Do the Eagles have a hidden plan at defensive end?

The Eagles’ lack of depth at defensive end is hardly a revelation. After the position was neglected during the NFL Draft. That could still be the case, but Howie Roseman doesn’t exactly seem like he’s in a hurry to bring in a name like Vinny Curry. Is there a bigger masterplan we’re simply overlooking?

The depth chart

Behind an aging Brandon Graham and a slightly underwhelming Derek Barnett who needs a big year, depth really is minimal. Josh Sweat took a nice leap forward last year and should have the EDGE3 role locked in. Beyond that is where it gets concerning.

In years past, we’ve been used to seeing names like Chris Long, Vinny Curry, and Michael Bennett fill that EDGE 3/4 role. This time around, Shareef Miller, a second-year pass-rusher with 2 special teams snaps to his name is in-line to fill those boots. Behind him, only Casey Toohill, a seventh-round draft pick remains.

So why would the Eagles leave the position so barren? We’re forgetting about two players.

Malik Jackson

Malik Jackson is a defensive tackle by name, but a defensive end by nature. At 6’5, 290 lbs, he’s a little heavier than the average defensive end. However, he has all the power in the world to knock an offensive tackle off his perch.

When looking back at his 33.5 career sacks, 8 of which came in a career-year in 2017, it’s easy to forget that before he and Yannick Ngakoue terrorized offenses in Jacksonville, he was formerly an edge-rusher.

Jackson was drafted out of Tennessee as a defensive end, amassing 6 sacks in his sophomore season from the position. In 2015, he played as the ‘OLB’ in a 3-4, rallying to a further 5 sacks.

Lining up as an edge rusher, he had five QB hits on Tom Brady in the Broncos’ 20-18 win that propelled them to the Super Bowl, where they beat the Panthers.

Reuben Frank – https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/malik-jackson-defensive-end-defensive-tackle-2020

Even in Jacksonville, Malik was occasionally used as a 5-tech and proved he can still be a matchup nightmare. We know the Eagles love their NASCAR packages. If they wanted to go all-in on beefy all-DT sets, Jackson brings that unique speed from a wider position.

His first season in Philadelphia was cut short just 32 snaps into his Eagles debut. As a result, his 3-year $30M deal now looks worrisome for a team battling cap space concerns moving forward. Between Cox, the highest-paid NT in the league, and Jackson, that’s a lot of capital. Maybe part of the plan is to have him attack in a hybrid role. It would lift the strain from the flailing DE group while keeping plentiful depth on the inside.

Genard Avery

Avery is somehow one of the most overlooked Eagles going into the 2020 season despite the fact that the team actually traded a 2021 fourth-round pick for him at the deadline.

Avery stands at 6’1, 225 lbs, and notched 4.5 sacks and 40 tackles as a rookie back in 2018. A former sixth-round pick, he certainly looked like he was going to be an absolute steal…until the Browns did a Browns thing and changed scheme, leaving Avery out in the cold.

That in itself is just bizarre. During his collegiate career at Memphis, he registered 44.5 TFL and 21.5 sacks. The 6’1, 255 lbs, pass-rusher is clearly productive when penetrating the offensive line. That’s what Schwartz had him do early.

To nobody’s surprise, the Eagles instantly declared their new acquisition to be a defensive end instead of a linebacker, where he was struggling to keep his head above water in Cleveland, which makes sense due to his abilities. He validated the investment by getting a huge half-sack on Bears QB Mitch Trubisky on his very first snap as an Eagle.

Avery played in 59% (17) of special teams snaps and 7% (3) on defense that day. By season’s end though, he had played in a total of 147 special teams snaps and only 33 on defense, falling back under the radar.

It’s important to remember that trade-deadline acquisitions rarely ever show immediate upside. We all remember Golden Tate, but even going back further, deadline trades can often be tricky at first. Amari Cooper is one of the only exceptions to a rule that demands so much from players. Moving their families to a new city, pick up a new system, learning new terminology, mingling with new teammates, and performing like nothing’s happened – it’s a lot of weight on their shoulders.

With such a lack of depth at the position and Avery’s skillset matching up perfectly with what the Eagles need, it’s not too farfetched to believe that with a full offseason behind him (kind of), that he too can be an X-factor at the position.

Look out NFL

If Jackson and Avery do rotate into the fold, things could get very interesting.

Graham, Barnett, Sweat, Jackson, and Avery, suddenly sounds like a much more lethal combination of edge-rushers and one that the Eagles should be keen to explore.

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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