Philadelphia Eagles NFL Combine shopping list: Defensive edition

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Jason Kelce eagles 49ers vs eagles
Philadelphia Eagles’ Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, Howie Roseman, Fletcher Cox and Jason Kelce celebrate after the NFC Championship NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. Roseman, the once-exiled executive who was cast aside for Chip Kelly for a year, returned to lead the Eagles to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title is back again after hitting rock bottom in 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia Eagles have landed in Indy. With positional drills and meetings set to get underway shortly, it’s time to take a look at prospects on the defensive side of the ball who could catch Howie Roseman’s gaze at the NFL Combine.

Defensive Line

The Eagles might be forced to go heavy on defensive linemen once again (shock). If Haason Reddick is indeed on his way out, then they’ll need to negate that loss somehow, whether it’s through Nolan Smith, a big free agent, or some more depth to help take the load off Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham on the edge.

Penn State’s Chop Robinson is bound to be a player Howie Roseman takes a close look at. The Eagles love athletic freaks and Robinson fits the bill. A lot of people will be keen to see how he measures athletically. He’s explosive off the line and plays with an insanely high motor and that should be evident in atheltic testing.

Nfl combine eagles
FILE – The NFL logo is shown on the field before an NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. The NFL’s salary cap for 2024 will be $255.4 million, up a record $30.6 million from last year.(AP Photo/Matt Patterson, File)

He’s got the potential to be an early pick in the draft, but with only 4 sacks in 2023, there might be concerns over his production. Although he’s typically better as a run defender and teams will know that, a good combine is needed.

Marshawn Kneeland is another name the Eagles should be looking at. The Western Michigan product is rising up draft boards following a strong Senior Bowl outing and a season that saw him pick up 10 sacks in 6 games. Currently set to be a mid-round pick, he’s a rapid edge rusher who plays with a real nasty streak.

Speaking of explosive first steps, McKinnley Jackson could be a great fit as a developmental defensive tackle for the Eagles. He’s not the mauling monster that Jordan Davis is at just 6’1, 331 lbs, nor is he overly athletic. However, he’s compact, uses his hands well and has a violent first step. A strong combine effort will boost his stock massively.

Eagles Haason reddick
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick celebrates after sacking Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Linebacker

All of them. Literally.

I wish I was joking. Vic Fangio is bringing his tried and tested scheme to Philly and he’ll need some reliable linebacker play to execute it. Given that the majority of players at the position were only on prove-it contracts, the Eagles need to finally suck it up and invest in off-the-ball linebackers who can help the Safeties and corners out in lateral spaces across the field.

As far as specific names to watch, it’s easy to go to Jeremiah Trotter Jr., who is of course the son of the legendary Philadelphia Eagle. Trotter is everything the Eagles could hope to find in a MIKE linebacker who plays with thunderous instincts and is able to hold his own in coverage. He’s currently assumed to be a day 1-2 pick, so combine testing will be very interesting.

Eagles Nakobe dean
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 02: Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) enters the field during training camp on August 2, 2022 at the Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

If the Eagles do want to keep skimping at the position, a day-3 target like NC State’s Payton Wilson could be a fun player to watch this week. He was excellent in 2023 for the Wolfpack, amassing 138 tackles, 3 interceptions and six sacks among what felt like an NCAA 14 dynasty level season. The production is there, but how will he test athletically?

Cornerback

This all depends on what happens with the starters. Does Darius Slay get moved this offseason? What happens to James Bradberry? The Eagles do have a flurry of young corners such as Josh Jobe, Eli Ricks, and Kelee Ringo, who all held their own in 2023, so it’s not like this position is going to be focused on heavily in the draft. With that said, they’d be wise to keep looking at mid/late round talent to develop while the veterans bridge the gap.

A player like T.J Tampa would be where the Eagles should start their search. He’s rangy at 6’2, 198 lbs, and a physical corner too. He’s not known for his long speed, but he does have 16 pass breakups over the last two seasons. If the combine doens’t highlight any particular strength, he could fall into perfect ‘developmental’ territory.

Oregon’s Khyree Jackson is built in a similar mold, only he’s an inch taller and a little heavier. He won’t get bullied off the line and he’s a pretty firm tackler as well as having the frame to be a nuisance at the catch point. Like Tampa, athleticism isn’t his strong suit which could push him into the heart of the draft.

Notre Dame’s Cam Hart is a third corner coming in at a near-identical build. He’s a bit rougher around the edges, but had a great week down in Mobile and if he can follow that up in Indy, it’ll likely go a long way.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown, right, celebrates a catch with cornerback Darius Slay, center, and head coach Nick Sirianni, left, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Safety

The Eagles do need Safety help. How much of it? That’s down to interpretation. Sydney Brown is going to miss a chunk of next year while rehabbing an injury and Kevin Byard is on his way out. The smart move would be to add a free agent/trade acquisition with experience in Fangio’s scheme, but the Eagles would also be wise to look at some of the big playmakers in this class.

The Birds love themselves some Georgia Bulldogs and Javon Bullard fits the bill. He’s a physical safety who can definitely play in the box and asserts himself in a similar way to Brown. That might put the Eagles off a little, as having a logjam of young safeties is hardly ideal, but some strong athletic testing and interviews could really boost the stock of a versatile defender with all the physical tools to succeed at the next level. They could also look to move him to a nickel role in support of the oft-injured Avonte Maddox.

Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles safety Kevin Byard (31) is congratulated by teammates after intercepting a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

AP Photo/Matt Slocum