Earlier this week we took a look at how ESPN's Bill Barnwell ranked the top three offensive players on every NFL team. Since it's a pretty slow time in the offseason, Barnwell went ahead and ranked each team's top three defensive players as well. Here's what he had to say about the Philadelphia Eagles via In$ider.
15) - DT Fletcher Cox, DE Connor Barwin, S Malcolm Jenkins - Cox's importance to the Eagles was underlined with the six-year, $102 million deal he signed last week, one which will end up realistically paying him $63.4 million over the next four seasons. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has built his defenses around devastating interior linemen such as Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee), Ndamukong Suh (Detroit) and Marcell Dareus (Buffalo), and Cox is next in that line of dominant disruptors. Barwin is one of the most versatile defenders in the league, capable of contributing as an excellent pass-rusher and an above-average cover linebacker at different times, but again, there's a drop-off between those two and the rest of the defensive roster.
The Eagles ranked 30th on offense. Their defensive players rightfully rank much higher.
I don't fully agree with Barnwell's choice. Cox is an obvious choice. Jenkins has been one of the NFL's best safeties, so he belongs, too. I'm not so sure about Connor Barwin, though. No disrespect to Barwin, who is a good player and a good guy, but I'd have to put Jordan Hicks over him.
Yes, there are injury concerns with Hicks, but put those aside for a second and think back to how good he was as a rookie. He was on pace to be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was incredibly productive in just five starts (eight games played). He finished 2015 with 42 tackles, two interceptions, three pass deflections, three fumbles recoveries, one forced fumble, one sack, and one defensive touchdown. He was a beast.
It remains to be seen how Hicks will adjust to playing middle linebacker in Philadelphia's new 4-3 wide-nine defense as opposed to playing behind the old 3-4 two-gap system. If he can pick up anywhere close to where he left off as a rookie, the Eagles' defense should be in good shape. A ranking of only 15 is probably too low for a group featuring Hicks. The combination of Cox, Hicks, and Jenkins deserves top 10 consideration. These players have the potential to form a strong core of an Eagles defense that might be better than some expect.