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May 25, 2021

Where are the Eagles deep, and not so deep, after the 2021 NFL Draft: Defense edition

Eagles NFL
050720DerekBarnettBrandonGraham Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett

While the Philadelphia Eagles could still add a veteran here or there to their roster before the start of the season, particularly at cornerback, it is still probably somewhere around 90-to-95 percent set. Here we'll take a look at each of their positions, and determine where they are strong, and where they still need help, starting with the offense.

On Monday we started with the offense. Today we'll look at the defense.

Defensive end

53-man roster projection: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Tarron Jackson.

Others: Joe Ostman, Matt Leo, JaQuan Bailey.

Graham and Kerrigan will likely rush off the left side, with Barnett and Sweat coming off the right side. There are no elite players in the bunch, but it's a quality foursome, with some late round picks in Tarron Jackson and possibly also Patrick Johnson (listed at linebacker) developing behind the scenes.

I think that this is probably the appropriate place to note that we could see some hybrid defensive schemes (possibly a 4-3 under?) from Jonathan Gannon's defense. Players who would fit sort of a rush linebacker role in such a scheme would be Kerrigan, Johnson, and Genard Avery. 

Are the Eagles in good shape here relative to the rest of the league? Yes, if Graham, Barnett, Sweat, and Kerrigan can all stay healthy, the Eagles can rotate their edge rushers heavily and capitalize on their fresh legs in the second halves of games.

Defensive tackle

53-man roster projection: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, Hassan Ridgeway.

Others: T.Y. McGill, Raequan Williams.

From 2016-2020, Howie Roseman only drafted one defensive tackle. That was Elijah Qualls, in the sixth round of the 2017 draft. In 2021, he invested in some youth at DT, landing Williams in the third round, and Tuipulotu in the sixth. Previously, the Eagles had just dumped a huge chunk of the cap space into the position at the starting spots, giving big-money deals to players already on the roster like Cox and Timmy Jernigan, or free agents like Hargrave and Malik Jackson, while counting on undrafted guys and/or practice squad poachings to fill out the rest of the roster.

In that sense, the Eagles' offseason strategy is heading in a new direction this offseason, as they invested on the position in the draft. Williams and Tuipulotu will be expected to contribute immediately as rookies. 

Are the Eagles in good shape here relative to the rest of the league? Yes. Cox and Hargrave are an enviable one-two starting duo. Ridgeway has been reasonably productive when he has actually played, but he has not been reliable from a durability standpoint. Otherwise, the Eagles are counting on rookies for depth, which is fine. The coaching staff will have to get the rookies' techniques up to speed, but it's not as if the defensive tackle position requires much in the way of mental processing, at least comparatively speaking.

Linebacker

53-man roster projection: Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, JaCoby Stevens.

Others: Patrick Johnson, Genard Avery, Joe Bachie, Rashod Smith.

Singleton racked up a ton of tackles in 2020 after taking over for Nate Gerry in the starting lineup, while Edwards has proven to be a reliable two-down role player who comes off the field in obvious passing situations. The Eagles also added Wilson in free agency, and will hope that he can be a competent three-down starter.

Taylor, Bradley, and Stevens are all either 2020 or 2021 draft picks, and probably just lottery tickets.

Are the Eagles in good shape here relative to the rest of the league? God no.

Cornerback

53-man roster projection: Darius Slay, Craig James, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott.

Others: Michael Jacquet, Shakial Taylor, Kevon Seymour, Nate Meadors, Lavert Hill.

We sit and wait for the Eagles to slap a Band-Aid on the starting outside CB2 spot opposite Slay, but for now, this is arguably the most troublesome position on the roster. Slay was somewhat disappointing in coverage in 2020, while Maddox predictably could not play on the outside at his size. The Eagles did add McPhearson in the fourth round of the draft, and he'll have a chance to play immediately out of necessity, even if he isn't ready.

Are the Eagles in good shape here relative to the rest of the league? Lol, no.

Safety

53-man roster projection: Anthony Harris, K'Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, Andrew Adams.

Others: Rodney McLeod (PUP), Grayland Arnold, Elijah Riley.

Harris will start, likely at free safety, and Wallace will have a chance to start in more of a box safety role, while the team waits for McLeod to fully recover from a second torn ACL in three seasons. McLeod is a strong candidate to start the season on the PUP list, but could return to the starting lineup around the mid-point of the season, if his recovery goes well.

Epps is a backup deep safety only, and Adams was a veteran depth signing.

Are the Eagles in good shape here relative to the rest of the league? Nope. At linebacker, cornerback, and safety, the Eagles have a combination of (a) questionable competency at the starting spots, and (b) not much in the way of depth if a starter or two goes down.

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