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Position review: defensive tackle

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Middle men

Cleveland Browns v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After looking at the men in the middle on offense, we turn to their defensive counterparts in our end of season position reviews. The defensive line wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the dominant unit that many were expecting. After relieving WR coach Greg Lewis after his players regressed, the Eagles may need to consider the status of DL coach Chris Wilson, who had no one progress as a player this year.

Fletcher Cox

Is it possible to have a very good season and yet have a disappointing one at the same time? If so, that was Fletcher Cox’s 2016 season. He deservedly made the Pro Bowl, and led the team in sacks, statements that at the start of the season would not have been surprising to be realized. Those should be positives, and they are. Cox is on the shortlist of best 4-3 DTs in the league.

But after having a breakout season in 2015 in a defense that didn’t fully fit him, and then transitioning to a defense that suits him perfectly, expectations were sky high, and they weren’t out of line. Under Jim Schwartz, Albert Haynesworth, Ndamukong Suh and Marcell Dareus all had career years as pass rushers, the latter two in their first seasons with him. Fletcher Cox didn’t, though his 6.5 sacks were the 2nd best of his career. His eight game stretch of no sacks was blown out of proportion, three of those games came with Bennie Logan out and Cox being heavily double teamed, and he was 7th among 4-3 DTs in pressures, per Football Outsiders.

Fletcher Cox had a really strong season, and any complaints that he didn’t live up to his contract extension are silly. But there’s room for improvement from very good to great, and if and when Cox hits that, watch out.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Cox is the keystone of the defense the Eagles are building. He’s an outstanding player who should have an even better season if the pass rush around him is improved.

Bennie Logan

Logan had a fairly disappointing season. After three underrated seasons as a nose tackle, the hopes of him being freed up in a 4-3 and having a breakout season never materialized. He was a strong run defender, in the three and a half games his missed, the Eagles gave up 4.5 yards per carry, in the 12.5 games he played, 4.1, a solid but not great rate. With Ezekiel Elliot and the Cowboys loaded offensive line playing the Eagles twice a year, a strong run defense is needed to win the NFC East. But they also need their pass rush to improve, his 7 QB pressures and 2.5 sacks was the lowest rate of defensive linemen who played meaningful snaps besides Beau Allen. A one dimensional run stuffing defensive tackle is a good player when they’re great at it. Logan was solid, but not spectacular in 2016.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Logan regressed this season. The Eagles should bring him back for the right price, but ultimately that’s Logan’s call.

Beau Allen

Starting three games in relief of an injured Bennie Logan, Beau Allen played nearly as much as Logan, just 24 fewer snaps. When he played, he showed some quickness and strength with six tackles for loss and half a sack. Allen wasn’t starter quality, but he got the job done as a backup.

And it was fun to see him as the team’s primary fullback in short yardage situations.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Allen is a fine depth player, nothing more, but that’s all they are asking him to be. Too bad he’ll lose his job as the team’s fullback.

Destiny Vaeao

An undrafted rookie, Vaeao had 0.5 fewer sacks than Vinny Curry, including a good sack/fumble of Jay Cutler on Monday Night Football. He was a consistently used backup, playing in over 20% of snaps in 11 games.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As we’ve said in these reviews before, the Eagles need solid young backups, and Vaeao fit the bill.

Taylor Hart

Claimed off waivers from the 49ers, Hart had his second season with 0 games played.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Hart has use on a 3-4 team as a rotational DE. As a 4-3 DT, he was a spare part all season long.