Jordan Mailata Proved he Should Start in 2021

After being one of the few bright spots in 2020, the former Australian rugby standout showed he can be the Eagles' every-day starting LT, but what about Andre Dillard?
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PHILADELPHIA — The disastrous 2020 Eagles season may not have been a total waste, especially when it came to the all-important left tackle position, where Jordan Mailata flexed enough might and muscle to show he can be the player to protect the blindside of whoever the team's quarterback will be.

In an attempt to slowly move beyond the trade of quarterback Carson Wentz to the Colts on Thursday, it's time to examine the LT post.

It's fair to wonder if Mailata's emergence has made 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard, who was taken 22nd overall that year, a sort of spare part to the point that the Eagles could consider trading him.

The once presumed heir apparent to likely Hall of Fame left tackle, Jason Peters, Dillard will have some very heated competition to fulfill that destiny.

Dillard made four starts as a rookie then missed the entire 2020 season with a biceps injury suffered in training camp. He needed to get stronger last offseason, and he presumably did, but the intense weight training could have been a reason his biceps muscle tore during training camp.

Before the injury happened, Dillard's second-season camp was a sort of up-and-down adventure.

Mailata, meanwhile, took giants steps forward in his development, the kind of steps a giant like him would be expected to make just walking through a locker room.

Rising to 6-8, 350 pounds, Mailata was a complete project after the Eagles made him their final pick of the 2018 draft, a seventh-round selection who was the 233rd overall payer taken that year.

That project, while still needing some polish around the edges, is getting closer to completion.

"Jordan Mailata, the big rugby player, now he’s officially a football player," said Eagles center Jason Kelce on Dec. 15. "He went out there and has played really, really well. It’s always good to see a 6-9, 400-pound guy show you he’ll be a good player in the NFL. Those are kind of rare to see."

Early returns on the low-risk/high-reward move by Philadelphia’s selection of Mailata has been very positive. Eagles offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, appears to be on the verge of striking success with another young and promising player in the trenches.

"Those Pop Warner days that you used to grind out as a little guy when the toughness of football is brought into you, he didn’t do any of that stuff," said Stoutland last season, remembering when the Eagles drafted him off the rugby playing fields of Australia 

"There were a lot of those question marks in my mind, but I just said to the (scouting) guys, ‘This is an unusual guy, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but if he’s hanging around, later on, we should look at this guy.' I’m very happy he’s here.”

Mailata finished 2020 as Pro Football Focus’s top-15 graded offensive tackle from Week 11 onward. Pretty impressive for a guy who is still adjusting to the NFL game.

"Obviously, anything is possible if you put your mind to it.," said Mailata late last season. "I’ve learned a lot. I’ve overcome a lot. I just think you need to be persistent and stay on the path. I’ve had a lot of people in my life steering me in the right direction, that were there to support me."

Mailata surrendered a total of 32 pressures on 502 pass-blocking snaps last year and seems to have the right mindset needed for long-term success.

"As soon as I wake up, I’m in game mode," he said in the fall. "I’m thinking about what I’m going to do in the pass protection and run game. I think about how I’m going to do that technique execution, always thinking about the execution.

"It didn’t come straightaway just flipping the switch. I think it comes with being comfortable with the game plan, knowing your responsibility, knowing your job, knowing the right technique to execute."

Dillard surrendered 25 total pressures on 183 pass-blocking snaps his rookie year, according to PFF. Mailata averaged giving up pressures every 16 snaps, while Dillard averaged allowing pressure every seven snaps.

The Eagles should keep the pressure statistics of the two offensive tackles in mind considering both players' expectations when drafted by the team.

Mailata was the project pick with hopes of becoming the replacement to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s swing tackle role. Dillard was selected in hopes of becoming the future of the left tackle position for the Eagles. 

The roles could very easily be reversed entering the 2021 season, though Dillard has been on the left side of the line his entire football-playing days and his one start there as a rookie was abysmal, leading to him being benched at halftime.

Having depth along the offensive line is always essential, but it appears the Eagles have their left tackle of the future, and it’s not the player they expected it to be. 

Mailata has earned the chance to be the team’s starter in 2021.

Conor Myles is a contributor for Sports Illustrated’s Eagle Maven. Listen to Conor and Ed on Eagles Brawl available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and RADIO.com. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesNFL

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.