The Eagles finished one of the most unusual drafts in franchise history on Saturday. They entered the week with six picks but drafted only five players as a result of trades. So they finished with the second-fewest picks of any of the 32 teams and the organization’s fewest since 1989.
They took four players on the final day of the draft: Pittsburgh cornerback Avonte Maddox and Florida State defensive end Josh Sweat in the fourth round; Texas Christian offensive lineman Matt Pryor in the sixth round; and Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata in the seventh round, an eye-opening pick because the 6-foot-8, 346-pound offensive lineman has never played a down of football in his life.
Tight end Dallas Goedert was the second-round pick the Eagles selected on Friday. There was also a frenzied pitch to sign undrafted players as free agents. The Eagles also announced that veteran running back/returner Darren Sproles resigned on Saturday, taking some of the sting off not adding a running back.
For all the value the Eagles place on the draft, with a team of scouts who canvas the country throughout the fall and spring to evaluate every prospect, the Eagles drafted only four college players in large part because of previous trades to land Carson Wentz, Ronald Darby, and Jay Ajayi that required the Eagles to sacrifice 2018 picks.
“Before we even started,” top executive Howie Roseman said, “we felt like we had some things out of the first couple of rounds.”
Roseman also noted that in the negotiations for the trade to land Wentz in 2016, they refused to deal their top two picks in 2017. They insisted picks be spread through 2018 to alleviate the burden in one year. With the Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick, they took cornerback Sidney Jones, who they knew would need to sit most of his rookie season. Roseman said the Eagles consider Jones a part of this rookie class, going so far as listing him on their draft board as a reminder.
Plus, they added a 2019 second-round pick when they traded out of the 2018 first round, so they’ll be well-stocked next season. Because of how few resources the Eagles had this week, they needed to wait until the 125th overall pick to draft their second player.
That was Maddox, a 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He can compete for the Eagles’ nickel cornerback spot after the team lost Patrick Robinson and will also contribute on special teams. Most of his experience came on the outside, but coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles will take a look at him in the slot.
The knock on Maddox is his size. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during the telecast that Maddox would have been a first-round pick if he was 6-feet tall. There’s no knocking his production or toughness. He was third-team all-ACC last season and started at Pitt since his freshman season, totaling eight career interceptions.
“This is a guy that fits in with our DB room,” said Joe Douglas, the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel. “It’s a group of highly competitive guys, and he’s going to blend in perfectly, and even stand out to a degree. Even though he’s not the biggest guy, he will attack and support. He [was] a productive tackler for Pittsburgh.”
Sweat was an upside pick. He was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school in the class of 2015 and oozes potential with a 6-foot-5, 251-pound frame and a blazing 4.53-second 40-yard dash. He had seven sacks in 2016 and 5 1/2 sacks in 2017. He started since his true freshman season. The scheme did not always feature Sweat in the downhill, edge-rushing role that he would play in Philadelphia.
A significant knee injury during Sweat’s senior year in high school has followed him ever since and was one of the big reasons he slipped to Day 3. Roseman brought up the health questions unprompted, knowing that was going to be an issue. Roseman said the Eagles gave him medical clearance. Sweat said the health questions were “without a doubt” the reason he was still available in the fourth round but said he was “ cleared by every team that I know of” during the medical evaluation at the combine. He missed only one game in college, where Douglas said Sweat was “durable.”
Douglas was drawn to Sweat’s “first-step takeoff,” which allows him to gain ground on the offensive tackle. Sweat turned 21 last month, and the Eagles can afford to be patient with him because they return Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, and Steven Means at defensive end. They also added Michael Bennett via trade.
“That’s what we call ‘rich man problems,’ ” Roseman said. “That’s how we’re going to build this. We’re always going to put priority on the lines. …When you look at the draft, the draft isn’t about filling needs. It’s about the long-term interests of your football team. We’ve got to make sure that not only do we have the right players in that room this year … but that we also have the right players going forward.”
The Eagles traded their fifth-round pick to move up three spots on Friday to select Goedert, leaving them with only a sixth-round pick and seventh-round pick remaining. Both players picked in those rounds had size in common.
Pryor is 6-7 and 335 pounds and weighed 380 pounds as a freshman. He started at both guard and tackle at TCU, and the Eagles valued that versatility.
“Pryor is a giant of a human being,” Douglas said. “Excellent length and mass. …What he does at guard is he puts people on the ground with ease.”
It’s rare that the 6-7, 335-pound lineman is not the biggest player in his draft class, but the Eagles went even bigger by adding the 6-8, 346-pound Mailata, who has 35 1/2-inch arms and reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds. A former rugby player, Mailata started training to play in January. He came on the Eagles’ radar in March, and they scouted him extensively last month. They traded up in the seventh round to draft him, dealing a 2019 seventh-round pick to beat other suitors.
“Excited about the size and athleticism,” Douglas said. “I mean, those measurables are pretty rare.”
The rookie class could expand when the undrafted rookies officially ink their contracts, although the Eagles knew going into the draft that their 2018 roster was not going to be led by rookies. They won the Super Bowl last season and assembled a roster designed to repeat. That made draft week more of a challenge than it had been in a long time and probably more challenging than it will be for a long time.
“I think we don’t want to be in the position where we have this few picks again,” Roseman said. “I think it’s a hard first couple of days for people who put a lot of time and effort into the process, and you see that. The last two days, it’s hard.”