Eagles: Josh Sweat is the biggest defensive x-factor

When we breakdown which players on the Eagles roster carry the most value heading into the 2022 NFL season, most fans typically point to Jalen Hurts. He’s the quarterback, so yeah. No surprise there.

Outside of Jalen Hurts, the most important player on the roster is up for debate.

You could go with Darius Slay, Jason Kelce, or even newly added Haason Reddick. But the one player who could truly elevate the Eagles to new heights next season is Josh Sweat.

He had a breakout year in 2021, posting 7.5 sacks, 45 combined tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus handed Sweat a 76.1 defensive grade on the season, good for 21st out of 106 qualifying defensive ends. His pass-rushing grade was similarly strong, finishing the year with a 76.0 mark, which ranked 27th.

These are solid numbers for any starting defensive end. The most exciting part about Sweat is that he’s just scratching the surface of his potential and with a full-year as a starter under his belt, his leap in development could be dramatic this year.

For most of the starters along the Eagles defensive line, they are what they are. We know what Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox bring to the table at this stage of their careers. We know how good Reddick is, along with Javon Hargrave. As for Sweat, we don’t know exactly how great he is just yet. But, we do know his potential is through the roof.

Compiling over 7 sacks in a season is easier said than done. Sweat was able to accomplish that without being a consistent force week in and week out during the 2021 season. 5 of his 7.5 sacks came in three games — against the Lions, Jets, and Commanders. 66% of his sack production occurred in approximately 17% of his starts last season.

Having multiple sack efforts is great, but putting together an entire season with that kind of sack production is even better. That’s where Sweat needs to improve the most in order to reach his full potential.

There’s reason to believe Sweat will take a major leap this season

Sweat’s production has increased every year he’s been in the NFL. And while his 2021 season can be labeled as a breakout campaign, his jump in production from 2020-’21 wasn’t as great as it could have been.

In 2020, Sweat played 43% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and managed to tally 6 sacks on just 14 pressures. This past season, Sweat wasn’t as efficient at converting his pressures to sacks. He logged 62% of the team’s defensive snaps and notched 7.5 sacks on 25 total pressures. Sweat converted 42% of his pressures into sacks in 2020, while only converting 30% of his pressure into sacks last year.

That can somewhat be attributed to the change in defensive scheme. Jim Schwartz allowed his pass rushers to scream up the field towards the quarterback on nearly every play. The wide-9 alignment was utilized often to ensure his defensive ends created havoc in the pocket as much as possible.

Jonathan Gannon values gap control over a constant pass rush, which led to some growing pains for Sweat and the rest of the defensive line. Nevertheless, entering their second year under Gannon’s guidance, the defensive line should be much more comfortable and it should allow them to play more freely. Which in turn should create more pressure and sacks.

It goes without saying that Sweat has the highest ceiling of any projected starter along the Eagles defensive line right now. With the trajectory he’s been on, along with added continuity and experience playing under Gannon, 2022 could be the true Josh Sweat breakout season we’ve been waiting for.

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