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July 10, 2024

Eagles 2024 training camp preview: Edge rusher

Bryce Huff will be called upon to fill the void left by Haason Reddick's departure.

Eagles NFL
070924JoshSweat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Josh Sweat will be looking for a bounce back season in a contract year.

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

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

The depth chart:

Bryce Huff Brandon Graham Patrick Johnson
Julian Okwara Terrell Lewis 
Josh Sweat Nolan Smith
Jalyx Hunt
Tarron Jackson  

Bryce Huff

The Eagles signed Huff this offseason to a hefty three year, $51.1 million contract ($17+ million per season). He was originally a Jets undrafted free agent, who got playing time as a rookie and and whose role increased each season with the Jets. 

Year Tackles (TFL) Sacks FF QB hits 
2020 16 (4) 
2021 14 (1) 
2022 6 (2) 3.5 10 
2023 29 (10) 10 21 

As you can see, Huff notched double digit sacks in 2023. He looked impressive doing so. 

PFF had Huff down for an astronomical 67 pressures on just 334 pass rush snaps last season. You may recall him wrecking the game against Jack Driscoll in the Eagles' loss to the Jets Week 6.

The downside with Huff is that he's one-dimensional, in that he's more of a pass rush specialist than he is a three-down player who can also stop the run. $17 million per season is a lot of money to pay a player who has not yet proven that he can be a three-down player. But ultimately, getting to the quarterback is kind of a valuable skill, and one the Eagles are willing to pay for.

The Eagles more or less swapped out Haason Reddick for Huff. They traded Reddick to the Jets for a third-round pick in 2026, that will become a second-round pick if Reddick plays at least 67.5 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps and he has 10 or more sacks in 2024.

In his two seasons in Philly, Reddick had 30.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. During the Eagles' NFC Champion season in 2022, if we're including playoff performances, Reddick was arguably the most productive defensive player in the NFL, when he had 19.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles.

Huff has big shoes to fill, and there will no doubt be people monitoring his play in Philly vs. Reddick's play in NJ.

Josh Sweat

Over the first five seasons of his career, Sweat continued to get better each year, and that ascension also showed up in the stat sheet. In year six, that trend finally stalled, as his sack production dipped from 11 in 2022 to 6.5 in 2023.

Josh Sweat Tackles Sacks FF QB hits 
2019 21 10 
2020 38 12 
2021 45 7.5 13 
2022 48 11 23 
2023 43 6.5 23 

The first half of the season, Sweat looked like a star player. He collected 6.5 sacks in the first 9 games, one of which was a super clutch game-winning play against Dallas. 

He was shut out the rest of the regular season in the sack column.

In previous seasons, Sweat didn't play a high number of snaps. In 2022 he played 695 snaps in 19 games (including the playoffs), or 36.6 per game. In 2023, he played 875 snaps in 18 games, or 48.6 per game. There was a four game stretch from Weeks 8-11 against the Commanders, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bills during which he played 272 snaps, or 68 per game. He played at least 60 snaps in each of those four games, and a ridiculous 81 (!) snaps against the Bills.

He is probably a player best utilized in moderation.

This offseason, the Eagles explored trading both Sweat and Haason Reddick. Reddick got dealt, and Sweat took a pay cut. This is a huge season for Sweat personally, as he is in the final year of his contract. He is still only 27 years old, and will be looking to cash in on free agency next offseason if he can have a rebound season.

Brandon Graham

Graham is entering his 15th NFL season, which he has said will be his last.

His production fell from 2022 (11 sacks) to 2023 (3 sacks), but, to the Eagles, Graham remains a culture setter in the locker room, which could be of particular value to a team that has spent three first-round picks in the last three drafts on defensive linemen / pass rushers.

Graham played just 34 percent of the defensive snaps in 2023, his lowest percentage since 2013. He will likely have a similar usage rate in 2024. The Eagles are light on interior defensive line depth, so it will be interesting to see if Vic Fangio has plans for Graham to play inside on occasion, as he has done in the past.

Nolan Smith

One of the things the Eagles did a bad job of in 2023 was getting their young players involved throughout the season. A prime example of that was Smith, who averaged just 11.3 snaps per game as a rookie. During the aforementioned four-game stretch when Sweat played 68 snaps per game, Smith only played 7.3 snaps per game. The Eagles' defensive staff tired out their star players early in the season, and when the young guys were called upon to play out of necessity they weren't ready to perform.

Smith was a first-round pick (31st overall), but he avoided high expectations as a rookie because the Eagles employed Reddick, Sweat, and Graham on the edge. He was not expected to have a major role in the defense, and sure enough, he didn't, but he also played considerably less than is ideal for a player drafted so highly. Still, when Smith got his opportunities, he didn't often capitalize on them, making more mistakes than impact plays.

The 2024 season will help reveal whether Smith can be a long-term fixture in the Eagles' defense, or just a role player.

Jalyx Hunt

The Eagles drafted Hunt in the third round of the 2024 draft.

Hunt was a safety at Cornell who transferred to Houston Christian and became an edge rusher. The last two seasons (21 games) at Houston Christian, Hunt had 13.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. He has obvious athletic traits, and he's a violent finisher when he gets to the quarterback:

Hunt is a developmental prospect and likely won't get much playing time as a rookie in the regular defense. The Eagles will hope that they can get the most out of his raw athletic ability long-term, initially as a situational pass rusher, and they'll hope that he can also develop into a stout run defender. As a rookie, he has a chance to be an immediate special teams contributor because of his athletic traits. A look at his Combine performance:

As you can see, he finished in at least the 80th percentile or better in every athletic testing event he participated in, except the bench press.

Patrick Johnson

Johnson is in the final year of his rookie contract. In 2023, he mostly played on special teams, as he did in 2021 and 2022. Interestingly, Johnson did not play a single snap in the regular defense until Week 15, when he got 8 snaps as an off-ball linebacker against the Seahawks in Matt Patricia's first game as the defensive coordinator. He returned to the bench thereafter.

With added depth both on the edge and at off-ball linebacker, Johnson is once again a bubble player heading into 2024. He has some versatility, which should help his case, but heading into camp he's probably on the outside of the 53 looking in.

Julian Okwara

Okwara was a Lions high third-round pick (67th overall) in 2020. He landed on injured reserve as a rookie in 2020, and thus only played in 6 games. He had a promising season in 2021, when he had 27 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 QB hits, an INT, a forced fumble, and a couple of pass breakups as a depth player. 

However, his progress stalled in 2022, when he once again landed on IR. In 2023, he rarely played (121 snaps) and he was waived during the playoffs in January, eventually signing back to the practice squad. We'll also note here that Okwara suffered a broken leg in his final season in college at Notre Dame.

Okwara is 6'4, 239, with 9 career sacks. He has talent, but has not been able to stay on the field. He's a sleeper to make the roster if he can impress in camp.

Tarron Jackson

Jackson was an Eagles sixth-round pick in 2021. He appeared in all 17 games as a rookie, both on special teams an in the regular defense. He finished the 2021 season with 18 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.

His progress stalled in 2022, when he only appeared in 4 games all season, playing just 27 defensive snaps. In 2023, he failed to stand out in training camp and did not make the 53-man roster.

Terrell Lewis

Lewis was a Rams 2020 third-round pick who was a role player from 2020-2022, before the Rams cut him near the end of the 2022 season. The Bears scooped him up, but he did not make their 53-man roster in 2023. He spent about a month on the Saints' practice squad, but he was released in October, and was unemployed until the Eagles signed him to a futures contract in January. 

Lewis has great size at 6'5, 262, with 34" arms, and he was a talented player in college at Alabama. Obviously something isn't right if three teams cut him in quick succession, but he's an interesting name who is worth a look. 

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