Eagles: Grading the Offseason Moves on Defense

Key Additions: CB Darius Slay, DT Javon Hargrave, S Will Parks, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, LB Jatavis Brown, *LB Davion Taylor, *S K’Von Wallace (*draft pick)

Key departures: S Malcolm Jenkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Ronald Darby

It was an active offseason on the defensive side of the ball for Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office, and the jury is out on whether or not this slight makeover is for better or worse. One thing Howie made sure of is that they added speed at LB, and speed in the secondary. Here are the current grades for how each position was addressed this offseason:

Defensive tackle: A

In: Javon Hargrave

Out: Timmy Jernigan

The addition of Javon Hargrave isn’t the headliner that Darius Slay or Jalen Reagor are, but he could be the most impactful newcomer.

He’s a clear upgrade from Timmy Jernigan, and the Eagles now boast a two-deep of Cox-Hargrave-Jackson-Ridgeway up the middle—that’s arguably the best DT group in the league. Cox and Jackson already presented plenty of pass rush juice up the middle, and Hargrave adds another layer to that with his bull rush and ability to finish plays.

Hargrave also grades out well in run defense, as he does a good job of eating up blockers. In the last three seasons the Eagles have been elite or near-elite at stopping the run, and that trend figures to continue in 2020. Easy “A” for this group.

Defensive End: “Incomplete” (tentative ‘D’)

In/out: no significant changes

It’s hard to grade this position given the feeling that they’ll make another move or two here. Obviously Jadeveon Clowney is the big ticket name, but the more obvious shoe waiting to drop is the re-signing of Vinny Curry.

Though even with Curry back in the fold, I don’t love the Graham-Barnett-Curry-Sweat foursome as much as some. I think the team needs more of a pass rush threat in their rotation on the edge, and none of those four are legitimate problems for opposing quarterbacks. I’ve been clamoring this offseason for them to add a veteran pass rush-specialist on a short deal, but that seems unlikely at this point—though there are still a few out there.

If things hold like this my grade is a “D”, if they somehow pull off a deal with Clowney it’s an “A”, and if they simply bring back Curry then I’ll upgrade it to a “C”.

Linebacker: B –

In: *Davion Taylor, Jatavis Brown

Out: Nigel Bradham

I like what the Eagles have going at LB compared to last season. Obviously the loss of Bradham is a huge chunk of experience/production gone from the middle of the defense, but TJ Edwards is a promising replacement at MIKE, and Davion Taylor and Jatavis Brown are exciting new options to play weakside backer and in sub-package roles.

Here’s more on Edwards from PFF:

“T.J. Edwards earned an 86.6 overall PFF grade as a rookie, which would rank him among the best linebackers in the game if he played more than just 112 total snaps. Why this is interesting, though, is that he had back-to-back seasons with a grade above 90.0 at Wisconsin before going undrafted due to mediocre measurables and athletic profile. His NFL preseason grade was also consistently good, meaning Edwards has been an exceptionally productive linebacker at every level we have seen. He also excelled in coverage — unusual for a player with athletic limitations. He has a real shot to start for the Eagles this season and could be one of the surprise breakout players in 2020.”

I’ve been hearing murmurs about Edwards for a while, and the hype train is clearly taking off.

As far as Davion Taylor—the Eagles third round pick—he’s a raw, yet extremely athletic and rangy backer with rare speed for the position. He’ll need a little time to fully develop, but he could see action in certain sub-packages and on special teams from day one. There’s a lot of potential in this kid.

Cornerback: B +

In: Darius Slay, Nickell Robey-Coleman

Out: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills (technically)

Out goes Darby, in comes Slay—a huge upgrade. Throw in the signing of Nickell Robey-Coleman to compete in the slot with LeBlanc and Maddox and this is an easy B+.

The Eagles have had coverage problems for a long time, and Slay is the number one corner they’ve been searching a decade for. He’s not the island corner he used to be, but he’ll be playing a lot of off-coverage with single man-responsibilities in occasional situations.

If the Birds can figure out the number two corner opposite Slay on the outside (Jones? Maddox?) then they’ll be set in the secondary for 2020.

Safety: C +

In: Will Parks, *K’Von Wallace, Mills (technically)

Out: Malcolm Jenkins

I think the Eagles ‘broke even’ here. The loss of Jenkins is huge no matter how you cut it, but I think Howie did a great job of supplementing that with the addition of Will Parks, K’Von Wallace, and the conversion of Jalen Mills to safety.

Each of those players can do a little bit of what Jenkins brought to the table, and while there may be a drop off in presence at the LOS and as a sub-LB, those three will likely be an upgrade from Jenkins in coverage underneath and on the back end.

I wouldn’t argue with you if wanted to give this a “B -”, but I’ll take a wait-and-see approach before declaring this new group of safeties a true upgrade after the loss of Jenkins.

Overall: B +

Adding Slay and Hargrave, supplemented by Parks, Robey-Coleman, Davion Taylor, K’Von Wallace, and Jatavis Brown is a decent haul, and a clear upgrade even with the loss of Jenkins, Jernigan, Darby, and Bradham. At the end of the day the team fortified the line, added speed on the back end, and gained a true number one corner. Good job by Howie.

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