The defensive line in Philadelphia has been causing its fair share of earthquakes this season. Ranking third in the NFL sacks through 5 games with a total of 18, the front four has been absolutely rampant, as one would expect from a unit that saw significant investment this offseason with the addition of Javon Hargrave. However, it’s been a free agent signing from last season who has been making the most noise – Malik Jackson.
Jackson’s first season in Philadelphia came to an abrupt end just one week into the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury. This was devesating. Jackson had just signed a 3-year-deal worth $30M on the back of a season where he amassed 7.5 TFL and 3 sacks for a Jaguars defense that allowed the 5th least yards per game in the NFL. Expectations were high as the Birds sought a long-term replacement for Timmy Jernigan, but were swiftly ripped away.
One offseason later, Jackson’s name was all but forgotten. The Eagles made Javon Hargrave the highest-paid Nose Tackle in the NFL, meaning that in 2021 they’ll be paying a whopping $81M on their defensive line alone. It was assumed Hargrave would be the durable running mate Fletcher Cox had been craving for a while, but five weeks into the season, it’s Malik Jackson turning heads.
Through five weeks, Jackson has 15 tackles, 0.5 sacks/TFL, and a team-leading 9 (!) QB hits to go with a fumble recovery. An absolute menace in the backfield, Jackson has consistently hounded quarterbacks, with 3 games of 2+ QB hits to his name so far. For context, Derek Barnett led the Eagles with 14 QB hits last season. If Jackson stays on pace (which is obviously a steep expectation), he’d amass 29.
While Hargrave missed the opening games of the campaign, Jackson stepped up and made the most of the vacant snaps. The former Steeler played in more snaps than Jackson this past Sunday for the first time all season, but the Eagles can’t afford to let a red-hot Jackson cool off.
It’s easy to forget that in 2017, Malik Jackson earned his first Pro Bowl nod. He ranked fifth among all defensive tackles with a career-high 8 sacks and did so while playing 73% of snaps. He’s played in 60% of snaps this season for the Eagles, but it’s a number that simply might have to rise if the team are to get the most out of the versatile pass-rusher.
Fletcher Cox is having another quiet year and although Javon Hargrave is beginning to settle in, it’s been Malik Jackson who has consistently helped a ravenous group of defensive ends feast this season.
With the most capital of any team locked up in their defensive line next season, it’s likely that one of these elite defensive tackles will be on the move. Jackson is doing all he can to ensure that won’t be him as he continues to tear through offensive lines with ease, packing a punch that had previously been lacking, and making up for his lost season.
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire