Philadelphia Eagles Rookie Breakdown - Part II, Defensive Edition

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

John Breitenbach breaks down the performance of the Eagles rookies on defense in 2012. Check out his offensive breakdown here.

The front offense knew the team was going to be relying on rookies at every level of the defense going into the 2012 season. There was no doubt second round pick Mychal Kendricks was going to be a starter. The Eagles had nothing at outside linebacker and invested a high pick in a player seen to be NFL ready. First round pick Fletcher Cox could be rotated in more slowly but he was going to have to play meaningful snaps in year one. Finally Joselio Hanson was released prior to the season leaving fourth round corner Brandon Boykin as the nickel back. That's a lot of snaps for rookies on a team that was supposed to be super bowl ready. Obviously the season didn't pan out as planned but the trio above aren't a significant reason for that. Here's how they compare to some other first year players.

DT, Fletcher Cox

Although Cox didn't start until Week 8, he hasn't played less than 40% of snaps in any game (where he wasn't injured). The coaches have shown a lot of trust in the player they traded up to acquire, and he's responded with some good performances. He clearly has a lot of talent and really stands out on some plays. The key, as with many young players, is becoming more consistent. There are times when he's unblockable but others where he's too quiet. Cox's instincts are also a pleasant surprise. He's done a great job identifying screens and is one of those rare lineman who recognises that when it's too easy, it probably is too easy.

Player

Pass rush snaps

Sacks

Hits

Hurries

Snaps per pressure

Fletcher Cox

293

4

5

13

13.3

Michael Brockers

252

5

4

8

14.8

Akiem Hicks

167

0

2

7

18.5

Billy Winn

374

1

5

11

22

John Hughes

239

3

0

6

26.6

Dontari Poe

314

0

3

8

28.5

*All statistics courtesy of PFF

As you can see from the table, Cox leads all rookies (who have taken at least 25% of reps) in snaps per pressure. His performance against Cincinnati highlighted his pass rushing ability as he beat fellow rookie Clint Boling on a number of occasions. Only Michael Brockers has really come close to Cox's production. Just as everyone compares Brandon Graham to Jason Pierre-Paul, we can expect these two to find their numbers coming up next to each other in articles for years to come.

Player

Run Snaps

Tackles made**

Snaps per tackle

Cox

207

14

14.8

Brockers

203

14

14.5

Hicks

174

14

12.4

Winn

216

9

24

Hughes

193

12

16.1

Poe

265

20

13.25

** Close to, at or behind the line of scrimmage

While Cox has shown an impressive ability to get after the quarterback, he needs to do better against the run. He's not bad in that department by any means but he could do more. It will be interesting to see how Cox's performance is affected by the change in alignment. He did well under Washburn but then had one of his better games on Thursday night. The last three weeks should give us a clearer picture.

LB, Mychal Kendricks

Kendricks is such a frustrating player to watch. He'll diagnose and drive into the backfield to make the play every now and then but more often than not he's being blocked by someone. If often doesn't matter if it's a lineman, tightend or fullback, if they get their hands on him, he almost always loses. That can't happen in this league. Linebackers, regardless of defensive alignment or whether they're on the weak or strongside, must be able to shed blocks and it's something Kendricks has shown almost no ability to do. That's not to say he won't learn, only that his lack of physicality at the moment is concerning. To make matters worse his tackling has been very poor, making him a liability against the run. Kendricks obviously has the talent to be a good cover backer but he's very poor at anticipating routes and bites on fakes far too easily. Here are some numbers.

Player

Run Snaps

Tackles made

Snaps per tackle

Mychal Kendricks

418

16

26.1

Dont'a Hightower

425

10

42.5

Zach Brown

275

20

13.8

James-Michael Johnson

163

12

13.6

Nigel Bradham

177

11

16.1

Vontaze Burfict

297

20

14.9

Julian Stanford

204

7

29.1

Miles Burris

335

21

16

As you can see, aside from Hightower (whose stats aren't really indicative) and Stanford, Kendricks has been significantly worse than all other rookies. Other mid-round linebackers like Brown and Michael-Johnson haven't been lighting it up but they also haven't been liabilities like the Cal product has been at times. Kendricks has also missed 14 tackles, the second most in the league. Here are his coverage numbers.

Player

Completions

Attempts

Yards

TDs

INTs

PDs

QB rating

Kendricks

66

45

394

4

0

5

104.0

Hightower

36

28

250

1

0

1

104.9

Brown

42

35

190

1

1

1

88.9

JMJ

9

8

51

0

0

0

90.3

Bradham

20

12

54

1

0

0

93.3

Burfict

65

51

295

3

0

1

111.8

Stanford

11

9

65

0

0

0

89.0

Burris

43

41

384

1

0

1

111.6

Kendricks can make plays on the ball as his five pass deflections show but he's also given up four TDs. If he had caught some of the opportunities he's had for interceptions, his numbers would be much better but at the same time he hasn't always been punished by lapses in coverage.

CB, Brandon Boykin

I had Hanson on my final 53 roster because I didn't think Boykin had clearly shown himself to be the better player. In the end special teams probably played a big factor and so the Eagles' slot corner of the past few years was forced to find a new home. Boykin had a tremendous start but slowed down in the middle of the year. He looks a little in uncomfortable in zone and struggles with some of the better slot receivers in the league. Still it's been a good start for the fourth round pick, who is performing decently in his first year. I've included rookies who play predominantly in the slot as well as Hanson.

Player

Attempts

Completions

Yards

TDs

INTs

PDs

QB rating

Brandon Boykin

48

26

364

2

0

6

92.7

Casey Hayward

66

29

364

0

5

10

30.1

Mike Harris

29

19

158

0

1

4

65.0

Corey White

45

35

422

3

1

2

118.7

Jayron Hosley

37

24

323

3

1

1

108.3

Joselio Hanson

49

40

464

2

1

1

111.2

Clearly Boykin has had some positives as well as negatives. The low catch rate allowed is impressive as is the six pass deflections. He's given up a lot of yardage though as well as a pair of touchdowns. Rookie inconsistency has obviously affected Boykin significantly but there's no doubt he has potential.

The three defensive players to take significant snaps have all shown some ability. Cox and Boykin look like they'll be useful role players at least in this league, and there's nothing to suggest they won't improve. Kendricks is another matter. He has to improve shedding blocks and he can't keep missing simple tackles. Andy Reid has a terrible record of drafting linebackers so Eagles fans are likely to be easily concerned. Still Kendricks really has struggled since a good four week period to open the season. It's also worth mentioning Vinny Curry and David Sims too. The former has done decently in limited action, showing an ability to get off blocks in the run game. The latter clearly struggled in his only start, missing three tackles.

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