Howie Roseman has been certainly busy this offseason, particularly in his pursuit to sure up this Defense. He has sent Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso packing and extended the likes of Vinny Curry, Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins. With the foundations in place, Roseman entered Free Agency with a bang, acquiring Safety Rodney McLeod, Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, and Linebacker Nigel Bradham among others. Now that Roseman is done with his major additions and subtractions (we think) let’s see how he’s done.
One quick look at the surface of this defensive roster and you have to come away impressed. Each position has a quality starter and there is an abundance of Pro Bowl caliber players. Don’t look now but this defense looks to be pretty loaded, plus there’s the strong possibility that they choose to further bolster the new look Defense with their newly acquired 8th overall pick. After years of Dmitri Patterson, Brian Rolle and Darryl Tapp, it finally looks like this Defense looks like it’s ready to take it to the next level.
Led by All Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, this may be the strongest area of the Defense. Cox is an absolute animal and honestly he is up there with the best interior defensive lineman in the league, jousting it out with J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. He is a superstar with an unbelievably bright career ahead of him.
Next to him will probably be the former nose tackle, Bennie Logan. Logan was actually constantly criticized for his lack of size so the switch to 4-3 defensive tackle should not be too difficult. The former LSU 3rd round pick is not Fletcher Cox, but he may have some Pro Bowl appearances in his belt when it is all said and done.
On either side of those two stout tackles will be the defensive ends. As of right now, it is not exactly clear who will start. It is between career 3-4 outside linebacker Connor Barwin, recently extended Vinny Curry, and Brandon Graham. It can be assumed that Curry will start because Howie just threw starter money his way, but Graham and Barwin were resigned by the prior regime (Chip Kelly) and we know that Roseman has not been kind to those who Kelly favored.
Nonetheless, just two years ago Barwin had 14 sacks while Graham and Curry played pretty well even though they were in the wrong system. Graham and Curry are pure 4-3 defensive ends, and they should excel in Jim Schwartz’s wide 9. No matter who starts, it would not be too surprising if this talented three man rotation produces 30+ sacks this year.
This unit is not as deep as the defensive backs or the defensive line, but its projected starters rival those other position groups in terms of talent. Presumably, Mychal Kendricks will be the WILL, Jordan Hicks will be heading the MIKE, and newly acquired Nigel Bradham operate as the SAM.
This corps has just about a bit of everything. Kendricks is the rangy, quick coverage Linebacker with a knack of getting to the quarterback. Hicks or “Simba” shone in his rookie season prior to picking up an injury and was even giving out commands as the season progressed. Hicks fit perfectly in Philadelphia and showed he could do just about everything. Lastly, Bradham is the hard-hitting yet quite athletic final piece to the puzzle. If they all stay healthy, and for Hicks and Kendricks, durability is a valid concern, this group of linebackers could really flourish under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Now that the Eagles are slotted at 8 in the first round of the NFL draft, it is hard not to fantasize about the prospects of UCLA’s Myles Jack in an Eagles uniform. If he does somehow fall to 8, which is unlikely, the Eagles should pounce. If they do in fact snag Jack, this group could wind up transforming into one of the elite young linebacker corps in the league in 2016.
The Defensive Backs are probably the least talented bunch, but most definitely the deepest. With the signings of Ron Brooks, Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, and Rodney McLeod the Eagles have twelve DBs. The safety’s Malcom Jenkins and McLeod are the bright spots of the defensive backfield. Jenkins is the unquestioned leader of the defense and McLeod should bring a degree of physicality and mental toughness that will create some big plays.
The cornerbacks have some catching up to do. After trading Byron Maxwell, Eric Rowe will probably keep his starting spot but the opposite starter is up for grabs. McKelvin and Carroll will compete to assume that role. McKelvin has had experience in Schwartz’s Defense, yet Carroll started for the Eagles last year before he got hurt, and played rather well.
Whoever loses that competition for the starting job will probably battle it out with the likes of JaCorey Shepherd and Jaylen Watkins for the nickel/slot corner spot.
Like it was mentioned earlier, the Eagles could go with Myles Jack with that 8th pick but the more likely scenario is Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Admittedly the 20 year old might be my favorite player in the draft, but if I were Howie Roseman, Hargreaves is my top realistic target in the first round. Combine the playmaking skills of Asante Samuel with the lockdown ability of Joe Haden: that is what Hargreaves has the potential to be. If the Eagles do in fact choose to go with the Cornerback, the Defense looks a whole lot better, even in 2016. He can step in and start right away alongside Rowe, McLeod and Jenkins to provide the Eagles with a stable defensive backfield for years to come.
Away from the draft though, Schwartz is arguably the perfect man to bring in as a Defensive Coordinator. His attacking 4-3 formation fits the Eagles perfectly, both in player suitability and city mentality. It’s a fighting city..a passionate city. Chip Kelly never gave the Defense a chance to flourish under Billy Davis, but under Schwartz the likes of Hicks, Jenkins, McLeod and Cox will all be playing in a style that not only suits them, but benefits them.
No longer will the Defense be forced to spend excruciatingly long periods of time on the field due to the quick three-and-out nature of Chip Kelly’s malfunctioning Offense or face difficult situations as frequently. The Defense has the most direction it’s had in quite some time, the players are as hungry as the fans are and the Eagles have their franchise guys already locked down.
Malcolm Jenkins and Vinny Curry both signed huge deals this offseason, giving Pederson and Schwartz a foundation to build upon and ensuring that the talented duo will be Eagles throughout Pederson’s contract. By building around those guys with the additions of guys like McLeod who fit what the Eagles are trying to do, Philadelphia has every chance of establishing itself as a top Defense very quickly.
All in all, this Defense is primed to have a big year. The combination of skill, experience, leadership and potential could result in the Eagles Defense resting among the league’s best when this year is over.