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MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - JANUARY 11: Christian Barmore #58 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on following the College Football Playoff National Championship game win over the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Dylan MacKinnon

We have looked at the Eagles needs at WR, OL, LB, CB, QB, and now to close the series out, we look at the defensive line. Should the Eagles pass up on the other positions and instead bolster their defensive line in the first round? Let’s take a look.

Very Productive

Eagles were 3rd in the NFL in sacks, despite blitzing only 22% of the time, which is 28th in the league. That is also despite not having any individual players in the top 20 of Sack leaders. It was a group effort created by having depth on the D Line. They had no one with more than 8, but 5 players with at least 4.5 sacks. They generated a pass rush on 38.4% of defensive snaps, which is also 3rd in the league.

The Eagles also held opposing RBS to only 3.69 yards per carry, with most of the successful runs against them coming from QBs or WRS. In 2020 the D Line was perhaps their best position. They lacked that one dominant pass rusher, but their overall depth was strong.

New addition Javon Hargrave’s raw stats didn’t jump out as great, but his play down the stretch was actually very strong. Josh Sweat was also a very nice rotational defensive end, getting six sacks and forcing 2 fumbles.

Expensive and Getting Old

According to Spotrac, the Eagles defensive line takes up roughly 37% of the team’s overall cap going into next year. The Eagles are in line to spend $33.7 million on the rest of the defense, vs $76.9 million on the D Line. Meaning the D Line will make up around 70% of the cap space spent on the defense. Defensive Tackles alone will cost the Eagles $45.6 million. Fletcher Cox on his own accounts for over 10% of the Eagles cap.

But the D Line is also getting old. Their two most productive players, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, are both over 30 years old. Those two combined account for 20% of the Eagles current cap structure. How much longer can they play at the level we have seen from them so far? And do the Eagles want to keep spending millions on these players if they are in the middle of a rebuild. I am sorry, I mean in the middle of a “transition.”

Also of note, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett are on the last years of their deals. Will they want to resign a 33 year old Graham? Barnett has been a fine rotational piece, but hasn’t lived up to being a first round pick, will they resign him? What about Sweat? By 2022 half their pass rush productivity could be gone.

Eagles Love Drafting D Line

The Eagles have selected 8 D Linemen in the first round since the year 2000. The most of any position. Four of the last 10 Eagles first round picks have been either a Defensive End or a Defensive Tackle. Derek Barnett in 2017, Marcus Smith in 2014, Fletcher Cox in 2012, and Brandon Graham in 2010. They have not always worked, but the Eagles are very familiar with picking D Linemen, whether its Tackles or Ends, early in the draft.

What’s Available?

There is no Chase Young in this draft, at least not at first glance. Kwity Paye and Gregory Rousseau are the top 2 DE prospects. Both come from a 4-3 defense and could be fits in the Eagles system.  At DT the highest rated prospect is Alabama’s Christian Barmore, who is a Philly native. In Daniel Jeremiah’s draft prospect rankings, he had Rousseau ranked 13th. Paye ranked 18th, and Barmore ranked 37th. This is not that far off from what many other NFL Draft Experts are projecting. There is depth at the posistion later in the draft, but it is not a top heavy class with a cant miss star.

Conclusion

D Line is not the most pressing need. Their actual line right now is one of the best in the league. But much like O Line it is a future need they may want to get ahead of. They will soon need to get younger and cheaper on the D Line. Their three most productive defensive ends are on expiring contracts, and if they lose all 3 that is about 40% of their sacks from this year they are losing.

As far as the first round goes, the value does not seem to be there at 6th overall. There are bigger needs that will have better players who are higher on the draft board. If they end up acquiring another first round pick in a trade of Carson Wentz, that could be a different story. But otherwise, the depth they need to add there may have to come later in the draft.