The Eagles are stockpiling undersized upfield defensive ends at an alarming rate this offseason. It started with the trade for Darryl Tapp, a deal in which they shipped out a player with the same skill set in Chris Clemons, though they clearly upgraded in the process. They also added a relative unknown in Alex Hall, who fits this mold as well.
But in the draft, it got a little bit crazy. The Eagles paid a premium price to move up in the first round to select Brandon Graham, a tremendous pass-rusher who many thought could play outside linebacker in an odd front. Obviously the Eagles are expecting a lot from Graham, and I see him as one of the most NFL-ready players in this draft class. He should pay immediate dividends. But the Eagles didn’t stop there. They selected Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round and Ricky Sapp in the fifth. All three of them are edge players who are a little light to play a traditional 4-3 defensive end spot, but have upfield ability. How all these players will specifically fit in is pretty much an unknown at this point, but there are plenty of options.
The Eagles are a diverse defense that loves having versatile players with speed. Their previous strongside linebacker, Chris Gocong, was a defensive end in college and fit this mold. But now they are looking for more of a dynamic playmaker at that position and are hoping that someone from this large group steps up. Moise Fokou is a pretty solid outside linebacker but doesn’t offer the potential as a pass-rusher that the newly acquired defenders do. Plus, I would think the Eagles want Fokou to move to the weak side to compete with newly acquired Ernie Sims, which would be a better fit for Fokou.
Trent Cole fit a similar mold coming out of college and many projected him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Now he is a fixture at right defensive end in Philadelphia and frankly, one of the most underrated players in football. At left defensive end, the Eagles have preferred to use a heavier player -- more of a true 4-3 base end, such as Juqua Parker and Victor Abiamiri. But they are not limited to that. In essence, there are three positions in the Eagles’ base defense in which players such as the ones we are referring to can contribute -- and quite possibly thrive. Graham very well could take over the starting left end spot by opening day.
Also, having so many players with pass-rushing ability on the roster gives the Eagles a lot of personnel options on third down. They can bring in several of these players and confuse an offense’s protection schemes by keeping them all mobile pre-snap in two-point stances. This type of player can be very valuable in all facets of special teams as well.
While Philadelphia may have gone a little bit overboard with their recent acquisitions of smaller defensive end types, it is hard to be overly critical of having an abundance of young pass-rushers with the potential to develop. And this is a team that has shown that it knows how to use such defenders quite well. The Eagles’ run defense was stellar last season, but now this heavy-blitz scheme needs to get back to wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The late Jim Johnson would be proud of what Philadelphia has done with its roster to make that happen and it surely was done very much in his lasting image.