Eagles analysis

Did the Eagles drop a hint about their plan for next week's draft?

The Eagles might have dropped some hints about their big plan for the 2024 NFL Draft next week.

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One of the most popular theories for how the Eagles will handle next week’s draft is that they will select an eventual successor for 33-year-old All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson.

It’s a theory that GM Howie Roseman didn’t shoot down on Tuesday.

While everything the general manager says during his annual pre-draft press conference should be taken with a grain of salt — it’s smokescreen season, after all — Roseman certainly seemed to lay out a strong case for taking an offensive tackle in the first round of the draft.

“When you look at Lane Johnson, you're talking about still one of the best players in the league,” Roseman said. “One of the best people, one of the best players in the league. Incredibly fortunate to have him and the level that he plays at. And, really, I can't speak for Coach, but I know just from speaking to him enough, the confidence going into a game with him being able to be our right tackle and one of the captains on this team. And so you don't ever replace that, you don't replace that in three years, you don't replace that in five years. He's a generational player and so just like we talked about with (Jason) Kelce, with [Fletcher Cox], you don't ever replace those guys. Those guys are irreplaceable.

“But when you talk about position importance, the O-line across the board has always been a huge importance to us. And it hasn't only been about the five guys. It's been about having depth up front. … it's an important position to us and so we're looking at it just in terms of numbers about not only where we are now, but also going forward.”

Maybe you don’t believe what Roseman says, especially a week before the draft. Can’t blame you there.

But it’s not just what Roseman said on Tuesday that makes you think the Eagles will select an offensive tackle early in this draft. It’s his history too.

Think back to 2019 when the Eagles used a first-round pick (No. 22) on Andre Dillard with the expectation that he would eventually replace Jason Peters. Think back to the 2022 draft when they selected Cam Jurgens in the second round (No. 51) with the expectation that he would eventually replace Kelce. Neither player had a clear path to playing time as a rookie and the Eagles still took both of them anyway.

Roseman on Tuesday gave two reasons for those types of draft picks:

1. Depth on the offensive line

2. Learning behind the greats

Roseman on Tuesday regaled media members with tales from the 2017 season when the Eagles won the Super Bowl with a backup left tackle and plenty of other backups in the lineup. He also pointed out that the Eagles’ best two depth offensive linemen from the 2023 season — Jack Driscoll and Sua Opeta — both left in free agency this offseason.

So even if there might not be a clear path for a rookie to see the field, they might need him. And we’ve seen before how quickly inadequate depth on the offensive line can sink a season.

“We don't go and say, ‘Hey, we're redshirting guys,’” Roseman said about drafting players who might be blocked from seeing the field. “Even when we drafted Cam. And so we're drafting these guys not with the intention like these guys are never going to play. And, obviously, if you have a great starting lineup and they don't play, well, that must mean that there's good things happening too. But we're not sitting there going, ‘Hey, we don't expect any contributions.’ We still have to build depth on this team. We are still going to need players that aren't in the starting lineup on day one that are going to have to contribute for us to get where we want to go.”

But if that rookie doesn’t play? He’ll be learning from the guy he’s expected to eventually replace. And that’s valuable too.

Roseman and head coach Nick Sirianni on Tuesday explained the benefit of having Jurgens learn behind Kelce for the past two seasons and having Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter learn from Cox in recent years too.

“I think that when you look at that, you have two options, right?” Roseman said. “You can kind of tell people stories about work ethic and how guys played and how they led or you can have them watch that. And so for us, when we drafted Cam, we're still always trying to recruit Jason to keep playing for as long as he felt comfortable playing. But at the same time, having [Jurgens] be able to study how Jason practices, how Jason leads, how Jason takes notes, instead of saying, ‘Man, Cam, you should have seen how Jason Kelce led, how he practiced, how he takes notes.’ We think that gives him the best potential to reach the ability that he can do and the same for [Davis] and [Carter]. 

“So there's benefits to that. In the short term, you could say, ‘Cam sat for a year and so maybe you could have gotten some bigger bang for your buck with that second-round pick in the short-term.’ But we think over the long-term, and we're trying to do things that are the best for this team over the long-term, that it makes sense for these guys to be around these great players.”

And while Jurgens basically did end up having a redshirt season as a rookie in 2022, the Eagles were able to start him at right guard in 2023 because of his versatility. That was a point Sirianni made on Tuesday.

So it’s worth noting that some of these top offensive tackle prospects are projected to have the position flexibility to play guard too. So even if Johnson, who turns 34 next month, is able to stay healthy for all 17 games in his 12th NFL season — seems unlikely — perhaps an early draft pick could supplant Tyler Steen as the starting right guard for a year or two.

It’s all starting to add up, right?

Drafting an offensive tackle in the first round next Thursday might not be the sexiest pick. But it certainly seems like one the Eagles would make. And it seems like they were getting everyone ready for that possibility on Tuesday.

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