Entering the 2022 offseason, bolstering the pass rush was one of the main priorities for the Eagles front office. They managed to snag Haason Reddick on the first day of free agency, and although he doesn’t technically play defensive end, his primary role will be getting after the passer.
Looking specifically at the defensive end position in Philly, Howie Roseman actually didn’t add… anyone.
The return of Brandon Graham from injury could be labeled an addition, but at 34 years old and fresh off an Achilles injury, assuming he’ll return good as new is a bit overly optimistic. Derek Barnett will be back as a rotational piece, Josh Sweat will remain a starter, and guys like Matt Leo and Tarron Jackson will fill out the depth chart. The defensive end position for the Eagles is essentially the same as it was last year, with the exception of Ryan Kerrigan.
Let’s take a look at the projected starters and the depth behind them as we breakdown the strengths and weaknesses of the group.
Let’s kick things of with the team uncle, BG. Graham has always been a fan favorite and even if he doesn’t have a great year following his season-ending injury, that won’t change.
Graham was a late bloomer in the NFL and his last two seasons prior to 2021 were some of his most productive. From 2019-’20, Graham tallied 16.5 sacks, 96 total tackles, 28 tackles for loss, and 33 quarterback hits. He’s always been a Pro Football Focus favorite as well. From 2012 to 2020, Graham only had one season in which his overall defensive grade dipped under 80. During that time, his average defensive grade was 85.5.
While he’ll technically be a starter in 2022, his playing time likely won’t be as high as it was in recent years. From 2015 to 2020, Graham played an average of 72.1% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. Given his age and the new-ish scheme Jonathan Gannon will likely implement this season, I don’t envision Graham playing over 70% of the snaps. And to be clear, that’s a good thing for both Graham and the team. Keeping BG healthy and rested throughout the year will only heighten his impact when he is on the field.
On the opposite side of the line, we have Josh Sweat, who could prove to be an x-factor for this Eagles defense in 2022. He had his best season to date last year, recording 7.5 sacks, 45 combined tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 9 quarterback hits while logging 62% of the team’s defensive snaps — by far the most playing time Sweat has gotten in a season during his four-year career.
Sweat also earned his first, of hopefully many, Pro Bowl nods last season. He has all the athletic ability in the world and has all the makings of a 10+-sacks-a-year guy, he just needs to find ways to be more consistent.
Sweat had a handful of noteworthy games in 2021. He tallied multiple sacks against the Lions, Jets, and Washington, but he also had stretches where he barely showed up on the stat sheet. From Week 9-12, Sweat only managed to record 4 total tackles and 3 quarterback hits, while posting a goose egg in the sack category. During those games, Sweat averaged 64.5% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps.
For Sweat to cement his status as top-tier pass rusher in this league, finding more consistency will be priority No. 1.
The first edge rusher off the bench will likely be Barnett, who resigned with Philly on a two-year deal worth up to $14M this offseason. As was expected, Philly fans weren’t exactly thrilled when that news broke. Nevertheless, Barnett is still just 26 years old and in his reduced role this year, he should be able to provide production off the bench.
Playing under Gannon in 2021, Barnett struggled. Logging 68% of the defensive snaps, Barnett only tallied 2 sacks, 46 combined tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 11 quarterback hits. His 61.8 PFF defensive grade was the second-lowest of his career and his 60.8 pass-rushing grade was the lowest mark he’s earned throughout his five years in the NFL.
Still, the Eagles need quality depth at the defensive end position. If nothing else, Barnett provides that. Regardless of your thoughts on the guy, having a full year in Gannon’s scheme under his belt should pay dividends in 2022 and maybe, just maybe, his production increases as a rotational pass rusher.
Aside from Barnett, we have Matt Leo and Tarron Jackson.
Leo is entering his third year in the NFL’s International Player Pathway program and has yet to take a snap in a regular season game. This could very well be his final opportunity with the team.
As for Jackson, there is some potential there. The 2021 sixth-round pick played sparingly during his rookie year, but he had his moments. He scored a 90.4 PFF defensive grade against the Lions in Week 8 while playing 22 of the team’s defensive snaps. He recorded his lone sack on the season during that contest. Jackson also posted a 86.9 defensive grade against Denver in Week 10 while playing just nine total snaps.
On the year, Jackson accounted for 18 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 quarterback hit. It would be really nice to see Jackson take a leap in development this season. Doing so would give the Eagles another long-term piece at their defensive end position, something they really don’t have outside of Sweat.
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