On the list of “most important positions to get right” in the NFL, offensive tackle is among the top two or three. Quarterback, of course, is first. A pass rusher is right at the top of the list. And a cornerback, a truly shutdown kind of guy, ranks very high as well.
But offensive tackle, particularly on the left side, the quarterback’s blind side, is so incredibly important. And for the Philadelphia Eagles, as they sat in their Draft Room in the NovaCare Complex last week during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, couldn’t quite believe their eyes as Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard stayed on the board through 15 picks, then 17, then 20.
At 22, it was time to move. The Eagles did just that, trading from 25 to 22 and taking Dillard, whom they expect, in time and with some work to improve, to be the team’s left tackle in the long-term future.
“There are not many people on this earth,” Howie Roseman said, “who have the kind of athleticism that the guy we got had so those things are hard to find.”
The Eagles have covered their blind side so incredibly well since the draft misses way back in the 1980s (Kevin Allen, Antone Davis, Bernard Williams, to name three), and it all started with the first-round selection of Tra Thomas from Florida State in 1998. A three-time Pro Bowl player, Thomas manned the position through 2008 and then the Eagles moved on and traded for Jason Peters in 2009. Peters, of course, has been the best of the best since then, and even during the stretches when he’s been hurt, the Eagles have compensated. Remember that Halapoulivaati Vaitai, not the injured Peters, was the team’s starter in the Super Bowl LII win over New England.
The point is, the Eagles put an incredibly high value on the left tackle position, and when they saw a talented player like Dillard on the board as the first round went along last week, they did what they needed to do to get him.
Now they have to make him into an NFL left tackle. And a great one at that.
“I know how much work I need to put in and that I have to improve in every area to play at a high level in the NFL,” said Dillard, who started 39 consecutive games at Washington State and was an All-American player as a senior. “This is just a start. The hard work is still ahead of me.”
Dillard looks the part at 6 feet 5, 315 pounds. He has extremely athletic feet, long arms and polish as a pass protector, having allowed just a single sack in nearly 700 pass attempts in his senior season. The Eagles had him rated as a top 10 player in the draft, and they think he’s next in line when Peters is finished.
For this year, Peters is the starter. Vaitai may very well be the No. 2. Jordan Mailata, a longshot draft pick a year ago who wowed people with his athletic ability even though he had never played the game until last spring, suddenly has a tougher route to a roster spot and playing time.
And then there’s Dillard, The Future.
“Our evaluation was this was the best tackle in the draft, and so usually those guys go in the top 10. That’s how we had him rated,” Roseman said. “When he started to fall, we just saw an opportunity to get a top 10 player. Again, when you have a top 10 player at an important position, it doesn’t matter about the depth on our team. We’re trying to load up on the lines.” ••