The Eagles made it clear early in the 2019 draft their priority is building this team around an offense designed to help Carson Wentz succeed. While Wentz may have had a down year in his first season coming back from an ACL tear, he is still a young prototypical quarterback with a combination of arm talent and athleticism that is hard to match. It will take him some time to get his confidence back to where it was when he threw 33 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in 2017, but if I was a betting man I’d say the former second overall pick will return to form. The offensive lineman and skill players the Eagles drafted in rounds one and two will be key pieces in helping Wentz do so.
Round 1, 22nd overall: Andre Dillard, LT, Washington State
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jason Peters as much as anyone but he was constantly in and out of the lineup last season, missed 12 games in 2017, and is coming into his 16th season now, and every position needs a succession plan at some point. You might wonder, well why did the Eagles trade up to get an offensive lineman that likely won’t start this year?
The answer is because the Eagles viewed him as the most valuable player at the time. Howie Roseman noted the Eagles had Dillard ranked as the top offensive tackle in this draft as well as a top-prospect overall, per ESPN.
A fourth and a sixth round pick is a small price to pay for the best rookie tackle of 2019, especially with the league trending more towards the pass every year. If Wentz is going to succeed in 2019 and beyond, he needs a tackle that can protect him from elite pass rushers consistently.
The six foot five inch 310-pound Dillard is just the man for the job. He started all 13 games for Washington State in 2018 and allowed just one sack on 677 pass attempts. Pro Football Focus ranked Dillard 6th in the 2018 draft class in pass blocking efficiency (99.8) on third downs, 2nd in pass blocking grade (91.4) among all returning FBS offensive tackles in 2016, and 5th in overall position grade (89.2).
Round 2, 53rd overall: Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State
Despite trading for Jordan Howard, the Eagles used a second-round pick on a running back for the first time since 2009, when they drafted LeSean McCoy. Sanders was the successor to Saquon Barkley at Penn State, and while he isn’t quite the Giants’ superstar he is a patient runner with great strength, balance, and above-average receiving ability for a young running back.
Sanders ran for 1,274 and 9 TDs on a spectacular 5.8 yards per rush in 2018 while adding 24 catches that put his total scrimmage yards over 1,400. He averaged 6.2 YPC in 2017 and 7.4 YPC in 2016 as well.
Sanders does a phenomenal job of keeping his pad level low, making decisive cuts, and using his tree-trunk thighs and well-placed stiff arms to shed tackles with ease. In a sense, his running style is more comparable to Jordan Howard than Saquon, with just a little added shiftiness and a remarkable ability to just bounce right off of lineman and tacklers. Check out his second career touchdown for example:
Sanders ran a 4.49 forty yard dash at the combine and is two inches shorter and ten pounds lighter than Howard at five foot eleven, 215 lbs. Now with Howard, Sanders, and Josh Jones the Eagles went from having one of the thinnest and oldest running back rooms in 2018 to one of the deepest and youngest in 2019. This improved stable of running backs should open up passing lanes and take pressure and hits away from Wentz.
Round 2, 57th overall: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
After drafting some protection and improving the running game, it only makes sense the Eagles capped off their first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft by bringing their Wentz success strategy full circle and giving him another weapon. Pro Football Focus ranked JJ Arcega-Whiteside and his long-ass last name third in overall position grade for this draft (90.2), third in overall receiving grade (89.7), and third in passer rating when targeted (135.6).
Standing six foot three inches tall and weighing 221 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside is a size/speed freak comparable to Alshon Jeffery who will likely be an immediate contributor to this offense. Maybe this is what Wentz needed to avoid targeting Ertz 20 times per game.
Arcega-Whiteside should help out in the redzone as well due to his elite box-out skills, leaping ability, ball skills, and catch radius. Aside from D.K. Metcalf, he might be the strongest wide receiver in this draft, and it shows in his stats and on his highlight reel.
The Stanford Cardinal scored 23 times in his final two seasons at the University (14 of which came his senior year), and he broke 1,000 receiving yards in 2018 in just 12 games on only 63 catches as he averaged nearly 17 yards per catch (16.8). If he stays healthy the whole season, I’d bet this guy puts up close to double-digit TDs in just his first season in the league, and just his first season catching touchdowns from Carson.