Although it is extremely early in the season, I thought it would be fun to take a look around the league to see how some of the rookies look that the Eagles were linked to at #4 overall. Are they playing at a high level so far in their preseason snaps? How do they stack up compared to our own Lane Johnson? We’ll take a look at the two tackles taken before Johnson in Kansas City’s Eric Fisher (1st overall) and Jacksonville’s Luke Joeckel (2nd), Miami’s DE Dion Jordan (3rd), New York’s CB Dee Milliner (9th) and Carolina’s DT Star Lotulelei (14th).
Fisher, Joeckel and Johnson were the three highest projected offensive tackles in the 2013 NFL Draft. In a draft class that was weak for QB’s and pass rushers, it was projected that these players may go off the board at the #1, 2, and 3 spots. Miami put the kibosh to this situation when they traded up with Oakland to grab Jordan, but Fisher, Joeckel and Johnson did go in the top 4. It’s interesting to note that these 3 tackles are all playing right tackle for their teams. This shows a trend in the NFL – right tackles are becoming as valued as left tackles because LDE’s are no longer massive run stoppers but can now rush the passer.
In Kansas City, Andy Reid once again defied the experts and took a less polished but more blue collared player in Fisher. Fisher has that mean streak that Big Red loves in his offensive lineman. In his first game against the Saints, Fisher performed well and only gave up 1 QB hurry. If you stacked this up against Lane Johnson’s week 1 performance, Johnson would take it as he did not give up any sacks or hurries. But in his seconday game Fisher struggled mightily against the 49ers, giving up a sack and 3 hurries. Johnson gave up 1 sack and 1 hurry against Carolina. It’s important to note that the 49ers pass rush is no joke, and a very tough test for a rookie lineman. Fisher is also currently battling a thumb injury.
Over in Jacksonville, the Jags got the more polished of three tackle prospects in Joeckel. He comes to Jacksonville to add much needed talent on the right side of the offensive line. Joeckel has only played in one of the Jags preseason games due to a nagging hip injury. From what we saw in his first performance, Joeckel has come as advertised. He graded out very well according to PFF and only gave up 1 hit on the QB. Don’t be surprised if we don’t get a chance to see Joeckel this weekend, as the Jags will not risk him missing any regular season time for the sake of a few preseason snaps.
It was popular opinion that Lane Johnson was the most raw prospect but had the highest ceiling. If you go by grading alone though, Johnson has been the top tackle in this draft class after 2 preseason games.
Jumping over to the defensive side of the ball, we’ll begin with the Dolphins #3 overall pick Dion Jordan. Fans were a bit shocked to see Miami jump ahead of the Eagles to grab Jordan, who many assumed would head to Philly to reunite with his college coach Chip Kelly. Jordan was a very interesting prospect. Although he didn’t have great numbers at Oregon, his size and speed (6’6 with a 4.5 40 time) could not be ignored. This was a guy who could get to the passer but could also drop back into coverage very fluidly. He was unpolished as well, only recently making the switch to the defensive side of the ball. When you look at Jordan in a Miami jersey it’s hard not to think of Jason Taylor.
While still early, Jordan hasn’t quite looked like he’s going to be a huge contributor this year. This is not good for Miami fans, because when use resources to move up the draft board to take a guy this high you expect results from day 1. In Miami’s 2 preseason games thus far, Jordan has seen time as a situational 3rd down pass rusher. He’s logged only 1 QB hit and 1 hurry while still trying to rehab that shoulder injury. There is still plenty of time for Jordan to get into regular season form, but you’d have to think if the Eagles had drafted Jordan that there would be a very unhappy fan base when you’re getting almost 0 contribution for your highest pick since Donovan McNabb.
In New York, Milliner has had the title of “Darrelle Revis’ Replacement” slapped on his back from day 1, on one of the biggest stages in the NFL. Needless to say these are massive shoes to fill. As is the case with most rookie corners coming into the NFL, Milliner has faced a big learning curve and has struggled. He looked OK against Detroit in his first preseason game, but struggled against Jacksonville in his second. His coverage was not tight and he did not play aggressively. He’s not getting much help from his team either – his coach Rex Ryan and fellow CB Antonio Cromartie basically hung him out to dry in the media. Confidence is one of the biggest aspects of being a good DB in the NFL, so I question these tactics. You’d have to think, if Milliner were to land in Philly, the expectations would be a bit (but not much) lower- especially if you consider how terrible the guys before him played.
With the rumored switch to the 3-4 defense in Philly, the Eagles were linked to Utah DT Star Lotulelei, a guy who could step in from day 1 and play NT in the new base defense. Lotulelei was considered a top 5 prospect until the results of an echo-cardiogram had some teams shying away from him. He fell to Carolina at 14th overall. So far, he has not made an impact on the stat sheet, but in his game against the Eagles you could definitely see his potential. He’s got great power. On one play he drove Jason Kelce 5 yards into the backfield. It looks like he has a bright future in a young Carolina defense, and if he can put on some mass get more powerful he will have an impact not only on himself but also 2nd year MLB Luke Kuechley – eating blocks and keeping Kuechley clean.
So far it looks as though the Eagles decision to draft Lane Johnson was a good one. He has looked just as good, if not better, than the other tackles taken ahead of him. Jordan has struggled with health issues and making plays so far in the preseason. Milliner has looked well.. meh. While Lotulelei has looked good, I feel Bennie Logan in the 3rd round can fill a similar role.
I’d love to hear what you guys think. Are you happy with Lane so far? Let me know below in the comments or on twitter at @InsideIggles.