Can the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles defense be dominant? There have been significant roster changes. A new defensive coordinator that will run a 4-3 based scheme has people excited.
The potential to be a top ten unit in terms of sacks and takeaways is there for the taking with the off-season hire of Jim Schwartz. The focus for Schwartz is to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and interrupt his pass attempts. The scheme focuses more on spacing and using player strengths to their advantage. It’s not necessarily about dialing up the blitzes, but correctly scheming when to send additional pressure.
It’s rather straight forward with Schwartz which is not only refreshing to hear, but it helps to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the defensive line, the linebackers and the secondary.
Howie Roseman stated that free agent upgrades allowed him to part with draft picks in the deal with the Browns. With that being said, the change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense changed “need” areas for position groups.
The success of the defense will likely come down to the current players on the roster. After parting with a third and fourth round selection in the trade with the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles are limited with remaining draft picks. With arguably more holes to fill on offense then defense, it’s quite possible that day three of the draft (round 5-7) is when depth is added to the defense.
Fletcher Cox was a dominating force last season and the thoughts of what havoc he may cause under Schwartz has double digit sacks totals as a real possibility. Bennie Logan doesn’t receive enough credit for his success as an undersized nose tackle. Like Cox, he should also capitalize in the sack department as a pure defensive tackle. The issue becomes the defensive tackles behind Cox and Logan, the cupboard is thin. The only name recognizable name being Beau Allen.
The Eagles have had success over the years with finding defensive line help that go undrafted, with Hollis Thomas and Cedric Thorton two notable names. Adam Gotsis out of Georgia Tech is likely to go undrafted due to a knee injury sustained in 2015, but Gotsis is one of those tough/high motor guys that fill out the bottom of the depth chart at the defensive tackle position.
At defensive end, the Eagles resigned Vinnie Curry to a “starters” contract, 2016 should be his coming out party. It’s been a long wait for Curry, and for the money he received, the Eagles are “banking” on the player that recorded nine sacks in 2014.
Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin will rotate at defensive end after both starting at outside linebacker last season. Neither player fits the typical defensive end mold that Schwartz looks for, but Schwartz is creative and will find ways to get both players on the field at the same time. The long term plan for Barwin and Graham is likely to be decided by the end of the 2017 season, when both contracts make it expendable for the Eagles to part ways.
Marcus Smith, any type of contribution out of him would be terrific, but he is merely a rotational player at best with limited expectations talent wise.
The Eagles have looked at a few defensive ends in the fifth round area, which is a round that they drafted Trent Cole in 2005. Yannick Ngakoue out of Maryland has been on the Eagles radar; has the tools to succeed at the professional level and would be a solid selection in the fifth round.
There is certainly “depth” at the cornerback position, but exactly how talented is the group? The Eagles replaced Maxwell with McKelvin. Nolan Carroll was resigned after a respectable showing in 2015. Eric Rowe went through the rookie learning curve. Ron Brooks adds a veteran presence as a fourth cornerback.
And then the list of unknowns, almost a full depth chart of rookies with what the Eagles know about these players. Former Eagles fourth rounder Jaylen Watkins, likely his last chance to earn a spot on the 53 man roster. There are the two 6th round selections from last season with Shepherd and Evans, plus undrafted free agent Denzel Rice. The Eagles even dipped into the CFL for cornerback depth, signing Aaron Grymes.
It’s difficult to project the potential starting lineup, but with a total of nine cornerbacks on the roster. Could the Eagles get away without drafting a cornerback this season, simply gamble on finding out what they already have under a new defensive coordinator?
It’s likely the Eagles will add another cornerback in the draft. Without the limitations of a specific height and weight per the Chip Kelly guidelines, a larger pool of talent is available if the Eagles identify a prospect they like.
James Bradberry (Samford) in round 5 or Daryl Worley (West Virginia) in round 6 as possible players the Eagles target.
It’s been a long time since the Eagles had two safeties that were reliable. The addition of McLeod to play alongside Jenkins finally puts an end to the safety search.
The guys behind the starters in Maragos, Couplin and Reynold are better suited for special team roles. With having guys like McKelvin and Watkins who have some experience playing safety, and the limited number of draft picks remaining after the trade with Cleveland, it’s difficult to think the Eagles will use a draft pick on a safety in the upcoming draft. Jordan Lucas who played at Penn State is likely to go undrafted, but could be a guy the Eagles invite to training camp.
The Eagles don’t have a ton of cap room left, and limited draft picks to fill necessary depth on the defense. Linebacker and defensive tackle could desperately use veteran additions at low cost one year deals.
Reuniting with two ex-Eagles for depth would make sense. Former 2008 6th round selection Joe Mays has played all three linebacker positions in his career. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins could provide a veteran presence at the defensive tackle position.
The optimism surrounding the 2016 Eagles defense is much higher than the state of the offense. Finding a defensive sleeper that championship NFL level teams locate late in the draft is exactly what Howie and company need to pull off.