Grading the Eagles’ 2021 Draft Class

Jackson McCrae '23

The NFL Draft started on Thursday, April 29, and ended 259 picks later on Sunday, May 1. Out of those 259 picks, the Eagles drafted nine times, bringing in three offensive players, and six defensive players. With the draft concluded, and the season still months away, people have begun to speculate about how the drafted players will turn out, but with full careers ahead of them, there is no way of knowing just yet.

Pick 10: DeVonta Smith WR Alabama | Grade: A
The Eagles, seeing their options dwindle as many of the players they wanted were selected, decided to call on their division rival to make a deal that would allow them to move up and take Smith. The Eagles traded the 12th pick and the 82nd pick in the draft to move up two spots to grab Smith, and frankly it was the right move. The only reason this is an A and not an A+ is because Smith is still a fragile product. Many teams refrained from picking him because he is small and may be injury prone. However, small receivers have succeeded in the NFL before, and Smith definitely has the ability to do so.
Prestigious NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah agrees and had this to say about Smith: “I couldn’t find an obvious comparison in today’s NFL. However, I did see some glimpses of Marvin Harrison while studying Smith. I hate comparing college kids to Hall of Famers, but Smith and Harrison have several things in common: lean builds, crisp route-running, excellent hands and toughness. I think Harrison was more sudden and explosive, but Smith’s playing style is quite similar. I will give Smith the nod in one area: I believe he’s more physical than Harrison. (Coaches at Alabama think Smith could start for them at cornerback.)”
Obviously, any comparison to Marvin Harrison is high praise, and the fact the Jeremiah thinks Smith’s game is comparable to Harrison’s says that the Eagles have a special talent on their hands.

Pick 37: Landon Dickerson OL Alabama | Grade: B-
First things first, Landon Dickerson is a great offensive lineman, and he will have a solid NFL career if he can stay healthy. However, this pick is inexplicable. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the Butkus Award Winner, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and a unanimous All-American was on the board, and the Eagles whiffed.
This pick was going to be graded much lower, until it was revealed that Owusu-Koramoah had fallen so far because of a heart issue discovered late in the draft process. However, Owusu-Koramoah had never had any issues up until this point, and Owusu-Koramoah said this was the first time a doctor told him he had a heart issue, so it’s still inexcusable for Howie Roseman to pass on him.
Dickerson is still a great player and will help sure up an old and weakening Eagles offensive line. One glaring negative about Dickerson, though, is that he has had season ending injuries in all of his college years except for one. In 2016, it was an ACL tear. In 2017 and 2018 it was ankle injuries. In 2019, after transferring to Alabama, he finally managed to put together a full season of football, winning the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center. However, in 2020, it was another ACL injury that sidelined him, and it was the reason so many teams passed on him. Dickerson is a physical beast and has great technique, but injury concerns led to him falling to the Eagles, and his career will most likely hinge on how healthy he can remain.

Pick 73: Milton Williams DT Louisiana Tech | Grade: B
Standing at 6’3”, 284 pounds, Milton Williams was a force to be reckoned with in college, and he tore up Conference USA (C-USA). He really burst onto the scene his redshirt sophomore year, putting up 59 tackles in 13 starts, including 9 TFL and 5.5 sacks and becoming an honorable mention for the All-Conference Team. In 2020 he had 10 starts and kept up the trend from the year before, finishing the season with 44 tackles including 10 TFL, and 4.5 sacks in a season where he made All Conference First Team. While 6’3”, 284 pounds are decent measurables for a DT in college, that makes him an undersized DT, and he doesn’t really have the speed to play as a DE. However, an aging, and injury prone Eagles DL could use some solid back-ups, which is what Williams is here to be.

Pick 123: Zech McPhearson CB Texas Tech | Grade B+
Zech McPhearson is a 5’10”, 191-pound CB from Texas Tech. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in a quick first step and an insane leaping ability. At the combine, he measured a 40.5 inch vertical, putting him in the 92nd percentile, and a broad jump of 130”, putting him in the 91st percentile. His quick first step was shown by his 20-yard split time, which is the first 20 yards of his forty-yard dash, where he ran a 2.5 putting him in the 94th percentile.
In 2019 McPhearson put up 51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, five pass breakups, and two blocked kicks in 12 starts. In 2020, he had better numbers in fewer games, only starting 10 games, but still posting 53 tackles, four interceptions, and six pass breakups, not including the interceptions, and was on the All-Big 12 Conference Team. The Eagles secondary is nothing short of disastrous, and McPhearson can be a good corner for the Eagles, and make an immediate impact if he can improve tackling and his good ball tracking translates to the pros.

Pick 150: Kenneth Gainwell RB Memphis | Grade A-
Kenneth Gainwell is a RB from Memphis who stands at 5’8” and weighs 201 lbs. Despite the Eagles already having their franchise RB in Miles Sanders, Gainwell is a fantastic pick, and frankly a massive steal. The only reason Gainwell fell as far as he did is because he opted out of the 2020 season after losing four family members to Covid-19, and his brother suffered a stroke.
However, Gainwell’s great play in 2019 still led to him getting drafted. He had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, with 1,459 rushing yards and 610 receiving yards, along with 13 rushing TD’s and 3 receiving TD’s. Those 2,069 scrimmage yards are the 70th most in a single season in NCAA history. With Gainwell behind players like Sanders and Boston Scott, and the Eagles weak receiving core, it wouldn’t be to be surprising to see Gainwell get some slot receiver minutes, as he’s played there before, and that’s likely where he’ll make the biggest impact.

Pick 189: Marlon Tuipulotu DT USC | Grade C+
Marlon Tuipulotu is a defensive tackle from USC who stands at 6’2”, 307 pounds. In his career with the Trojans, Tuipulotu had 104 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, along with All-Pac 12 honors and a trip to the Senior Bowl, both in his senior year. While Tuipulotu is a good player, and can be a good player for the Eagles, this pick makes little sense. The Eagles defensive tackles are one of their only strong spots, and the Eagles already took a defensive tackle earlier in the draft, in Milton Williams. There was no need for Tuipulotu, and with other talented players on the board in positions that need help, Tuipulotu is sort of a confusing pick.

Pick 191: Tarron Jackson DE Coastal Carolina | Grade B-
Tarron Jackson is a defensive end from Coastal Carolina who stands at 6’2”, 254 pounds. In his career with the Chanticleers he had 185 total tackles, 25 sacks (18.5 in the last two years), 6 forced fumbles, making All-Sun Belt Third Team in 2018, All-Sun Belt First Team in 2019 and 2020, and was an AP All-American, Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy. While defensive end is another spot where the Eagles don’t really need help, Jackson is a good player with high motor and he gets into the backfield well. However, with players like Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat ahead of him, it is unlikely Jackson will get much playing time with the Eagles this year.

Pick 224: JaCoby Stevens LB LSU | Grade B-
JaCoby Stevens is a linebacker-safety hybrid from LSU who stands at 6’1”, 212 pounds. In his career with the Tigers he had 190 total tackles, 15 passes defended, 9.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions. He is a national champion, multiple time SEC Defensive Player of the Week, and second-team All-SEC member. However, being stuck between being a definite linebacker and safety led many teams to pass on him, which is why he was still there at 224. Despite not fitting a set position, he is known to produce and can be a solid addition to the Eagles wherever he is used.

Pick 234: Patrick Johnson LB Tulane | Grade B+
Patrick Johnson is a linebacker from Tulane who stands at 6’2”, 240 pounds. In his career with the Green Wave, he had 136 total tackles, 11 passes defended, 24.5 sacks (a school record), and 6 forced fumbles, while being named to two All-AAC second teams and one All-AAC first team nod. Despite being only a two-star prospect out of high school, Patrick Johnson managed to build a successful NCAA career and managed to sneak into the NFL. With a weak Eagles linebacker core, Johnson might be able to carve out a role early and could have a successful first year with the Birds.