If previous years are any indication, the Eagles are bound to take an offensive lineman a round or two earlier than the consensus might expect them to later this month.
It’s not for lack of reasons, either; the Eagles have a pretty impressive starting group going into next year but are depleting some of their depth by replacing Brandon Brooks with Landon Dickerson. With 34-year-old Jason Kelce taking it year by year, the philosophy of taking a guy a year early rather than a year late, the same approach that led the Eagles to take Dickerson in the second round last year, would make sense this offseason.
Interior linemen typically have to wait to hear their names called in the draft and this year is no exception. There are a few highly touted prospects who could sneak into the first round on April 28, but there’s talent throughout the first few rounds of this year’s draft.
Here are some of the most noteworthy interior lineman and offensive tackle prospects:
The top interior linemen
Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Linderbaum was the darling of Eagles mock drafts throughout the season and early in the offseason, but the athletic center has slid down draft boards since then for a handful of reasons. Part of it is the typical skepticism that surrounds taking centers high in the draft, especially undersized ones like Linderbaum. He measured in at the combine at 6-foot-2, 296 pounds with short arms, further hurting his evaluation.
Kelce returning for at least another year makes Linderbaum in the first round a less convincing pairing for the Eagles; he’s projected to go somewhere in the 20s by most mock drafts. Still, there should be some intrigue just based on how well he compares to Kelce. He’s got the speed to get to the second level and the intensity to finish blocks against linebackers and safeties. His wrestling background helps him overcome his smaller stature against defensive tackles as well.
Some teams will scratch Linderbaum off the board because of his lack of scheme versatility, but he fits what the Eagles do incredibly well.
Zion Johnson, Boston College
Johnson’s stock has steadily risen this draft cycle and there’s a good chance he’s the first guard off the board.
He measured in at just under 6-3 and 312 pounds, so he’s not the biggest interior lineman prospect, but his athleticism jumped out during the combine. He was 89th percentile or above in the broad jump, vertical jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and the bench press, according to mockdraftable.com. Johnson also had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, where he split time between guard and center.
There’s not an easy projection to Johnson being one of the league’s elite interior linemen, so there’s a chance he goes in the second round, but he projects as a Day 1 starter with some decent upside.
Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
For teams that prefer bigger, stronger guards, Green will likely be the most coveted option. The 6-4, 323-pounder has the play strength and movement skills to profile as a road-grating interior lineman. His testing wasn’t as good as Johnson’s, but his tape reveals enough fluidity to go along with his ability to move people in the run game.
If the Eagles are exclusively looking for an early-round guard who resembles Brooks, Green will likely have the edge over Johnson. Which one teams prefer will likely come down to preference based on scheme.
Dylan Parham, Memphis
Parham has been oft-mentioned in this draft series because he’s one of the few mobile centers who will be available on the second day of the draft, perhaps even the third.
He’s 6-2, 311 pounds and ran a 95th-percentile 4.93 40-yard dash with a 1.74-second 10-yard split (74th percentile). He wasn’t as dominant on tape as Linderbaum, and his subpar arm length and size will scare teams away, but he’s another ideal fit if the Eagles are looking for a Kelce replacement with a similar playing style.
Cam Jurgens, Nebraska
You could pretty much copy and paste everything about Parham and apply it to Jurgens as well. He’s a slightly better athlete — his 4.92 second 40-yard dash and 1.71 second 10-yard split were both a few ticks quicker than Parham’s, but comparable.
Jurgens is another Day 2 prospect with an outside chance to fall into the latter rounds depending on how things shake out.
Marquis Hayes, Oklahoma
If a powerful guard is the target in the middle rounds, Hayes would fit the bill about as well as anyone. The 6-5, 318-pound mauler is a Day 2 target with starting potential. With the Eagles, he could occupy the role Dickerson is expected to vacate as the first interior lineman off the bench in case of injury.
Hayes is one of the strongest guards in the class, but needs to improve his technique to become more consistent. Sounds like a job worthy of Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who got an up-close look at Hayes at the Senior Bowl.
The top offensive tackles
Evan Neal, Alabama
Neal fits the mold of a top-5 tackle: A freakish athlete whose movement skills at 6-7, 337 pounds defies logic.
He’s in the running to be one of the first players taken because of his combination of size, strength, and athleticism. Neal has proven himself against high-level SEC competition as a three-year starter at multiple spots across the offensive line. He projects as an immediate starter with the upside to be a special player at one of the game’s most important positions.
Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
Ekwonu is another eye-catching athlete at 6-4, 310 pounds. He might not be a fit for every team, at least not as a tackle, but his speed and play strength could make him an impact player relatively quickly once he gets to the league.
Ekwonu could start his career at guard depending on the scheme he ends up in. For teams that ask their tackles to beat edge rushers to the outside on stretch run plays, Ekwonu is an ideal fit at tackle. If not, his agility might be more of an asset at guard. Either way, Ekwonu could be a difference maker early in his career, which is why he’s projected as one of the very best players in this class.
Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
Faalele’s stock has dropped a bit since the start of the draft process, but there’s always going to be intrigue with a player that big.
At 6-8, 384 pounds, he’s the closest thing to Jordan Mailata we’ve seen in several years. He moves well at that size, but his pass protection is shaky and he’s projected to be more of a Day 2 pick at this point. If the Eagles are looking to have the biggest tackle tandem in the NFL one day, perhaps the biggest one in history, Faalele would be a high-upside prospect to eventually replace Lane Johnson.