Next in our ongoing series, we will be taking a look at the Eagles’ offensive line. This unit has arguably been the best offensive line in the NFL for the last several seasons but is facing major questions after the departure of a legend and yet another injury. What can we expect from this line in 2020?
Eagles Positional Breakdown Archives
In 2019 the Eagles traded up in the first round of the NFL draft to select Andre Dillard, a player who they viewed as a top 10 talent in the draft. He spent the majority of his rookie season on the bench behind veteran LT Jason Peters, but he did play in a handful of games due to injuries to Peters and to RT Lane Johnson. He ended his rookie campaign with a PFF grade of 59.7.
Heading into the 2020 season, Jason Peters is gone (not that he couldn’t return, he is still a free agent), and Andre Dillard is penciled in as the starting left tackle for the Eagles. The step down from Peters to Dillard is clear. In 2019 Peters allowed 25 pressures on 602 pass-blocking snaps while Dillard allowed the same number of pressures on only 183 pass-blocking snaps.
The Eagles seemingly soured on Dillard over the offseason as they toyed with the idea of retaining Jason Peters and rumors began to swirl that the team was looking to trade Dillard during the 2020 NFL Draft. Ultimately none of those rumors came to fruition, at least not yet. Dillard enters the 2020 season under intense scrutiny as the Eagles faithful hold their collective breaths and wait to see what becomes of the former first round pick.
Seumalo was selected in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft. He appeared in 9 games in 2016 before becoming the starter at LG during the 2017 season. During the 2019 season, he was graded with a 69.6 rating by PFF and allowed a total of 5 sacks on the season. Seumalo is a solid replacement-level starting guard in the National Football League despite what Eagles fans may tell you.
Seumalo has always caught more criticism than his play warranted for a couple of key reasons:
- He is by far the weakest link on the offensive line, and more than perhaps any other fan-base, the Eagles fan-base highly values offensive line play. Being the weakest link on any unit isn’t ideal, but when the other four guys on that unit are almost certain Hall of Famers, it certainly lessens the blow.
- Seumalo quietly has good games and loudly has disastrous ones. He doesn’t get matched up with stud EDGE rushers and shut them down like Lane Johnson does. He isn’t spotted running 20 yards downfield pancaking linebackers with one arm like Jason Kelce does. When Seumalo plays well, you don’t hear his name. But when he struggles, he really struggles – as he did in week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons giving up 2 sacks, 6 pressures, and 8 hurries to Grady Jarrett.
Seumalo is a solid starting offensive guard, and I expect him to remain at that level in the 2020 season. If he can eliminate those once a season terrible games, that would even be all the better.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. That picture will always be what I see in my head when I hear Jason Kelce’s name. Anyways, on April 16th Jason Kelce announced his retirement… from arm wrestling. In the process, he terrified every Eagles fan who stumbled across the post. Kelce is the ultimate value pick for the Eagles, entering his 10th season in the league after being a 6th round pick. He is the best center in the NFL and will continue to be until he decides that he has had enough and calls it quits, something he has mulled over the last couple of seasons.
Kelce is a technician in the trenches, making up for his lack of size with perfect technique and athleticism. He is the anchor in the middle of the Eagles’ offensive line. Jason Peters, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson have missed a lot of time over the years, but you have to go all the way back to the 2014 season to find the last game where Kelce wasn’t on the field for the Eagles.
Not only is he an elite talent and durable, but he is also extremely tough. In the 2018 season, he played through a Grade 2 MCL sprain, a broken foot, a torn elbow that necessitated a large brace, and various other injuries, all on the way to turning in yet another all-pro season.
I don’t know when Jason Kelce will finally decide to walk away from the game, but I know the Eagles will feel his loss in a major way.
The loss of Brandon Brooks before the season even began was a terrible blow to the offensive line. Brooks is the best offensive lineman on the Eagles roster and perhaps the best lineman in the entire NFL. In 2019, he was rated with the 5th highest player grade of any position by PFF. In the four years that Brooks has been an Eagle, the team has won 65% of the games that Brooks has played over half the snaps while losing all six games where he has failed to hit that mark. So yeah, losing Brooks is a huge deal.
But the next-man-up mentality runs deep in Philadelphia, and that next man up is Matt Pryor. Pryor was a 6th round selection in 2018 and filled in for Brooks in the playoff game last season after he was injured. He wasn’t great. But he wasn’t terrible. He was graded 62.0 by PFF which, while not amazing, is the sort of performance you could be fine with sandwiched between Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.
There are three big things working in Matt Pryor’s favor as he steps into the starting lineup:
- The injury happened early. This gives Pryor more time to get up to speed and work with the starters rather than being thrown into the fire in a playoff game.
- Jeff Stoutland is considered one of, if not, the best offensive line coaches in the NFL. His track record with Big V and Isaac Seumalo is stellar. Stoutland will give Pryor a great chance to succeed.
- He will have the luxury of playing between the best C in the game, Jason Kelce, and the best RT in the game, Lane Johnson. The help that he will have on either side will take a lot of the burden off of him.
In 2019 Lane Johnson allowed 1 sack in the entire season. Think about that for a minute. One sack. All season. That’s crazy, but it is just another day in the office for Johnson who has made three consecutive Pro Bowls. He was given an 88.8 PFF grade for his efforts last season and is ready to step up even more in 2020 with Brandon Brooks out for the season.
The Eagles have fully committed to the future with Johnson, signing him to a $72 million extension last season and making him the highest-paid offensive lineman at the time. That extension keeps Johnson with the team through the 2025 season, one season longer than even QB Carson Wentz’s deal.
The Eagles know what they have in Johnson, and what they have is the best RT in the NFL.
Mailata was the 233rd overall pick in the 7th round of the 2018 Draft. He had never even played football before, and yet the Eagles took a swing on him as a developmental piece for the offensive line. He had a strong showing in the preseason but was ultimately placed on injured reserve during his rookie season. Last season he was again placed on injured reserve with a back injury.
Entering his 3rd year in the NFL, Mailata has yet to play a regular-season snap and has run into serious injury issues along the way. It could be argued that the Eagles used the “injury” tag quite liberally in order to keep him on the team without taking up a roster spot, but with both Jason Peters and Big V gone, this is the year for Mailata. If he can’t manage to maneuver himself into the backup tackle spot, then it is likely this will be his last ride in Philly.
Herbig was a UDFA last season who never really played in 2019. The Eagles did like him enough to put them on their active roster rather than risk him being stolen from the practice squad though, so perhaps he can fill in as a backup in 2020.
Opeta was another UDFA who followed a similar path to Herbig, signing with the Eagles, spending time on the practice squad, and then ultimately being promoted to the active roster.
Driscoll was a 4th round selection from Auburn in this year’s NFL Draft. He played OT last season but has some experience at OG as well, displaying the versatility the Eagles covet from their offensive linemen. Driscoll is your token day 3 pick for the Eagles: an athletic lineman with potential that they will turn over to Jeff Stoutland.
He is highly athletic and projects favorably to a zone-blocking scheme. His biggest weakness is his functional strength, the same weakness Andre Dillard has and even Jason Kelce had early in his career.
Prince Tega Wanogho
The Eagles grabbed the other OT from Auburn in the 6th round with the 210th pick. I’m not sure if a team has ever grabbed both starting OTs from the same college team in the same draft before, but that would be a fun stat for someone to look up. Similarly to Driscoll, Wanogho is highly athletic and projects best to a zone-blocking scheme. He was generally evaluated as a mid-to-high day 2 pick, but he had knee issues throughout the offseason. With the lack of meetings and medical checks, he slid down draft board. But in the 6th round, it is always worth taking a flyer on a high upside prospect with a medical red flag. He is a player I could see the Eagles placing on IR for his rookie season similarly to how Jordan Mailata was.
Position Grade and Final Thoughts
The Eagles’ offensive line takes a large step back in 2020 thanks to the departure of Jason Peters, the injury of Brandon Brooks, and the departure of Big V. Gone are the days when the Eagles could count on having the best offensive line in the league. Instead, they have replaced that strength with several big question marks:
- Can Andre Dillard hack it for an entire season at LT?
- With Big V gone, who is the backup LT? What about the backup RT?
- Can Matt Pryor slide in as the starting RG? The Eagles were comfortable with him as a backup a year ago, but now who is his backup?
When you start to stack those questions on top of questions at the WR position, the Eagles’ offensive outlook for 2020 gets pretty murky really fast.
However, even if the Eagles’ offensive line takes a big step backward in 2020, there are still about 15-20 teams that would trade the Eagles straight up for their line. PFF projected the Eagles to have the 10th best offensive line in 2020, and that feels about right for me. If Andre Dillard lives up to the hype that surrounded him during the 2018 draft, I could even see them creeping into the top 6 or 8.