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Eagles can improve defensive end depth through the 2018 NFL Draft

Strengthening a strength.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A signature of the Jim Schwartz defense is a heavy rotation along the defensive line, especially on the Edges. Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett all played a ton of snaps and had important roles in the Eagles success.

Brandon Graham isn’t going anywhere. Graham set a career high in sacks this season with 9.5. After years of being more of a “pressure” guy who also excelled in run defense; Graham had a truly special season this year. It is rumored that Graham could want a boost on his pay, but it is likely the Eagles don’t want one of their best defenders and a Super Bowl hero unhappy with his contract. Graham should be here for another few years.

Vinny Curry is a bit of a wildcard. While Curry only had three sacks this season; he generated a ton of pressure and contributed as a run defender. Curry was used all over the defensive line and the Eagles could value his versatility. However, he is an expensive option considering his lack of productivity, especially with Derek Barnett waiting in the wings. Curry is a serious trade candidate unless they can get him to take a pay cut.

Chris Long was invaluable this season for the Eagles Super Bowl run. Not only did Long provide a tremendous locker room presence and mentorship for younger players; he was incredibly clutch as a rotational pass rusher. Long had five sacks despite being a role player and led the team with four forced fumbles. If the Eagles can get the pending free agent back on another small deal; it seems like a no brainer to keep him on the team.

Lastly of the Eagles top four guys last season, Derek Barnett could be poised for the biggest breakout of any of them. Barnett came off the bench last season to pick up five sacks, five tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. He was very disruptive when he saw the field and he should be in for a huge season next year as they expand his role.

The worst case scenario is that the Eagles lose both Long and Curry this offseason to free agency, cuts or trades. With Graham and Barnett likely being the top two guys next season anyway; the Eagles won’t be hurt at the top of the depth chart. However, it could necessitate drafting some young players who could rotate in behind the two of them. While it won’t be a priority for the Eagles early in the draft; they should address it in the later rounds. Here are some late round names to keep an eye on.

  • Sam Hubbard, Ohio State: Hubbard is a high motor player who has great size at 6’5” and 265 pounds. He is a solid, not spectacular athlete, but makes up for it with consistent technique and high football IQ. His ability to contribute as a pass rusher and run defender will make him ideal as rotational guy for the Eagles.
  • Kemoko Turay, Rutgers: Kemoko Turay could bring a lot of intrigue with his 6’6” frame and twitchy athleticism. While he was never super productive in college, he is exactly the type of late round player a team could bet on for their upside.
  • Dorance Armstrong, Kansas: Armstrong did not get a ton of publicity playing at Kansas but he is an athlete to keep an eye on. Armstrong has great burst and bend, using both to disrupt as a pass rusher. Armstrong is a bit raw and undersized, but could be a developmental guy and specialty pass rusher early in his career.
  • Leon Jacobs, Wisconsin: Jacobs is another late round project type of player. He played all over the place at Wisconsin during his career and definitely has the athletic ability to make a serious impact wherever. His instincts are raw due to lack of experience, but teams will be intrigued by his traits.

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