When the Philadelphia Eagles started their rebuild in 2016, newly signed head coach Doug Pederson was tasked with finding the right fit to take the Birds’ defense from obscurity to powerhouse. Enter Former Detroit Lions head man, Jim Schwartz, fresh from his year off to help work with officials behind the scenes. Immediately after the signing, the narrative around the City of Brotherly Love, was that no matter who the players were, Schwartz would have them playing aggressive. Fast forward to the end of the season, and you saw a team that had tons of potential and some pieces here and there that could make the defense tough. But you also saw a unit that struggled at times.
Here we are one season later and when you look across the Eagles defensive roster, you see a lot more potential, not just to be a tough unit, but one that could be considered the best in the NFL.
Despite having their issues, the truth is that the Eagles have the defensive unit could be a legitimate force from start to finish, as the core of the team is still together and in their second year in this Jim Schwartz scheme. We decided to look at some of the players who could benefit most from their sophomore year playing under Schwartz and who could go from good to great this season.
1. Fletcher Cox:
Maybe this one should be considered a cop out. But the truth of the matter is, Cox did not play up to the level that was expected when he signed his giant contract. He may not of had the flash plays that he had the season prior, but despite the new attention from opposing offenses, Cox was still dominant at times. In 16 games, Cox had a combined 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Modest numbers for a player whom much was expected of, but when you really look at it all, you see a guy who was constantly playing in the offensive backfield. While he was still getting use to being the “Man” to worry about on defense, he struggled at times dealing with constant double and triple teams, on him. This year we should all be in for a treat, with the addition of the dominant Timmy Jernigan, as this should force teams to be a bit more honest in their blocking scheme, which should have Cox seeing a lot more of singled out blocking…and reaping the rewards as one of the most physically dominant defensive linemen in the game.
2. Vinny Curry:
Reports came out earlier this offseason that Curry had been battling an injury throughout 2016. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the fact remains that Curry left a lot to be desired on the field last year. With only 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks, Curry struggled getting comfortable in the birds new scheme. Despite his bumpy first year after a big payday, there is still a lot to like about Curry. His quick twitch coming off the ball and a great first step give him the tools needed to succeed in this fast paced scheme. Last season’s play has already been a difference, as Curry has looked like the player he was when first brought into the league. Another year in this scheme and now considered the starter with the pressure of Barnett looming in the background could do a lot for Curry. Only time will tell, but all signs point to a resurgence for the New Jersey, native.
3. Rodney McLeod:
When the Eagles signed the 5’10 safety away from the then St. Louis Rams (Los Angeles), the talk around town was that the birds may house the best safety tandem in the NFL. As the season went on and the product was on full display, you saw sparks here and there of what could be. An immediate upgrade over the different players the Eagles had back there over the last few seasons, you could see just how good the tandem could be. Mcleod had 90 tackles, 3 interceptions, and added a sack for good measure in his first year under Schwartz.. His talent could not be questioned, but there were moments where he struggled to make a play, or took a bad angle which would lead to a big play for the offense. My belief is that in his second year under the Schwartz scheme, we could be looking at what showed once in a while last season, a tandem of players who could be the best safeties in the NFL.
4. Jordan Hicks:
At this point, an argument can be made that LB Jordan Hicks is already a top 5 player at his positon. Wherever you stand on it, the truth is, Hicks is a complete animal playing in the middle of the field. Whether it be in the run game or the passing game, Hicks is built to be a star, and has showed the proof of it over his first 24 full games. So with that said, how could he get better? The good news is, he can. With the additions to the front 7 and a better defensive backfield, there is less pressure on Hicks to make a play, and let him run wild. In this fast acting defense, Hicks is perfectly suited to be a dangerous person and with a year under his belt in the scheme, we should expect an even better player this coming season.
5. Brandon Graham:
Already considered one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the NFL, Graham has come a long way since being labelled as a bust. A healthy Graham is a scary Graham, and opposing offenses learned that the hard way in his first year under the aggressive defensive Coordinator. The two are a match made in heaven, as Schwartz loves to attack and Graham loves to be the attacker. With 77 tackles, 5.5 sacks in 16 games, the numbers don’t tell the true story. Graham basically played in the pocket of the quarterback all year long and was almost unstoppable at times. In his second year under this monster scheme, we should all expect an even scarier Graham,as the defense as a whole is better. The goal for Graham has always been 20 plus sacks, but this year shouldn’t surprise anyone if he actually gets there.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports