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IDP Fantasy Forecast: 2021 Philadelphia Eagles

Our latest in the 32 Teams in 32 Days series, @Spydes78 gives you a full rundown on the Eagles’ defense and tells you which #IDP you need to know in Philadelphia. #FlyEaglesFly

2020 Recap

After an unsuccessful (29-51) run as head coach of the Lions and a short stint on the Bills’ staff, Jim Schwartz was hired as the defensive coordinator of the Eagles in January of 2016.  He would serve in this capacity for five years under head coach Doug Pederson.

For the Eagles, the Schwartz era was paradoxical in many aspects.  It was certainly not without successes.  The most notable among them being the franchise’s first championship in over 50 years.  However, critics often pointed to deficiencies of the scheme that Schwartz stubbornly refused to address.  

Cornerbacks would not press at the line, affording a maddeningly reliable cushion for opposing offenses to exploit.  The defensive line often relied on the much maligned ‘wide 9’ concept to generate pressure.  This outstretched alignment was vulnerable to interior rush penetration.  Schwartz was reluctant to blitz, instead consistently relying on the front four to rattle the quarterback.  Perhaps most damning, Schwartz did not emphasize turnovers as a priority.  His philosophy of takeaways being mere happenstance left Philadelphia as a middling unit, averaging 22nd in takeaways over the final 3 seasons of Schwartz’ tenure.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2020 campaign was the epitome of the outlined inconsistency.  A talented defensive front relentlessly harassed quarterbacks and produced the 3rd most sacks in the league with 49.  However, this same unit was gouged in the run, allowing 2012 rushing yards on the ground (ranking 23rd).  A patchwork secondary managed to hold opponents to 3798 passing yards, finishing a respectable 15th in the league.  However, in the stat that ultimately matters most, the Eagles defense surrendered 418 points, stumbling to a lowly 20th best finish.

When head coach Doug Pederson was sent packing after posting a disastrous 4-11-1 record, Jim Schwartz opted to move on as well.  Into town came the dynamic Jonathan Gannon to lead the defense into the future.  And though Gannon has been steadfast about adapting schemes to suit his players, his strongest influence comes from Vikings’ boss Mike Zimmer.  A great deal of ambiguity persists about the Eagles defensive identity going forward.  However, it is reasonable to suspect that significant changes are on the way for the 2021 squad.

Linebacker

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Eric Wilson

Overview

Woefully cap strapped, the Eagles were not in position to make many personnel upgrades during free agency.  However, Eric Wilson is one of the few imports that Philadelphia did manage to bring into the fold.  

With Vikings’ pedigree, Wilson’s knowledge of the defense obviously made him an attractive target for Jonathan Gannon.  Serving largely in a backup role during his first 3 seasons in the league, Wilson took advantage of key injuries to Minnesota’s 2020 linebacking corps to break out in a big way.  After assembling 122 combined tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 sacks, and 8 tackles for a loss, he was no longer content to return to his previous support role.  

Wilson joins an Eagles unit in desperate need of linebacking help, and is poised to make immediate contributions.  Look for him to contribute at both the WILL and MIKE positions, depending on sub packages dictated by game flow.  Given his familiarity with Gannon and the scheme, I anticipate Wilson to enjoy a high snap share, which could make him a sneaky upside option for 2021.  However, Wilson is presently secured on a precarious one-year contract so his outlook beyond this season is far more uncertain.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  367.6 (LB70 overall, including all players with LB eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Buy. At his current ADP, Eric Wilson is a criminally underrated asset.  Sure, there’s no long term commitment from the team, and his breakout season could prove to be a fluke.  But, for a player who finished as the 11th (!) highest scoring linebacker in IDP123 scoring last year, Wilson is completely worth the negligible investment presently required.  A 26 year old with a head start on scheme and no considerable competition makes for a fantastic dynasty investment.
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Alex Singleton

Overview

Like his teammate Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton labored on the backend of the Eagles roster in a support role before a big time breakout in 2020.  

Singleton originally signed with the Eagles in 2019 after earning considerable acclaim in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders.  Despite playing in 10 games, his first NFL season was of little consequence statistically.  However, in 2020 injuries afforded him increased playing time, and Alex capitalized on the opportunity.

Assembling 120 combined tackles, 1 interception, 2 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss in only 11 games started, Alex Singleton burst onto the IDP scene.  Despite logging only 774 defensive snaps, Singleton still finished as the 21st most prolific scorer in IDP123 settings.

Looking forward, I anticipate Singleton to be a secondary part of the Eagles linebacking corps serving in a MIKE capacity.  Wilson will likely fill the MIKE role in nickel packages and relinquish the spot to Singleton when in a more conventional run-stopping base alignment.  Barring injuries, Wilson and Singleton should log the most defensive snaps of the linebacking group.  Thus, it is reasonable to suspect that Singleton will sustain value in the new system.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  298.8 (LB58 overall, including all players with LB eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Buy. Much like Wilson, Singleton is currently available at an incredible discount.  Though his road to the NFL has been somewhat unconventional, he has accrued tackles at a staggering rate when given the opportunity.  Based on anticipated snap volume, I would actually prioritize the acquisition of Wilson.  However, Singleton too remains a buy candidate due to his cheap price and demonstrated upside.  People seem dubious of Singleton’s ability to sustain his success.  Take advantage of this doubt, and grab a potential big time contributor for pennies on the dollar.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ryan Kerrigan

Overview

Ryan Kerrigan was deemed expendable in free agency due to the emergence of Chase Young and Montez Sweat in Washington.  Thus, the seasoned pass rush specialist comes to Philadelphia on a one year deal with aspirations of turning back the clock on a celebrated career.

Despite receiving only 397 defensive snaps in 2020, Kerrigan still managed to collect 5.5 sacks.  If you project this sack rate against the 791 snaps that Kerrigan had averaged from 2015-2019, he would have posted nearly 11 sacks.  Thus, it seems that declining opportunity, and not talent, are chiefly to blame for his drop off.

Enter the Eagles.  Likely to deploy a hybrid of defensive schemes, there exists a significant opportunity for a pass rushing outside linebacker.  The early reports are that this is precisely the role that Kerrigan will fill with the team.  And though he may occasionally chip a tight end or stunt at the line, he will not likely be asked to drop into coverage.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than LB86 overall, including all players with LB eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Buy. At 32 years old, Kerrigan is in the twilight of his career.  However, if you are a contender and in need of immediate linebacker help, you could certainly do worse.  Particularly valuable in scoring systems which place a high value on splash plays like sacks and tackles for loss, Kerrigan is likely available for free on your waivers right now.  With a defined opportunity and the upside of double digit sacks, why not take a flyer on a player with dual DL/LB eligibility like Ryan Kerrigan?

Defensive Line

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Fletcher Cox

Overview

As the most dominant defensive player for the Eagles, All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been a face of the franchise for several years.  He routinely collapses the pocket and has the ability to completely take over a game.

Format is an important distinction when valuing Cox for IDP, though.  In leagues where defensive tackles have an independent starting requirement or are afforded a scoring premium, Cox is an elite option.  However, leagues with a generalized defensive line requirement significantly diminish his worth.  Generally speaking, it is difficult for defensive tackles to statistically compete with edge rushers.

As evidence, consider that on Sleeper, where all lineman are bunched together, Cox finished as the 44th best DL in 2020 using IDP123 scoring.  However, depending on how you define positional eligibility, Cox qualified as a top 10 defensive tackle in the same season.

Cresting the age of 30, longevity is also starting to be a concern for Fletcher Cox.  At a position of maximum violence, the productivity dropoff can be rather abrupt.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than DL57 overall, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Buy. I am starting to feel like a broken record, but this Eagles defense is generally overlooked based on the ADP.  Though the data is sourced from Sleeper which utilizes a combined DL designation that diminishes defensive tackles, Cox is presently going undrafted in startups.  He may not be your top option in that format, but he is certainly deserving of a roster spot.  
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Brandon Graham

Overview

Forever a hero in Philadelphia for his infamous strip of Tom Brady in the waning moments of Super Bowl LII, Brandon Graham continues to elude Father Time.  

In 2020, at age 32, the defensive end played in all 16 games, logging 46 combined tackles, 8.0 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss.  These stats contributed to a 23rd place finish for the season among defensive lineman in IDP123 scoring.  For reference, this placement was superior to IDP staples Cam Jordan, Chris Jones, and Maxx Crosby.  Not bad for an old man.

Still, forecasting Graham’s 2021 outlook is a bit complicated.  He has enjoyed great success with the spread alignment utilized by Jim Schwartz, and the impact of a pending scheme change remains unclear.  Additionally, though he has been resilient, Graham’s age is bound to catch up to him.  

The talent is undeniably still there, but how long will it last and will injuries start to become a factor?  These are the questions that make Brandon Graham a complex evaluation.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than DL57 overall, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Hold. Frankly, I think that valuing guys like Folorunso Fatukasi and Dennis Gardeck above Graham is a big mistake.  However, I understand and accept that in dynasty formats youth is king.  At this stage in his career, Brandon Graham is not an ideal fit for every roster which is why I’m not listing him as a buy candidate.  However, if you are a contending team and looking to bolster your defensive line depth, Graham should be on your radar.  If you own him, you are not likely to net much in a trade.  You’d be far better off locking in his immediate contributions while stashing young DL depth behind Graham to replace him once the sun has set on his career.
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Derek Barnett

Overview

As a first round selection, Derek Barnett entered the league in 2017 dripping with potential as a pass rusher.  After breaking Reggie White’s all-time career sack record at the University of Tennessee, there was every reason to expect big things from the young buck.  However, as we approach his fifth season in the NFL, that potential is yet to be realized as a pro and confidence is waning.

While Barnett has not been a complete failure in his short career, he has been capped at season highs of 6.5 sacks (in 2019) and 34 combined tackles (in 2020).  Essentially, he’s been serviceable as an NFL player but not explosive enough to warrant serious IDP consideration.  Any remaining value as an asset is based purely on optimism. 

Could he turn it around and become a significant player?  Absolutely.  But at this point in his career, the odds seem stacked against such a dramatic turnaround.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than DL57 overall, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Sell/Hold. If you can locate an owner in your league that is still infatuated with the potential once held by Barnett, I would advocate that you take what you can get and move on.  This is the sell component of my recommendation.  However, I suspect that finding a suitor for Barnett will be challenging, given his struggles.  If indeed this is the case, then I suggest that you hold onto him.  Treat him as you would a backend developmental stash, and monitor his season.  If, by midseason, it’s looking like more of the same, then consider dropping him for a higher upside candidate.  But given the capital that you’ve likely invested, it’s best to be sure before you discard him prematurely and live to regret it.
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Josh Sweat

Overview

Selected in the 4th round of the 2018 draft, Josh Sweat was viewed as a high potential, developmental pick.  The rangy edge defender terrorized backfields during an illustrious Florida State career.  However, concerns abound about a high school knee injury so severe that Sweat once faced a real possibility of amputation.

In 2020, Sweat remained largely healthy and continued his ascension as a pro.  He finished the season with 38 combined tackles, 6.0 sacks, and 9 tackles for a loss.  At first glance you’re likely to be unimpressed with these totals.  Indeed they are remarkably similar to those of Derek Barnett, a player that I just labeled as uninspiring.  The key difference is that Sweat posted his stats while receiving 114 less snaps than Barnett.

The new coaching staff bears no allegiance to the draft capital of the former administration.  Instead, they have continuously preached that competition will rule the day, with players set to jostle for jobs in training camp and beyond.  To date, playing time appears to be the only obstacle that Josh Sweat has yet to overcome, with the prior staff being obligated to Derek Barnett.  As a player in the final year of his rookie deal, Sweat is sure to be motivated to earn himself a big contract, whether in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  395.7 (DL56, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Buy. Josh Sweat has been an incredibly efficient pass rusher with limited snaps.  It is certainly possible that the Eagles have limited his playing time due to concerns about overworking a knee with a significant surgical history.  However, we can’t dismiss the possibility that Sweat has simply been blocked on the depth chart by the underperforming Barnett.  At age 24, and with the potential for a breakout on the horizon, Sweat is an ideal buy candidate heading into the 2021 season.

Defensive Back

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Anthony Harris

Overview

As another Vikings expat, Harris joined the Eagles on a low-cost, one year deal during the offseason.  Much like Eric Wilson, Harris was a priority addition based on his play and his familiarity with the scheme.

In Minnesota, Harris had to fight for every opportunity.  He originally made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2015.  As a player on the backend of the roster, Harris embraced his role as a special teams contributor and did not eclipse a 23% defensive snap share in any of his first 3 NFL seasons.  

Ultimately, his patience was rewarded when he earned consistent starter reps while enjoying a breakout season in 2019.  After posting 60 combined tackles and 6 interceptions, the Vikings elected to apply the franchise tag to Harris for the 2020 season.  And though the interceptions dried up in his second season as starter, Harris would follow-up with 104 combined tackles.

He joins an Eagles defense in desperate need of consistency in the secondary.  Barring injury, I would anticipate a nearly 100% snap share, as an undisputed starter regardless of sub package.  

Given that he will turn 30 before the end of the 2021 season, and that the contractual commitment is lacking, I do have concerns about Harris as a long term play.  However, as a low rent or streaming option, his tackle floor should make him more than serviceable. 

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than DB49 overall, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Hold. Based on the reliable snap opportunity present for Harris, there’s no reason to move him.  He presents a dependable option for your secondary and will not likely cause you to lose a matchup.  However, there are undeniably superior options available if you’re looking to stand out at defensive back.  Harris is best suited as a end of roster or streaming option in 2021.
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rodney McLeod

Overview

Rodney McLeod came to the Eagles in 2016 after 3 years as a dependable starter for the Rams.  His recent tenure in Philadelphia has been marred by serious injuries.  In 2018, McLeod logged only 3 games before an ACL tear ended his season.  He would rebound in 2019, but was still forced to fight through a shoulder injury, which would ultimately require surgery.  Then in 2020, his season was again cut short by an ACL injury to the opposite knee.

During a recent press availability, McLeod indicated that his rehab from the latest ailment is going well and that his goal is to be available for Week 1 in 2021.  When healthy, he has been a dependable contributor averaging roughly 70 combined tackles per year in recent seasons.  However, at age 31 and with a mounting injury history, it is entirely reasonable to be concerned about McLeod as a dynasty asset.

Value

  • Sleeper IDP ADP (as of 6/29/21):  NA (lower than DB49 overall, including all players with DL eligibility)
  • Buy/Hold/Sell:  Sell. I use the term “sell” loosely, in this case.  The truth is that McLeod has minimal IDP value and there is not likely to be a buyer for his services.  His age and injury history conspire to render him unappealing.  There are likely better candidates available on your waiver wire.  Drop McLeod and grab a younger defensive back with upside.

I thoroughly enjoyed bringing you this piece, and would love to continue the conversation on the Eagles’ defensive prospects for 2021 and beyond.  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!

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