PHILADELPHIA — For all of the hours spent poring over film, conducting interviews and scouring the country for unearthed prospects and information leading up to the NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles have kept things pretty simple over the past couple of years when on the clock, especially on Day 1 and Day 2.
They selected receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson from the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide with their first two picks last year. This time around, they homed in on the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and took two players from their dominant defense in defensive tackle Jordan Davis (13th overall) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (83rd overall).
“I think experience is a great teacher. Sometimes, it’s not that hard. Great players, great school, high recruits, play at the highest level, it kind of works,” said general manager Howie Roseman.
“These guys know what it takes, and I think that the NFL season, it’s a roller-coaster ride, it’s the ups and downs, and when you have guys that when you’re down are going to help bring you back up, and those guys that are champions know what happens when adversity hits and how to raise the level of everyone, that’s what team is all about. … So, yeah, it’s intentional. It’s intentional to get winners.”
Davis and Dean can make an immediate impact as Smith and Dickerson did as rookies, and have the ability to transform the Eagles’ defense over time.
Davis (6-foot-6, 341 pounds) is the stout, block-absorbing presence defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has been looking for as he incorporates more 3-4 principles into his system. Opposing teams avoided running at Davis, averaging 8.1 rushes per game up the middle against Georgia — the lowest in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has the talent to be much more than just a run-stuffer, as evidenced by his 4.78 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine at 341 pounds — the fastest 40-time by a player 325 pounds or heavier since at least 2006.
“Man, I’m excited for big boy because he’s going to be taking two or three people with him hopefully, and taking a lot off us,” said defensive end Brandon Graham.
Linebackers are the greatest beneficiaries, and nobody knows that better than Dean, the 2021 Butkus Award winner and Associated Press first-team All-America selection. Freed up behind Davis, he posted 72 tackles (10.5 for loss), six sacks and a pair of interceptions for Georgia last season while serving as the heartbeat for the No. 1 defense in the country.
He has a chance to be the biggest steal of the draft. According to ESPN’s Draft Day Predictor, there was only a 2% chance Dean would last to No. 83. Medical concerns about his pectoral muscle and knee were largely behind the slide. Roseman did not echo those concerns, however, and said Dean would be on the field when rookie camp begins this weekend.
“That was the nerve-wracking part about it, the whole thing — you know, listening to things that are not true, and it’s costing me a lot of money,” Dean said. “And just seeing my mama’s face, and for me falling and to hear things like that, that was just the biggest thing. But at the end of the day, I’m blessed. I feel like I got picked by a great organization, and I’m ready to work.”
The Eagles’ brass could not hide their excitement in the moments after landing Dean. Sirianni even urged the gathered media to show more energy as he walked into the auditorium at the NovaCare practice facility, emphatically asking, “Do you know who we just picked?”
“We are looking for high-character guys. We are looking for guys that love football. We are looking for guys that are tough. We are looking for guys that have high football IQ. And [we are looking for guys that are] competitive, that’s the last one. He checks every one of those boxes,” Sirianni said. “He’s a leader on the field for Georgia. His football IQ is so high. His instincts are so high.”
The Eagles haven’t had an inside linebacker make the Pro Bowl since Jeremiah Trotter in 2005. Dean will be looking to change that. More pressing, he’ll try to provide a much-needed lift to a linebacking corps that struggled at times last season, including in the passing game. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Philadelphia’s defense allowed a 77% completion percentage and 14 pass TDs on tight end targets last season, both the highest in the league.
Both players still have things to prove. Davis has to demonstrate he’s more than just a two-down lineman after being on the field for 38% of Georgia’s defensive snaps in 2021, and Dean has to show that questions about his health and size (5-foot-11, 229 pounds) are misguided.
It’s hardly time to pop the champagne and call these picks a slam dunk. But the odds appear to be greater in the Eagles’ favor given what Dean and Davis have already done at the highest level of college football.
“[Personnel evaluators] can basically spend their whole fall down there, it’s like one-stop shopping down there,” Roseman said of Georgia. “You go to practice, you go to a game, you go visit that facility, and you’re just going, ‘Shoot, I’ll draft this whole team.’
“It’s a great credit to their program and what they have done.”