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July 18, 2022

Eagles 2022 training camp preview: Rush linebacker

Eagles NFL
031922HaasonReddick Tom Rimback/USA TODAY NETWORK

Haason Reddick

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been taking a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp. Today we'll look at the SAM linebackers.

Previous training camp previews

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end
Offensive tackle | Guard | Center
Defensive end | Defensive tackle

The depth chart:

Haason Reddick Kyron Johnson Patrick Johnson Ali Fayad 

Haason Reddick

Prior to 2020, Reddick only had 7.5 sacks in his first three seasons in the NFL. In 2020, Reddick broke out with 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. On the free agent market the following offseason, he was seen as sort of an oddball player, in that he's listed at 6'1, 235, which isn't exactly an ideal size for your prototypical edge rusher.

The Panthers took a shot on him in 2021, signing him to a one-year deal worth just $6 million (fully guaranteed), and it wound up being one of the rare good moves they made last year. Reddick wasn't just a one-year wonder, rewarding Carolina with 11 sacks, 18 QB hits, and two forced fumbles. He was actually in on 14 sacks, but had to split six of them with teammates. Here are all 14 sacks: 

Reddick was the Eagles' biggest splash free agent signing this offseason. What exactly his role will be in the Eagles' defense will be interesting to monitor throughout training camp. He fits the SAM linebacker role, which was occupied by Genard Avery in 2021. Reddick is a major upgrade at that position, as Avery wasn't good at any of the three main job requirements (rushing the passer, playing the run, and dropping into coverage).

But Reddick should be more than just a SAM linebacker. It only makes sense for the Eagles to have shelled out good money for a player like Reddick if they intend to use him primarily as a pass rusher. Reddick's best skill will be wasted if he's regularly dropping into coverage. Reddick should be on the field on all obvious passing downs, whether the defense called has a SAM linebacker on the field or not.

Kyron Johnson

Johnson was both an off-ball linebacker and an edge rusher at Kansas, which likely makes him a fit at the SAM position in the Eagles' defense. Johnson is 6'0, 231, and he ran a 4.40 40 at Kansas' pro day. He had his share of moments at the Senior Bowl, flashing impressive athleticism in pass rushing one-on-one drills.

Here he is working against first-round pick Trevor Penning:

And here he is owning third-round pick Abraham Lucas:

In 2021, Johnson had 63 tackles (8.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. He'll likely contribute immediately on special teams, and could even get an opportunity here and there as a situational pass rusher. 

It's also worth noting that the Eagles liked Johnson enough to trade up from pick 188 (parting with pick 237 along the way) to pick 181 to land him.

Give me some "small guy vs. enormous guy" Johnson one-on-one matchups against Jordan Mailata in camp, please.

Patrick Johnson

After a good training camp in 2021, Johnson earned a role in the regular defense as a SAM linebacker, playing 48 snaps in the first three games. He must've gotten into Gannon's doghouse, because the meaningless Week 18 game aside, Johnson only played 9 snaps in the regular defense the rest of the season.

I watched his game tape from those first few games, and did not see any glaring reasons why he should have completely lost playing time, especially when Avery, who played the majority of the SAM linebacker snaps ahead of Johnson, was ineffective, as noted above.

Johnson mainly rushed the passer in his college career at Tulane, but in his rookie season his snap distribution looked like so, according to PFF:

Patrick Johnson Snaps 
Run defense snaps 63 
Pass rush snaps 14 
Coverage snaps 34 

Only 12.6 percent of his snaps were rushing the passer. We'll see how Gannon's usage of the SAM linebacker position evolves in 2022.

Ali Fayad

Fayad was an undrafted free agent signing this year. He is undersized and he isn't athletically gifted by NFL standards (4.88 40 at Western Michigan's pro day), but he had a very productive final season, collecting 12 sacks and 2 forced fumbles on his way to being named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Over his collegiate career, he had 28.5 sacks and 8 forced fumbles.

Fayad has a similar profile to Patrick Johnson, when Johnson came out of college a year ago, and I believe the team will try him out with this group as a SAM linebacker as opposed to defensive end.

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