After concluding that the Eagles have significantly improved their roster on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, it’s time to turn our attention to the defensive side of things.
*Note the rosters being compared are from July 2020 going into Training Camp, so there will be some differences from those who took snaps in 2020 as this focuses on the roster going into the Summer.
2020: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, Joe Ostman, Daeshon Hall, Casey Toohill, Genard Avery
2021: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Tarron Jackson, Joe Ostman, Matt Leo, JaQuan Bailey
The big addition here is Ryan Kerrigan, who fills the whole left by Vinny Curry. Shareef Miller has been replaced with a new high-upside project in Tarron Jackson and while there are still chances for those bubble players to make the roster, the top-four defensive ends look significantly strengthened for this season at least, bringing in Washington’s all-time leader in sacks and some young talent to develop underneath him.
Whether or not Barnett returns in 2022 doesn’t matter for this verdict at least. The Eagles should comfortably expect a minimum of 5 sacks from each of their four leading defensive ends and that can only be seen as a positive.
2020: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Anthony Rush, Bruce Hector, Albert Huggins
2021: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, WIllie Henry, Hassan Ridgeway, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, Raequan Williams, T.Y McGill
I was really high on Malik Jackson but he fell victim to overcrowding and some poorly managed salary-cap allocation. However, the drafting of Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu brings plenty of intrigue to the table behind Javon Hargrave, who seemed to improve as time went on after a sluggish start to his Eagles career.
Depth is relatively strong here and the Eagles have improved the back-end of the depth chart to a point where we’re discussing drafted talent as opposed to flyers on undrafted free agents. This embodies a real focus on the future and getting younger and cheaper, which given the age and cost of Fletcher Cox, isn’t exactly a bad thing. For the time being though, we get to enjoy the dominant defensive tackle and what is finally a strong supporting cast.
2020: Nate Gerry, T.J Edwards, Alex Singleton, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, Duke Riley, Dante Olson, Jatavis Brown
2021: Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, Davion Taylor, T.J Edwards, P.J Edwards, Shaun Bradley, Patrick Johnson, Jacoby Stevens, Rashad Smith
No Nate Gerry = instant improvement.
In all seriousness, it’s hard to give the signing of Eric Wilson enough praise. The former Viking reunites with Jonathan Gannon and joins a previously weakened group on the back of a 122 tackle season where he picked off 3 passes. A coverage specialist in every sense, Wilson’s presence will allow Alex Singleton to do what he does best – scrape over the defensive line and penetrate in run defense. It’s the dream scenario.
Outside of that, we still don’t know what the team have in Davion Taylor, and JaCoby Stevens looks like the kind of player that the Eagles hoped Nate Gerry would and ultimately failed to become. There’s a lot of young talent here that will be led by one of the finest coverage linebackers in the NFC.
2020: Darius Slay, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Trevor Williams, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Grayland Arnold, Trevon Smith, Michael Jacquet, Prince Smith, Elijah Riley
2021: Darius Slay, Michael Jacquet, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Kevon Seymour, Josiah Scott, Shakial Taylor, Nate Meadors, Craig James, Lavert Hill
The Eagles swiftly parted ways with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones last year and it left a lot to be desired. The veteran nickel corners are now gone and in their place are array of younger, smaller corners such as rookie Zech McPhearson. However, without a true CB2, it’s hard to really go all-in on 2021 just yet.
All this group realistically does is either double-down on Avonte Maddox as a CB2, which has been a failed experiment so far, or limit the ceiling of McPhearson by playing him inside and giving a hungry underdog an opportunity outside, which may prove to be even more risky than if they played Maddox, who at least has some experience.
There are a lot of unknowns in the secondary right now and it’s very much a case of Darius Slay versus the world, perhaps even more so than it was in 2020…
2020: Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills, Will Parks, K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, Rudy Ford
2021: Rodney McLeod, Anthony Harris, K’Von Wallace, Andrew Adams, Marcus Epps
The big change here is switching out Jalen Mills for Anthony Harris. This should give second-year prospect K’Von Wallace some room to run inside the box. Andrew Adams joins the room to replace Rudy Ford’s special teams snaps and Marcus Epps did take a small step forward in 2020 due to plenty of defensive exposure.
Losing Jalen Mills does hurt, but the Eagles did do a strong job of nullifying the damage, giving the edge to this year’s room, even in the event Rodney McLeod is unable to start right away…which says a lot.
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