A little over six months ago, life was relatively simple along the Eagles’ offensive line. Andre Dillard was poised to finally take over from Jason Peters and former seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata was being groomed as a backup. Then the summer happened.
Dillard suffered a season-ending bicep injury during camp having spent most of it likely looking over his shoulder and wondering whether the recently re-signed Jason Peters was brought in as an insurance policy.
The Washington State product’s rookie season was a topsy-turvy affair. From strong outings against Chicago and Buffalo to some weaker games down the line, Dillard was then thrown to the wolves at RT, a position he had never played before, against the Seahawks. It didn’t take long for the Eagles to pull him out.
According to PFF, Dillard blew 7.8% of his assignments as a rookie, the worst record of tackles who had played in 300+ snaps. He also allowed a whopping pressure-rate of 14.7%.
This season was supposed to be huge for Dillard, but instead it’s one he’s spent watching from the sidelines as Jordan Mailata shocks the world.
The former Rugby standout had endured a torrid Training Camp, leading many to believe the experiment may be nearing an end. But when Jason Peters went down with injury, Mailata not only stepped up, but showed out.
The 23-year-old has easily become one of the team’s brightest players in a season filled with darkness and doubt. Giving up just 3 sacks in 585 snaps, Mailata has gone up against some intimidating competition in the way of Baltimore and Pittsburgh but has continued to develop and show signs of fundamental improvement, while is freakish 6’8, 346 lbs, frame continues to be problematic for just about every opponent.
Mailata has played so well in fact, that many are calling for him to become the team’s long-term starter, having earned the role through consistently strong play. Head Coach Doug Pederson was asked about the important offseason decision on Wednesday.
“I don’t know. We haven’t really fully seen [T] Andre Dillard either at that spot so it’s hard to sit here today and say that. He’s helping himself, I would say that. Jordan has played well enough to maybe compete at that spot, but I think it’s a little unfair to sit here and say he’s a full-time starter moving forward without seeing enough of Andre who obviously we drafted to take that spot.”
It’s a tricky road to navigate and Pederson is right – the team did invest a first-round pick in Dillard with the expectation that he would be able to take over the starting left tackle spot. But the Eagles have been stung before when it comes to making decisions based on previous investment and not what’s best for the team. Jason Peters and Alshon Jeffery are just two in a long line of examples of this and Dillard could well be the next.
We’ve already seen an example of it with Mailata, who was benched in favor of the aging and declining Jason Peters. That decision lasted three quarters before Pederson saw sense.
Mailata stepped right back in and looked like he never left. He was a huge part of the offensive line that for the first time this year, held a defense to 0 sacks. That defense also just so happened to feature the rampant New Orleans pass rush. Whether it complicates things or not, Mailata’s growth is off the charts and is showing no signs of slowing down and he absolutely deserves a shot at the long-term role.
There’s a strong chance that Mailata finishes the season on a high, just as he’s started and maintained so far. If that happens, we’re either destined for a very interesting Training Camp battle next Summer, which Pederson appears to have hinted at already, or a decision based on previous investment. Whichever way the dice lands, the Eagles have to make sure that their starting left tackle is the best player for the position, not the one who will save face in front office meetings.
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