July 11, 2023
Over the next couple of weeks (basically whenever there isn't other news to cover), we'll take 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 edge rushers.
Previous training camp previews
The depth chart:
|LDE||Brandon Graham||Janarius Robinson||Tarron Jackson|
|RDE||Josh Sweat||Derek Barnett||Matt Leo|
|SAM||Haason Reddick||Nolan Smith||Patrick Johnson||Kyron Johnson|
Reddick was a slam dunk free agent acquisition by the Eagles last offseason who racked up 19.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and 32 QB hits in 2022, playoffs included. He was second-team All Pro, a Pro Bowl selection, and he finished fourth in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. If the playoffs were included, there's a good argument to be made that Reddick was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2022.
Here are his 16 regular season sacks. As you can see, he consistently wrecked the blocker opposite him, rarely lucking into cheap sacks:
Amazingly, Reddick is only the 13th highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL on an average annual value basis. What a bargain. Honestly, he should probably be asking for a bump in pay. It's worth noting that Reddick skipped OTAs. He certainly doesn't need OTAs at this stage of his career, but it's maybe something to monitor as we get closer to camp?
Sweat has continued to get better each year he has been in the league, and that ascension has also shown up in the stat sheet. He somehow snuck into the Pro Bowl in 2021, but was left on the outside looking in after a much better season in 2022.
|Josh Sweat||Tackles||Sacks||FF||QB hits|
You can watch his 11 sacks below. There are only a couple of cheapies in there.
He also had a highlight reel pick-six vs. Dallas. Sweat feel like a player on the verge of stardom if he can continue to get better. It'll be interesting to see if/when his game will plateau.
Graham flourished in a smaller role in 2022, racking up 11 sacks in just 474 snaps. He played more than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps in just two games. You can relive his 11 sacks here:
As you can see, Graham mostly won with power, which was a nice complement to the speed of Sweat and Reddick on the edge.
Graham turned 35 in April, and as such, expectations don't seem to be super high for him heading into 2023, even after coming off of his first double-digit sack season.
Of course, expectations weren't high for Graham last year either, as he was coming off a 2021 ACL tear, but he very quickly showed in camp that he was going to be a factor. Never bet against BG.
The Eagles could have selected Smith at their original spot at pick No. 10 in the 2023 draft, and most wouldn't have blinked, given that he was arguably the most impressive athlete in the draft. He was the most commonly mocked player to the Eagles at 10 both by the local beats and the national media. Instead he somehow fell all the way to pick 30, where the Eagles happy scooped him up.
Smith ran an absurd 4.39 40 and vertical jumped 41 1/2" at 238 pounds. Spider chart goodness:
But Smith isn't just an athlete. He was a physical run defender willing to set the edge so that his teammates at Georgia could collect tackles. He is also widely viewed as a player with sterling character and leadership skills who will be able to fit into any locker room.
Smith was commonly comped to Haason Reddick in the leadup to the draft, which led to some wondering, "Well if the Eagles already have the real Haason Reddick, why draft a guy with a very similar skill set?" The following includes some deeper insight into Smith's potential fit within Sean Desai's defense, from a week before the draft:
The more I watch Nolan Smith, the more I like him and his fit within the Eagles’ scheme. These are some of the notes I took from watching him yesterday. pic.twitter.com/fUgv8ZwzUm— Honest NFL (@TheHonestNFL) April 20, 2023
In addition to being a common projection at pick 10, Smith was rated highly by most draft analysts. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network had him ranked 13th. Dane Brugler of The Athletic had him ranked 11th. Mel Kiper had him ranked 12th.
So why did he fall in the draft? Certainly, he is undersized, and his lack of ideal production played a part. If he had a 10-sack season under his belt, there's no way in hell he'd have gotten out of the top 10-12 picks. His best season was in 2021, when he had 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and an INT.
At our first look at Smith in OTAs, he looked bigger than his listed weight, in my opinion. He's rocked up, and is stout in his lower half. If I had no knowledge of his listed height and weight, I would not look at that guy and think, "That guy is small."
As for play style, Smith's energy was unmissable. The highest level of action the Eagles had in practice during OTAs were 7-on-7 sessions, and Smith's role was to rush the passer at the snap, stop when he got close to the quarterback, and then trail the play from behind. With the Eagles' top four edge rushers not in attendance, Smith played almost every single rep of the day, and he was in full sprint chasing plays down, sometimes like 40 or so yards down the field. He has a chance of becoming a fan favorite.
Barnett contributed as a rookie during the Eagles' Super Bowl run in 2017. In his first four seasons in the NFL (from 2017-2020), he had just 19.5 sacks, a number that fell short of reasonable expectations of a player drafted 14th overall.
Some of Barnett's early lack of production was attributed to injuries, as he missed 10 games in 2018, two games in 2019, and three games in 2020. He also probably wasn't 100 percent in many of the games he played those seasons. In 2021, his first truly healthy season in years, Barnett had eight penalties and 2.5 sacks. After one such penalty, Nick Sirianni was caught on camera mouthing, "It's always him."
During the 2022 offseason, the Eagles re-signed Barnett to what was effectively a two-year deal worth $14 million, because 🤷♂️. In an offseason of mostly smart moves, that was a baffling one. In the Eagles' Week 1 game in Detroit, Barnett tore an ACL and his season was over.
The Eagles have four edge rushers ahead of Barnett in Reddick, Sweat, Graham, and Smith. Barnett has a base salary of $1,080,000, so he'd be a cheap player for any new team to acquire. If Barnett eventually passes a physical and shows that he is healthy in the preseason, I could see him getting dealt for some small return, like a future Day 3 pick.
Johnson has had good training camps in each of his first two NFL seasons. As a rookie in 2021, he oddly didn't get much playing time, even though he was a backup to a completely ineffective Genard Avery. In 2022, Johnson's lack of playing time made more sense since he was Reddick's backup. On the season, he had 11 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 3 QB hits.
He is clearly ahead of Kyron Johnson on the depth chart, so he does have a little bit of a buffer between himself and the cut list, and should be back on the 53-man roster in 2023.
Johnson was a core special teamer for most of the season as a rookie, playing in 16 games. He played 18 snaps in the regular defense, and 265 snaps on special teams, and had eight tackles on the season. It's worth noting that he was a healthy scratch in all three Eagles playoff games.
With the arrival of Nolan Smith, Johnson's roster spot is in peril, as the team can't reasonably keep four SAM linebackers. The Eagles gave Johnson a look at off-ball linebacker during OTAs, which makes sense (a) because Johnson played some off-ball linebacker in college and (b) the Eagles don't have much depth there.
Robinson was a 2021 Vikings fourth-round pick out of Florida State. He has not yet appeared in an NFL regular season game, as he spent the entirety of his rookie season on injured reserve. The Eagles claimed him off of waivers earlier this season, but soon after placed him on IR.
In college, Robinson had 104 tackles and eight sacks over a four-year career in which he played in 34 games. A scouting report, via Lance Zierlein of NFL.com:
Traits-based edge defender with the potential to play standing or as an even-front end. Studying tape can be a frustrating exercise, as the same player doesn't always show up from game to game. He's an agile athlete with rare length and has the traits necessary to make plays on the next level, but his wingspan often goes to waste due to a lack of skilled hand usage, and he seems content to put it in cruise control in certain situations. He has the physical tools and athletic ability necessary to play in the league, but his ceiling and floor could be defined by his motor and willingness to put the work in that is necessary for improvement.
Robinson does indeed have an intriguing blend of size and athleticism:
Media members didn't get to see Robinson in practice, since he was acquired well after training camp concluded.
The Eagles kept Robinson on the roster almost all season for a reason. They will get a long look at him this summer, and if it looks like he has some upside it'll make it that much easier to deal Barnett.
Jackson had 18 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 FF as a rookie in 2021, and he entered 2022 training camp as the fourth defensive end, likely to make the team because of a lack of competition at his position. He played well throughout camp, but had a few rough performances in the preseason games. Jackson made the initial 53-man roster, but was waived in October and brought back to the practice squad, where he remained the rest of the season. He only appeared in four games, with no snaps in the regular defense.
Making the roster in 2023 will be more of an uphill climb than it was his first two seasons.
Leo no longer counts as a roster exemption under the NFL's International Pathway Program, but the Eagles thought enough of him to bring him back on the 90-man roster. He's not much of a threat to make the team, but he could very well be back on the practice squad once again this season.