Welcome back to the Bleeding Green Nation mailbag! It’s been too long since I’ve done one of these.
@_CaseyYoung asks: Which draft pick from the Howie Roseman/Doug Pederson regime makes the biggest jump this year? Who does it NEED to be to maximize success? 2016 to present. Carson Wentz doesn’t count.
@Randyljobst asks: Which Eagle, outside of Carson, has the most pressure on them this season?
I’m combining these questions because I think there’s one obvious answer to all of them: Derek Barnett.
There’s a lot of pressure on the No. 14 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to step up as he enters the third season of his career.
Think back to how crucial a strong pass rush has been to the Eagles’ success. Long pressured Case Keenum into throwing a pick-six that sparked Philadelphia’s 2018 NFC Championship Game blowout victory. Brandon Graham strip-sacked Tom Brady to essentially clinch the team’s first Super Bowl win. That pass rushing unit wasn’t just merely good; it was elite. The 2017 Eagles ranked first overall in total pressure generated. The 2018 Eagles finished second.
But now Michael Bennett is gone. And it’s sounding like Chris Long won’t be back, either. Those are hardly small losses. Bennett ranked 21st out of 109 edge defenders in pressure rate last year and Long ranked 35th. Both players finished top six in quarterback hits. It’s up to Barnett to pick up some of that slack.
As BGN’s Benjamin Solak would tell you, there’s reason to wonder if Barnett can be a big difference maker for Philadelphia. Barnett only ranked 46th in PFF’s pressure rate as a rookie before actually dropping to 51st in 2018. He doesn’t have the most athletic profile for an edge rusher.
There’s also reason for optimism. Barnett was extremely productive in college and he only turns 23 in June; that’s younger than a number of 2019 NFL Draft prospects. His body should be stronger after physically maturing and spending two full offseasons in an NFL training program. Barnett, a maximum effort player, showed progress in Year 2 despite playing through a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season early.
Whether you’re a Barnett believer or not, the bottom line is that the Eagles really need him to produce. A strong pass rush is vital to their defensive success. If Barnett can’t deliver, it’s not like the Eagles can simply rely on the guys (Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall, Joe Ostman, Shareef Miller) behind him and Graham to play huge roles.
I’m optimistic about Barnett’s development heading into 2019.
@kapler_gabe: Which of the cornerbacks do you think is most likely to go if a trade happens?
I don’t think the Eagles will be rushing to trade one of their corners. Look at all the injuries they sustained at that position during the season last year.
To answer your question, though ... I think it’d have to be Rasul Douglas or Cre’Von LeBlanc.
It’s not Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby. Both of those players are still recovering from 2018 injuries. They’re also both set to be free agents after 2019. It’s not like they have a ton of trade value. I can’t see the Eagles wanting to trade them anyway. The coaching staff loves Mills and they made a significant effort to re-sign Darby.
Selling low on Sidney Jones wouldn’t make a ton of sense. His value can’t be very high after only playing in 28% of possible games since being drafted. The Eagles’ regime seemingly still has some hope for him.
Avonte Maddox obviously isn’t getting traded. Josh Hawkins has no trade value.
And so that leaves Douglas and LeBlanc.
Douglas has played well enough in relief duty where he might have some trade value. He also has two years left on his rookie deal. I’d much rather the Eagles hold on to him; I think he could earn a starting job this season. At the very least he’s nice depth to have with Mills and Darby coming off injury. The basis for a Douglas trade is some kind of numbers crunch at the position and/or the Eagles feeling like he’s more of a backup than a long-term starter. Again, I’d rather just keep him.
I’d also like the Eagles to keep LeBlanc. I mean, how can you not love Strap? If some team gets desperate for a nickel corner in August when their “starter” at that spot goes down for the season, though, maybe they come calling for LeBlanc. He has a very inexpensive salary for 2019.
@E_Creator asks: Between taking running back at No. 2 and Daniel Jones at No. 6, what has been Dave Gettleman’s most impressive move?
It has to be drafting Jones. I mean, just look at this guy!
Y’all made a highlight video of almost exclusively swing passes to fullbacks. https://t.co/MN9GTl4Hyi— Kyle Crabbs (@GrindingTheTape) May 5, 2019
@KCraigLTMR asks: Hear anything on Darren Sproles? Is Nico Evans the sleeper for the 4th RB spot? Will Dallas Goedert actually get involved this year?
Nothing new on Sproles. I think he’d like to play. I think Doug Pederson would like to have him on the team. I don’t think the front office is so keen on re-signing him.
Evans is more of a practice squad guy, if anything. I think Wendell Smallwood wins the fourth running back spot over Josh Adams and Boston Scott, though. The year will be 2049 and he’ll still be the fourth running back.
Goedert certainly SHOULD be more involved in 2019. Doug Pederson has said the coaching staff is using the offseason to gear up for more 12 personnel packages. I sure hope that’s not lip service and he actually really means it.
@gotthatfiiire asks: Why would we tell Chris Long he wouldn’t have his role from last year? Are we really that confident about Josh Sweat, Vinny Curry and Shareef Miller at rotational pieces?
The Eagles told Long he wouldn’t have his role from last year because his playing time benefited from Barnett being hurt. Can’t just count on that to happen again.
Donnel Pumphrey won’t even make the team, so I’ll have to say ... no.
@Pdudley243 asks: Mustard or ketchup?
Unpopular opinion alert: neither, mayo. Ketchup is too sweet. Mustard is too strong. Mayo gets a lot of hate, which is dumb.
@NottsJuventino asks: If an orange is orange, why isn’t a lime called a green?
A question that interests me more: “What is the color of a tennis ball?”
@JohnWalsh_ asks: What is the meaning of life?
@BenjaminSolak asks: Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?
I agree, Ben. The Office is the best show of all time.