Four years after drafting Sidney Jones in the second round, the Eagles selected another medical red flag when they took offensive lineman Landon Dickerson with the 37th overall pick in the NFL draft.
While Jones’ Achilles tendon rupture was significant and came just a month before the draft, it was essentially the only setback of his collegiate career. Dickerson, though, has an injury history that is extensive and includes two torn ACLs and two season-ending ankle injuries in four of his five college seasons.
The Alabama product’s medical woes likely dropped him out of the first round, but to some other teams, they were enough to drop him further down their boards. The Eagles weren’t one of those teams.
“We think this is a special player and a special person,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Friday during a video interview. “And we don’t think there would be any chance that this guy would be available at the 37th pick without those concerns.”
But was the interior of the offensive line -- coach Nick Sirianni said Dickerson projects as either a center or guard -- so much of a priority that the Eagles downplayed those concerns and passed on addressing needs on the defensive side of the ball, specifically cornerback?
Roseman said the Eagles still had eight picks in the final four rounds Saturday after he took Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Milton Williams in the third round. He has said multiple times now that the Eagles went into this draft determined to take the best players on their board rather than focus on filling specific holes.
A rebuilding team may have that luxury, and focusing on the line in early rounds is almost never a poor approach. But Dickerson is a gamble for an early second-round pick, one some may have thought Roseman would have avoided after being scarred by Jones.
“You understand there’s risk-reward,” Roseman said. “I think that we rely on our medical staff to try to figure out the best way to handle these [injured prospects], and if guys are ‘fails’ and they’re off the board, then those aren’t discussed anymore after the medical meeting.”
Dickerson and Jones have different personalities, play different positions, and have endured different injuries. But for the team that has been among the most injured in the NFL over the last three seasons, and a medical staff which has undergone multiple changes, why take the risk?
Roseman can’t seem to help himself. Just 24 hours after making what was the obvious choice -- trading up for Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith -- he reverted to form and went for another “Howie Wowie.” Sometimes those gambles have paid off, but often they have not.
And Dickerson, despite his great talent and upside, comes with a rap sheet of injuries that are hard to dismiss. All told, he missed 27 of a possible 64 games in college.
As a freshman at Florida State, he suffered a season-ending right torn ACL after seven games. As a sophomore, a recurring ankle injury ended his year after four games. The next year, he lasted only one game before the other ankle injury forced him to take a medical redshirt.
He transferred to Alabama a year later and played in all 13 games, and the first 11 of his final season. But he tore his left ACL in the SEC championship game, essentially ending his season again, and he has not yet fully recovered.
“My recovery is right where I want it to be,” Dickerson said during a video call. “We don’t have an exact timeframe. My goal is to be able to do whatever I can to make the team better no matter what stage I’m at this summer or whenever I get to the season.”
Roseman said that he was confident that Dickerson wouldn’t need a redshirt season, but he may have the benefit of time with the Eagles returning their three interior starters -- center Jason Kelce and guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo.
But Brooks, 31, is coming back from two Achilles ruptures and Kelce is 33. Few could fault the Eagles for preparing for their eventual departures. Dickerson, while different in various respects, shares many of their traits.
He’s a giant like Brooks -- 6-foot-6, 335 pounds -- and with Herculean strength. He’s a leader with great character like Kelce. His body type may say “guard,” but his intellect says “center.”
His versatility will also give the Eagles some options. He started at all five positions on the line in college. He had never played center until midway through his redshirt junior year, and a year later he won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center.
Dickerson is the type of prospect scouts love because they see his film and get to know him, but they aren’t paid to make big-picture, team-building decisions. Roseman is, and while the line is foundational, the GM passed on a number of intriguing defensive prospects at cornerback (Kelvin Joseph, Asante Samuel, Jr.), safety (Trevon Moehrig, Richie Grant), and linebacker (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah).
Few can predict how those players will pan out, and the same could be said for Dickerson. But the most consistent GMs try to avoid wishing-and-hoping prospects because the draft is already a crapshoot.
“I like Dickerson a lot,” one GM said after the Eagles’ pick, “but the guy just can’t stay healthy.” (The GM said his team dropped Dickerson into the third round because of his medical issues.)
The Eagles’ medical staff may have cleared Dickerson, but didn’t the same group red flag receiver DK Metcalf because of a neck injury when he’s been nothing but healthy since joining the NFL?
Dickerson has shown great character in coming back from repeated injuries. Even though he couldn’t play in the national championship game in January, he was chosen the lone captain and was able to convince coach Nick Saban to allow him to snap the ball in the victory formation.
It was clear what the moment meant to his teammates and Dickerson, who carried Saban after the final whistle. Two months later, not yet cleared to participate in Pro Day drills, he performed cartwheels as Alabama quarterback Mac Jones conducted a TV interview.
“We told him when we talked to him on the phone, ‘No cartwheels,’” Roseman joked, “until he’s fully cleared.”
But durability questions are no laughing matter, and considering the Eagles’ dubious history with acquiring oft-injured players, merely for the potential payoff, cartwheels may be in order if Dickerson can stay healthy throughout his NFL career.