After breaking down five players who could be primed for a breakout on the offensive side of the ball in an article yesterday, it’s time to visit the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles are stacked with underdogs and young talent who could well take some huge steps in 2021…but which players will take the largest strides?
The rise of Josh Sweat has been exciting to watch. After he entered the NFL with concerns over his knees, the injury tag took a while to shed. A quiet rookie campaign led to a few flashes in 2019 and eventually a message sent one year later – The FSU product is here to stay.
Prior to a wrist injury that ended the 2020 season a few weeks early, he amassed 38 tackles, 6 sacks, and 12 QB hits while playing in 38% of snaps. He burst off the screen on a regular basis and was a menace coming off the edge far more consistently than Derek Barnett.
Sweat now enters his contract year in a scenario that lends itself very kindly to an even bigger role. Alongside Ryan Kerrigan on the second EDGE pairing, he’ll be applying some real pressure to Derek Barnett, who is also in his final contracted year with the Eagles.
The former fourth-round pick has improved year-on-year in Philadelphia and will now feature in a refreshed scheme that may enable him to wreak even more havoc off the edge thanks to some linebacker aid at the line of scrimmage and a heavier emphasis on rushing the passer. It’s likely that his trend of growth will continue into 2021 and potentially lead to a place where he ends up leading the teams in a key metric such as QB hits or sacks.
It took Javon Hargrave a while to kick-on in Philadelphia after signing a contract that made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league. However, we really started to see how impactful he could be towards the end of the year. He ended his first season with 38 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss through 11 starts and 15 appearances.
After just 2 QB pressures through the opening six games of the year, Hargrave picked up 12 through his next six along with 3.5 of his total sacks. If he can sustain that level of disruption for an entire year next to Fletcher Cox, we might finally see a dominant duo on the inside without one of the two players having to carry the entire group on his back.
I really do think that if the Eagles don’t go and acquire a free agent cornerback or fill the void by trading for someone, that former Bills CB Kevon Seymour has everything it takes to win the role convincingly.
He was a late-season acquisition for the Eagles when they were starved of CB depth and was dropped into the deep end almost instantly. He made two starts for the team (New Orleans & Arizona) and while he allowed 3 of 4 passes to be completed, two were schematic breakdowns. He showed a refreshing sense of awareness in zone coverage and has breathtaking speed which helped him break off of routes and come down to aid the run defense. He’s a clean tackler (didn’t miss a single one) and is able to carry routes vertically with ease thanks to his fluid hips and field vision.
Seymour is a rapid corner who can take away deep-threats and if he can hold down the fort in Training Camp, I think there’s a real chance he goes on to not only start at CB2, but maybe, just maybe make that role his own for a short while.
There is a chance that Rodney McLeod won’t be fully healthy for the very beginning of the season which may well afford an opportunity to second-year Safety K’Von Wallace, who would naturally be the player looking to take control of the baton.
Wallace only played in 18% of snaps as a rookie behind Jalen Mills, but the hard-hitting Clemson product may well be given the starting reins given Anthony Harris will probably have the role of FS locked down. With a full year of development under his belt and an offseason of competition, he could come out swinging.
One could argue that Alex Singleton broke out last year given that he registered 120 tackles in only 11 starts after barely being used in the opening segment of the season, and you’d be right. But a lot of people are also adamant that the Eagles still need linebacker help, which probably acts as the opposite of a vote in confidence that Singleton can reach and maybe even surpass those highs.
Singleton is a tenacious run-defender who scrapes really well, is rarely washed out of plays and has a real nose for the football along with strong gap-discipline. This is evidenced by the fact he racked up 5 TFL. He isn’t the strongest coverage linebacker though, but this is where the Eagles were incredibly smart.
Eric Wilson may be among the most prolific coverage linebackers in the league. He has the speed to carry TE’s down the field and his positioning is exceptional. The Eagles won’t need Singleton to consistently drop back into coverage and can allow him to do what he does best – sniff the ball out and make a play in the backfield, leading to a season just as impressive as his last, doubling down on his rise to becoming a solid NFL linebacker.
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