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February 28, 2017

NFL Combine preview: Defensive end prospects who could interest the Eagles

Eagles NFL

The NFL Combine will kick off in Indianapolis tomorrow, and we've already begun taking a look at some participants at each positional group every day. In case you missed our previous positional previews:

Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends
Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers

Today, we'll look at defensive ends.

Is defensive end a need?

Yes, and I believe the importance of finding pass rush help is a very underrated need this offseason. While wide receiver and cornerback are glaring, smack-you-in-the-face needs, an edge rusher is just a small notch below.

As we reported a month ago, the Eagles are expected to free up significant cap space this offseason. Among the obvious cuts will be DE Connor Barwin, as the Eagles will save $7,750,000 if he is cut or traded. Barwin wants to stay in Philadelphia and has stated that he would be open to a pay cut, but even a pay cut is unlikely to keep him on the roster.

The next man up would be Vinny Curry, who has never been a three-down player and is coming off a disappointing 2016 season. Beyond Curry, Marcus Smith would be just one injury away from becoming a starter.

Here are five defensive ends who make sense for the Eagles:

Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6'3, 265)

Barnett is a thick, strong defensive end who reminds me a little of Brandon Graham. Barnett is great against the run, and a menace as a pass rusher. He has been an impact player since his freshman year:

 Derek BarnettTackles Sacks TFL FF 
 201447 10 20.5 
 201544 10 12.5 
 201656 13 19 
 TOTAL147 33 52 

In just three seasons at Tennessee, Barnett broke the all-time career school sack record that was previously held by some guy named Reggie White. No big deal. Barnett should absolutely be in the mix as a possibility for the Eagles at pick 14/15.

Taco Charlton, Michigan (6'6, 272)

In his time as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, as well as his stint as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Jim Schwartz has employed some rather large defensive ends. For example:

 PlayerYears Height Weight 
Devin Taylor 2013 6'7 266 
 Kevin Carter2001-2004 6'6 305 
 Mario Williams2014 6'6 300 
 Dave Ball2008 6'6 275 
 Jason Jones2008 6'5 272 
 Ezekiel Ansah2013 6'5 271 
 Lawrence Jackson2010-2012 6'5 261 
 Willie Young2010-2013 6'5 251 
 Kyle Vanden Bosch2005-2008 (Titans), 2010-2012 (Lions) 6'4 278 
 Antwan Odom2004-2007 6'4 277 
 Jevon Kearse2001-2003, 2008 6'4 265 

Charlton would be another big body at 6'6, 272. While he didn't have eye-popping numbers on the season (9.5 sacks), Charlton had a monster performance in one of the biggest regular-season games in college football this season, when he had nine tackles and 2.5 sacks against Ohio State. But those performances were too few and far between in his college career.

Still, Charlton is an athletic specimen and a height-weight-speed dream for NFL scouts. He too could be in the mix at 14/15.

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (6'3, 255)

Missouri has produced a lot of defensive linemen and/or edge rushers over the last six years, including three first round picks and two second round picks:

 YearPlayer Team Round Overall 
 2015Shane Ray Broncos 23 
 2015Markus Golden Cardinals 58 
 2014Kony Ealy Panthers 60 
 2014Michael Sam Rams 249 
 2013Sheldon Richardson Jets 13 
 2011Aldon Smith 49ers 

They're likely to have another second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in Harris. Harris' stats over his first two seasons at Missouri aren't great, but his skills are. Harris has an outstanding burst off the snap, a great spin move (both ways), he hustles, he isn't fooled by misdirection, and he has counter moves if his initial pass rush move doesn't work.

I can see Harris doing a lot of damage in a wide-nine alignment.

Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State (6'4, 255)

Over the last two seasons, Willis has 21 sacks, 32.5 tackles for loss, and 7 forced fumbles. Obviously, that is great production. He is sort of the opposite of Charlton and Harris above, in that he doesn't possess their athletic traits, but was more productive. Willis will have to develop a wider repertoire of pass rush moves at the next level, but the hustle is there, and that is something I believe Schwartz values highly.

Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova (6'7, 280)

Kpassagnon is a physical freak of nature at 6'7, 280, with 10 7/8" hands and 34 7/8" arms. He basically won the weigh-in at the Senior Bowl. At Nova last season, he had 33 tackles, 11 sacks, and 16 tackles for loss. On his first practice at the Senior Bowl, Kpassagnon drew a few oohs and ahhs from the crowd when he tossed highly rated guard prospect Forrest Lamp to the ground.

Kpassagnon is thought of as a raw prospect with a high ceiling with the aforementioned size Schwartz seems to prefer. He would give the Eagles a huge presence with athleticism on the edge, although it might take a year or two for him to develop. In the meantime, the Birds would have to live with Curry as a three-down starter at DE.

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