Philadelphia Eagles training camp is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 24. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the wide receiver position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line.
The Eagles’ defensive end depth took a big hit this offseason with Michael Bennett traded to the New England Patriots and Chris Long deciding to retire. In 2018, those two edge rushers combined for 15.5 sacks (35.2% of the team’s total), four forced fumbles (33%), 35 quarterback hits (41.7%), and 67 quarterback hurries (28.8%). That’s some serious production gone missing. How will the Eagles replace it?
There was some thought that Graham might leave in free agency but the Eagles didn’t even let him test the market; Philadelphia re-signed their Super Bowl hero to a three-year contract worth $40 million. The Eagles are counting on Graham, who turned 31 in April, to bounce back in 2019 after logging a mere 4.5 sack performance in 2018. Graham had offseason ankle surgery in May last year and that slowed him down in the regular season. Graham said he’s aiming for his first career double-digit sack season in his 10th NFL campaign. He came so close back in 2017 when he had 9.5. Now healthy, perhaps Graham can get back to where he was two seasons ago. There’s reason to believe his power-based pass rushing will age well; it’s not like he only relies on speed. It’s also worth noting that Graham didn’t become a full-time starter until 2015 so he should have a good amount of tread left on the tires. I think the Eagles are making a reasonable bet by investing in Graham as the team’s top pass rusher.
2019 is a HUGE season for Barnett. There’s a lot of pressure on the Eagles’ 2017 first-round pick to have a breakout year, especially with Bennett and Long gone. Barnett did show some encouraging development in Year 2 prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. At least, that’s how the team feels. Look at what Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this offseason:
I think the next step for a guy like Derek, he was playing at a very high level before he got hurt last year. Obviously wasn’t able to bounce back from that and finished the year on the IR. With him it’s a matter of picking up where he left off.
I thought it was interesting to hear Schwartz say that Barnett doesn’t have a ton to prove performance-wise so much as he just needs to get healthy. Then again, that’s not so surprising when you look at the Eagles’ actions. The way they’ve handled the defensive end position shows they’re really counting on Barnett.
I’m optimistic about Barnett’s outlook. He did show overall improvement from 2017 to 2018 and he should be able to build on that. Barnett turned 23 a couple weeks ago so he should be continuing to add grown man strength.
It does concern me a little that Barnett missed all of spring practices, though he’s supposedly going to be ready for camp. There are some other concerns with Barnett’s pass rushing ability that BGN’s Benjamin Solak once profiled in more detail.
After spending a year with the Buccaneers, a lifelong Eagles fan has made his way back to Philly. Curry’s time in Tampa Bay was forgettable; he only logged 2.5 sacks in 12 games played. Curry’s lack of production was seemingly related to a high ankle sprain he played through. Or was it that the 31-year-old Curry — who’s averaged 3.5 sacks per season over his career — just isn’t bringing a whole lot of pass rush juice at this point? Whatever the case, the Eagles are counting on Curry to be an important member of their pass rush rotation in 2019. He’s the clear No. 3 defensive end behind projected starters Graham and Barnett.
This is the spot where you can see how the Eagles’ defensive end depth has really dropped off. In 2017, the Eagles had a foursome of Graham, Curry, Long and Barnett. In 2018, the Eagles had a foursome of Graham, Barnett, Bennett, and Long. This year, the Eagles are down to Graham, Barnett, Curry, and ... a guy with one tackle and zero sacks in nine career games played.
Sweat might end up being a good contributor. He does at least have theoretical upside. Sweat only turned 22 years old in March and he’s very athletic. Doug Pederson specifically mentioned the Eagles’ 2018 fourth-round pick as one of the standout players from spring drills.
With all that said, Sweat is still very much a projection. He might not turn into anything. It’s a little unnerving that the Eagles seem to be putting a lot of faith in him. Even if the Eagles only plan to mainly rotate the Graham-Barnett-Curry trio at defensive end, Sweat is only one injury away from being a top three pass rusher on the team. Doesn’t seem ideal.
The Eagles really need Sweat to step up and have a strong summer. Otherwise they could be looking to external options.
In a 2019 draft class that the Eagles claimed to be historically loaded with defensive talent, Miller — the very last pick of the fourth round — was the sole defensive lineman selected by Philadelphia. Kind of reminds me when the Eagles said the 2017 draft class was loaded with running back talent and they only ended up drafting Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round.
This isn’t to suggest that Miller will go down the same path that Pumphrey has to this point. Miller could defy expectation and earn a role in the team’s pass rush rotation as soon at this year. The opportunity is there for him. It seems more likely that Miller will be a developmental edge rusher as a rookie.
Hall showed some flashes in very limited playing time with the Eagles late last season. The 24-year-old is an interesting under-the-radar roster candidate to keep an eye on this summer. Hall, originally a third-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2017 NFL Draft, boasts an elite athletic profile. He’ll do his best to push for a fourth or fifth defensive end spot.
After signing with Philadelphia as an undrafted rookie free agent last year, Ostman spent the entire 2018 season on the Eagles’ practice squad. Ostman essentially replaced Steven Means as the defensive end who goes all out against the Eagles’ offensive tackles in practice in order to get them ready for game day each week. Ostman has earned a lot of public praise from the coaching staff and Howie Roseman even had this to say about him earlier this offseason:
This guy, Joe Ostman. He is, like, the quintessential Philadelphia player. He works so hard. He’s got athletic tools in his body.
Ostman doesn’t have an easy path to make the roster but crazier things have happened. He might just end up on the practice squad for the second year in a row.
How will it play out?
We all know Jim Schwartz loves to rotate his defensive lineme. Here’s what the Eagles’ defensive end snaps count percentages have looked like in the Schwartz era.
Brandon Graham — 75.0%
Connor Barwin — 69.9%
Vinny Curry — 42.6%
Marcus Smith — 21.4%
Steven Means — 3.5%
Brandon Graham — 64.6%
Vinny Curry — 56.1%
Chris Long — 48.1%
Derek Barnett — 41.1%
Steven Means — 5.1%
Brandon Graham — 72.5%
Michael Bennett — 69.0%
Chris Long — 59.1%
Derek Barnett — 22.5% (injury)
Josh Sweat — 6.6%
Daeshon Hall — 1.5%
The 2017 rotation numbers were ideal because the Eagles had four defensive ends they could really count on. They had the luxury of keeping everyone relatively fresh. It’s probably not just a coincidence the Eagles led the league in pressure that season. That performance ultimately contributed to a Super Bowl win. This is why some (such as myself) are concerned about the Eagles’ fourth defensive end spot.
I think the Eagles’ 2019 pass rush rotation will more closely resemble their 2016 version. Graham and Barnett will be around the 70% mark while Curry finishes in the 40% range. Assuming the Eagles don’t add a veteran (Connor Barwin? Derrick Morgan?), it could be Sweat who’s playing about 20% of the defensive snaps. Miller is favorite for the fifth defensive end spot since the Eagles invested draft capital in him. He probably won’t play much, if at all. Hall and Ostman will do their best to prevent the Eagles from cutting them.
Overall, the Eagles should have a respectable pass rush in 2019. It’s hard to count on it being truly dominant since there’s a lot of projection involved. Graham, Barnett, and Curry are all coming off injuries. Graham and Curry are also both now 31 years old.
Again, a dominant pass rush was so critical to the Eagles’ success in 2017 (and even late last year). They better hope they got this right for 2019.
Who could be a surprise cut?
I don’t think Sweat getting cut is likely but I don’t think it’s impossible. If he really stinks and/or can’t stay healthy this summer, and the likes of Miller/Hall/Ostman are all really outperforming him, well, he could be gone.
Hall might be the more likely surprise addition to the roster.
On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ defensive end position? (5 being the most.)
This poll is closed