Eagles Training Camp Positional Preview: Defensive Line

PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 18: Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Tackle Javon Hargrave (93) heads to the locker room after the first half during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles on October 18, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

There is a bit of mystery surrounding the new defensive scheme being implemented by the Eagles, but there is little doubt that the defensive line will need to carry a back seven with a lot of question marks. The depth and experience of this line is excellent, but injuries have continually derailed a strong unit.

Training camp is almost here which means we are getting close to meaningful football once again! So that means it’s time to breakdown one of the more intriguing unit on the birds. Let’s check out the Defensive Line.

Brandon Graham:

Brandon Graham is a model of consistency as he generates pressures, Tackles for loss, and QB hits. While sacks have been slightly harder to come by, Graham still makes his presence known as a pass rusher and run defender. The Michigan alum has not shown signs of slowing as he made his first pro bowl last year in his 11th season. Graham’s playing style may not be sexy but it’s hard to argue with the results. His skill set will continue to age gracefully, and I expect graham to be a fixture on the defensive line for a few more seasons.

Derek Barnett:

It’s make it or break it time for Barnett. Every year around this time, Barnett is picked as a breakout candidate and I’m sure this year will not be any different. His status as a perennial breakout pick is poignant because it shows that he has not lived up to the hype. The former Tennessee standout has battled injuries throughout his time in Philly that have limited his production. It’s not unreasonable to believe that Derek Barnett could turn a corner but I’ll need to see it on the field to believe it. Barnett will probably contribute just enough to make the decision on re-signing him a difficult one.

Fletcher Cox:

Fletcher Cox has often been thought of as one of the best Defensive Tackles in the league. It’s hard to argue with three second-team All-Pro appearances, six Pro Bowl selections, and one first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. While Cox’s past success is undeniable, his game-breaking ability has seemed to diminish to flashes of brilliance.

Rumors are floating around about trading Cox which will not amount to anything, but they are not entirely misplaced. No. 91 is an Eagles great but is no longer an elite defensive tackle in this league, but with that being said he’s still pretty damn good. Trading Cox would have huge financial implications and the Eagles really can’t afford to take on any more dead cap. Let’s keep in mind they already took the largest dead cap hit in NFL history this offseason by trading Wentz. The birds are stuck with Cox for now which is not a bad problem to have on a roster with lots of holes to fill.

Javon Hargrave:

Javon Hargrave had a rough start to his Eagles career as he battled injuries throughout the 2020 season. Eventually, he found his form and put together solid performances towards the latter half of the schedule.

I have two points to make on Hargrave, one is optimistic, and the other is pessimistic.

  1. According to ProfootballFocus, Hargrave’s five highest graded performances as an Eagle came after week 9. This points towards Hargrave getting healthier and adapting well to the new scheme. He is talented and started to flash those traits at the end of the year.
  2. Hargrave will have to adapt to another new scheme this year and did not produce anywhere near the level the Eagles expected. It took him time to get up to speed last year so why should we expect anything else in year two. It’s hard to judge him based on the 2020 season but it’s easy to see a trajectory where Hargrave is a free agent bust.

Josh Sweat:

Sweat played great last year. He has solidified himself as the first Defensive End off the bench, a great rotational piece, and has at times outproduced Derek Barnett on fewer snaps. Unfortunately, I think this is Sweat’s ceiling due to a nasty leg injury he sustained in college. Sweat isn’t able to consistently play the number of snaps required for a premier defensive end but his role is crucial to have a successful defense in the NFL. I would argue having a great 4th DE is almost as valuable as having a great nickel corner in the pass-happy NFL. Players like Josh Sweat are the difference makers between good and great rosters. He could play a key role in turning this team around.

Ryan Kerrigan:

This strikes me as a Chris Long type of signing which is a steal for the Eagles. Kerrigan is arguably a hall of fame player whose career has gone under the radar because of the Washington Football Team’s mediocrity. Kerrigan isn’t in the Prime of his career anymore, but he’s still got plenty of fuel in the tank. Kerrigan’s presence on the team as a leader and playmaker makes this one of the better defensive line groups in the NFL.

The Best of the Rest:

The Eagles selected Milton Williams in the third round and Marlon Tuipulotu in the sixth. They are young, talented players that can learn behind some of the best veterans in the league. I don’t expect massive contributions this season but they are good building blocks for the future. The Eagles made a good decision investing heavily into the defensive line in the draft. There is no pressure for them to contribute early on, giving them time to acclimate to the speed of the NFL.

The Eagles are on the older side at defensive line, but they have the depth to rotate and keep everyone fresh. If by some miracle the Eagles can avoid the injury bug that has plagued them for years now, this unit has the potential to wreck games. Even with a few injuries, there is enough depth for this group to maintain a fringe top ten status. The Defensive line could easily be the best unit on the team if they can stay healthy.  

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire