Welcome to the NFC East Positional Power Rankings!  Now that the NFL draft is over, we will be breaking down 1 position group per week and power ranking each unit in the division.  We have already covered every offensive position group and so today we are turning our attention to the defensive side of the ball and talking about each teams’ defensive line*.

*For the purposes of the breakdown, the top pass-rushing linebacker for 3-4 teams will be grouped in with defensive linemen

If you missed any of the previous articles in our series you can check them out here:

1) Philadelphia Eagles

The Depth Chart & 2020 Stats

  • Derek Barnett – 34 tackles, 6 TFL, 16 QB hits, 5.5 sacks
  • Javon Hargrave – 38 tackles, 5 TFL, 8 QB hits, 4.5 sacks
  • Fletcher Cox – 41 tackles, 9 TFL, 9 QB hits, 6.5 sacks
  • Brandon Graham – 46 tackles, 13 TFL, 16 QB hits, 8 sacks
  • Ryan Kerrigan – 17 tackles, 5 TFL, 6 QB hits, 5.5 sacks
  • Milton Williams – Rookie
  • Josh Sweat – 38 tackles, 9 TFL, 12 QB hits, 6 sacks

The Eagles have run a 4-3 style defense over the last several seasons under Jim Schwartz, who predicated his defensive scheme on rushing the passer with 4 while dropping 7 into coverage.  You could argue that the Eagles have over-invested into the defensive line at the expense of the rest of the defense, but you can’t argue that they have built one of the better pass-rushing units in the league.  In 2020, the Eagles pressured opposing QBs on 38.4% of all dropbacks which ranked 3rd in the league.  They did so while only blitzing on 18.1% of all plays, good for 29th in the league.  They sent extra rushers at the 3rd lowest rate in the league and still managed to have the 3rd highest pressure rate, an impressive feat for a defense that was fairly porous in coverage.

Jim Schwartz is gone now, and the Eagles seem to be gearing up for more blitz packages in 2021 moving Genard Avery from DE to OLB and drafting Patrick Johnson who best fits into the role of an overhang defender at the NFL level.  The signing of Ryan Kerrigan also seems to reflect this change in mentality.

This unit has long-term questions as Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are both aging and it is fair to wonder if a rapid falloff in their play is on the horizon.  Derek Barnett has failed to live up to his draft slot and is in the final year of his rookie deal.  But Javon Hargrave hit his stride late last season and Josh Sweat had a breakout season.   The Eagles’ defensive line should be, once again, one of the better units in the league in 2021.

2) Washington Football Team 

The Depth Chart & 2020 Stats

  • Chase Young – 44 tackles, 10 TFL, 12 QB hits, 7.5 sacks
  • Da’Ron Payne – 54 tackles, 7 TFL, 8 QB hits, 3 sacks
  • Jonathan Allen – 63 tackles, 3 TFL, 14 QB hits, 2 sacks
  • Montez Sweat – 45 tackles, 12 TFL, 20 QB hits, 9 sacks
  • Matt Ioannidis – 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 QB hits, 1.5 sacks
  • Tim Settle – 19 tackles, 5 TFL, 7 QB hits, 5 sacks

The Washington Football team is transitioning from a 3-4 defensive front into a 4-3 and Ryan Kerrigan became a casualty of that transition.  Rookie Chase Young had a fantastic season last year, one of the better rookie seasons for an EDGE defender in recent history.  Jonathan Allen was a force for the team with a 17% pass rush win rate.  He is a much more disruptive player than his sack totals show.  Da’Ron Payne is a solid run defender and Montez Sweat is a dynamic player off of the edge.  

This unit has a better long-term outlook than the Eagles unit as the average age of their projected starters is 24 years old compared to the Eagles’ average starter age of nearly 29 years old.  The Football Team has invested 4 first-round picks into the defensive line in the last 5 drafts including the selection of a generational prospect in Chase Young and as such has a nearly limitless long-term upside.

3) Dallas Cowboys 

The Depth Chart & 2020 Stats

  • Demarcus Lawrence – 58 tackles, 11 TFL, 10 QB hits, 6.5 sacks
  • Carlos Watkins – 27 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 QB hits, 2 sacks
  • Trysten Hill – 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 QB hits
  • Neville Gallimore – 28 tackles, 4 TFL, 4 QB hits, 0.5 sacks
  • Randy Gregory – 21 tackles, 4 TFL, 12 QB hits, 3.5 sacks

The Dallas Cowboys are moving from a traditional 4-3 defense into a more hybrid defense, which is often coach speak for acquiring mismatched players who don’t fit a specific scheme and assuming you can just figure it out later.  You could consider Micah Parsons as part of this group, but for the purposes of this exercise, I left him with the linebackers since we haven’t yet seen the Cowboys make the transition.  

Demarcus Lawrence is a high-caliber EDGE in the NFL, but beyond him, the Cowboys pass-rushing group is a little bare.  Aldon Smith is gone and that will likely lead to more of a load being placed on Randy Gregory, a player who graded out well last season but failed to notch many sacks.  

Given the state of the Cowboys secondary, this group will need to take another step forward to try and mask the deficiencies in the secondary.

4) New York Giants 

The Depth Chart & 2020 Stats

  • Leonard Williams – 57 tackles, 14 TFL, 30 QB hits, 11.5 sacks
  • Austin Johnson – 18 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 sack
  • Dexter Lawrence – 53 tackles, 6 TFL, 10 QB hits, 4 sacks
  • Azeez Ojulari – Rookie 2nd round pick

The Giants are the only team in the division that is projected to run a traditional 3-4 style defense in 2021.  Leonard Williams had a great year in 2020, notching 11.5 sacks and 30 QB hits from the defensive tackle position.  The Giants had a top 10 defense in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry.  However, their upside is limited by the lack of a true edge threat.  In 2020 they got the majority of their pressure from the interior defensive line.  They have attempted to address that problem with the selection of Azeez Ojulari in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft.  Only time will tell how much of an immediate impact he will be able to have for the team.