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Scouting New Eagles Defensive End Michael Bennett

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles made a splash when they traded for former Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. Taking advantage of the Seahawks roster purge, the move gives the Eagles another talented trench player for at least a one-year rental.

When looking at the analytics to determine how Bennett fits within the Eagles defense, it is of interest to note where he typically lines up. Pro Football Focus charting claims Bennett lined up on the outside, to the right side of the offensive formation on 85% of his pass rush snaps. DE Brandon Graham spends most of his time here, lining up over the tackle on 88% of his snaps.

I reached out to PFF for clarification, noting their low amount of inside pass rush snaps for Bennett (11). It was revealed their charting counts an “outside” rush as anything starting at a “4i” alignment, which is an inside shade on the tackles shoulder.

Several times Bennett kicked inside in pass rush situations, lined up head on with a tackle or to the inside shoulder with another defender to his outside. Expect the Eagles to use Bennett in a similar fashion.

Beyond the analytics, we have to know what type of player we’re getting from a traits stand-point. It’s important to paint a full picture and understand where a player wins so that you can deploy them in the most effective manner.

When scouting a player, it’s customary practice to choose games that offer difference circumstances; whether it be home or away, early season or late, hampered by injury or fully healthy, and so on. The most important of these contrasting situations is production. You can watch five games of a player where they turned in boast worthy statistics, but you’ll fail to capture the whole picture, that being the floor and the ceiling of a player. It’s important to discern where a player succeeds and where his limitations lie, thus you must look at both the high notes and the low.

Bennett’s low note came against the Eagles, conveniently enough. Lane Johnson’s quickness getting into his pass set at proper depth and ready to punch frustrated Bennett for four quarters. Unable to soften the edge with chops and clubs facing Johnson’s agility and 35 ¼” arms, Bennett opened the toolbox containing his various pass rush moves, but to no avail.

The result was Bennett’s lowest single game pass rush grade of 2017. Correction, the result was Bennett’s lowest single pass rush grade of his entire nine-year career. Bennett possesses a solid burst off the line which he enhances by keying in on cadences, allowing him to appear a tick faster by snap jumping. This has gotten Bennett into trouble with offsides calls but looking at the full picture, it has worked to his advantage.

Against a tackle with an elite athletic profile, Bennett struggled to run the arc, often getting pushed past the peak of the pocket. Johnson did well not to open up against Bennett, understanding the threat of a bullrush or inside counter. You’re afforded that luxury when you can get to your landmark and engage with your punch before the defender can get to you first. Additionally, by not “opening the gate”, Johnson limited the space in which Bennett could operate and left him in a position to shut down anything thrown his way by keeping his base solid and balanced.

When given space, Bennett displays surprising lateral agility for a man his size. This is especially apparent on stunts, whether he’s running an inside or outside track.

Bennett corners well for a bigger end, maintaining speed through the arc and closing quickly. This, combined with his motor allow him to track down sacks otherwise unlikely for other, stiffer pass rushers. The Eagles rarely stunted last year, utilizing the concept on only 19% of pass rush snaps, but with Bennett’s versatility and polish, that could change.

Make no mistake, Bennett doesn’t need open-field to generate pressure. One of his best assets is his bullrush. His film showed a strong rush with an understanding of how to convert speed to power, consistently driving offensive tackles and guards back into the quarterbacks lap or on their cans.

Beyond his production as a pass rusher, where he ranked 7th among 4-3 defensive ends in pressures (70), Bennett also adds value as a run stuffer. Adept at keying run direction via alignment and situation, he’s a tough task to reach block on zone runs. Extremely disruptive, Bennett will take advantage of his lateral agility and mental processing by shooting gaps while limiting the strike zone for offensive linemen desperately trying to get a piece.

Overall, Bennett provides the Eagles another high-quality piece in their rotation that can make meaningful contributions on all three downs. If the price of a fifth-round pick and a developmental wide receiver in Marcus Johnson seems like a steal, it’s because it is.

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