Jason Peters’ successor Andre Dillard might be a first-round pick, but his best playing days have yet to come.
The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft was moving surprisingly fast in Nashville, Tennessee last week. It seemed as though every team with an early pick had a clear idea of who they wanted. Although the actual outcome didn’t emulate what tons of mock drafts that flooded the internet predicted, it was pretty clear which players were going to get selected in the first round.
Most of those guys were in attendance. Specifically, Washington State left tackle, Andre Dillard. While Dillard was viewed as a consensus Top-15 talent by the media, a few reaches in the earlier picks sent the offensive lineman down further in the first round. None of that mattered to Dillard though. As long as he ended up in a favorable situation for himself, he would be satisfied with the outcome. Fortunately, the outcome for Dillard couldn’t have been better.
The Washington State tackle entered the 2019 NFL Draft prospect pool as arguably the best pass protector available. Playing in a pass-happy offense, Dillard didn’t see too many plays where he had to drive a guy down the field in order to open up lanes for the run game. Like every prospect, Dillard has his flaws. But are his flaws real weaknesses? Or do his best days as a blocker have yet to come with the Philadelphia Eagles?
From Mason Miller to Jeff Stoutland
As Dillard waited patiently in the green room in Nashville, he had a special guest with him, who happened to be his offensive line coach from Washington State, Mason Miller. Although Miller coached Dillard for just one season in 2018, he’s seen enough prospects to know that the Eagles’ first-rounder is the real deal and worth the 22nd overall selection.
Unlike many first-round prospects, Dillard doesn’t have to come in and get thrown into the fire for the Eagles. With the 37-year-old Jason Peters still around for a year, the veteran left tackle will have the opportunity to coach up his successor along with Eagles’ offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, who both, Dillard and Mason Miller think highly of.
“I thought that was awesome,” Miller said regarding the idea of Dillard coming in and practically red-shirting for his rookie season. “I mean, you’re going to learn from some of the best linemen in the NFL, and you are going to learn a lot of things real fast from those guys [Peters, Lane Johnson] and I think that’s super beneficial.”
Miller, who previously coached at the University of Nevada before joining the Cougars in Pullman dealt with a similar prospect in Cleveland Browns 2018 second-rounder, Austin Corbett. “Just talking to him on the phone, you can hear it in his voice he is capable and understanding of what’s going on in the NFL.” The 2019 season is going to be a remarkable opportunity for Dillard to sit back learn from some of the best.
Barring any injuries or hiccups, he’s more than likely going to watch from the sideline this season. However, he will get a four week period where he will earn reps in the preseason in August. That’s when the Philadelphia Eagles will get a real taste of their first-rounder to find out the unknown. At this point, everybody knows Dillard’s strength is in pass-blocking – but what about his ability to create lanes for the running back?
Is Dillard’s weakness actually… a weakness?
At Washington State, Dillard pass blocked on 722 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Every scouting report you read about Dillard lists his run-blocking as a weakness, but is it truly a weakness that Dillard possesses? “I think it’s something that hasn’t been shown yet; I think he pretty much proved he could pass block when he took the defensive end from the University of Georgia and put him on the sidelines. He’s explosive, and when you’re explosive and athletic you’re going to be able to move people from point A to point B, I’ve seen him do it, and I think what’s going to enhance his ability is the amount of reps he’s going to get while there.”
Coach Miller clearly wouldn’t agree with the scouting assessments that considered Dillard to be weak in the run game and neither would the lineman himself. “I’d say I’m a very good run blocker, there are questions about my ability to run block simply because I was not asked to do it a lot in college. So it makes sense for people to kind of have that question about me, but I can tell you with full confidence that I am capable of doing it just as good as the next guy,” Dillard said surely after throwing on his midnight green Eagles draft cap.
Don’t let the personality fool you…
Being athletic is only half the battle in the NFL. Guys have to come with a certain level of confidence in order to succeed. And for an offensive lineman, they have to come with grit and get mean, while on the field. Andre Dillard’s kindness could be mistaken for another weakness but don’t get it confused – this guy loves football and wants to do everything he can to succeed.
Described as a ‘technician’ by Miller, Dillard is “extremely hard on himself” when he does screw up, which doesn’t seem to happen too often. After all, he’s allowed just one sack off of 722 pass-blocking plays just a year ago. And to this day, that sack still haunts him. For a guy with such an incredible accomplishment, Dillard wouldn’t speak on it too much though. He’s not exactly what you would call a ‘me-first’ kind of guy, which is precisely the type of personality the Eagles love to have in the locker room.
“When he’s competing, he’s competing, when he’s off the field, he’s off the field, and he’s just a really nice person. I told a team [in regards to Dillard] if you guys want somebody to go around beating their chest and saying how awesome they are and how much they will beat somebody up, then you’re going to pick the wrong guy. But if you want someone to just block the guy in front of them, I’d probably take him.”
We’ve found out in the past that the Eagles will gladly skip the best player on the board in the draft if he doesn’t meet their expectations on a personality level, no matter how good of a football player they are. Being that Dillard was a top-ten prospect on Philly’s board according to Howie Roseman, that sure says a lot about the type of person and player he is. It may take some time before Dillard becomes the new bodyguard for Carson Wentz’s blindside, but it sure sounds like Philadelphia got a great one for years to come.