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3 young Eagles that need to step up in 2018

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The defense can be a lot better if this Triumvirate succeeds...

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles enter the season with a stacked roster and swagger oozing from every pore. Let’s be honest though, they aren’t flawless. There were key moments throughout the playoffs where the chips fell in their favor and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. There are also positions that need key contributors to take the next step in their evolution for the team to continue it’s success.

What follows is an examination of some of the more polarizing takes about the more polarizing players on the roster. These opinions are from the gentle writers on the BGN staff and I look forward to a well reasoned debate bloodbath in the comments. Here we go, three players that need to be better than they were in 2017, and they’re all on defense.

JALEN MILLS

The worst player on the Eagles defenseLee Sifford

You could probably play Good Take, Bad Take with this scorcher. Let’s check the logic and see if it holds water.

“In 2017, Mills personally gave up 9 touchdowns, which is more than any other cornerback or safety in the NFL has since a guy named Delvin Breaux gave up 10 in 2015 for the New Orleans Saints. Mills also allowed a passer rating of 94.7 (which was 78th out of 124 CBs with at least 165 coverage snaps per Pro Football Focus)… and he missed 9 out of 56 tackles (83.8% conversion rate good for 76th out of 113 CBs who tried to make at least 20 tackles). While Mills played his best professional season yet last year, he was far from a good cornerback.”

While Sifford makes the case for Sidney Jones starting on the outside with Mills in the nickel to reduce his negative impact, the coaching staff disagrees. Training camp indications and the recently released depth chart (here’s a grain of salt, take it) show Mills starting on the outside with Jones as the most likely nickel cornerback.

The battle for those two starting positions is an important one with ramifications far more reaching that than the battle royal for the third linebacker spot. The Eagles got top notch play from Patrick Robinson in the nickel last year and replicating that success won’t be easy. On passes to slot receivers, where Robinson had the bulk of the targets, the Eagles allowed a 3rd best -20.5% DVOA per Football Outsiders. On the outside, where Mills and others patrolled, they allowed a league worst +43.4% DVOA.

Mills is by no means a perfect player; in fact he’s been quite volatile, but he showed a positive step forward in 2017. One more small, positive step to level out his streaky play and propensity for getting diced up and dusted on double moves and we have a solid starter on the outside. He certainly has the fan base believing in his development. In a poll attached to my article on Mills, 64% of gentle BGN readers believe he is a long-term starter.

One could argue the bigger step forward is required of Jones, as he’s barely stepped at all. As for Sifford’s take that Haloti Ngata is better at his role, at his advanced age and projected use, than Mills? That might be a bad take.

RONALD DARBY

“A talent with Pro Bowl caliber potential”It Me

Entering a contract year, not many on the roster have more to gain or lose than Darby. A successful season and a realization of his high ceiling set him up for a healthy payday. A stumble throws a dark cloud over his future.

The Eagles need to figure out their future at cornerback. Having already cited how the Eagles struggled with efficiency against wide receivers lined up on the outside, I’ll skip all that and drop a plug in for my full evaluation of Darby.

The Eagles showed a lot of faith in the young corner when they traded wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick for him. He was robbed of a full season to reward that faith last year. This year he has a full off-season in the system and looks to be in full health. With his talent, there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a step forward.

DEREK BARNETT

“Our expectations should be temperedBenjamin Solak

This was a personal attack by Ben and the BGN readers proved to be not so gentle in their vitriolic retorts. How could a first-round selection that is projected to be a breakout candidate need lowered expectations? Ben would argue the problem lies in the film.

“Barnett is a high-caliber player. He has a good skill set; he works hard; he has a promising future. I’m not here to argue that. I’m here to argue that, firstly, his sack numbers are not indicative of significant talent (which I think is clear); his tape is a better indicator of his talent; and his tape shows a player that’s limited at the NFL level.”

First, let’s talk about an analyst the size of Donnel Pumphrey analyzing pass rushers. I mean, come on, look at this:

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig into the take. I agree with Ben that Barnett still has a way to go to be a complete player and that his sack numbers aren’t representative of where he is as a player. That said, yes, he’s young (22 y/o), has only his rookie season of tape to analyze with only one year of NFL coaching under his belt. All of that is taken into consideration, especially by Ben. Trust me, I understand these things.

When I went through the Scouting Academy we were tasked with evaluating seven players from each position group. Rookies were never included in the group; they lack a history from which to draw context and their development can happen at wildly different rates than more experienced players. That does not mean their tape can’t be evaluated to find strengths and weaknesses, and it should be.

The point Ben makes is that the numbers lied about Brandon Graham in a negative light just as they lied about Barnett’s in a positive light. He also points out that what worked for Barnett in college is tougher to achieve in the pros.

“It’s easier to key on a college snap count, over which college quarterbacks have less control; it’s easier to beat a college offensive tackle to landmarks, where NFL athletes aren’t the ones racing against you. What was supposed to be Barnett’s calling card out of school—winning the corner—didn’t translate immediately in Year 1.”

When the Eagles drafted Barnett, those that know me know that I threw myself into dark room for several days and watched every snap of his time at Tennessee. It was important for me to see his evolution over the years to see how well he took to coaching and implemented new techniques. I also wanted to study the tendencies of the offenses pre-snap cadence to decipher when and why Barnett chose to jump the snap. I wanted to see where he guessed wrong and why and if he was being manipulated into his several offsides penalties.

The issues Ben brings up about the implementation of those techniques and the issues I had with his game were arrived at independent of each other. The resulting thread caught the attention of Jimmy Kempski, who cited it in some of his pieces and in a way that was somewhat responsible for my shift from NFL Draft work to Eagles coverage.

I saw more of what I needed to see in Barnett’s game from a development standpoint in 2017 than I saw in his college film, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The hope comes from Barnett obviously being very coachable, very young, and his motor never stops. He also continued a trend from college that is hard to quantify; he always tends to pop up in key situations. That’s incredibly valuable and can not be ignored. Still, throwing double digit sack expectations on him considering the snap count he’ll likely receive is a bit rich. In that sense, I agree with Ben.

Barnett’s fastball produced big results in college and there was never much of a need for him to throw the off-speed pitch. The tools required for Barnett to put together a complete game are there, they’re just scattered all over the garage at the moment. And that’s fine, we don’t need him to be Reggie White right now, we just need him to be a meaningful contributor as part of a better whole.

Please forward your hate mail to @BenjaminSolak, this is all his fault.