The Eagles spent most of the offseason building on a defense that statistically ranked inside the top 10 last year even though the eye test told a very different story. The lack of true playmakers was apparent whenever a top-15 offense rolled into town, but that will no longer be the case.
With acquisitions like James Bradberry and Haason Reddick, draft picks like Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis, the Eagles’ defense has gone from mediocre to excellent on paper in just a few weeks. So strong have the moves been that comparisons to the defense of the early 2000’s have been stark and…objectively fair. On paper, the defense looks the part of a solid unit.
Is Jonathan Gannon better than Jim Johnson as a DC? Absolutely not. But the talent level in his group could very well put Gannon in an excellent position to succeed in Year 2 for Philly.
Statistically, Jim Johnson’s best season was 2008 with the team ranking as the 3rd best defense overall that year. While other years may have had better talent at different positions, 2008 was the most complete defense that Johnson ran. So let’s compare the 2008 squad to this current team on paper!
Defensive End – 2008 Squad
From a depth perspective, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and even Tarron Jackson offer more depth than the 2008 squad. There’s just one major difference: Trent Cole.
Cole is one of the greatest Eagle pass rushers in team history. A 2x Pro-Bowler and All-Pro nominee, Cole was better than Brandon Graham now at 34 coming off major surgery. The ’08 squad gets the nod because of an all-timer.
Defensive Tackle – Current
Javon Hargrave alone is better than Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson. Then you add a potential HOFer in Fletcher Cox and a living tank in Jordan Davis and it isn’t even close. The 2008 Eagles relied on the Johnson blitz during those days so the pressure wasn’t on the defensive line to sack the QB. But no matter which way you look at it, the current Eagles defense would blow through the past based on talent alone.
Linebackers – Current
This one is pretty close. Stewart Bradley was excellent in 2008 before even pairing with Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither. The late run in 2008 was fueled because their linebackers were fast, aggressive and physical.
But, Nakobe Dean has far more potential than Bradley ever had before he dealt with injuries. Then you add in Kyzir White who is excellent against the pass and Haason Reddick who is basically a better, faster Jeremiah Trotter when rushing the passe, and the current depth at the position is better than any group Johnson had led.
Corners – Even
The 2008 squad had Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard.
The current squad has Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox.
I think Slay could, in theory, have an edge over Samuel but Sheldon Brown was a true lockdown corner during his time in Philly. Bradberry chose this current group because of scheme and it makes perfect sense. In 2008, Lito was basically a backup behind Samuel but Sheppard was a ballhawk for many years in Philly. I think his career balances out the skillset of Maddox being the top corner in the slot last season.
There are just too many factors here to pick a side. I’ll just say it’s dead even.
Safety – 2008 Squad
Two words: Brian. Dawkins.
No matter how good Marcus Epps becomes this season or how dependable Anthony Harris is, neither even come close to the dominant force that Dawkins was. Quintin Mikell was also no slouch either. The 2008 secondary was excellent and a big reason why they got back to the NFC Championship game by shutting down top offenses like the Cowboys, and Giants that year.
I like Epps. I think he will be a very good starter this year.
But he is nowhere near where Dawkins is or was.
Current Team – 2
2008 Squad – 2
Even – 1
In short, this might be the most complete defense the Eagles will field since the Jim Johnson days. And even then, another safety or pass rusher could very well tip the scale to have this defense go from top 10 overall to a top-five defense in football.
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire