were at pick 70, there were a couple guys we liked on the board,” Roseman said. “We moved back a little bit to see how it would go. A couple of the guys that we liked went as well. These guys spend all year scouting these guys, you get favorites, you get guys that you feel really strongly about, we all do. That’s the fun part of being in the draft room, the emotions of it. At the end of the day, Milton Williams is an exciting player for our football team, we’re excited to have him.”
Williams is a 6-foot-4, 278-pound, athletic defensive lineman who posted 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a junior at Louisiana Tech. He fell in the draft partly because of concern about his arm length and because he played against weaker competition than some other prospects.
The Eagles listed him as a defensive tackle on the team website, but he was announced as a defensive end when he was drafted. Williams said he expects to play both.
“I feel like I’ll be on the edges on early downs,” Williams said. “Just with my strength and being able to hold point on the edge, but on third down, on obvious passing downs, I feel like I’ll bump inside and be able to be productive inside.”
Dickerson is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season, but he was considered one of the most talented interior linemen in the draft. He doesn’t have a history of durability, suffering multiple major injuries in college, which hurt his draft stock.
He tore his right ACL as a freshman and suffered consecutive season-ending ankle injuries as a sophomore and junior. He finished his fourth year with a torn ACL, although it’s possible he’ll be ready for training camp. Once healthy, the Eagles will have a 6-6, 325-pound interior lineman with positional flexibility and a track record of finishing blocks aggressively through the whistle.
Neither Dickerson nor Roseman offered a timetable for the rookie’s return to full health, but Roseman said he doesn’t expect him to need a redshirt season, and Dickerson gave the indication that he could be ready in time for the start of the season.
“My recovery is right were I want it to be,” Dickerson said. “We don’t have an exact time frame. My ultimate goal is to be able to do whatever I can to make the team better no matter what stage I’m at. ... I want to be able to compete and be in practice by the start of the season, but obviously, you know, things may change. Right now, I’m right on schedule with where I want to be.”
Kelce, 33, has contemplated retirement in each of the last few years and isn’t likely to play more than another couple of seasons. Dickerson, who outweighs Kelce by at least 40 pounds, has a much different playing style than the Eagles’ agile All-Pro center. The Eagles could move Dickerson to guard because of his size — he has experience playing both guard and tackle, first at Florida State and then Alabama.
Kelce, who was reached by text by The Inquirer, approved of the pick. Kelce also noted it remains to be seen whether Dickerson will actually become the Eagles’ next center once he retires.
“Big, strong, athletic, leader, tuff, mean, what’s there not to love?” Kelce texted. “I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard tons of great things from people who know him. [Dickerson being my] successor is tough to say. Whether he plays guard or center, whether [guard] Isaac [Seumalo] slides in, there’s some options. He’s played all of them, which adds to his value. Obviously, I’m going to assist in any way I can for the kid, whether it’s center or guard.”
The Eagles took two consecutive Alabama prospects after going almost two decades without taking a player from Alabama (although Jalen Hurts spent most of his college career with the Crimson Tide before transferring to Oklahoma as a senior). The team moved up two spots in Thursday night’s first round to get wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Both Smith and Dickerson played with Hurts in Tuscaloosa.
The Eagles still have a significant need at cornerback, but Roseman said Friday the team went with the best players on the draft board instead of focusing on positional needs.
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Two picks after the Eagles got Dickerson, his college teammate and Philadelphia native Christian Barmore (Neumann Goretti) was selected by the New England Patriots. The Alabama defensive tackle was the most valuable defensive player of the 2021 national championship game in January, logging five tackles and one sack against Ohio State.
Staff writer Les Bowen contributed to this report.