Eagles pick LB Kyron Johnson and TE Grant Calcaterra in Round 6


PHILADELPHIA — If you thought the Eagles were going to change course all of a sudden for a cornerback or safety need, you weren’t paying attention.

After jumping position in the first three rounds, the Eagles maintained that position, taking Kansas linebacker Kyron Johnson with their first pick on Saturday, in the sixth round at No. 181 overall.

With their second pick in the sixth round, at No. 198, they took SMU tight end Grant Calcaterra.

The Eagles made two trades to get that pick at No. 181, trading Jacksonville out of the fifth round, at No. 154, for picks No. 188 and No. 198. Then they wrapped pick No. 188 with their seventh-round pick at No. 237 to move to No. 181.

The Eagles therefore finished the draft with five players after having had 10 to start. They took two linebackers, a defensive tackle, a tight end and a center.

Johnson joins Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, who went to the third round on Friday night. Johnson, who is 6-foot, 235 pounds, played defensive end at Kansas but looks undersized for that role in the NFL, despite running around 4.4 in the 40. Johnson shot 6.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season.

“I’m ready to play wherever the coaches are ready to put me,” Johnson said on Saturday, adding that he compares himself to Eagles pass thrower Haason Reddick. “I’ve seen his style of play and how he goes from sideline to sideline, and other coaches have compared me to him as well. I can play anywhere, SAM, at the inside, outside, linebacker MIKE. I’ve played him all before.”

Calcaterra, meanwhile, was a promising tight end in Oklahoma before suffering a concussion in 2019 and retiring from football. That season, Jalen Hurts, now the Eagles quarterback, was the Sooners’ QB.

However, they only played three games together before Calcaterra was lost for the season due to his head injury.

“I’m so excited to start playing with Jalen again,” Calcaterra said. “He’s a great teammate, a good friend, and I have a lot of respect for him.”

In fact, Calcaterra said Hurts called him after he was picked.

Calcaterra had a long journey before they could team up with Hurts again. After retiring from football, Calcaterra started working as a paramedic, training to be a firefighter, while working in construction.

Throughout this time, Calcaterra said: “I kept one foot in the door” regarding football as he trained on the side to stay in shape.

Calcaterra said watching the 2020 NFL Draft convinced him to try again. He said he felt like he was as good as, if not better than, some of the tight ends that were drafted.

“I didn’t want to be 30, try one last shot,” Calcaterra said.

In his only season at SMU in 2021, Calcaterra had 38 catches for 465 yards. The Eagles are slim behind Dallas Goedert. They have Jack Stoll and Tyree Jackson, but Jackson is recovering from a torn ACL. The Eagles recently moved wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside to the short end.

The Eagles missed the run on cornerbacks in the fourth round. But they couldn’t take that round again even if they wanted to. That’s because they traded six of their 10 first-round picks on Thursday night to get Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis and Tennessee Titans wide receiver AJ Brown.

They then took on Nebraska center Cam Jurgens in the second round and Dean in the third round.

So they waited until eight cornerbacks, including Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant, went to the fourth round.

The Eagles waited while they made their two trades.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Friday night that he wasn’t worried about not addressing the defensive back.

“I think every team is going to have a hole in one place after this draft,” he said. “We have between now and September and hopefully we can add some guys…Unfortunately for us, we pick where we pick, and we’ve made a few trades, and we understand we’ll have some work to do after this draft.”

But the Eagles took risks with Jurgens and Dean.

Jurgens, despite getting Jason Kelce’s stamp of approval, is unlikely to play this season unless Kelce is injured. He’s played exclusively at center during his Nebraska career, so he doesn’t seem capable of replacing guard.

And Dean, who many expected to be drafted in the first round, apparently fell in the third round due to chest strain. The NFL Network reported that Dean had refused surgery, but Dean said Friday night that doctors weren’t recommending it.

Both Dean and Roseman said that Dean will be able to attend rookie minicamp next weekend. If he can play, then the Eagles have a first-round linebacker. If he ends up needing surgery, it could end his season before it even begins.

“I think I called our doctors three, four times,” Roseman said, asking, “Did I miss something? We had him come. Did I missed something?” Because obviously this guy is much higher on our board.”

As for Jurgens, it’s unclear how much longer Kelce will want to play. He considered retiring in each of the past four offseasons before returning. He has a one-year contract worth $14 million.

But Kelce, who is 34, is still at the top of his game. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times, including each of the past three seasons. If Kelce wants to come back in 2023, the Eagles are definitely not going to stop him.

Until then, Jurgens has the opportunity to learn with one of the best centers in the NFL. And Kelce is in love with Jurgens. He watched a video of Jurgens and told Bleacher Report that Jurgens was his favorite player in the draft.

Jurgens’ reaction?

“That’s great,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of his tapes, and seeing a guy who can move like he (does) and play as hard and as intensely as he does, that’s how I want to play.

“Just because you’re an O lineman doesn’t mean you can’t run down the field and take out a safety. I want to do things like him and be able to fit into their system as well as possible.”

The Eagles also need other players to fit into their system.

Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

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