Roob's Observations

In Roob's Observations: An under-rated position of need heading into the draft

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An under-rated position of need, why DeVante Parker has a chance to help and the remarkable roster turnover over the past couple months headline this week's Roob's 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations.

1. With Jack Driscoll now in Miami, offensive tackle is suddenly quite an underrated need heading into the draft. The Eagles are set with Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson as elite starters, but they’re very thin behind them. As it stands now, Fred Johnson is the top backup. He made the team last year after an outstanding training camp but only played two snaps on offense other than the second half of the season-ending loss to the Giants. Johnson isn’t a kid. He’ll be 27 in June and he's bounced around the league – Steelers, Bengals, Bucs – before  joining the Eagles' practice squad in the middle of 2022. He’s started eight games – all with the Bengals from 2019 through 2021 - and has played both left tackle (414 career snaps) and right tackle (167 snaps) as well as some right guard (144 snaps), so he’s got some versatility. He might be OK? He sure looks the part at 6-7, 325 pounds, but he’s essentially an undrafted journeyman who hasn’t played extensively the last three years. Who else? Tyler Steen played exclusively guard as a rookie – 68 snaps at right guard, three at left guard – but played tackle in college, mainly right tackle at Vanderbilt and left tackle at Alabama. But he's also very inexperienced and has yet to play in a regular-season game at tackle. Veteran Le’Raven Clark spent last year on the practice squad and is here on a futures deal. He’s started games at both tackle spots (and right guard) in his eight-year career – 445 snaps at left tackle, 415 at right tackle, 318 at right guard – but it’s hard to imagine a 31-year-old practice squadder serving as anything more than an emergency. Brett Toth is also here on a futures deal – he’s played 102 snaps at right tackle, 61 at left guard, 30 at center and 27 at right guard over the years but isn’t seen as a realistic option. So that’s it. Right now, it's really Johnson and Steen, two guys who have promise but are essentially unproven. Will be interesting to see how Roseman addresses backup tackle in the draft and the rest of the offseason. Because he needs to.

2A. The Haason Reddick trade really puts a lot of pressure on Nolan Smith to pay off on being a 1st-round pick last year. The Eagles still have Josh Sweat, but his contract is up after 2024 and we all saw him go eight straight games without a sack to end the regular season. Brandon Graham will do what he can in his 15th season, but he won’t be playing much. Bryce Huff had 10 sacks last year but that’s the only time he's been over 3 ½ sacks in four NFL seasons. Smith’s 188 snaps were the fewest by an Eagles 1st-round rookie since Marcus Smith played just 68 in 2014. He never got any better. Twenty-five rookies had more sacks last year than Smith, including seven who were either undrafted or selected in the fourth round or later. Smith looked the part in training camp with a quick first step and the ability to turn the corner and get after the quarterback without losing speed. Then he barely played and when he did he didn’t produce. And then there’s the balky shoulder, which remains a concern. Just two years ago, the Eagles had an NFL-record five players with double-digit sacks. But Javon Hargrave is long gone, Fletcher Cox has retired, B.G. is now a deep role player and Sweat is coming off a disappointing 6 ½-sack season. The Eagles need Smith to produce. He has to. The team that brought you Jon Harris, Jerome McDougle and Marcus Smith can’t afford another 1st-round edge rush bust.

2B. One quick thought on the compensation the Eagles got back in the Reddick deal. A conditional 3rd-round pick in 2026 that could become a 2nd-round pick doesn’t sound like much for one of the top edge rushers in the NFL. But the Eagles were in a tough position because every other team knew they were desperate to unload Reddick, especially after signing Huff. And without leverage, it’s tough to get much of a return on anyone. Plus, Reddick does turn 30 in September and teams are reluctant to give up draft assets for older players, no matter how talented they are. If Reddick plays 67.5 percent of the Jets’ defensive plays and gets 10 or more sacks, that 3rd-round pick becomes a 2nd-rounder. And Reddick has been over both those figures in each of the last four years. So there’s a decent chance they’ll get that two. But that's a long way off.

3. DeVante Parker is one of the Eagles’ more intriguing free agent signings this offseason. He’s really in a new position this year as a third receiver after entering the NFL as the fifth pick overall in 2015 and spending his entire career as a starter - a disappointing starter. His production rarely came close to what you’d expect from a top-5 pick. But when you’re on a team with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, the expectations change. He doesn’t have to be The Guy anymore. He can just be A guy. When you average 629 yards per game as the fifth pick, you’re a disaster. Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins and Julio Jones combined for 60 targets last year. Give Parker 60 targets and he should get you somewhere around 500. Which is exactly what the Eagles need from that third WR. Now, just being a disappointing starter doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be an effective three. But strip away the expectations of being such a high draft pick and put him out there against third corners instead of top guys and maybe – just maybe – Parker can be that third receiver the Eagles have been missing since Riley Cooper had 577 yards behind Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews in 2014.

4. On Oct. 9, 1943, the Steagles – the combined Eagles-Steelers team – committed an NFL-record 10 fumbles in a game against the Giants at Shibe Park, losing five. The Steagles won 28-14. quarterback Roy Zimmerman also threw three interceptions. So the Steagles committed eight turnovers and won by two touchdowns. That’s never happened in the NFL before or since.

5. This is hard to believe, but during their disastrous six-game stretch to end the season, the Eagles were actually 9th in the NFL in offense, 6th in first downs, 5th in 3rd-down conversions and 6th on 4th down. So why were they 1-5? Obviously, the defense was terrible, but offensively despite moving the ball almost as well as during the 10-1 stretch – they averaged only 28 fewer yards per game the last six games compared to the first 11 – their scoring plunged more than 10 points per game - from 28.2 to 17.6. There were a lot of reasons, but the biggest was turnovers. Those first 11 games, the Eagles had 14 turnovers and 13 takeaways. Not great but middle of the pack. The last six games they had 14 turnovers and five takeaways for a league-worst minus-eight turnover margin. Impossible to win that way. 

6. A couple new analytics categories on Stathead are times hurried for a quarterback and times hit. By comparing the two figures, you get a pretty interesting sense of how elusive Jalen Hurts was this year when under pressure. According to Stathead’s figures, Hurts was hurried 59 times and hit 29 times, which means he got hit on 49 percent of his hurries, by far the lowest ratio in the league last year. Hurts’ college teammate, Tua Tagovailoa, had the 2nd-lowest figure, but it’s not close to Hurts – he was hit 27 times and hurried 39 times for 69 percent. It wasn’t a great year for Hurts, although he was very good at times. But these numbers show just how valuable his elusiveness remains even when things aren't going well around him. 

7. Some 44 different players started at least one game for the Eagles last year, and an astounding 20 of them are no longer with the team: Jason Kelce (17 starts) and Fletcher Cox (15) retired; Haason Reddick (17) was traded; Avonte Maddox (2) was released; D'Andre Swift (15), Nicholas Morrow (12), Kevin Byard (10), Jack Stoll (10), Sua Opeta (6), Quez Watkins (5), Jacks Driscoll (1) and Olamide Zaccheaus (1) signed with new teams; Terrell Edmunds (3), Kentavius Street (1) and Christian Ellis (1) were either traded or released during the 2023 season; and Zach Cunningham (10), Justin Evans (4), Julio Jones (4), Shaq Leonard (3) and Bradley Roby (1) are free agents who haven't signed anywhere. Those 20 guys started a combined 138 games last year. And that doesn’t even include James Bradberry, who could be released or traded (or Derek Barnett, who didn't start any games before the Eagles released him). By the time opening day rolls around, it’s likely more than half of last year’s starters will be gone. Which is extraordinary for an 11-win playoff team. Extraordinary but necessary.

8. Either Steve Van Buren, Chuck Bednarik, Harold Carmichael, William Thomas, Brian Dawkins or Jason Kelce has played in every postseason win in Eagles history.

9. Great quote you might have missed from Jeff Lurie Tuesday blasting the Giants. He was asked about the risk in signing a running back to a huge contract and was pretty blunt about how much he thinks Saquon Barkley will benefit from a better situation with the Eagles than he had with the Giants: “He exhibited a very special skill set, both in the running and the passing game, that we think certainly can be maximized by being on a team with better skill positions, quarterback, offensive line.” It’s true. But you don’t often hear an NFL owner disparaging players on another team like that. Especially a division rival. Who happened to beat the Eagles 27-10 at the Linc on the last day of the season. 

10. Curious Saquon Barkley note: In the seven games last year where he got 16 or fewer carries, he averaged 4.4 yards (88-for-389). In the seven games he had 17 or more carries, he averaged just 3.6 (159-for-573). That’s a pretty substantial difference. 

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