It’s been well-documented that embattled general manager Howie Roseman slayed the 2021 NFL draft for the Eagles. What’s gone unnoticed is how badly he bettered the rest of the NFC East.
When your division finishes a season as the worst in NFL history, every team enters the next season rebuilding. It’s sort of a slow-build arms race. The first four rounds of the draft are where the talent lies, and that area of the 2021 and 2022 drafts will probably determine which NFC East team reaches the playoffs for the next five or six years. With smart, valuable picks in last week’s NFL draft, Roseman & Co. have the early lead.
DeVonta Smith, a Grade-A, plug-and-play, No. 1 receiver, is the best and most valuable of the East’s first-round picks. That’s because, in today’s NFL, superior linebackers are as unappreciated as British comedy in Alabama. The Eagles also exited the draft with an extra first-round pick in 2022 thanks to a brilliant trade with Miami in March that earned our admiration.
Worried about the big guy’s bottom half? Well, taking a risk on an offensive lineman’s rebuilt knee, like that of second-round guard/center Landon Dickerson — a smart and dominant player — is a far less risky than taking a risk on a cornerback’s reattached Achilles tendon, as Roseman foolishly did in 2017 with Sidney Jones.
The Eagles correctly believe that Milton Williams is the sort of third-round lineman who could notch 10 or 15 sacks and 30 or 40 starts in his first four seasons; think Larry Ogunjobi, late of Cleveland, now of Cincinnati. And fourth-round cornerback Zech McPhearson is an all-around athlete whose suspect footwork might keep him off the field in Year One, and whose talent might never take him to a Pro Bowl, but he’ll play special teams every week, and he’ll show up for eight years.
To review: a Day One starter at receiver, a 10-year starter on the offensive line, an immediate contributor on the defensive line, and a solid, versatile defensive back. Eagles win.
The Cowboys are a close second, the Giants a distant third, and Washington apparently forgot to set its alarm.
Jerry’s Texas-sized gambles
With all due respect to the polished talents of Smith, the Cowboys drafted the player who will make the biggest impact immediately: Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. The Eagles gave the Cowboys a third-round pick (from the Carson Wentz trade with Indianapolis) to move from No. 12 to No. 10, where they blocked the Giants’ attempt to draft Smith. Landing a three-down linebacker, plus a third-round pick, is tremendous value at No. 12, even in today’s linebacker-resistant league. Parsons’ dynamism, plus the extra third-round pick, makes this grade an A.
After completing the Parsons project, the Cowboys focused on building a respectable defense ... eventually. Second-round cornerback Kelvin Joseph is rawer than sashimi, and the third round was just as fishy.
They took tweener defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa and undersized defensive end Chauncey Golston, who both are a year or two away from having any real impact, though they drafted Golston with the Eagles’ third-round pick. They used a compensatory pick on super-reach corner Nahshon Wright, who, at 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds, needs about 200 pounds of Fort Worth steaks before he weighs in as a passable safety — the position of his future, because his dubious, ordinary 4.49-second 40-yard dash won’t keep him at cornerback.
The Cowboys’ most intriguing pick — Parsons isn’t intriguing, he’s bona fide — was fourth-round linebacker Jabril Cox. He’s a 232-pound playmaker who transferred from second-tier North Dakota State, where he was under-matched, to elite LSU for the 2020 season, where he matched. Cox and Parsons could terrorize the Eagles for years to come, and make the Birds regret not picking them.
With seven picks in the four rounds, the Cowboys fired a buckshot blast with five of them. They took lots of chances, hoping quantity will develop into quality.
Giants: Value at the margins
First-round pick Kadarius Toney is the sort of Swiss Army Knife the Giants crave, then waste: a high school quarterback who didn’t learn the receiver position until his fourth year at Florida, then exited with lots of work to do, even as a slot receiver. Nevertheless, the Giants’ move from No. 11 to No. 20 netted them the Bears’ first-round pick in 2022, a draft whose depth the Giants will need to plumb, since they’re going to be awful again this season. However, the trade, plus Toney’s athleticism and versatility at No. 20, makes this first-round grade an A.
Second-round linebacker Azeez Ojulari could become the steal of the entire draft. He forced four fumbles and had 8½ sacks at Georgia last year, and he ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, but concerns about lingering injuries to his knee and shoulder, as well as his 249-pound weight — a bit light, despite him being only 20 — dropped him out of Day One. Two years from now he might have 20 sacks, and 31 teams might look really dumb.
The most intriguing non-Eagle in the 2021 draft for Eagles fans? Third-round cornerback Aaron Robinson. After the Eagles traded back in the third round from No. 70 to No. 73, the Giants eagerly traded up from No. 76 to No. 71 to snatch Robinson.
Robinson looks like a Year Two starter, with 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash, and a solid third-round value.
So does fourth-rounder Elerson Smith, a skinny, 6-6, 252-pound pass-rush specialist. He collected 21½ sacks as a sophomore and freshman at Northern Iowa, but, at his size, those numbers won’t immediately translate to the NFL — if they ever do.
Washington’s weekend vacation
The No-Names drafted a first-round linebacker (Jamin Davis) with 11 college starts and little chance to impact 2021 (C-minus); a second-round lineman (Samuel Cosmi) whose profile screams, “ordinary;” a third-round, project cornerback (Benjamin St-Juste) with an inconsistent football history who also is from Canada (remember Danny Watkins?); a third-round deep-play specialist (Dyami Brown) whose sloppy underneath routes and sketchy hands make him entirely predictable; and a fourth-round tight end (John Bates) who managed just 47 catches and two touchdowns in 46 games over four years at Boise State. Two touchdowns. Four years.
The No-Names might as well have taken the weekend off.