Do the Eagles really still need help at defensive end?


Since the offseason began, you or someone you know have probably seen articles about the need for another defensive end for the Eagles.

Whether it was Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, or Everson Griffen, the sentiment was the same: get more depth.

But do the Eagles really need more depth? Let’s take a look at the position.

The starters

Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are the starters, making it the second year in a row for this pairing. Barnett did start all games he played in 2018, but that was only six.

While Graham may never be the sack artist people thought they were getting with the 13th overall pick in 2013, he has consistently been one of the better pass rushers in the league. He registered 67 pressures last season and has been the third-highest graded EDGE of the decade by ProFootballFocus with a grade of 92.1, behind Von Miller’s 94.6 and Khalil Mack’s 93.5.

Barnett has some work to do. The fourth-year pro just had his fifth-year option picked up by the Eagles, but he’ll need a big year to justify the price tag. He has played in just 35 out of a possible 48 games in his three years in the league and has registered only 14 sacks. Barnett looks to be on the verge of a breakout year, however. It’s his first healthy offseason since college, and he’s been training with former Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Washburn spent time with Jim Schwartz in Tennessee, where the currently used Wide 9 technique was implemented.

The 2019 rotational pieces

Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, and Daeshon Hall all saw defensive snaps at defensive end in 2019.

Of the three, Sweat provided the biggest impact. Despite playing only 35% of the snaps, he still registered 21 tackles and four sacks. Per ProFootballFocus, among all edge defenders with at least 80 snaps versus the run in 2019, Sweat was second in the league with an 11.1% run stop percentage. Despite playing 253 less snaps than Jadeveon Clowney, look how similar Sweat’s year was to Clowney:

Sweat may not be the wrecker of all nice things like Clowney is, but Sweat provides very good depth behind Barnett and Graham.

The Eagles do not have a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft due to a trade with the Browns that landed them Genard Avery. In his very first game with the Eagles versus the Bears, he showcased why the team traded for him:

Avery is the second player lined up from the left (next to Mills). Watch as he showcases his speed to rush the middle and combine with Malcolm Jenkins on the sack. In three, yes only three, snaps that game, he had that half-sack and two tackles. He made his presence felt when he was on the field. However, those would be his only stats with the team the rest of the season, as he saw very limited defensive snaps and played mainly on special teams. With a full off-season with his new team, we could be looking at a diamond in the rough at the EDGE position.

Daeshon Hall saw very limited time, has injury concerns, and will probably still see limited time in 2020, but he has the physical tools to be a force. He posted elite combine measurements prior to the 2017 draft:

He tied Cliff Avril’s score and scored higher athletically than Melvin Ingram, pretty good. He had one sack in 50 snaps last season, if he can stay healthy then he may be able to use his 6’5″ 265 lb frame to wreak havoc off the bench. Hall put on a show in the 2019 preseason, racking up four sacks in his four games.

The unknowns

Rookie Casey Toohill was drafted to play EDGE at the NFL level, after playing LB in college. His RAS was elite for both the defensive end and linebacker positions:

He’s a long shot to make the roster, but he could provide valuable depth on the practice squad.

Second-year defensive end Shareef Miller played two snaps all season, both on special teams. He was projected to go in the 5th-6th round in the 2019 draft, but the Eagles selected him in the 4th. His scouting report included his ability to rush the passer and affect the run game, but the inability to use any functional power to beat offensive linemen. He obviously needs further development and if he lands on the practice squad again, his days may be numbered.

Joe Ostman has been the apple of the coaching staff’s eye since being drafted. He was a stud in training camp prior to going down with injury. PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski had to say about him after watching him in training camp in 2019:

It seems like everyone in the organization has been pumping up Ostman for about a year now, and practice observers are beginning to see why. He has been legitimately good, and not just in a “he’s hustling more than everyone else” kind of way. He’s been so intriguing to the Eagles, in fact, that Jim Schwartz is trying to find additional ways of using him. Recently in practices, Schwartz has been standing Ostman up over the center is something of a Joker role.

He should be 100% recovered from his ACL injury come training camp, and showed no limitations in a beach workout:

With the high praise he was getting prior to injury, it’s hard to think he won’t be on the active roster.

The variations

If the Eagles do not make a move at defensive end, they could still former a killer line.

If you forgot, Fletcher Cox played some defensive end in the Chip Kelly years as then-defensive coordinator Billy Davis implemented a 3-4 defense. In those three years, he tallied 16.5 sacks, including a 9.5 sack year in 2015. It took him three years to best that number, when he had 10.5 in 2018, could we see that again in 2020?

On that note, Malik Jackson can play both the 3-tech and the 5-tech, adding further value to his game and of course taking pressure off of a group light on depth.

Having Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Malik Jackson, and Fletcher Cox on the field at once could prove deadly to opposing offensive lines. Who do you double? Single covering each player would open up gaping holes for the linebackers to blitz through or open up the edges for DB blitzes.

With the depth at defensive tackle (Hassan Ridgeway, Bruce Hector, Anthony Rush, and Albert Huggins) being deeper than defensive end, the Eagles could choose to go this route instead of signing another defensive end.

My thoughts

I’d love an Everson Griffen signing, he’d be a Chris Long-type signing that could help the depth of the defensive end group. But if it’s not Griffen, then I’m good with letting the young guns develop and letting Jackson and Cox wreak havoc at defensive end a few times during the season.

The left tackles the Eagles will face in 2020 (Cox would line up at right DE):

  • Cornelius Lucas (2x) – Washington
  • Andrew Whitworth – LA Rams (39 years old)
  • Jonah Williams – Cincinnati (2nd year but missed all rookie year)
  • Trent Williams – San Francisco (hasn’t played since 2018)
  • Alejandro Villanueva – Pittsburgh (the one that got away)
  • Ronnie Stanley – Baltimore (First Team All-Pro 2019)
  • Nate Solder (2x) – New York Giants (overpaid and not good)
  • Tyron Smith (2x) – Dallas (Injury risk but still good)
  • Jedrick Willis Jr. – Cleveland (rookie)
  • Duane Brown – Seattle (decent)
  • David Bakhtiari – Green Bay (really, really good)
  • Terron Armstead – New Orleans (see above)
  • D.J. Humphries – Arizona (not good)

Having Fletch against them could lead to him having a career year and pushing his name into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

 Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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