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5 NFL Draft prospects who could fit Sean Desai’s Eagles defense

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOV 19 Illinois at Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sean Desai is the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator. With Jonathan Gannon leaving for Arizona, his successor is looking to maximize a defense coming off a record-breaking season. The first big hurdle for Desai and the Eagles will be restocking the depth chart. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Javon Hagrave, James Bradberry, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Epps, Kyzir White, and TJ Edwards are all impending free agents.

The Eagles have great core players like Haason Reddick and JOsh Sweat book-ending their pass rush and Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox in the secondary. They also have promising young players — such as Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Reed Blankenship, and Milton Williams — waiting in the wings. Even so, the 2023 NFL Draft will be important in retooling the defense in Desai’s image.

Quick hits on Sean Desai’s defense

Desai has been in the NFL since 2013 after seven years coaching at the college level. He has spent time under the tutelage of defensive coaches such as Vic Fangio, Pete Carroll, Chuck Pagano, and John Fox. It is Fangio who seems to be his primary influence.

Desai’s defenses are characterized by versatile fronts and not giving away coverage calls in the pre-snap phase. In the past, his defenses have done something like show press man in pre-snap but bail into zones, or sometimes vise-versa. He makes the most of defensive chess pieces as a means of creating favorable pre-snap alignments. Desai had to use a lot of creativity with a much less talented defensive roster in Chicago, but really got the most out of every player. Hopefully he will bring that creativity to Philadelphia.

Draft Prospects that fit Desai’s defense

  • Brian Branch, Safety, Alabama: Brian Branch is a difference maker wherever he lines up. Alabama used him in the slot, as a nickel linebacker and deep as a safety. He has the football instincts to play anywhere and the athleticism to match. He would be a natural fit in a defense that likes to show all sorts of secondary looks.
  • Nolan Smith, Edge Georgia: Desai loves using all sorts of creative defensive front alignments, as well as using stunts and twists to confuse blocking assignments. Nolan Smith’s athleticism as a pass rusher means he could be deployed from all over a defensive front to generate pressure.
  • Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback, Illinois: In Chicago, Desai was not married to man or zone coverages. He liked players who could press at the line of scrimmage but also play well in zone. Witherspoon is probably the best cornerback in the class in terms of playing both man and zone coverage. He is also a strong tackler, which is a plus on a defense that is sure to blitz much more.
  • Clark Phillips, Cornerback, Utah: Clark Phillips is a great zone cornerback with great ball skills and a fearlessness as a tackler. His size might keep him in the slot in the NFL, but he could be a good fit in Philadelphia. Desai has a background coaching defensive backs, but it is unclear if he has a size preference at cornerback yet.
  • Tuli Tuipulotu, Defensive Lineman, USC: Tuli Tuipulotu (younger brother of Eagles DT Marlon Tuipulotu) was the only player on the USC defense last year that ever looked like he was trying to win them games. Sometimes, his Herculean efforts paid off. Tuipulotu is an athletic, versatile pass rusher who can play as a wide edge, head up on a tackle or even slide inside on some downs. The Eagles got so much interior pass rushing production out of players who are set to be free agents. Tuipulotu would be great in Brandon Graham’s role as a base end who could slide inside on third and long.

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