In 2021, the Eagles’ defensive unit was generally uninspiring. First-time defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was widely criticized for a vanilla approach, devoid of disguise or aggression.
The numbers support this analysis. The Eagles blitzed on only 16.4% of defensive snaps, the second-fewest in the NFL. They pressured the quarterback at a lackluster rate of 24.0% (22nd best). Lastly, Philadelphia had only 29 sacks on the season (31st in the NFL). The Eagles were not disruptive enough to the opposition.
Was this basal approach philosophical, or did inferior personnel tie Gannon’s hands? Well, the offseason moves will go a long way to answering that question. The defense has been infused with superior talent across all three levels, which should alleviate any restrictions on creativity.
For starters, look for the Eagles to operate out of multiple fronts and alignments rather than being rigorously tied to the base 4-3 that was a hallmark of last year’s campaign. I would also anticipate greater use of zone coverages in the future, as it seems better suited to their current personnel in the secondary.
Predicting whether this unit will succeed in 2022 is a bit of a fool’s errand. However, it’s plain to see that this Eagles defense is chock full of talent and poised to be one of the league’s most exciting, a giant leap in just a few short months.
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
By trading up to select Davis, the Eagles made their first of several big splashes during the 2022 NFL Draft. And make no mistake, Davis makes a BIG splash in every way possible. The gargantuan 6’6”, 340-pound lineman makes an immediate impression. Davis can single-handedly occupy as many as three blockers, which has implications across the entire front. As an anchor, Davis can serve as a dominant nose tackle in a 3-4 or 5-2 front. Historically double-teamed players like Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave will now be tasked with winning 1-on-1 battles.
While Davis is impressive and transformative, be careful not to expect the hype to translate to IDP performance. He is not known as a dominant pass rusher, limiting his propensity for splash plays. Davis certainly may develop in that regard, but counting on him as anything more than a developmental player in his rookie campaign is probably a mistake. He is a remarkable athlete, but let someone else consume a roster spot unless you are willing to be patient.
From an IDP standpoint, Hargrave is likely the most valuable interior lineman in Philadelphia. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2021 that featured career highs in sacks (7.5) and tackles (63). His performance earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl, also a career first. Look for Hargrave to benefit from the attention paid to Jordan Davis, and continue his prominent ascent. He is a top 10 talent at the defensive tackle position and should be regarded accordingly.
Unfortunately, the brightest days of a franchise great and former Super Bowl champion may be in the rearview for ‘Fletch.’ Approaching his age 32 season, Cox’s statistics have been steadily declining over the last few campaigns. He had only 3.5 sacks last season and has not posted double-digit sacks since 2018. In 2021, he posted his fewest combined tackles (35) since 2017. Despite losing a battle with Father Time, Cox still has utility. He seems like a lock for 35 to 40 tackles and three to five sacks in 2022. That’s a decent floor, particularly in a DT-required league. Just be careful not to count on him as the standout force that he once was based on name recognition alone.
Another critical addition to the defense, free agent Reddick signed a massive three-year, $45 million contract to return home to Philadelphia. The product of Temple University has established himself in recent seasons as one of the NFL’s leading pass rush specialists. He brings precisely the element that the Eagles’ defense has been lacking. His 11.0 sacks in 2021 are nearly 40% of what Philadelphia posted… as a TEAM. Whether deployed as a defensive end or an outside linebacker, Reddick’s primary role will be to harass the passer and disrupt backfields. He seems destined for 60+ tackles and double-digit sacks, numbers that should put him squarely on your IDP radar. Give Reddick an ever greater bump in your rankings if your scoring system regards him as a defensive end rather than a linebacker.
At 6’5” and 265 pounds, Sweat is a lean, long-striding defensive end with tremendous burst. He can get around the edge quickly, as evidenced by his 7.5 sacks in 2021.
As a high schooler, Sweat once sustained a knee injury so gruesome that amputation was within the range of potential treatment options. He was told he would certainly never play football again. And though he’s been remarkably persistent in making a name for himself as an NFL athlete, he still carries the scars of that injury today. Many suspected that he would never be more than a rotational piece in a defensive front due to the long-term limitations of that injury. However, in 2021, the Eagles deployed Sweat in 62% of the available defensive snaps. He not only withstood the rigors of that additional usage but delivered his most productive season to date culminating in his first ever Pro Bowl appearance.
Sweat has proven that he can hold up and seems destined to be a featured piece of the Eagles’ pass rush efforts in 2021. At age 25, there is tremendous growth potential, and savvy IDP players will want to inquire about him before the price becomes prohibitive.
A hero of Super Bowl LII, Graham’s late-game strip sack ensured that he would never pay for another meal in Philadelphia. He is beloved by Eagles fans, and that feeling is reciprocated. In the twilight of his career, 34-year-old Graham has a unique appreciation of what it means to don the wings.
His experience and lighthearted approach make him uniquely suited as a leader among the defense. That leadership was sorely missed when Graham was lost for the 2021 season after sustaining a torn Achilles in Week 2 against the Niners. However, all reports are that Graham’s rehabilitation has gone incredibly well and that he will be ready to kick off the season alongside his teammates.
Though he means a lot spiritually, I also anticipate him to be active on the stat sheet. Look for him to collect somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 tackles and seven sacks on the season. He could present a real value to a contending team, mainly if you can acquire him for cheap from an owner who can’t see past his age.
The fall of Dean down NFL draft boards remains one of the most enigmatic stories of the offseason. Some speculated that injuries, one of a pectoral nature, in particular, may have been responsible for his third-round selection. Others felt that his measurables (he came up shy of six feet at the combine) may have been distasteful to personnel evaluators. Regardless, one area that can not be disputed is the game film.
Dean, an extremely intelligent linebacker, played with dazzling proficiency throughout his stellar collegiate career. He comes to the Eagles as a draft bargain, with first-round talent and something to prove. Camp will tell if he can wrestle an immediate starting opportunity, however, cementing himself as an eventual staple in the middle seems a virtual certainty. There is a considerable and rightful buzz on Dean, so acquiring him may prove expensive. Look for a slight dip if he is not installed as a starter from Day 1, as this may afford a limited buy window.
The Eagles added an under-the-radar free agent signing to their linebacker corps by inking White to a one-year ‘prove it’ deal. White looks to continue to build on his 2021 breakout, where he collected a career-high 144 tackles as a Los Angeles Charger. He’ll bring veteran leadership and attitude to a young positional group for the Eagles. Reports out of training camp have been tremendously positive thus far, and White made a big splash with an interception in limited snaps during a preseason matchup versus the Jets. White has low-end LB2 upside, depending on usage, which likely eclipses his price point. Even if he is not with the Eagles beyond 2022, White is a worthwhile IDP investment.
Often the forgotten man when discussing Eagles backers, Edwards is a sneaky value. In 2021, the former undrafted free agent posted 130 tackles, more than eight per game, out of the Eagles’ unassuming scheme. Though he does have some lateral quickness, Edwards is best defined as a thumping, run-stopper. He should have a role with this unit, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dean begin to eat into his snaps as the season wears on. However, it is important to note that Edwards is a free agent after this season, opening the possibility of a leap to a roster with a more prominent need in the coming seasons. Given his track record of performance and a discount price, you could certainly do worse than Edwards for linebacker depth on your roster.
Philadelphia’s strongest secondary element, Slay, was 2021’s 16th highest scorer among cornerbacks in IDP123 scoring. He is a strong tackler but also benefited from a career-best three touchdowns last year. And though it is reasonable to suspect some regression on those scoring plays, keep in mind that backfield disruption has been a point of emphasis for this unit. If the pass rushers can force hasty decisions from quarterbacks, ballhawks like Slay stand to benefit. I never advocate for corners in ‘defensive back’ leagues. However, in leagues that mandate cornerbacks, Slay is a solid CB2 and shouldn’t cost much at all.
New York’s loss is Philadelphia’s gain. When the incoming Giants regime found themselves drowning in the mismanaged cap of their predecessors, Bradberry, unfortunately, found himself on the chopping block. And much to the chagrin of Giant fans, the Eagles, with cap room and a desperate need for a second corner, were more than happy to swoop in.
Bradberry paired with Slay gives Philadelphia a tandem of bluechip corners, a luxury they haven’t had in some time. The signing of Bradberry also puts up potential smoke signals on the schematic direction of the defense. Bradberry has been most dominant in his career when operating in zone coverage. Jonathan Gannon started 2021 by being zone-heavy, deploying man coverage in only 26.7% of snaps for Weeks 1-7, the fewest in the league. However, limited by personnel, he was forced to dial that back considerably in Week 8 and beyond. Look for Gannon to return to a hefty reliance on zone coverages with Bradberry in town. If the Eagles do, indeed, utilize a zone scheme suited to his strengths, James Bradberry has CB1 potential in this defense.
Yes, the last time we saw Tartt, he was dropping a gift-wrapped interception that would’ve likely put the Forty-Niners in the Super Bowl. But if you dig beyond the superficial, you will find that Tartt has been a very productive safety when given the opportunity. Availability has been his primary shortcoming, with injuries significantly hampering him over his seven-year playing career. He is a stout tackler and will likely be utilized as a strong safety with box coverage responsibilities. This is music to the IDP player’s ear, as these roles frequently translate to valuable tackle statistics. Tartt is a free pickup in most leagues, so the investment is minimal. Put him on the end of your roster, and if he can stave off injury and carve out a role, he could be a contributing piece to a playoff run.
In 2021, a lack of qualified personnel limited the Philadelphia defensive coaching staff to an uninspired, benign approach. However, with an infusion of offseason talent, this unit will no longer have the crutch of lackluster talent to fall back on. The additions of rookies and veterans alike have unlocked seemingly limitless schematic possibilities, and ownership will be expecting performative strides.
Look for the Eagles to utilize multiple looks in their defensive front to generate pressure. In turn, they will likely lean on a suddenly robust linebacking corps for frontline insurance. The secondary is also well stocked, particularly at the corner position, leading to increased turnovers.
Overall, this Eagles defense is a unit on the rise and is full of top-notch, under-the-radar fantasy talent. Spread your wings, snatch up these gems, and soar to the heights of IDP champion!
I thoroughly enjoyed bringing you this piece, and would love to continue the conversation on IDPs of the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles. Please feel free to comment below or contact me @Spydes78 on Twitter. And also, stay tuned to @DynastyNerds for a steady pipeline of content from our eminently qualified staff to carry you through your offseason. Enjoy the grind!