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Eagles really counting on Derek Barnett to step up in a big way

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Eagles training camp position preview: Defensive end.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner ... maybe? Players are currently scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex later this month. 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 defensive end position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line.

THE PLAYERS

BRANDON GRAHAM

BLG fell 1.5 sacks short of his double-digit goal in 2019. Maybe he’ll get there in 2020? It was encouraging to see him bounce back last season after his production dipped in 2018. Graham turned 32 earlier this year but it’s important to remember he’s only been a full-time starter for the past five seasons. The Eagles’ Super Bowl hero should still have ample tread left on his tires.

DEREK BARNETT

2020 is a huuuuge season for Barnett. The 2017 first-round pick has been merely “fine” to this point in his career. Not excellent, not a bust, just ... fine. But the Eagles need more than that. In order for Philly’s pass rush to truly be fearsome, it’s imperative for Barnett to take that next step.

There’s reason to believe it can happen. Barnett only turned 24 years old a few weeks ago; he’s still relatively young in his development. For perspective, rookie seventh-round pick Casey Toohill turns 24 in August. Barnett is also coming off a 2019 season in which he posted career highs in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, and forced fumbles. Barnett won’t be coming off a significant injury like he was last year.

There’s also reason to think that Barnett just might be what he is at this point: an average starter. That he’s not going to have a full offseason for the second year in a row could also work against him.

The Eagles are clearly counting on Barnett to make the leap. They’ve picked up his fifth-year option for 2021 and they’ve eschewed opportunities to add potential upgrades such as Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, etc. They’re hoping he rewards their faith in him and proves he’s worthy of a long-term extension. If Barnett can’t rise to the challenge, well, the Eagles are going to have short-term and long-term problems at a premium position.

JOSH SWEAT

Sweat went from not playing much as a rookie to logging four sacks as a rotational defensive end in 2019. He currently projects to be the top edge rusher off the bench in 2020. It’d be nice to see the 23-year-old continue to trend upwards. He has the potential to be a key role player.

GENARD AVERY

Avery didn’t play much after the Eagles used a 2021 fourth-round pick to acquire him ahead of the 2019 NFL trade deadline. Howie Roseman defended the move by saying the Avery acquisition was made with the future in mind. We’ll just have to wait and see if Avery sees the field more often moving forward. Maybe he carves out some rotational playing time as the fourth defensive end. There are concerns about his viability as a full-time starter due to inability to hold up against the run. For whatever it’s worth, Avery was named one of the ”winners” of the Eagles’ virtual offseason program.

DAESHON HALL

It’s really unfortunate that Hall suffered an ACL tear during garbage time on the Eagles’ final regular season snap. He seems bound to begin the 2020 season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP). He’ll be required to miss at least six games. We’ll see if the Eagles choose to activate him to the roster or not after that.

SHAREEF MILLER

Miller barely saw the field (see: two special teams snaps) as a rookie. The last pick from the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft is fighting to earn a spot in the rotation in 2020. His ceiling is ending up as the fourth defensive end. His floor is not even making the team.

JOE OSTMAN

Ostman was looking pretty good in training camp last year before unfortunately suffering a season-ending ACL injury in early August. He was regularly roasting Jordan Mailata with multiple pass rush moves — including a sick spin maneuver. Ostman was also even taking some first team reps as a stand up pass rusher over center in the “Joker” role. Ostman’s stock likely took a hit with last year’s Avery acquisition but maybe he can still earn a spot on the team.

CASEY TOOHILL

The Eagles selected Toohill with the 233rd pick out of 255 selections made in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Stanford alumnus has his work cut out for him when it comes to trying to make the roster. He needs to add more strength to his frame, as his 14th percentile bench press numbers indicate. Toohill seems bound to be stashed away on injured reserve or the practice squad. Needs time to develop.

MATT LEO

Leo currently doesn’t count against the Eagles’ roster limit since he’s exempt as a member of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. He also won’t count against the Eagles’ 12-player practice squad limit if they keep him on there. The catch is that the Eagles won’t be able to activate Leo to their roster during the season. Methinks the Eagles should keep Leo around as an extra practice body for this season as they determine whether he’s worth bringing back on the 90-man roster to compete for a job in 2021. The lack of a full 2020 offseason is obviously working against Leo and so is the fact he’s a 28-year-old rookie. But, hey, he’s not taking up a roster spot, so why not give him a look?

HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?

For perspective, here’s what the Eagles’ defensive end rotation has looked like each season during the Jim Schwartz era.

2016

Brandon Graham — 75.0%

Connor Barwin — 69.9%

Vinny Curry — 42.6%

Marcus Smith — 21.4%

Steven Means — 3.5%

2017

Brandon Graham — 64.6%

Vinny Curry — 56.1%

Chris Long — 48.1%

Derek Barnett — 41.1%

Steven Means — 5.1%

2018

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%

2019

Brandon Graham — 76%

Derek Barnett — 68.1%

Vinny Curry — 38.5%

Josh Sweat — 34.5%

Daeshon Hall — 4.9%

Barring injury, Graham and Barnett will be the top two guys in 2020. Sweat could see an uptick in playing time that puts him closer to Chris Long’s previous percentages. The fourth spot is up for grabs. I suppose Avery is the favorite for that role but Miller and Ostman could also be serious contenders. It’s also worth wondering if Malik Jackson could see some playing time at defensive end given how the Eagles are loaded at defensive tackle.

Overall, I think I’d characterize the Eagles’ defensive end situation akin to how I described Barnett. Not terrible, not excellent ... just fine. Maybe even “merely good.” There’s room for growth, of course. The unit’s success really hinges on how much Barnett takes a step forward. Sweat’s development could also be key.

As things currently stand, though, I don’t think the Eagles can boast anything similar to their elite pass rushing group from 2017 when they led the NFL in total pressures generated.

WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?

It’d be pretty disappointing to see Avery fail to crack the roster after last year’s trade for him.

Miller would certainly qualify as a notable cut.

It’s possible the Eagles could still add a veteran at the defensive end position. They don’t really have big money to spend on the likes of Jadeveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue. Could someone like Everson Griffen or Ezekiel Ansah fall into their price range? There was some buzz about another Vinny Curry return but my sense is that won’t be happening.

Poll

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

  • 3%
    5
    (37 votes)
  • 37%
    4
    (361 votes)
  • 51%
    3
    (487 votes)
  • 6%
    2
    (63 votes)
  • 0%
    1
    (5 votes)
953 votes total Vote Now