Who Are The Eagles’ Top-5 Defensive Players?BREAKING NEWS, Eagles, News Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
The 2014 Philadelphia Eagles are in position to make a push deeper into the playoffs than their 2013 counterparts. The 2013 Eagles had remarkable luck with injuries, not losing any of their superstars for extended periods of time. If the Eagles hope to improve upon their 10-6 season a year ago, they will need that same luck. Here is a look at the top five most important defensive players heading into the 2014 season.
5. Fletcher Cox: Fletcher Cox is now entering his third season in the NFL. As the most experienced defensive lineman for the Eagles and the first round pick from 2012, the Eagles need Cox to make a jump forward in 2014 and become the talent they drafted out of Mississippi State. Cox has started more games than the other two starting defensive linemen combined. Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton are Cox’s counterparts that make up a solid defensive line but there is no doubt that Cox is the leader of that group.
With 80 tackles and 8.5 sacks in his first two seasons, Cox has contributed already. As a 3-4 defensive end for his sophomore season, 41 tackles and three sacks are nothing better than average. Cox will need to keep improving entering his third NFL season and will be counted on as the leader of the defensive line.
4. Mychal Kendricks: Some may have inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks higher on their list of importance but he comes in at four for me. Kendricks was a part of the 2012 draft class with Fletcher Cox and has come along quicker than the defensive end despite being chosen 34 picks later. Kendricks put up some impressive numbers in 2013 to improve upon his above-average rookie season. In 2013 Kendricks notched four sacks and three interceptions while batting down another four passes. The versatility Kendricks possesses is a huge advantage in Billy Davis’s defense.
Kendricks has a nose for the ball and knows how to attack it. With two forced fumbles in 2013 his total turnover count was at five, second best on the team behind only Brandon Boykin who had eight. For Kendricks to improve in 2014 he will have to put together a full 16-game season of the performances he had down the stretch in 2013. After the first eight games the Cal grad had just 44 tackles, no sacks, and just one interception. However, in the final eight games, Kendricks became comfortable in his new role and tallied 62 more tackles, four sacks, and two more interceptions.
In his second full season as inside linebacker Kendricks should be a vital part to the Eagles defense.
3. Connor Barwin: Connor Barwin was one of the vocal and physical leaders on the Eagles defense last year. As the “jack” linebacker of the Eagles defense, Barwin’s athleticism allowed him to be all over the field, sometimes at the sacrifice of dropping into coverage instead of rushing the quarterback. The former Texan dropped back into coverage on 297 of his snaps while rushing the quarterback on 437 snaps. This is a large difference from what he was doing in Houston when he notched 19 sacks in three seasons.
Barwin was still a huge impact for the defense no matter if he was rushing the quarterback or dropping back. With his first career interception coming in Oakland, Barwin was a force in pass defense. Perhaps a skill he learned from his former teammate JJ Watt, Barwin actually had more pass defenses than Watt did in 2013. Number 98 knocked down ten passes while Watt knocked down just seven. Barwin seemed to show up a lot when he was needed most including a crucial fourth-down batted pass against the Cowboys in the NFC East Championship Game last season.
Like most, Barwin should benefit from having a full year in the system and look to improve upon his numbers and impact from 2013. With five sacks and his ten batted passes, it will be a tall order but the 27-year-old is up for it.
2. Malcolm Jenkins: It may be a little nerve-racking that the second most important player for the Eagles defense is a guy who has never played a game for them. Jenkins, signed in the offseason to a 3-year $15.5 million deal. The contract is backloaded and $12.8 million is stretched over the final two years of the contract. But, Jenkins price on the field could be immeasurable.
For the New Orleans Saints, Jenkins had never played a full 16-game season but was never short on his impact to the team. The 14th overall pick in 2009 had 34 pass defenses and five interceptions from 2010-2013. Jenkins proved to be dangerous when he did get his hands on the ball and returned two of his interceptions for 55-yard and 96-yard touchdowns.
Jenkins is coming in as the best safety the Eagles have had in a long time and everyone is hoping he can live up to expectations. Even if he isn’t the Eagles saving grace in the defensive backfield, he will have a significant impact on how well the Eagles defense can play. A natural-born leader, Jenkins could bring a talent and leadership to the Eagles defensive backfield that hasn’t been seen since Quintin Mikell’s departure following the 2010 season.
1. DeMeco Ryans: This probably wasn’t a surprise. DeMeco Ryans is arguably the Eagles best defensive player and proves it week in and week out. Ryans is the captain of the defense and one of the best leaders on the team. While his play is likely to drop off in the coming years (turns 30 in a few weeks), Ryans vocal leadership and presence on the field will not cease until he hangs up his cleats. In Houston, Ryans was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 after a 155-tackle season, still his highest total to date.
In 2013, Ryans tallied 127 tackles, the best by an Eagles player since Byron Evans in 1992. Ryans also added two interceptions, seven pass defenses and four sacks to his stat line in 2013. The former Alabama standout flew all over the field last year and played out of his mind for the first time since his injury that cost him ten games in 2010. Ryans will still be the most important Eagles defender for 2014, and the hardest to replace. However, besides those ten games missed to injury in 2010, Ryans has started 118 out of the 118 games he’s played in.
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