While it’s not their most pressing need, it’s become clear throughout the 2021 season that the Eagles need to add some new blood to their defensive end position.
Josh Sweat has been the lone bright spot at the position this year, recording five sacks and 11 quarterback hits on the year. The rest of the defensive end rotation (Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tarron Jackson) have combined for just three sacks on the year.
Brandon Graham will be back next season, but at age 34 years old and coming off a torn achilles, assuming he’ll be the same old BG is a little too optimistic.
With three first round picks at their disposal, expect Howie Roseman and Co. to address this need through the upcoming NFL Draft. Luckily for them, this draft class is loaded with talent along the defensive line. They’ll more than likely take multiple defensive lineman throughout draft weekend.
At this point, it’s fair to assume the Eagles will be out of the Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux sweepstakes. But nevertheless, there should be several quality defensive ends available when the Eagles are on the clock.
Here are five defensive end prospects to keep an eye on until the NFL Draft begins in April.
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George Karlaftis, Purdue
Outside of Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, Purdue’s Goerge Karlaftis it typically one of the more popular EDGE rushing names in the country. While his sack numbers aren’t astounding — 14 sacks over his three-year collegiate career — he’s a player that can fill almost any hole along a defensive line. And it’s important to note that his sack numbers were drastically impacted by the COVID pandemic — he only played in three games during the 2020 season.
Standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 270 pounds, he has the frame to play on the edge or along the interior. He may very well be the best power rusher in this year’s draft. Karlaftis doesn’t possess the ungodly athleticism and quickness that we typically see out of top-end defensive end prospects, but he more than makes up for it with his refined block shedding ability. His stout block shedding acumen has made him a force in not only creating pressure, but defending the run as well.
His 75.1 run-defense grade on Pro Football Focus is in the upper echelon of college pass rushers this season.
Not to mention the Purdue product is a “Football Guy” through and through. He’d fit in perfectly in Philly.
David Ojabo, Michigan
While Karlaftis doesn’t check the “freakish athletically” box, David Ojabo out of Michigan certainly checks that box and then some. He uses his 6’5”, 250 pound frame to perfection, providing exceptional power behind his quickness and speed off the edge.
Coming into the 2021 season, Ojabo wasn’t a household name by any means. He burst onto the scene this year, producing 11 sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 23 hurries.
His small sample size will turn some off, which could affect his draft stock. But ultimately, NFL scouts look for potential more than anything and Ojabo presents All-Pro upside at the next level.
There is a chance he stays put at Michigan in 2022 to further cement his status as a can’t miss NFL prospect. But if he does decide to enter the draft, he should be available in the 10-20 range, exactly where the bulk of the Eagles first round picks will be slotted.
Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare may prove to be the most versatile defensive end prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. He has the frame to play any position along the defensive line, and he’s done just that throughout his South Carolina career. He’s also been asked to drop into coverage from time to time, further showcasing the versatility he brings to the field.
Enagbare is a sound edge defender, both against the ground game and when getting after the passer. He’s displayed a pallet of pass rushing moves during his time in college. He can utilize the swim to maneuver around some of the best lineman in the country, while also providing stout push/pull techniques to get around blockers.
He has had a bit of an injury history at South Carolina, which could concern some scouts. He had hip surgery during the 2019-’20 season, but his performance the following season wouldn’t suggest any setbacks. He also missed time at the end of 2020 with injury.
Injury history has never impacted how the Eagles view prospects (i.e. Sidney Jones, Landon Dickerson), so it’s doubtful it would impact the way they perceive Enagbare.
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
While Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie may not be a lock to go in the first round, he’s a perfect day two prospect that several teams will have their eyes on.
The first thing many scouts notice when putting on the tape of this Penn State product is his explosiveness. And more importantly, how quickly he can create that explosiveness. Standing at just 6’3”, it’s pretty remarkable that Ebitketie is able to play with the power he showcases week in and week out.
He’s a twitchy pass rusher who can turn momentum against a lineman at a moment’s notice. He’s also very good at converting his vertical movement to lateral movement, which helps him when defending the run and turning the edge.
Ebitketie doesn’t jump off the screen at you like some of the top-end talent in this year’s draft class, but he’s more than capable of becoming a stout defensive end at the next level.
Drake Jackson, USC
Drake Jackson out of USC may be an odd fit in Jonathan Gannon’s defensive system, but he’s worth mentioning as a potential SAM backer replacement for Genard Avery. And in reality, he has the tools to be a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, he just needs to refine some of his skills there.
Jackson has great pass rushing skills. He relies a little too heavily on his athleticism to beat lineman off the edge, which could make him an ideal rotational pass rusher from day one. Against the run, Jackson does struggle some. If a running play is coming his way, he’s not the best at disengaging and setting the edge. He’s been criticized as a finesse player from time to time.
What makes Jackson such an alluring draft prospect is his upside. Has has great size at 6’4”, 250 pounds, and his athleticism lends itself to a lot of potential at the next level.
If the Eagles were to draft Jackson, he wouldn’t be asked to be a starter from day one, which will help in his development. A year or two down the line, Jackson could carve out a significant role within Gannon’s scheme.