Eagles round out 2022 NFL draft class with two picks, but don’t select any defensive backs
The Eagles’ 2022 draft class is set.
After making two trades on the NFL draft’s final day Saturday, the Eagles ended up with Kansas linebacker Kyron Johnson and SMU tight end Grant Calcaterra in the sixth round.
The Eagles started the day with picks No. 154 and 237, but ended up with the 181st and 198th selections after the trades.
In some ways, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman’s selections on Day 3 followed the trend established in the previous nights. Both Johnson and Calcaterra have some upside tied to their physical abilities, but have lower floors for various reasons.
Johnson ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot, 230 pounds and should have immediate special teams value while figuring out his position on defense. He was a linebacker for his first four seasons with the Jayhawks before moving to defensive end as a redshirt senior.
He expressed a willingness to play wherever the Eagles wanted him to on defense, but noted his conversations have been primarily with the Eagles’ inside linebackers coach and sports psychologist. It’s also worth noting the Eagles listed him as a linebacker on their website.
His measurables compare to Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick, who is expected to fill the Eagles’ SAM linebacker after signing a three-year contract with the team in free agency.
Johnson said he’s embraced the similarities between him and the Eagles’ new pass rusher.
“I can play anywhere,” he said. “I’ve actually compared myself to Reddick before because I’ve seen his style of play from him and how he goes from sideline-to-sideline, and other coaches have compared me to him as well. Like I said, I can play anywhere, SAM, inside [linebacker,] outside, MIKE linebacker. I’ve played it all before.”
At 6-4, 240 pounds, Calcaterra is a smooth athlete who had solid production at Oklahoma before briefly retiring from football because of mounting concussions. I have spent one year as a firefighter before returning to the game with SMU in 2021.
» READ MORE: Eagles grades for each 2022 NFL draft pick: Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean selections get good marks
Calcaterra said he walked away from football out of fear of long-term head trauma, but wasn’t dissuaded from returning by any doctors a year later. Roseman said Calcaterra was cleared by the Eagles’ doctors going into the draft.
“There were no medical concerns for us on Grant,” Roseman said. “We just kind of say, at the end of the day, when there’s a ‘P’ next to a guy’s name, and he passes, that’s all we need to know.”
Calcaterra overlapped with Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma for three games before retiring in 2019. He had five catches for 79 yards that season.
“I’m so excited to get back playing with Jalen; he was a great teammate at Oklahoma,” Calcaterra said. “We’re definitely good friends. I have a ton of respect for him as a player, off the field as well. … I’ve kept in touch with him a little bit in my journey back to playing. Just got off the phone with him five minutes ago. I’m so excited to get back playing with him.”
The Eagles did plenty of work to shore up their defensive front seven and gave up two picks for star receiver AJ Brown, but they left the draft with significant question marks remaining in the secondary.
There were opportunities in the draft, but Roseman looked elsewhere. The Eagles’ front office has long valued line-of-scrimmage players over skill positions, which was likely instructive in its decision to use the 13th overall pick on Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis instead of Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, who went to the Baltimore Ravens with the next pick.
The Eagles’ second-round pick came during an apparent dry spell for defensive backs. Starting with a late run in the first round and continuing early the following night, the Eagles watched eight defensive backs go off the board in the 20 picks leading up to them at No. 51. Instead, the Eagles took Nebraska center Cam Jurgens and Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean in the second and third rounds, respectively.
“We just kind of went as the board was going,” Roseman said Saturday night. “If guys were in the same stack or tier, we just had conversations on guys. We tried to get a little more aggressive after the draft. … There weren’t many opportunities for where we were picking to do that. Obviously we made a trade today to try and get a little bit more volume and as that was going, we decided to go back.”
After not taking a safety or a cornerback in the draft, the Eagles addressed both positions quickly in undrafted free agency. They reportedly signed Clemson corner Mario Goodrich, Alabama corner Josh Jobe, Duke corner Josh Blackwell, and Middle Tennessee State safety Reed Blankenship.
According to the NFL Network, Goodrich is signing a deal with $217,000 fully guaranteed, which is more than a late-round pick would receive.
The team added a handful of other undrafted free agents, including Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, who was considered one of the best players available.
The fact that Goodrich chose the Eagles is indicative of the state of the depth chart at cornerback, and things aren’t much better at safety. There’s an unfilled starting spot at the outside cornerback position opposite Darius Slay, and the Eagles could use another safety to pair with Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps.
Although Roseman pointed to the young corners the team added during the season last year as potential starters, failing to add a starting-caliber secondary player may force the Eagles’ hand in free agency. They had a virtual meeting with free-agent safety Tyrann Mathieu a few weeks ago, but Roseman said the front office has confidence in the combination of Harris, Epps, and the rest of the backup safeties.
“We’ll continue to look at that position,” Roseman said. “Nothing’s imminent, but we probably have a higher vision of that room than what’s perceived.”