July 12, 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 interior defensive line.
Previous training camp previews
The depth chart:
|DT||Jalen Carter||Milton Williams||Moro Ojomo|
|NT||Jordan Davis||Marlon Tuipulotu||Noah Elliss|
|DT||Fletcher Cox||Kentavius Street|
In an otherwise stellar offseason by Howie Roseman and the Eagles' front office in 2022, one mistake was signing Cox to a one-year deal worth $14 million. Cox is an Eagles all-time great, however, he had his worst year as a pro in 2021, when he had 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 16 games, often appearing disinterested and griping about his role in the scheme. While he did play harder and was more disruptive on the field during the back half of that season, it's hard to imagine how the team felt that a valuation of $14 million was reasonable.
In 2022, Cox had better stats (43 tackles, 7 sacks) than the previous year, but he never truly felt like an impact player, and it has become pretty easy to see that he is a player in decline. He signed a one-year contract with the Eagles worth $10 million after flirting with the Jets this offseason.
One the one hand, is $10 million too much for what Cox is as a player at this stage of his career? Yeah, probably. On the other hand, he is a rare established vet among a sea of young interior defensive linemen on this roster. Their ages:
If the Eagles weren't contenders, it would be a lot easier to criticize bringing Cox back at a $10 million price tag, but it's reasonable for a team that (rightfully) believes it can win it all.
Through the first seven games of his rookie season in 2022, Davis' stats (14 tackles, 1 batted pass) weren't super impressive, but he was effective in clogging up running lanes in the middle of the defense. He was averaging 22 snaps per game, almost solely as a nose tackle, when he was carted off with an ankle injury against the Steelers Week 8, landing him on injured reserve. In that Steelers game, the Eagles seemed to expand Davis' role, allowing him to play additional positions, thus getting him on the field with more personnel groups.
With Davis and Marlon Tuipulotu both on injured reserve, the Eagles signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to bolster their interior defensive line depth. Joseph made an immediate impact on the Eagles' run defense and became the No. 1 early down, run-stuffing nose tackle. After returning from injured reserve, Davis saw fewer snaps, and he became something of an afterthought.
While Davis' rookie season may have been disappointing to some, there are reasons to be optimistic about his future outlook. His blend of size, power, and athleticism is extremely rare, and we saw throughout training camp that he can do things that players his size should not be able to do. He is an intelligent young kid who loves to play, and it typically takes some time for defensive tackles to grow as players at the NFL level. It certainly didn't help that he suffered an injury at a time that he was beginning to build some momentum. If the season began today (it doesn't), he would be the starting NT.
Expectations were high for Davis his rookie season. He'll be under pressure to produce in Year 2.
The evaluation of Carter as a player is easy. He's powerful, as you would expect of a 314-pound DT, but it's his explosiveness, speed, and change of direction ability that sets him apart, as most analysts believed that he was the most talented prospect in the 2023 draft class.
Against the run, he can anchor and two-gap, he can chase in pursuit from sideline to sideline, and he can smash single-blocks and make plays in the backfield. On early downs, he can help the Eagles allocate fewer resources toward stopping the run, and play coverage on the back end.
As a pass rusher, Carter's stats aren't eye-popping (3 sacks, 3 batted passes, 2 forced fumbles in 2022), but it's clear to see that he has the ability in his body to get to the quarterback. Again, he can beat single blocks with raw power, but you can also get creative looping him around the edge because of his speed and explosiveness.
As far as scheme fit, Carter can play in any defense, as you can line him up anywhere along the interior, from tackle-to-tackle. I'm sure you've watched highlights of him by now, but in case not, here you go:
My favorite moment from the video above:
Favorite Jalen Carter highlight: He lifts the LSU QB off the ground, hears the play blown dead, and he celebrates his sack by continuing to hold his trophy with one arm while raising his other arm. pic.twitter.com/Iwkybjn6Zb— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) April 28, 2023
Again, the evaluation of Carter as a player is pretty easy. Of course, he would not have made it to pick No. 9 if not for significant maturity red flags, most notably that he was at the scene of car racing incident in which teammate Devin Willock and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy were killed. Carter subsequently had an alarming pro day performance during which he looked sluggish and out of shape while running through drills. It will be the Eagles' ability to identify whether Carter can maximize his potential that will ultimately decide the success or failure of this selection.
The Eagles have built a strong culture, which now begins with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, and is spread all throughout the locker room with veteran leaders like Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, Cox, and others.
Drafting a player at No. 9 with Carter's character concerns is a risk, but it's one that a team like the Eagles perhaps deserve the benefit of the doubt on, given the strong leadership in their building. A team like the Eagles can roll the dice on a troubled-but-talented player in the draft, whereas other teams might not have the same confidence that they can make it work.
Carter will be a player that the fans and media pay very close attention to throughout camp.
Williams' second year in the NFL got off to a slow start, but during the back half of the season he seemed to make an impressive play or two in every game. He finished the season with 36 tackles (9 for loss), 4 sacks, and 2 batted passes on just 395 snaps. By comparison, Cox and Hargrave were each up over 700 snaps apiece.
With Javon Hargrave signing in San Francisco this offseason, Williams will almost certainly get more playing time in 2023 even if he doesn't start, assuming he stays healthy. He is as good a bet as any on this roster to have a breakout season.
Tuipulotu had a quiet training camp in 2021 and a rough preseason as a rookie. During the 2021 regular season, he only appeared in 5 games and made 5 tackles. Entering 2022 training camp, Tuipulotu was far from a lock to make the initial 53-man roster, but he emphatically stamped his ticket, as he was arguably the most improved player on the team in camp.
He showed quickness that he previously did not appear to possess to go along with his natural power, and there was hope that he could be the backup nose tackle behind Davis, allowing guys like Cox, Hargrave, and Williams to rush the passer from alignments that they think are more fun to play.
However, Tuipulotu struggled playing the nose during the regular season, and he tore his meniscus Week 10 against Washington, ending his season. Tuipulotu needs to have another strong camp to give the Eagles hope that he can be a valuable rotational player along the defensive line.
Ojomo is a Nigerian-born prospect who played in 42 games at Texas before being drafted by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2023 draft. In 2022, he had 32 tackles (5 for loss), and 3 sacks. He is thought of as a stout run defender, and like the rest of the Eagles' draft picks this year, he has some athletic traits.
A scouting report, via Lance Zierlein of NFL Network:
Naturally powerful defensive lineman caught somewhere between end and tackle. Ojomo is best-suited as a base end but doesn’t really have the get-off quickness to exploit interior blockers as an inside rusher on passing downs. He’s tight in his lower body, and his movements lack fluidity, but he can fight his way through blocks with upper-body power and a will to make it happen. Ojomo plays hard throughout the rep and will find production with his secondary effort, but he might cap out as a solid backup in either an odd or even front.
Ojomo was rated a lot higher than his 249th draft slot. Daniel Jeremiah, for example, had Ojomo as his 111th ranked player. Dane Brugler of The Athletic considered him a 4th/5th round prospect. He should give backups like Marlon Tuipulotu and Kentavius Street legitimate competition for a roster spot.
Street was an interesting prospect coming out of NC State in 2018. He was originally projected as a Day 2 pick, but he tore his ACL during his pro day, still got selected by San Francisco in the fourth round anyway, but did not play in any games during his rookie season. He didn't play much in 2019 or 2020 either, before earning a role as a rotational defensive lineman in 2021. He had 27 tackles and 3 sacks that season, which was his last with the Niners.
In 2022, Street made $1,265,000 on a one-year deal with the Saints. He had 29 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 8 QB hits while once again playing in a rotational role. He'll make $1.28 million on a one-year deal with the Eagles this season, with only $300,000 guaranteed. He'll have an opportunity to earn a role as a rotational DT, but he is a bubble player.
The Eagles signed Elliss as an undrafted rookie free agent last year, and it initially felt like he would have a chance to make the team as a 6'4, 346-pound space eating run stuffer. However, he was waived with a non-football injury at the start of camp and missed the entire season.
A scouting report via Lance Zierlein:
Imposing space-eater with flashes of physical dominance against a level of competition that hasn't fully tested him. Elliss was a heralded prospect out of high school and began his career at Mississippi State before transferring to Idaho, where his dad (former Detroit Lion Luther Elliss) coached him up on the defensive line. He has the physical tools and power to make a living as a two-gapping, odd-front nose guard but will need to improve his technique and footwork to become a true tree stump in the middle against the run. Ellis has Day 3 potential with starting upside, but weight management will be very important for him.
The Eagles don't have a definitive backup NT, so Elliss should have a legitimate opportunity to make the 53.
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