Eagles draft watch: Just how scary could the defense look next year?

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PALO ALTO, CA – OCTOBER 02: Oregon Ducks defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) dejected walks off the field after the college football game between the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal on October 2, 2021, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

If you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, there’s a strong chance that you’re watching the Colts and Dolphins like a hawk. The Eagles provisionally own three first-round picks, their own, that of Miami’s, and of course the pick from Indy that will be a certified first-rounder if Carson Wentz plays in 75% of the team’s snaps. As things stand, the potential haul is looking incredibly juicy…and all signs are pointing towards a defensive overhaul.

Why it’s time to start manifesting a defensive haul for the Eagles

After spending their first-round pick on a wide receiver in each of the last two seasons, the offense has probably hit its ceiling for the time being in terms of what you can add. The team still have a very solid backfield (believe it or not), a young and emerging offensive line behind some star veterans, and a myriad of pass-catchers. On defense, the story isn’t so sweet.

Jonathan Gannon’s defense has been suspect at best through the opening six weeks of the season, but it has also seen some significant improvements over the past two games. If that continues and there is a real sense of confidence in what Gannon can do with this group moving into next season, the team will have a base to build on a ton of assets to to expedite the process.

If we’re being honest, the defense has several holes and they’re only growing larger with time. The defensive line is lacking proven talent on the outside and Brandon Graham isn’t getting younger and is already in a contract year. At cornerback, Steven Nelson will be a free agent after this season and Darius Slay’s contract is going to start snowballing in value. Behind the duo lies a world of question marks in terms of long-term stability at safety. The good news is, all three questions could be answered within one round.

Kayvon Thibodeaux

The Eagles could be primed to pick inside the top-3 next year thanks to the ineptitude of the Miami Dolphins. This means that Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is a very realistic possibility. He may not have mind blowing stats this season, but it is rare to see a player move that quickly and do that much damage at his age. He led the Pac-12 in QB pressures (34) and QB hurries (27) last year and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Adding him to an EDGE group of newly-extended Josh Sweat and a potentially cheap BG provides the Eagles with an explosive trio, while affording that fourth spot to be used by a versatile player like Milton Williams, or a developmental name like Tarron Jackson.

Derek Stingley Jr.

At cornerback, hello Derek Stingley Jr. LSU’s finest is the perfect option to replace Nelson at CB2, while learning under a proven veteran and 3-time Pro Bowler in Darius Slay, and a DB whisperer in Jonathan Gannon. It’s been a while since the Eagles have had any kind of production on the outside and Stingley is so reminiscent of Marshon Lattimore in his size and his fluidity that he’s hard to ignore. He’d be the CB of dreams to add to this secondary. The Eagles could well be using their own pick in this scenario.

The Eagles defense could return to safety

The third Pick on the agenda might be closer to the top-10 mark, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t find another cornerstone. Kyle Hamilton out of Norte Dame could be a great Safety to add here. The team have willingly passed on top-tier names for three years in a row and it hasn’t exactly served them well. Biting the bullet to snag an aggressive safety who has plenty of ball-skills.

This is only one scenario, but the Eagles defense could look absolutely lethal if all comes to fruition:

DT: Javon Hargrave/Milton Williams (Fletcher Cox could become a cap casualty)
DE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Josh Sweat, Tarron Jackson
LB: With the cap space/assets the Eagles have, signing a big-name in free agency or trading for a proven vet makes sense here. I’d go with someone like Oren Burks to line up alongside a growing Davion Taylor.
CB: Darius Slay, Derek Stingley Jr, Zech McPhearson, Avonte Maddox, Tay Gowan
S: Rodney McLeod (cheap deal?), Kyle Hamilton, Marcus Epps

All of a sudden, the ceiling of this defense shoots upwards. This year might be tough to stomach, but there are brighter days ahead.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire