Let’s rewind to the 2019 draft. The Eagles held the 25th overall pick and leapfrogged two teams in order to trade up for pick No. 22. They selected the heir to Jason Peters’ left tackle position in Washington State’s Andre Dillard. Houston, wielding the 23rd pick, had an affinity for Dillard.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 26, 2019
One of the Eagles’ agendas for Dillard in 2019 was learning the intricacies of NFL left tackle and prepping behind Peters. Peters entered the final year of his contract and played this season at age 36. Philadelphia anticipated Dillard would naturally slide into Peters’ left tackle spot in 2020.
Forced into Action
However, injuries derailed expectations, and the Eagles’ unfortunately dealt with both their left tackle and right tackle Lane Johnson succumbing to them. In Philadelphia’s Week 6 matchup against Minnesota, Dillard replaced Peters in the second quarter.
His adversaries were studs Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. On Andre Dillard’s first play, Griffen bounced out on his rush before coming inward and mauled Dillard. Griffen failed to wrap up Wentz, but Dillard picked himself up off U.S. Bank Stadium’s turf.
Griffen’s power overwhelmed Dillard, who hadn’t played more than 10 offensive snaps in a game until the Minnesota clash. In another instance where Dillard’s lack of strength doomed him, Griffen met Dillard at the 25-yard line and proceeded to drive his feet into the ground.
The force generated by Griffen’s lower body affected Dillard, backpedaling the rookie nearly six yards into Wentz, as Dillard’s counter was unsustainable.
Later in the contest, Dillard and Griffen reenacted the scene on two different occasions. Griffen clutched Dillard’s breast plate and took him for a backwards ride into Wentz. Wentz completed a pass while throwing into coverage on the other instance.
Andre Dillard’s limitation in this department presented itself during his other starts. Dallas EDGE Robert Quinn and Buffalo EDGE Shaq Lawson weigh 257 pounds and 267 pounds, respectively. Both were able to leverage their lower body power and sack Wentz.
Adding muscle is paramount for an offensive lineman so they can repel pass rushers, angle defenders in both passing and rushing situations, and hold their blocks.
Andre Dillard Struggled at RT
Dillard also shifted to right tackle against Seattle, in wake of Johnson’s injury, and mightily struggled. A near-decade long gap in playing the other bookend slot showed against Seattle, which was accompanied by strength concerns.
#Eagles rookie Andre Dillard, who is set to start Sunday against the #Seahawks in place of the injured Lane Johnson, said that he's never played right tackle in a game. Since age 14, it's only been left tackle.
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) November 22, 2019
Andre Dillard and a sweeping JJ Arcega-Whiteside tripped each other on this read in the first clip, contributing to defensive end Rasheem Green stripping Wentz for a forced fumble. Former top-five pick Ziggy Ansah mirrored Griffen by exerting pressure on Dillard to match his power. Ansah would’ve recorded a sack on the second clip if there wasn’t a hold in Seattle’s secondary on the play.
Forcing the pocket to collapse early resulted in Wentz having to move up in the pocket during the final clip of this montage. He was unable to throw due to pressure from the left side of the Eagles’ offensive line.
(Andre Dillard is on the far left side of the offensive line on the first and third clip, while on the right for the second highlight)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced Dillard in the second half, as Dillard disappointed filling in Johnson’s right tackle spot.
Need for Improvement
Courtesy of The Washington Post, Andre Dillard allowed a team-high six sacks in 16 games. Naturally, Dillard’s experience factored into his disappointing rookie campaign. Left tackle is a complex assignment, plus the athleticism jump clearly played its role. A second offseason to mold his frame and analyzing first-year film for technique improvement will benefit the 2019 first-round pick.
In early-January, Dillard spoke with NBCSN Philly’s Dave Zangaro about his takeaway from spelling Peters.
“I’m really glad that I got those chances because that’s what I was brought in to do for the future. It helped me get my feet wet a little bit and really helped me kind of gauge what it’s like being out there on the big stage in live situations.”
Andre Dillard displayed some warts in his rookie year and with Super Bowl-sized expectations for Philadelphia next season, Dillard’s play will be under the microscope on a larger scale. In the Eagles’ best interest, they should flip Dillard the keys at left tackle and let Peters either retire or walk.
Dillard played nearly penalty-free football as a rookie, totaling just one false start and no holding penalties. Also, Dillard is a mobile tackle and his Combine results are proof.
Check out how he fared in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle: 94th percentile, 89th percentile and 98th percentile, respectively. Dillard can move for an offensive lineman.
With a 99th percentile broad jump, Andre Dillard’s athleticism can and should be tapped into. Dillard is a contrast to Peters, whose diminished mobility hindered his ability in 2019. His strengths can be utilized in a variety of ways. Screen plays for any skill position will allow Dillard to either flex and block on screens to the boundary or enter the second level for downfield blocks.
Dillard could handle the movement of zone blocking and would be nimble enough to pull. Here’s an example of Dillard pulling in the gap, while center Jason Kelce blocks the three-technique defensive tackle. Timing, speed, and strength are all necessities.
Can Andre Dillard Live Up to Expectations?
The pressing need to sizably improve stems from the Eagles’ expectations and Andre Dillard’s body of work this season. You can also include the first-round pick expectation Dillard has to meet. He can’t be a target for defensive coordinators to exploit in a critical second season.
Dillard’s dismal 58th rating among tackles last season, per Pro Football Focus, will skyrocket, and he’ll absorb guidance from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Next season will be crucial for determining his value in Doug Pederson’s offense.