• Brian Baldinger

ALABAMA CONNECTION MAY PUT BIRDS BACK ON PATH OF RESPECTABILITY


Brian Baldinger - On the Eagles

It was a Friday afternoon, March 26, 2021. I was on the third floor at NFL Films studying college players preparing for the eventual draft that began one month later on April 29.


The Birds had just made a trade with the Dolphins to trade back from the No. 6 spot to the No.12 spot. For trading back six spots the Eagles would acquire the Dolphins first and fourth round picks in the 2022 draft.


It seemed like a good deal. But what was confusing in the film room that day was the Dolphins shortly thereafter traded with the 49ers so the 49ers could get the No.3 pick to presumably draft their quarterback of the future.


Around the NFL, heads were spinning and we were still five weeks away.


The Eagles had to come out of the draft with either a starting wide receiver or a starting cornerback.


By dropping back from No. 6 to No. 12...did they go so low that the top players at those two positions would all be gone?


Eagle fans had five weeks to mull this over. An eternity of sports talk radio to chew this up everyday and say spiteful things about the longtime general manager, Howie Roseman.


During this time I was spending an inordinate amount of time studying the offensive lineman and the wide receivers. In 2020 those two positions produced first round gold with an all-pro wide receiver named Justin Jefferson with a couple of Alabama wide receiver's named Ruggs and Jeudy.


Three offensive tackles would go on to have amazing seasons. Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton played at dominating levels from day one.


Wirfs played every snap at right tackle for the world champion Bucs at right tackle and did not give up a sack all season long.


Could such fruits exist at those positions in the 2021 NFL Draft?


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Eagles first round pick DeVonta Smith poses with Eagles first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.

o there I was, late one night watching Alabama derail Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi in late September of 2019. The eventual Heisman Trophy Winner from 2021, DeVonta Smith, was having a career game. He had 11 receptions for 274 yards and five touchdowns.


That lineup that day included Jeudy, Ruggs, and Waddle. But the best of the lot was "Smitty" It was every skill you could look for. Great hands, elite speed, great route running, and major yards after the catch. But he wasn't even the Crimson Tide highlight that day.. NO NO! That belonged to the right guard, Landon Dickerson.


He was throwing the Rebel defensive line off the screen at a regular rate. No one held their blocks longer, and no one finished with more violence.


I immediately dispatched a #BaldyBreakdowns on the two best players on the field that afternoon in Oxford, Miss. DeVonta & Dickerson.


Soon thereafter I was on the 'slim reaper" case and pulled out an Alabama game from 2020 v Miss State.


Once again the two most dominating players on the field that day was DeVonta and Dickerson.


Smitty caught 11 balls for 203 yards and four touchdowns.


In fact he was the only Bama player to score a touchdown that day. Playing center that afternoon was Dickerson. His quarterback, Mac Jones wasn't touched that day as Dickerson was blocking two guys on every play and having so much fun doing it.



Baldy admits interior lineman Landon Dickerson is a gamble with his injury list from college, but is worth the gamble. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles

After two months of watching 10-14 hours of college tape everyday I fell in love, head over heels in love, for Landon Dickerson. I do it every year. 2007 was easy, Darrelle Revis. 2011 it was JJ Watt. In 2018, Quenton Nelson.


It's just the way they play the game. How hard they play regardless of the competition.


How much fun they have crushing the opponent every week. The leadership displayed while doing it in the biggest games. Those qualities transfer to the NFL really well..


DeVonta and Dickerson were not without their flaws.


Let's look at Smitty. 6-foot and change and all of 168 pounds depending on who you want to believe.


He has heard all of the comments his whole life. Chicken Legs! Ankles the size of Princesses wrist. All true. Fair game. It's a big man's game on Sunday in the NFL.


Except that DeVonta played in 54 straight games for the Crimson Tide. Never missed a game in four years.


When Jaylen Waddle injured his ankle early in the season in 2020, Smitty stepped up and did double duty catching 117 passes to go with 23 TD's and taking home the Heisman Trophy.


I saw him try to get beat up at the LOS, whacked in the middle of field, blasted going out of bounds and I never saw him get up hurt. We also don't know how fast he is.


With no combine in Indy this year he opted not to run. But in every game he is out running the opposition's defense.


Turning the corner against players that have an angle on him yet he slips right on past him. He is plenty fast and jumps high enough to go with a thin but tough frame.


Dickerson is an easy target because of an injury history. He started as a true freshman for Florida State before tearing an ACL in his seventh start.


Ankle injuries derailed him in following years at FSU. He transferred to Alabama and started all 13 games at RG/C in 2019.


He was getting over the injury bug in 2020 when in his eleventh consecutive start..(24 in a row) he tore the other ACL vs Florida in the SEC title game.


I understand some people's hesitancy to even allow him on anyone's draft board. But sometimes you have to bank on the player.


Nick Saban is on record saying that Dickerson is the greatest leader our program has ever had while at Bama. Nick throws bouquet's like that around like manhole covers.


While studying him I kept coming back to Quenton Nelson while at Notre Dame. He is the best and most physical lineman I have watched in college since Nelson.


I kept saying throughout the draft process that I gotta have Dickerson on my team. He will make your team better from day one the way Nelson did in Indy.


I studied over 150 players preparing for this draft. The Eagles on Thursday night, April 29th were watching lots of their players go off the board that they coveted. Pitts No. 44 to Atlanta. Chase No. 5 to Cincy. Waddle No. 6 to Miami. Horn No. 8 to Carolina. Surtain No. 9 to Denver.


The Cowboys were picking next with the Giants picking right behind them at No. 11. Four receivers and two corners were already gone.


There was one prize left on the Eagles Big Board. It was DeVonta Smith. Surely the Cowboys wouldn't draft a wide receiver, but the Big Blue definitely could.


So with the 10 minute clock ticking for the Cowboys to make a decision, Howie Roseman, calmly made a call to Frisco, TX, home of the Dallas Cowboys, to swap the 12th pick for the 10th pick to usurp the Giants chance to draft Smith.


Shrewd move by the Birds to get one of the six players that they really coveted. Day one was in the draft books for the Birds.


With the No. 37 pick the Birds went back to Tuscaloosa to grab my favorite player in the draft, Landon Dickerson. They are gambling on the person. He was the best center in college football this season but he has All Pro potential at guard as well.


I think the Eagles see Dickerson at some point this season becoming a starting guard. I don't want to say which guard spot yet but by time the calendar on the 2021 season gets to October, I expect both DeVonta and Dickerson to be in the Eagles starting lineup.


I foresee future Pro Bowl players in these two. The last Pro Bowl player that the Eagles have drafted on their current roster is Lane Johnson.


The Eagles are due to restock with real talent. With the addition of these two prospects, and with reasonable development from Jalen Hurts, I can see the Birds flying above .500 this season which should keep them in contention deep into December.


This draft was fun and the Birds, as a result, are rebuilding their way back to respectability. *


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