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January 18, 2015

Eagles offseason positional previews: DL

Birds' defensive front both young and talented

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011815FletcherCox Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

How high is Fletcher Cox in the first edition of #PhillyRank?

Continuing on once again with our offseason team needs series, we'll take a look at a position where the Eagles are in very good shape, both from a talent and age perspective -- the defensive line. Let's take a look at what they have:

Fletcher Cox, 24: It's almost comical that eight Eagles players (nine if you include LeSean McCoy, who is skipping it with an "injury") made the Pro Bowl, and Cox isn't among them. If you look at the stat sheet, Cox's numbers (61 tackles, four sacks, one FF, three FR) aren't eye-popping on paper, but he was a disruptive force along the Eagles defensive line all season long. Cox is budding into a star player, and he's only 24.

Bennie Logan, 25: Logan had a good 2014 season in the middle of the Eagles defense, after an offseason in which he took some (often unwarranted) criticism for the playoff loss to the Saints. Logan finished with 57 tackles, which led all NFL DTs and NTs.

Cedric Thornton, 26: Thornton has very stout against the run so far in his career, and has made himself into a quality NFL starter after being undrafted in 2011.

Vinny Curry, 26: Curry was a great passing down specialist in 2014, racking up nine sacks and four forced fumbles as a rotational DE.

Beau Allen, 23: Allen was able to find his way into the rotation as a rookie 7th round draft pick. 10 tackles, 0.5 sacks.

Brandon Bair, 30: Bair is the only old head along the DL. He's a rotational DE only who has added value on the FG block team.

Taylor Hart, 23: Rookie 5th round pick in 2014 who was a healthy scratch for the entirety of the season.

Again, the Eagles' defensive line isn't just good. It's young, and has the chance to continue to get better. Still, adding depth to the trenches is never a bad idea, so let's take a look at some guys who might make sense for the Birds in free agency and the draft:

Free agents:

Kenrick Ellis, NT, Jets (6'4, 346)

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Ellis played in 14 games in 2014, but according to PFF he only saw 158 snaps, or 11 snaps per game. The Eagles don't have a lot of beef along their defensive line. Bennie Logan is a good NT, but at 315 is a bit undersized. Otherwise, aside from Beau Allen, the Eagles don't have any other defensive linemen on their roster who are 310 pounds or heavier.

The Eagles will likely not be spending big money on a defensive lineman to come in and start. However, Ellis could make sense as a goal line / 3rd and short specialist, especially in a division inhabited by DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys offensive line.

Draft:

Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State (6'6, 270)

The Eagles hit big with a DE from Mississippi State in Fletcher Cox a few years ago. This year, Smith feels like a good fit for the Eagles' defensive line. Mississippi State lined Smith up all over their defensive front. He primarily plays DE, but they stood him up on occasion on the edge, and they even lined him up at NT on obvious passing downs. Smith has the versatility to be an effective two-gapping defensive lineman, but also get after the passer on obvious passing downs, as he had seven sacks in 2014. Smith would likely have to put on some weight to play in the Eagles' scheme.

Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon (6'8, 290)

Armstead is obviously huge at 6'8, 290, and was a heavily recruited player out of high school for his blend of size and agility. His production in college was disappointing, but the size-speed snobs of the NFL will love his ceiling.

Oh, and he went to Oregon.

Keep an eye out for the Ducks' other (and possibly better) DE, DeForest Buckner.

Danny Shelton, NT, Washington (6'2, 339)

Shelton has a chance to go high in the first round, but if he slides to the Eagles at 20, he might be too hard to pass up. Last summer, Billy Davis talked about the rarity of finding impact nose tackles, via Tim McManus of Birds 24/7.

“Well, those monster noses are ideal," he said. "There’s not very many of them out there and they come around every five years maybe. And what we do is we have good football players, like I said, and we get them at the heaviest weight that they can function well at and make ‘em fit and ask ‘em to do the things they can do the best. And when that monster comes along and you’re in a position to acquire him, you acquire him. And that’s the old 3-4 where the guy just eats up three blockers inside. But they’re hard to find. They really are. We’re really happy with the D-Linemen that we have and how they’re progressing. So we’re excited about the group that’s in there. It’s a good young group, really eager and energetic and they’ve been working hard.”

In 2014, Shelton had a very impressive nine sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss from his nose tackle spot. Here's his game against Hawaii. Watch Shelton as he engages with his blocker, controls the gap on each side of him, and drives him back. Impressive power.


Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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