Training Camp is just under one week away for the Philadelphia Eagles and anticipation is beginning to build. The Birds’ may have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, but they still have plenty of questions to answer, with arguably the most prominent surrounding defensive end. There’s one number that is almost synonymous with the positional battle as the first day of camp looms; the number four.
EDGE4. Round 4. 4 preseason games.
We know the narrative by now. The Eagles will be entering 2019 without Chris Long, a man who played in 58% of defensive snaps last year and 48% in 2017 and was extremely important to the success of the defensive line, ranking 27th among all NFL players when it came to QB pressures.
As detailed brilliantly here by Bleeding Green Nation’s Ben Solak, Philadelphia’s outside pass-rushers were fundamentally interchangeable when Derek Barnett was healthy and once he went down, the need for a designated ‘EDGE4’ that kept the guys seeing heavier doses of action fresh, was seemingly replaced by a committee effort from Graham, Long, and Bennett, as opposed to seeing a direct increase in snap counts for Josh Sweat.
In 2019, Chris Long, who was almost the team’s EDGE4 by default, is no longer on the team…and in his place, a pair of fourth-round picks will be looking to step up to the plate.
A defensive end drafted by the Eagles in the fourth-round last year who like several others was drafted with an injury tag attached and plenty of question marks.
At the 2018 NFL combine, Sweat put to rest any concerns about his knee. The 6’5, 250-pound athletic freak ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, the fastest for a defensive lineman. In terms of what you want in a modern-day defensive end, Sweat ticks every box, but he was unable to translate those intangibles into on-field production as a rookie.
But Sweat played in just 68 defensive snaps last year (20 of which came against the Saints in a blowout loss) before an ankle injury ended his first NFL campaign. He will now be tasked with a role that could see him play upwards of 200. It’s a big leap, but the Eagles have to remain confident it’s one that a player who lined up all over the Seminoles D-line as somewhat of a schematic misfit who produced everywhere, can do so.
Sweat seems to be the favorite for the DE4 role after a strong spring period, but that doesn’t mean the task at hand is any easier.
Drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft (noticing the pattern yet?), Miller brings a unique skill set and frame to the table as a longer defensive end, but as shown in our Film Room below, he will need a lot of work in the offseason with DL Coach, Phillip Daniels.
At 6’5″ and 260 lbs, Miller has the size that defenses covet in their edge-rushers and during his time at Penn State, Miller grew into one of the team’s biggest leaders. The attention given to him last year following a strong breakout enabled Yetur Gross-Matos to explode onto the scene, but that didn’t stop him from having success of his own. 15 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks headlined another strong season.
A small concern is that Miller is very one dimensional. He doesn’t have a vast array of pass-rushing moves and plays at one speed once his impressive first step and burst is behind him. He’s quick, has an impressive ability to bend and really drive lineman around the arc, but what he has in finesse, he’s missing in those technical intricacies that have seen this class receive such astonishing praise.
Two names, both drafted in the fourth round, looking to fill an EDGE4 position. Each has a different skillset and question marks that will hover until that leap is taken. Training Camp will be an exciting time, but there’s a lot on the line at defensive end and in a winner takes all battle royale, one of these men will likely see a huge chunk of defensive snaps, while the other is left grinding his teeth and adding to the chip on his shoulder.