When the Eagles drafted Andre Dillard 22nd overall, they did so with the unprecedented plan of not playing their first-round pick in his rookie season. However, make no mistake: Dillard is primed to be the team’s next great left tackle.

It wasn’t too long ago when Dillard was viewed as being a player capable of receiving such praise. As a matter of fact, it didn’t seem like he had much of a football future at all.

Dillard didn’t begin playing the sport until he was in the 8th grade, and he didn’t even enjoy it at first. Dillard’s first distaste of football came right away, in his first-ever practice in the sport. Dillard struggled to do bear crawls at the end of practice while the rest of his teammates were long completed with the drill, and they all eventually had to go up to him on the field and cheer him on to finish.

For many kids, an experience similar to that is something that already marks the beginning of the end in that sport. Dillard himself says he didn’t even want to play the game, and he was instead just doing it to be more popular.

In the first few years, Dillard found little success in the game, but something inside of him told him to keep going. So, he did just that.

As a high schooler, Dillard weighed just 240 pounds, which is significantly undersized for a lineman, and wasn’t recruited very much. Dillard wanted to change that, and he went to measures not too many other high schoolers would be willing to do.

Dillard woke up at 2 in the morning, every single night of the week and weekend, to drink protein shakes in an effort to gain weight. While Dillard was focusing on getting himself into proper physical shape, his father was working on getting his son the proper opportunity.

Mitch Dillard was a former player at Washington State, and he was able to convince the school to take a chance on his son. Dillard wasn’t quite ready at first, but the coaches out at Washington State saw he had a good frame, which they believed would allow them to craft him into the player they thought he could be.

Fast forward into his collegiate career, and Dillard turned out to be a dependable player for the Cougars. Not only that, but he turned out to be on of their best players as well.

Dillard turned into becoming an everyday starter in college and transformed himself into widely being viewed as one of the NCAA’s best offensive lineman.

In his final season at Washington State, Dillard pass blocked on 722 plays and allowed just one sack. In his entire collegiate career, Dillard blocked on 2,391 passing plays, and he allowed only 49 total pressures.

In 2018, Dillard was voted to first-team All-Pac 12 and third-team All-America. Once Dillard was selected by the Eagles, he became the first offensive lineman in Washington State history to be a first-round draft pick.

Dillard is a very long way from being the scrawny kid who couldn’t get looks from any colleges. Now, Dillard is the future left tackle of one of the best teams in football.

In college, Dillard frequently studied film of who he will eventually be succeeding: Jason Peters.

Jump ahead to practice, and it’s hard to miss Peters constantly giving tips to Dillard on how to become a better-left tackle. In Dillard’s first-ever NFL game on Thursday, August 8th with the Eagles, he displayed both some of the talent he has, along with just a bit of the vast knowledge he’s gained from Peters.

Dillard showed off some of the most sound pass blocking skills that any rookie has ever possessed so early on. Dillard served as a rock on the left side of the offensive line, completely shutting down the blindside of current quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

What was even more impressive about Dillard’s play was the noticeable improvement he’s made in his run blocking.

Blocking for the run was the one small weakness Dillard had in college, which may partly be why he slipped to the Eagles in the first round, but in the first preseason game of the year, it didn’t seem to be an issue at all.

In the few runs that came his way, Dillard did a phenomenal job of cutting off defenders, clearing open paths for the Eagles running back to shift their way through. It’s clear that without getting tips from Peters, the man Dillard diligently studied, he isn’t quite ready yet to make that block. Instead, Dillard already appears to fix the one knock he has on his game. The scary part: Dillard won’t even start.

Peters, who is arguably the best offensive lineman in Eagles history, is back for another season and is slated to start yet again. Peters has had his struggles with injury, as does the majority of aging offensive lineman, but he continues to prove that when he’s on the field, he’s as trustworthy as it gets.

Barring something catastrophic, Peters will get the nod week one, and barring the same thing, Peters will get the start in Super Bowl LIV, should the Eagles make it that far.

There’s no question that Dillard is ready to go against the best of the best right now, but instead, he will be watching from the sideline. However, that may just be the best thing for his potential.

Dillard will continue to get stronger, both in his body and on the field, and the longer Peters is around, the more Dillard can act like a sponge, soaking up all of the information that young offensive lineman dream of being able to get.

Peters is a nine-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-NFL second-team, and two-time All-NFL first-team. Oh, and of course, Peters is a Super Bowl champion as well.

Peters has seen a lot in his Eagles tenure; the departure of Andy Reid, the storm of Chip Kelly, and now Doug Pederson. Peters was in Philadelphia when Michael Vick was quarterback, he’s blocked the blindside for Sam Bradford and even Mark Sanchez, he was the main protector of Nick Foles at one point, and for the last four years, Carson Wentz.

In the less-than four months that Dillard has been an Eagle, Peters has surely been able to hand off as much of those experiences as he can. After all, the left tackle is the second-most important position on the football field. The first is the quarterback, but if you’ve ever watched The Blind Side, the quarterback can do what he does without a strong left tackle.

Peters understands the importance of playing in a city like Philadelphia because it’s like none other, and now Dillard is getting that understanding as well.

All of this, combined with the clear ability Dillard has, will be able to shape him into the left tackle of the future. Ever since the Eagles drafted Tra Thomas in 1998, the definition of the left tackle of the future in the organization meant greatness. After Thomas, Peters took over the reins, and his time is still shining.

Eventually, Dillard is going to take over the all-important job, and once he does, he could become amongst the greats in Eagles history.

Photo: David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer
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