The Eagles finally drafted a cornerback, taking Texas Tech’s Zech McPhearson Saturday with their fourth-round pick, pick 123 overall.
McPhearson, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, began his career at Penn State and played poorly in 2017 and 2018 before transferring to Texas Tech, where he turned into a starter in 2019. He was a first-team all-Big 12 Conference this past season after recording four interceptions (second-most in the conference) along with 53 tackles and six pass knockdowns in 10 games.
The Eagles went into the draft with cornerback as their biggest need, and McPhearson joins a cornerback room with Darius Slay and a whole bunch of question marks.
Considering the current state of the Eagles’ cornerback position, McPhearson will have the opportunity to earn reps right from the start. McPhearson should get an opportunity to get on the field right away, although it might be a lot to ask a rookie fourth-round pick to contribute meaningful reps at outside corner, where the Eagles have a big need.
With Slay at one outside corner spot, there is no clear favorite at CB2. Avonte Maddox, a fourth-round pick three years ago, was the opening-day starter last year, but he’s dealt with injuries and inconsistent play and isn’t signed beyond 2021.
Other than Slay, Maddox, and McPhearson, the Eagles’ cornerback room right now is made up of people like Jameson Houston, Michael Jacquet and Kevon Seymour.
The Eagles used their fifth-round pick on a very exciting addition for Nick Sirianni’s offense by drafting running back Kenneth Gainwell — which is a great name for a running back — out of Memphis with pick 150.
Gainwell, 5-foot-8, 201 lbs, should be a perfect fit for the Eagles’ new scheme and a great complement for Miles Sanders.
While Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season, he had a tremendous 2019 season. He rushed for 1,459 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2019. But perhaps just as importantly, Gainwell caught 51 passes for 610 yards and 3 touchdowns.
We already know that Sirianni likes to use his running backs as receiving threats and Gainwell has the potential to fill a similar role to the one Nyheim Hines has filled in Indianapolis for the last few years.
Gainwell could end up being a fantastic player in the NFL.
The Eagles added USC defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu with the 189th pick, the second interior defensive lineman they’ve selected in this draft.
Tuipulotu (pronounced TOO-ee-poo-LOW-too), 6-foot-2, 310 lbs, spent four years at USC and was a three-year starter, posting up 15 tackles for loss and 8 ½ sacks over the last three seasons.
In Williams and Tuipulotu, the Eagles have added depth behind starters Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave and veteran backup Hassan Ridgeway, who they re-signed this spring.
Tuipulotu did not play much in 2017 while dealing with back and knee issues. He became a full-time starter as a red-shirt freshman in 2018, when he recorded 4 ½ sacks, then turned into an NFL prospect in 2019 as a sophomore.
This past year he earned first-team All-PAC 12 honors and earned an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he further enhanced his draft status.
The Eagles completed an early 6th-round double dip on the defensive line, taking defensive end Tarron Jackson from Coastal Carolina with pick 191.
That pick came just two spots after they landed Marlon Tuipulotu from USC.
Jackson, 22, finished his college career as Coastal Carolina’s all-time sack leader. During his college career, Jackson piled up 26 ½ sacks to go along with 44 ½ tackles for loss and 6 forced fumbles.
Over the last two seasons, he had 18 ½ sacks and 27 TFLs. He was a First-Team All-Sun Belt conference player in 2019 and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
Jackson said he wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school but felt like he fit in at Coastal Carolina, which made the transition from FCS to FBS early in Jackson’s college career.
At 6-foot-2, 254 pounds, Jackson has a stocky build and could project as a rotational defensive end piece for the Birds.
The Eagles bring back Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat as their top defensive ends in 2021 but the position is far from settled long-term. Graham is 33 now, Barnett is playing this season on his fifth-year option and Sweat is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
The Eagles made a minor trade as they sent a late sixth-round pick and a seventh-rounder to Washington for a 2022 fifth-round pick.
This made sense.
Before this trade, the Eagles were set to make 11 selections in a draft class that most consider to be slightly weaker depth-wise than normal because of how many players are returning to school following the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead, they got some more value in the 2022 class.
Here are the terms of the trade:
Eagles got: 2020 fifth-rounder
Washington got: No. 225 (sixth round), No. 240 (seventh round)
The Eagles are now scheduled to have 10 picks next year. Here’s an updated list of the Eagles’ draft picks next year:
Round 1: Own pick
Round 1: Dolphins’ pick
Round 2: Colts pick (could turn into a first if Carson Wentz plays at least 75% of the Colts’ offensive snaps, or he plays at least 70% of the Colts’ offensive snaps and the Colts make the playoffs)
Round 2: Own pick
Round 3: Own pick
Round 4: Own pick
Round 5: Own pick
Round 5: Washington’s pick
Round 6: Own pick
Round 7: Own pick
The Eagles added LSU hybrid lineabcker-safety JaCoby Stevens with the 224th pick Saturday, their third 6th-rounder of the day.
Stevens, 6-foot-1, 215 lbs, made a name for himself as a junior playing mostly on the line of scrimmage, rushing the passer and stuffing the run. After his junior year he was considered a day two prospect by many draft analysts and was even thought to be a candidate to go in the first round by some.
This past year, he played more of a deep safety role, he added some weight, his play suffered and his draft stock plunged.
For what it’s worth, the Eagles are calling the 22-year-old Stevens a linebacker and not a safety.
Stevens is so athletic that that he began his college career as a wide receiver and caught a couple passes as a true freshman in the fall of 2017, including a 27-yarder against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
He moved to defense as a sophomore and became a starter late in the season and was a full-time starter and second-team All-SEC pick as a junior, helping LSU win the national championship.
Stevens finished his college career with 21 ½ tackles for loss, 9 ½ sacks, four interceptions, 15 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.
Where Stevens fits into the Eagles’ defensive plans is hard to say right now because he has a limited skill set, but his strengths are along the line of scrimmage, covering backs out of the backfield, and getting to the quarterback.
The Eagles have a mixed bag at linebacker, with free agent acquisition Eric Wilson, who had three sacks and three interceptions last season for the Minnesota Vikings in his first year as an NFL starter; Alex Singleton, who led the NFL in tackles over the last two months of the season; T.J. Edwards, who started 12 games last year; and two 2020 rookies, Davion Genard Avery, who the Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a couple years ago, is expected to work at linebacker as well in camp.
Stevens is the first safety or linebacker the Eagles drafted this year. After going offense in the first two rounds with Devonta Smith and Landon Dickerson, six of the Eagles’ next seven players were defensive players, two defensive tackles, two edges, a corner, and Stevens.
The Eagles finished out their draft on a run of defensive players capped by Tulane’s Patrick Johnson in the seventh round with pick 234.
Johnson is the fourth-straight defensive player drafted and makes it six of the Eagles’ final seven picks on the defensive side of the ball.
While Johnson, 6-foot-2, 240 lbs, was listed as an edge player, the Eagles called him a linebacker when they announced the pick.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles’ plans for him are because he wasn’t an off-ball ‘backer for for the Green Wave.
But Johnson was a productive pass rusher in college, with 24 ½ sacks in his final three years with six forced fumbles and 39 tackles for loss.
The Eagles ended up drafting nine players in their 2021 class, with six on the defensive side of the ball.
2021 Eagles draft class
4-123: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech
5-150: Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
6-189: Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
6-191: Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
6-224: JaCoby Stevens, LB, LSU
7-234: Patrick Johnson, LB, Tulane