Since the start of free agency, the Eagles have added nine new players, but only one true pass-rusher – Connor Barwin.
Much of the offseason focus has been on rebuilding the secondary, but Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly and company still have work to do in bolstering the front seven – specifically, the defensive line.
Gone from last year’s squad are veterans Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Darryl Tapp, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson.
Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are expected to make the switch to outside linebacker (joining Barwin). Isaac Sopoaga has been brought in to play nose tackle, and Antonio Dixon could provide some depth on the interior. Fletcher Cox is expected to play DE in a 3-4, and Cedric Thornton will get a shot there too.
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks figure to get the nod at inside linebacker.
Before we take a look at what areas still need to be addressed, let’s look at what the Eagles have on their current roster. There are six players who got at least 100 opportunities to rush the passer last year.
Below is a table showing pass-rushing chances, sacks, hurries, QB hits and balls batted at the line of scrimmage. The data is courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
The last column shows the frequency with which each player notched a sack, hurry, hit or batted ball.
What stands out here? First of all, it’s clear that Graham should have received more playing time last year. His production on a per-snap basis far exceeded any of the other players in the table. Graham made something happen on 20.5 percent of his opportunities.
As we explained previously, Barwin got more pass-rushing chances in 2012 than he did in 2011 when he totaled 11 sacks. He wasn’t very productive at getting after the quarterback last season, although that could have been because his role changed (we’re currently taking a look at the All-22 for clarification).
One thing to take note of is Barwin batted six balls down at the line of scrimmage. In 2011, he batted seven. I’m guessing Kelly also values Barwin’s versatility. He played over 94 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps – 1,019 total. That was fifth-most among all 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012. Barwin will be expected to start, but if the Eagles use a rotation like Oregon utilized on defense, he’ll see fewer snaps.
Cole had a down year, but as you can see by the numbers, he wasn’t entirely invisible.
The numbers for the interior pass-rushers are naturally going to be lower. Cox showed pass-rushing chops as a rookie and should only improve in his second season. He figures to transition smoothly to a 3-4 defensive end. Thornton didn’t do much as a pass-rusher in 2012. And Sopoaga figures to come off the field in pass-rushing situations.
A quick sampling of 3-4 teams shows they generally keep six or seven defensive linemen. That means the Eagles have roster spots to fill. Cox and Sopoaga have a hold on two of them. Thornton will get a long look. Dixon and Ronnie Cameron have a shot too.
But don’t be surprised to see the Eagles add several more defensive linemen to the roster. They were interested in Desmond Bryant and Ricky Jean-Francois before they signed with the Browns and Colts, respectively. Over the weekend, the Eagles were linked to Vaughn Martin, although he could end up back with the Chargers.
The key (and this has been a running them) is versatility. The Eagles need players who can play 3-4 defensive end and rush the passer from the interior in sub packages. There aren’t a lot of young options available who fit that mold, so this could be an area the Eagles target with draft picks and undrafted free agents.