Next in our ongoing series, we will be taking a look at the defensive end position. The Eagles didn’t draft a defensive end until the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft and recently brought back Vinny Curry to a one-year deal. Is the Vinny Curry signing enough to address the concerns at the position?
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For me, the defensive end boils down to Derek Barnett’s performance in 2020. It has been a roller coaster ride for Derek Barnet’s 4 years in the NFL. Derek Barnett’s rise started quickly. This is a guy who had five sacks in 15 games as a rookie as well as an incredible fumble recovery during Super Bowl LII. Since 2017, calling Barnett a disappointment would be an understatement. This must be the year Derek Barnett takes that next step forward in his development.
What are the barriers in play? On the plus side, Barnett has recently turned 24 and he’s still extremely young. On the negative side. Barnett has missed 10 games in 2018 and then two games in 2019. On the surface, he finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks last season and led the team with 22 quarterback hits. However, when you peel away the layers you quickly realize he also had 8 penalties and numerous bone head (perhaps dirty) plays in 2019.
The Eagles ability to generate consistent pressure from 4 defensive linemen is vital to the success of Jim Schwartz’s defense
I expect the Eagles defensive line to rotate a ton in 2020. The Eagles will rotate their defensive tackles (the true strength of the team) regularly across the line. To put it simply, Derek Barnett is the biggest key as to whether or not the Eagles defense can become an elite unit. Can Derek Barnett begin turning those quarterback hits into sacks? Derek Barnett played 68.14% of the snaps in 2019. If Barnett can stay healthy (big if), I expect that number to rise in 2020.
Brandon Graham had an above average season in 2019, finishing with 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hits. Brandon Graham played the 4th most snaps on the defense (75.98%). The Eagles have significantly struggled to find Graham an impact player on the opposite side of the line. The Eagles failed to create enough takeaways on defense last season (21st in total takeaways) and that starts with the defensive line.
The 32-year-old will enter his 11th season with the Philadelphia Eagles signed through the 2021 season. However, I believe the Javon Hargrave signing poses some really interesting questions for the Eagles defense heading. The Eagles have placed an emphasis on building around speed and positionless defenders this offseason. All signs point to Jim Schwartz rolling out a hybrid defensive scheme in 2020 and rotating between 3 and 4 defensive fronts. But what does this mean for Brandon Graham?
Strangely enough, the Eagles didn’t take a single defensive end in the top four rounds of the NFL Draft (first time since 2017)
The depth at the defensive end position has major question marks and Jim Schwartz will likely require Brandon Graham to perform at his best in 2020. With retirement questions looming, how much does he have left in the tank? The clock is ticking on BG’s career with the Eagles. Similar to Jason Kelce and Jason Peters, that will be a truly sad day in Philadelphia when it arrives.
A few days ago, Vinny Curry officially signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year contract. On paper, Vinny had an ok year for the Eagles in 2019, finishing with 5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 16 games. When you look deeper, Curry was a key cog to the Eagles surge to the playoffs, finishing with 5 sacks during roughly the last month of the regular season.
As noted previously, it was a shock that the Eagles looked away from the defensive end position during free agency and the NFL Draft. Howie Roseman said repeatedly that the Eagles needed to get younger and faster. I guess the defensive line didn’t get the memo. The Eagles are clearly hoping that the 32-year-old starts the 2020 season just as he finished 2019.
For a time, the biggest winner of the NFL Draft on the Eagles had to be Josh Sweat. The Birds didn’t draft a defensive end until the 7th round and all signs pointed towards Sweat being the top backup pass rusher in 2020. That all changed when Vinny Curry resigned with the Eagles a couple of weeks ago.
Josh Sweat played in all 16 games last season with the Eagles and finished with 4 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The Eagles have struggled developing talent in recent years, but not here. Josh Sweat has shown he can be a situational pass rusher who struggles against the run. If Sweat gains more power and continues his development, then expect to see his snap count steadily increase on 3rd downs throughout the 2020 regular season.
Genard Avery was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns during the 2019 season for a 2021 4th round pick. He was a 5th round pick during the 2018 NFL Draft and has shown plenty of flashes. Most recently, sacking Mitch Trubisky during his first snap as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. After that, playing time was sparse to say the least, playing only 33 snaps on defense.
A couple of days ago, Eagles defensive line coach Matt Burke confirmed that Genard Avery has focused on playing defensive end this offseason. That said, Avery now joins the defensive rotation of Graham, Barnett, Sweat, Curry and Toohill. Reports indicate that Genard Avery has had a very strong offseason and looks to be an impact player during the 2020 regular season.
Daeshon Hall was terrific during the 2019 preseason where he had 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, that performance didn’t translate. Hall finished with 1 sack and 1 quarterback hit in 50 total snaps in 2019. Two weeks ago, Hall cleared waivers and reverted to the Eagles PUP list. In summary, you won’t see Daeshon Hall until at least Week 7 of the 2020 regular season.
The 2019 fourth round pick struggled to find the field last season, being inactive in 15 of 17 games. In 2020, Shareef Miller enters his second year on the team and after the Curry signing, finds himself on the outside looking. For better or worse, the Eagles are relying on Shareef Miller to continue his development and make an impact.
The bad news: The 23-year-old faces a steep hill during a shortened offseason. Shareef Miller needs time on the field to show coaches he can get to the quarterback. A virtual offseason is not the path Shareef Miller was hoping for. The good news: the NFL has expanded practice squads this season so Miller has a solid chance to earn a spot moving forward. All signs point to Shareef Miller having a difficult time getting on the field in 2020.
Joe Ostman was the winner of training camp and looked destined to make the Eagles 2019 roster until an ACL injury ended his season on August 6th. If Ostman can stay healthy, look for him to add healthy competition to the Eagles depth at defensive end. Joe Ostman recently turned 25 years old and will try and show coaches that he hasn’t lost a step.
Casey Toohill was taken in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. A focus of Toohill this offseason has been adding bulk to his 6’4 frame. Reports indicate that he’s now up to 255 pounds. Toohill will likely battle Joe Ostman and Shareef Miller for the final spot on the depth chart.
As mentioned previously, all eyes will be centered on Derek Barnett’s development this offseason. Given how critical a consistent, 4-man pass rush is for the success of Jim Schwartz’s defense, it is vital for one of the young defensive linemen on the Eagles to show progress in their development. It is time for Derek Barnett to show he was worthy of being a first-round pick. In addition to the starters, major question marks lie within the depth at the position.
Position Grade: C