Each Wednesday, the SB Nation NFL team sites explore a special theme. This week's theme is: “Your team’s under the radar defensive lineman.”
For me, this isn’t an easy pick. I’d say most of the players on the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line are underrated — from a national perspective, at least.
Fletcher Cox is the exception since he’s a former first round pick who has been to two Pro Bowls at this point.
I’d say a lot of people probably don’t realize how good Tim Jernigan is. Then again, he just got rewarded with a 4-year, $48 million contract, so he’s not totally flying under the radar.
Brandon Graham gets a lot of love from Pro Football Focus each year. As the longest tenured member of the Eagles’ defense, his presence isn’t a secret.
Among the Eagles’ starters, then, that leaves Vinny Curry as the most under the radar player.
In his first year as a starter, the 29-year-old defensive end has been real solid. Curry has 18 tackles and three sacks through the first nine games of the season. While that might not seem overly impressive, consider Curry ranks second overall in PFF’s Run Stop Percentage (stops constitute a "loss" for the offense). Curry has 11 stops in 92 run snaps played.
Once upon a time in Curry’s career, he couldn’t even get on the field due to his poor run defense. Heck, he struggled to get snaps last year despite the fact he received a contract extension and the guy ahead of him on the depth chart, Connor Barwin, was failing to make much of an impact.
Things weren’t looking great for Curry when the Eagles signed Chris Long in free agency and then selected Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Those players have ended up being nice contributors (and also contenders for the most underrated d-linemen), but Curry beat both of them out for the starting job. That’s good, too, because it allows Barnett and Long to be strong role-players instead of forcing them into starter’s reps, which isn’t as ideal.
Curry is a significant contributor to an Eagles defense that ranks No. 1 at stopping the run (fewest rushing yards per game allowed) and No. 1 in rushing the passer (most total pressures this season). It was questionable how much he’d contribute to this defense after a disappointing 2016 campaign, but he’s done a good job this season.
After seeing Adrian Clayborn notch six sacks against the Cowboys’ left tackles last week, Curry must be licking his chops at the potential opportunity to go against Chaz Green or Byron Bell this Sunday.
Barnett and Long, who I’ve already mentioned, also deserve consideration here. I’ve already written about both players a lot this season. I can’t say the same for Curry.
Here’s what I recently said about Barnett.
Stats: 300 total snaps (261 defense + 39 special teams), 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 field goal block.
Barnett has only played 45.2% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps this season, which ranks seventh among Philly’s defensive linemen. He wasn’t noticeably making a big impact early in the season but the rookie has seemingly come on lately. Barnett is getting pressure and showing up in the run game. Barnett ranks 20th out of 64 defensive ends in pressure rate; he has 25 pressures in 191 pass rush snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Barnett actually ranks first overall in “run stop percentage” among all NFL 4-3 defensive ends.
Back when Barnett was selected at No. 14, 73% of voters here at BGN said they approved of the pick. I think that number would (or at least should) be higher today. Barnett’s been a nice addition as a rotational player in Philly’s defense. It’s important to remember that he’s still only 21 years old and pass rushers take time to develop in the NFL. He’ll eventually grow into a starting role.
We’ve been talking about Long all season due to his charitable contributions. As a player, he ranks 13th out of 40 defensive ends in pressure rate (three sacks, six hits, 18 hurries in 198 pass rush snaps).
Big Beau Allen is another great pick. The Eagles’ backup defensive tackle has generated 16 pressures in 181 pass rush snaps, which ranks as the 10th best rate among 4-3 DTs. Allen also ranks 16th out of 71 players at his position in Run Stop Percentage. Honey Beau Beau was able to fill in effectively while Cox was dealing with an injury earlier this season. It’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles handle his contract situation since he’s a free agent after this year.