It feels like only yesterday that the Eagles caused everyone to raise their eyebrows with the drafting of Jordan Mailata. Picked in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Mailata stood at 6’8, 346 lbs, and brought a ridiculously athletic skillset to the table. But two years, 0 NFL snaps, and some back problems later, a change of heart may just hold the keys to some long-term security.
Switching from tackle to guard is never easy, but it’s a switch many more NFL athletes are willing to at least try in order to sustain their place on a roster. Halapoulivaati Vaitai rocked inside last offseason in place of Brandon Brooks (although he wasn’t needed in week 1) and that’s what brings us here.
Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles two weeks ago and it’s left the Eagles with some big question marks. I’m not sat here making an argument to start Mailata at right guard, but he could at least add some competitive depth.
Brandon Brooks (Injured)
Jack Driscoll (Drafted at T, likely to kick inside to G/C)
Beneath Matt Pryor lies a total realm of uncertainty in terms of depth. With the Eagles spending a sixth-round pick on a tackle and Driscoll potentially moving to center, the window of opportunity for Mailata could be much larger if he was to at least pick up another position, should he be ready to do so.
It’s easy to forget that prior to being drafted, Mailata had never played a competitive snap – as in no experience in college and none in high school. Within just a few short months working under Jeff Stoutland, Mailata proved to be serviceable during his first taste of preseason action.
His development from year-one to year-two was notable, but there were still notable holes in his game. In his rookie preseason, it was easy to be stunned by just how almost-NFL-ready he looked in such a short space of time. Year two drew harsher attention to detail and showed a player still struggling to judge his kick-backs and gauge leverage and movement of edge-rushers. Handling inside moves was easy because the guy is a man mountain. Anything that required lateral movement highlighted just how much he was still leaning on that raw athleticism.
The tempo of the game changes massively inside. If a tackle is struggling with footwork and vertical sets, a transition to guard can sometimes be favorable providing he strikes well, punches astutely, and can use his frame to stop slightly slower, but more powerful talents in a confined space.
Mailata made the Eagles roster no thanks to a back injury last year. He was listed on the injury report every week of the season until the team eventually placed him on IR in favor of Greg Ward Jr, which is naturally a slight cause for concern after similar problems with his back in 2018.
Whether this was phantom or not, Mailata cannot afford to endure a similar fate in 2020 – especially with no OTA’s to help his development. If the Mailata experiment is coming to an end, the Eagles’ need for depth at guard may, just may, spark one more rodeo after all.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports