NFL Draft: Making a case for Eagles to take an offensive lineman

Ed Kracz

Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has left enough verbal clues during interviews with reporters that it feels like he and his brain trust will be taking an offensive or defensive lineman with the 25th overall pick when the NFL Draft begins next Thursday night.

While there is plenty of focus on that pick, the Eagles, at the moment, have two picks in the second round (Nos. 53 and 57 overall) on Friday, but no picks in the third round, also held on Friday. They have seven picks over the three-day draft, and you can bet that at least one, maybe two, will be offensive linemen.

Here is a case for them taking an offensive lineman at No. 25:

The Eagles have selected just two O linemen in the first round since 2011. One worked out – Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2013. The other was one of the franchise’s biggest busts – Danny Watkins with the 23rd overall pick in 2011.

Watkins aside, the Eagles have drafted well when it comes to offensive linemen over the past eight years. They have taken 10 since 2011 and only two have been swings and misses. In addition to Watkins, there was Brandon Washington, a sixth-round pick in 2012.

Watkins aside, the 2011 draft was particularly fruitful, with the team taking center Jason Kelce in the sixth round and guard Julian Vandervelde in the fifth round. Kelce has started 110 games, including 73 in a row, and Vandervelde played 17 games as a reserve in five seasons with the Eagles.

The two that came in 2016 have paid big dividends – Isaac Seumalo, who is now the starting left guard, came in the third round, and fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was the Eagles’ starter during the bulk of their Super Bowl run, is a valuable reserve.

Last year netted them a pair of diamonds-in-the-rough in sixth-rounder Matt Pryor, who could be this year’s starting right guard until Brandon Brooks returns to 100 percent after tearing an Achilles in mid-January, and seventh-rounder Jordan Mailata, who could be the heir to the left tackle position when Jason Peters calls it a career. That, of course, depends on Mailata’s development from Australian rugby sensation to NFL starter.

“Matt showed a lot of improvement throughout the season, through training camp and into the season,” Kelce told reporters on Monday. “He’s a young guy we’re really excited about; a guy like Jordan Mailata, he’s probably not a guard, but the improvement he’s made has been spectacular as well.”

Another hit for the Birds was Dennis Kelly, who played in 30 games, with 15 starts, after arriving in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Kelly was traded to the Titans in 2016 and he continues to get into games with Tennessee.

The Eagles did not draft an O lineman in the 2014 or 2015 drafts.

So the Eagles come into the 2019 draft with a good track record of identifying O line talent for nearly a decade.

They also come into the draft knowing that Kelce will be retiring sooner rather than later, despite the recent contract extension that runs through 2021. Kelce has had a litany of injuries that he been tough enough to play through, but, at 31, his ability to do so may get more difficult.

That means the Eagles could be on the prowl for an interior lineman.

There are candidates, including Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, who was one of the 30 player-visits the Eagles get. Lindstrom has the versatility that the Eagles love, with the ability to play center, guard, and even move out to tackle if needed. Seumalo had the same skill set when he came out of Oregon State and has played every position except right guard since entering the league.

North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury can also play guard and center and could be someone to watch in the first round.

Or the Eagles may prefer someone with the skillset to play tackle and guard, which would make Cody Ford an option. Ford allowed just two sacks in four seasons at Oklahoma, which, of course, is the same school that produced Johnson. So there is familiarity.

The Eagles, especially line coach Jeff Stoutland, also are in love with Alabama State’s Tytus Howard, who is considered more of a project and could be a later-round pick.

Both Ford and Howard also were among the 30 Eagles visits.

Coming next: Making a case for a defensive lineman