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What the Eagles should do at defensive tackle

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Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

NFL: SEP 17 Eagles at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have a lot of tough decisions to make as they try to get this team back to Super Bowl contention. Today we continue our position-by-position roster outlook series by examining the defensive tackle position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center | Defensive end.

THE PLAYERS

FLETCHER COX

Regular season stats: 799 snaps, 40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 10 QB hits, 42 QB hurries, 2 pass deflections

Playoff stats: 53 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 QB hit, 3 QB hurries

Review: Cox missed the entire 2019 offseason due to the foot injury he suffered in the Eagles’ playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. This injury seemingly limited Cox’s effectiveness in the regular season considering he posted the second lowest sack total of his career. Cox wasn’t bad in 2019 by any means but he wasn’t always the unstoppable impact player the Eagles needed him to be. Cox made the Pro Bowl but he failed to earn first- or second-team All Pro honors for the first time since 2016. In fairness to Cox, it should be noted the Eagles’ defensive tackle depth outside of him was obliterated by injury for the second year in a row. He hasn’t had the benefit of playing next to another great interior rusher who can take extra blocking attention off him.

Outlook: Hopefully 2020 will be a bounce-back season for Cox. He only turned 29 in December so it’s not like he’s past his prime. Brandon Graham had a down year in 2018 after not having much of an offseason to prepare for the regular season. Then Graham had the second highest sack total of his career in 2019. Maybe there will be a similar rebound for Cox. The Eagles better hope so because they’re paying him to be an elite player.

Poll

Fletcher Cox: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    Stay
    (3494 votes)
  • 1%
    Go
    (61 votes)
3555 votes total Vote Now

TIMMY JERNIGAN

Regular season stats: 274 snaps, 10 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 9 QB hurries

Playoff stats: 35 snaps, 1 QB hurry

Review: The Eagles re-signed Jernigan to a one-year ‘prove it’ deal after originally cutting him last offseason. He entered the season as the team’s third defensive tackle but Jackson’s injury immediately forced him into a bigger role. Then Jernigan suffered a multi-week foot injury in Week 2 before returning in Week 9. He had a couple good games (Miami Dolphins in Week 13, New York Giants in Week 17) but was otherwise kept quiet.

Outlook: There are concerns about Jernigan’s durability. He’s played just 15.5% of the team’s defensive snaps over the past two seasons after nearly suffering a career-ending injury during the 2018 offseason. Between injury issues and a lack of production, it’s gonna be a go from me. And that’s a bummer because Jernigan seems like a fun personality to have around on the team.

Poll

Timmy Jernigan: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Stay
    (1819 votes)
  • 48%
    Go
    (1736 votes)
3555 votes total Vote Now

HASSAN RIDGEWAY

Regular season stats: 248 snaps, 8 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 QB hits, 4 QB hurries

Review: The Eagles acquired Ridgeway by trading away their seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. It was looking like a decent pickup by Howie Roseman as Ridgeway was showing some flashes as a rotational defensive tackle. Then he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 7.

Outlook: The Eagles could look to re-sign Ridgeway, who turns 26 in November, to an inexpensive one-year contract. He could compete for a third or fourth defensive tackle on the roster.

Poll

Hassan Ridgeway: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Stay
    (2881 votes)
  • 12%
    Go
    (410 votes)
3291 votes total Vote Now

AKEEM SPENCE

Regular season stats: 198 snaps, 7 tackles

Review: The Eagles signed Spence after Jackson suffered his season-ending injury in Week 1. He played in six games before getting cut following Philadelphia’s blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles opted to get younger at defensive tackle by signing two practice squad players in Rush and Huggins. Spence was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars and finished the season as a backup defensive lineman for them.

ANTHONY RUSH

Regular season stats: 149 snaps, 9 tackles, 3 QB hurries

Playoff stats: 22 snaps

Review: The Eagles originally signed Rush as an undrafted rookie free agent but cut him in order to make room on their 90-man roster for ... Orlando Scandrick. Rush had a good preseason with the Oakland Raiders and managed to earn a spot on their practice squad. The Eagles signed Rush back to Philly after deciding to cut Spence and get younger at defensive tackle. The 6-5, 350 pound Rush didn’t bring a ton in terms of generating pressure (go figure) but he was predictably stout against the run.

Outlook: Rush will have a chance to compete for a backup defensive tackle spot on the 2020 roster. He’ll need to have a good offseason but at least he’s ahead of some of the other young guys at this position.

Poll

Anthony Rush: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Stay
    (1751 votes)
  • 33%
    Go
    (881 votes)
2632 votes total Vote Now

BRUCE HECTOR

Regular season stats: 53 snaps, 2 QB hurries

Playoff stats: 5 snaps

Review: The Eagles traded Hector to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Rudy Ford. Then the Cardinals got Hector and re-signed him to their practice squad. The Eagles called Hector up for a game before sending him back down. Then Hector got another call up late in the season.

Outlook: The 2018 undrafted rookie free agent signing will need a strong offseason as he tries to push for a roster spot.

Poll

Bruce Hector: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Stay
    (699 votes)
  • 69%
    Go
    (1625 votes)
2324 votes total Vote Now

ALBERT HUGGINS

Regular season stats: 44 snaps, 1 QB hit, 3 QB hurries

Review: The Eagles signed Huggins off the Houston Texans’ practice squad in late October. The undrafted rookie free agent saw some limited playing time with the Birds before being waived in late November. Huggins spent a week with the New England Patriots before they waived him and the Eagles brought him back to Philly on their practice squad. Huggins signed a futures deal with the Eagles after the 2019 season.

Outlook: Huggy is in the same (very large sized) boat as Rush and Hector. He’ll need to really impress in the offseason to earn a roster spot as a backup defensive tackle.

Poll

Albert Huggins: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Stay
    (560 votes)
  • 72%
    Go
    (1499 votes)
2059 votes total Vote Now

MALIK JACKSON

Regular season stats: 32 snaps, 1 QB hurry

Review: The Eagles signed Jackson to a three-year, $30 million contract after the Jacksonville Jaguars released him last year. The Eagles had high expectations for Jackson as an interior pass rusher next to Cox. Those plans were foiled when Jackson suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 1. Jackson had previously never missed a single game due to injury in his career.

Outlook: Jackson said he expects to be back from his injury by June at the latest, so it sounds like he’ll be ready for training camp. The Eagles will be hoping that Jackson, who turned 30 earlier this month, can still be the disruptive player they envisioned him being last year. Jackson and Cox being healthy in 2020 could make a big difference for the Eagles’ defensive line. But with those guys aging, the team still needs to think about stocking the pipeline.

Poll

Malik Jackson: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 95%
    Stay
    (2963 votes)
  • 4%
    Go
    (147 votes)
3110 votes total Vote Now

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

Cox (highest) and Jackson (12th highest) carry some of the team’s biggest cap numbers in 2020. The Eagles aren’t going to be spending even more big money at this position. The guess here is they re-sign one of Jernigan or Ridgeway and then roll with the current young guys and/or more draft additions.

The ever lovable Beau Allen is going to be a free agent but he turns 29 in November and the Eagles should ideally be looking to get younger.

NFL DRAFT OPTIONS

Written by Ben Natan:

The Eagles’ depth at defensive tackle means it doesn’t have to be a dire priority. Still, the 2020 NFL Draft class has some intriguing mid round names. The Eagles could keep eyes out for developmental difference makers at defensive tackle.

Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike is a potential riser who remains a day two player at this point. The defensive tackle has good quickness for his size and was productive rushing the passer in the SEC. The Eagles are loaded with skilled run defenders at the defensive tackle position, so targeting players who can create pressure on passing downs should be priority.

Auburn has two players in Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson who went under the radar playing next to Derrick Brown. Both Coe and Davidson are tweeners who played all over the line in college, but may primarily suited to play inside in the NFL. Either player would be an interesting role player onthe Eagles defensive line. Larrell Murchison is another mid to late round player worth checking out. Murchison was a disruptive pass rusher in the ACC despite being undersized. His athleticism will have people looking past the scale.

This defensive tackle class isn’t as deep this year as the defensive end group, but there are pass rushing interior defenders who should help the team out long term.