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Mailbag: Better Eagles defense, 2022 or 2023?


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Mailbag: Better Eagles defense, 2022 or 2023?

Jimmy Kempski answers your Eagles questions here.

PhillyVoice Staff
Brandon-Graham-Fletcher-Cox-Javon-Hargrave-Eagles-Giants-Week-18-NFL-2022.jpgERIC HARTLINE/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Eagles were able to keep Brandon Graham (55) and Fletcher Cox (91), but Javon Hargrave (97) got away.

Earlier this week, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. Let's just get right to it.

Question from @JAY_AKA_PHILLY: How concerned should we be with this year's Eagles defense compared to last year's defense?

Let's go position-by-position:

EDGE  2022  2023  Stock 
Right EDGE  Josh Sweat  Josh Sweat 
Left EDGE  Brandon Graham  Brandon Graham  📉 
EDGE3  Derek Barnett / Robert Quinn  Derek Barnett 
SAM  Haason Reddick  Haason Reddick 
SAM2  Patrick Johnson  Nolan Smith  📈 

We can probably expect some regression from Graham in the sack column, but that could be offset by the addition of Smith to the rotation. We'll call it even.

iDL  2022  2023  Stock 
NT  Jordan Davis  Jordan Davis  📈 
Other NT  Linval Joseph  Marlon Tuipulotu  📉 
DT  Fletcher Cox  Fletcher Cox  📉 
DT  Javon Hargrave  Jalen Carter  📉 
DT3 Milton Williams  Milton Williams  📈 
DT4  Ndamukong Suh  Moro Ojomo / Kentavius Street  📉 

Davis and Williams will be expected to take on bigger roles and add more production in 2023, but it should also be expected that Cox's decline will continue. 

Otherwise, we can't reasonably expect Carter to immediately be as good as Hargrave was in 2022. I think the interior of the Eagles' defensive line got a little worse and there may be some early growing pains, but there's plenty of room for growth as some of these young guys get their NFL sea legs.
LB  2022  2023  Stock 
MIKE  T.J. Edwards  Nakobe Dean  📉 
WILL  Kyzir White  Nicholas Morrow / Christian Elliss  📉 

For the first time in a long time the Eagles got solid play from their starting linebackers in 2022. We'll see what Dean and Morrow can do, but I think it's fair to expect a downtick here. To be determined if Howie Roseman tries to add a starting linebacker via trade.

CB  2022  2023  Stock 
CB1  Darius Slay  Darius Slay 
CB2  James Bradberry  James Bradberry 
Slot  Avonte Maddox  Avonte Maddox 
CB3 (outside)  Zech McPhearson  Zech McPhearson / Kelee Ringo  📈 
Backup slot  Josiah Scott  Zech McPhearson  📈 

There's maybe an argument that Slay's game could fall off some at the age of 32. (I think he'll be fine.)

Otherwise, the Eagles have better depth at corner this year, and McPhearson's added responsibilities in the slot should be an upgrade over Scott.

 S 2022  2023  Stock 
 S1 C.J. Gardner-Johnson  Terrell Edmunds  📉 
 S2 Marcus Epps  Reed Blankenship 
 S3 Reed Blankenship  Sydney Brown  📈 
 S4 K'Von Wallace  K'Von Wallace / Justin Evans 

CJGJ led the NFL in interceptions, and his production will be difficult to replace, even if I think Edmunds is a perfectly cromulent starting NFL safety. Otherwise, I like 2023's combo of Blankenship/Brown more than 2022's combo of Epps/Blankenship. The 2023 version has much bigger upside. But we'll get to more on the safeties in a second.

Overall, I'd score it like so:

• Edge: As good as 2022.
• Interior DL: Worse, but with some upside.
• Linebacker: Worse.
• Cornerback: Same at the starting spots, better depth.
• Safety: Probably a little worse, but still not bad at all.

Personnel-wise, it's hard to make the argument that the Eagles' defense looks better on paper than it did a year ago, though it is still very good. I also believe there was addition by subtraction with the Cardinals taking Jonathan Gannon off of the Eagles' hands.

Question from @StokesTheWriter: What's the most overstated concern about the Eagles' upcoming season?

I kind of like what the Eagles have at safety. 

  1. Terrell Edmunds is an experienced vet with good size/athleticism measurables.
  2. Reed Blankenship was ready when his number was called last season, and he played well.
  3. Sydney Brown might take a bit to get acclimated to the NFL, but his athleticism and passion for the game are both intriguing.

And then you have guys like Justin Evans, who played a role for the Bucs last season, and K'Von Wallace, who I know some folks here have long since soured on, but who really wasn't that bad last season and can be a perfectly fine fourth or fifth safety.

I've seen some call for the Eagles to sign or trade for a veteran safety. If they can add a difference maker and the cost isn't too high, then yeah, sure, I think you do that at any position. But I don't think they need to add a starting safety because there's some perceived hole there. That group is fine.

Question from @astorer5: With the Eagles' defensive line depth and linebacker weakness, does it make sense to use Nolan Smith as more of a SAM, Parsons-like role instead of lining up at Edge?  Can he drop into coverage?

Smith will play the SAM spot, just like Haason Reddick, and yes, part of the responsibility of the SAM linebacker is to occasionally drop into coverage. The Eagles didn't ask Reddick to drop much into coverage because it would have been insane to not have that guy rushing the quarterback on most passing downs.

But, yes, Smith dropped into coverage at Georgia, and showed that he can be effective.

I think the question is probably whether or not Smith can play one of the off-ball linebacker spots, such as at the WILL. My guess is that yes, if the Eagles asked Smith to play off-ball linebacker, he is gifted enough physically and mentally that he could probably figure it out, but it might take some time. I don't think they'll want to go down that path, as he is more valuable to the defense long-term as a guy who can get after the quarterback.

Question from @JonStinnett: I am optimistic about Jordan Davis’ upside but I’m curious how you think we will measure his impact because I doubt that QB hits, pressures or sacks will fill his stat sheet. Is it just an eye test?

There are a lot of people covering the team in this city, and if Davis is playing notably well or notably badly, it doesn't matter if he's playing a position where stats don't tell the whole story. Someone will see it, and show it. For example. 😉

Question from FeisterJoe: Do you believe the combo of the Eagles' talent, the vets who may hang it up after this year, and Jalen Hurts' ridiculous work ethic is enough to overcome the Super Bowl loser jinx?

The last time the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl their season had bad vibes from the start with all the Terrell Owens nonsense, and then it went completely sideways after they suffered a lot of injuries and had to play Mike McMahon at quarterback. I don't believe that this team has a T.O., and I like their chances of staying competitive for another Super Bowl trip even if there are significant injuries because the roster, for the most part, has good depth.

I also kind of feel like the "Super Bowl loser jinx" maybe isn't as jinxy as it was in the past. The last 15 years:

Year  Super Bowl loser  Next season 
2007  Patriots  11-5, no playoffs 
2008  Cardinals  10-6, lost in divisional round 
2009  Colts  10-6, lost in wildcard round 
2010  Steelers  12-4, lost in wildcard round 
2011  Patriots  12-4, lost in AFCCG 
2012  49ers  12-4, lost in NFCCG 
2013  Broncos  12-4, lost in divisional round 
2014  Seahawks  10-6, lost in divisional round 
2015  Panthers  6-10, no playoffs 
2016  Falcons  10-6, lost in divisional round 
2017  Patriots  11-5, won Super Bowl 
2018  Rams  9-7, no playoffs 
2019  49ers  6-10, no playoffs 
2020  Chiefs  12-5, lost in AFCCG 
2021  Bengals  12-4, lost in AFCCG 
2022  Eagles  ??? 

In the last 15 seasons, only four teams that lost the Super Bowl the previous year did not make the playoffs, and only two had losing records. Two of those four teams that did not make the playoffs would have gotten in as the 7 seed under the new playoff format.

Five teams made it back to the conference championship game, and one won a Super Bowl. I think the 2023 Eagles will be fine.

Question from @PhillyPMC: I've heard pros say you can tell pretty quickly whether a rookie has it or not. I know it's early, but any rookies that have stood out for you, either good or bad?

I heard a story one time about Andy Reid quickly identifying that Danny Watkins was going to be a bust. But, yeah, I think that exists in any profession. I can recall in my sales career way back in the day knowing immediately if the bosses had hired some terrible salesman/saleswoman. It's really not that hard. We could watch Clayton Thorson spray the ball all over the practice field and know that he wasn't going to make it, or watch DeVonta Smith get open all day and diagnose that he would be good.

Comment from @turncoat4ever: It would make sense for Jack Driscoll to win the RG job, be a decent starter, and let him go for a comp pick. Driscoll is likely an average NFL OG or RT. Better pro tape than Andre Dillard.

As much as I welcome you fine folks taking an interest in comp picks, I don't think the Eagles are rewarding starting jobs to guys to boost their value in free agency, thus potentially leading to a slightly higher comp pick.

Question from @TheAndrewRush: If you eat a burger and for buns it has two grilled cheese sandwiches, did you just eat three sandwiches, or one awesome one?

So basically this?


What would be the three sandwiches here?

  1. Grilled cheese No. 1.
  2. Grilled cheese No. 2.
  3. Just the burger and other fixin's (lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.), but that part doesn't have it's own bun.

We can't really call the third part a sandwich on its own, right? It's one sandwich. Jimmy hath spoken.

Question from Jimmy, to the readership: I was thinking about visiting different Jersey shore towns throughout the summer, riding my bike on them, and then grading each place, much in the same way that I grade press box food spreads. Would this be of interest to you as a reader?

I should note that "No" is going to have to win by a wide margin for me not to do this.


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