Andre Dillard
The Eagles’ first draft pick gets his first taste of Philly
By Dave Spadaro

For a young man who started playing football only 10 years earlier, stepping onto Philadelphia soil was an incredibly surreal feeling for Andre Dillard. He emerged from a Southwest Airlines flight at the Philadelphia International Airport roughly 12 hours after being selected by the Eagles as the 22nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and it didnt take long for Dillard to get a flavor of the region. 

Travelers, who just happened to be at or near the gate, yelled out E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES! A group of high school-aged kids posed with Dillard for a photograph. Others who were hustling to their departing gates reached out their hands for high-fives, and Dillard obliged. 

For the 15 minutes it took Dillard to walk from his arrival gate to the transportation outside, the teams first-round draft pick was a rock star. 

That,” Dillard says as he unfolded his 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame in the back seat of a team-issued Escalade, was intense. Ive heard about the fans here and how they love their team. I get it right away. 

The Eagles hope he gets the hang of playing left offensive tackle, although it doesnt necessarily have to be right away. Stunned that Dillard was still on the board as the first round of the draft moved along through 10 picks, through 15 picks, through 20 selections, the Eagles moved up from No. 25 overall to No. 22 to select Dillard, a player they viewed, according to executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, as a top-10 player in this draft. 

In front of Dillard on the teams not-quite-established depth chart is Jason Peters, who will someday be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on his nine career Pro Bowl selections, and who happens to be one of Dillards role models. As Dillards career grew – from a middle-school kid who tried the game to please his father and to be cool” for his classmates – he studied film of Peters and became fascinated with Peters’ athleticism and his technique and his consistency. 

And his dominance. 

For me, to be able to walk into the Eagles’ locker room and sit next to Jason Peters and learn from him, see how he works every day, its like woooooo,” Dillard says, using both hands to exclaim the wow” feeling in his voice. I feel like Im in the perfect place. This couldnt have worked out better for me. 

The kid from the small town of Woodinville, Washington didnt get a lot of love from high-level colleges after his high school playing days, so Dillard accepted a scholarship to Washington State and set about becoming a star left tackle. His father, Mitch, was a player at Washington State back in the day, an added attraction for Andre, who packed on pounds – 70 of them in four years with the Cougars – by drinking late-night protein shakes, snacking on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and hoarding high-protein snacks in his backpack. 

The athletic ability was always there, and it stands out now. Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland broke down film on Dillard the day after the draft and raved about the offensive tackles feet, his overall physical ability and the challenge of putting all of that together to win at the NFL level. 

We have a number of things that we look for, called critical factors,’ but if you said to me, I need that one thing,’ I would say he has unbelievable balance and body control,” Stoutland says. Hes an elite pass protector. They didnt ask him to run block a lot but when he did it, he was decent. I know I can help him there. Im excited to get to work with him. 

Dillard returned to the NovaCare Complex during the second weekend of May for the teams rookie minicamp. The whirlwind experience of the NFL Draft in Nashville was a distant, but distinct, memory. Nobody really cared then that Dillard was a first-round draft pick. Things change quickly in the NFL. Once youre on a team, youre expected to contribute – whether youre a first-round draft choice or an after-drafting rookie signing. 

My goal is to get better, day by day,” Dillard says. If I can improve just a little bit every day Im going to be where I want to be. Im not focused on earning a starting job right now, but its my responsibility  to be prepared for everything the Eagles want me to do. This is a business. This is my job. 

The draft weekend was something Im never going to forget. Ever, in my life. You have to stay in the present, though. You have to focus. Im the kind of guy who likes to meditate before a game to get myself in the right frame of mind. I have to approach every day like its a gameday. The work, I know, is just starting for me. 

Once upon a time the Eagles swung and missed on a series of first-round draft picks designated to play the left tackle position. Remember Kevin Allen (1985), Antone Davis (1991) and Bernard Williams (1994)? Its okay if you dont, because they were all busts as the Eagles tried valiantly to protect their quarterbacks blind side. 

In 1998, the Eagles selected Tra Thomas from Florida State, and he made three Pro Bowls in an Eagles career that lasted through the 2008 season. Then the Eagles traded for Peters in 2009, and hes been a star ever since. When Peters was injured in the 2017 season, Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped in and the Eagles won the Super Bowl. 

The succession plan is in place with Dillard on board. The Eagles are in love. Now theyve got to make sure its not just a short-term crush. They want a long-time marriage here. 

There are not many people on this earth who have the kind of athleticism that the guy we got had, so those things are hard to find,” Roseman says of Dillard. Hes got great feet. Really, really smooth pass protector, long arms, big hands, great character. You can see a lot of things that we do offensively. At the same time, hes also got room to grow. He hasnt hit his ceiling. 

The wait, then, is on. We may not see it every week on the field, but Operation Andre Dillard is now fully underway with the Philadelphia Eagles as they groom their left tackle, and the protector of quarterback Carson Wentzs blind side, behind the scenes.   

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes. 

June 2019
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