McMullen: Eagles Should Have Considered a Punter
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The thought went over like a lead balloon on Twitter and was met by more than a few eye rolls by other reporters at the NovaCare Complex but this is the year the Eagles should have eschewed conventional wisdom and "wasted" a draft pick on a punter.
That's certainly not a sexy thought to anyone other than 97.3 ESPN's own Pete Thompson until you start to think about the makeup of the 2018 Eagles.
With perhaps the deepest roster in football and nearly every starter from Super Bowl LII returning, this was a draft filled with luxuries anyway, bookended by the redundancy of Dallas Goedert, a Zach Ertz clone at tight end, and an Australian rugby player in Jordan Mailata who has never played a down or organized football in his life.
Of Philadelphia's five picks, only fourth-round cornerback Avonte Maddox has an opportunity to contribute come September unless injuries decimate the defensive or offensive lines, fast-forwarding the impact of developmental prospects Josh Sweat and Matt Pryor.
At punter, however, the team has lost veteran Donnie Jones and seems to be counting on Cameron Johnston, an undrafted rookie last year out of Ohio State to step in without a hiccup.
There are two issues with that and the first starts with Jones, who decided to retire with a little nudge toward the door by Philadelphia before reversing course.
One of the reasons most Eagles fans don't even think about the position and how important it can be is because Jones was defined by consistency over the years. Need to flip the field and the former Pro Bowl selection would just let loose and boom one. Need to pin someone inside the 20 and Jones could directionally kick with the best of them.
Eagles fans were spoiled by Jones and the assumption that consistency is going to continue with the next man up is likely a flawed one.
Which brings us to point No. 2: It's true Johnston nearly beat out Jones last year. The reason, however, that the Eagles stuck with the status quo was the very trait that defined Jones. On one day at training camp, Johnston would look like the next Ray Guy and on the following he looked like a rookie struggling to find his way. The consistency on a daily basis simply wasn't there.
Texas punter Michael Dickson, like Johnston, an Australian, was the highest-graded prospect at the position and was taken in the fifth round at No. 149 overall by the Seattle Seahawks.
The Eagles obviously believe Johnston is a good prospect but to understand the difference here one NFL scout called Dickson the Saquon Barkley of punting prospects when talking to 973espn.com.
"I don't get excited about punters, but I love this guy," an NFC regional scout told NFL Media. "It's not a stretch that Texas could produce the best kicker (Justin Tucker) and punter in the league at the same time."
Dickson is so good most scouts put a third- and fourth-round grade on the All-American and the Eagles could have had him at No. 130 overall with their second pick in the fourth round.
While that's a tough decision to make because Sweat is probably the best value pick the Eagles made understand he will spend his rookie season buried behind Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Chris Long and perhaps even the hard-working Steven Means.
You could point out how quickly things can change in the NFL. Long (33), Bennett (32), and Graham (30) are now all on the wrong side of 30 and the latter is wrangling over a potential big-money extension. As soon as 2019, the Eagles starting DEs could be Barnett and Sweat if things break correctly.
However, you would also be correct to point out that the worst thing for any young player, in this case, Johnston, is to hand him a job without significant competition.
The major tipping point, though, is this is about 2018 for the Eagles, who are trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions and no player in this draft from No. 32 on down would have had a clearer path to contribute on the NFL's top roster than the class' best punter.
An innovative, out-of-the-box organization known for flying in the face of that conventional wisdom should have realized that.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen