By Dylan MacKinnon
It is no secret the Eagles love to draft defensive lineman early in the draft. In fact they have taken a defensive lineman with 8 of their 19 first round picks since the 2000 draft. Four of those were defensive ends. In that same time they took 4 offensive lineman, 5 WRs, 1 QB, and 1 CB. Only 7 times in the past 21 years have they taken anyone who was not a lineman on one side or the other.
With all that said, it seems somewhat likely one of their three first round picks is going to be a defensive lineman, And while we cant rule out a DT, a DE feels like it is even more of a need. Just how much do they need help at DE? Lets take a look.
A Lack of Sacks
The Eagles defensive line has often been a strength for them. In fact they went three straight years where they were at least top 15 in sacks. But this year, the sacks disappeared. They had the second least sacks per game in the NFL with just 1.7.
Among the Defensive Ends, it was even worse. Only 3 defensive ends got to the QB for the Eagles in the 2021 regular season, for a total of 10.5 sacks. Josh Sweat had 7.5 of those 10.5. Derek Barnett had 2, and Tarron Jackson had 1. Other than that, no other DE got a sack. Brandon Graham went down with a season ending injury early in the season, and from that point on, Josh Sweat was the only productive DE.
Outside Sweat, there were 1,417 snaps between the other 5 defensive ends. They had 3 sacks between them. That is only a sack every 473rd snap. You could also call that a sack every 5th game. Sacks are not the be all end all of grading a DEs performance, but these numbers are so lopsided its impossible to ignore.
Nothing to Build Around
Going into the next season, there is only one sure piece at DE. Josh Sweat. Brandon Graham will be back, but relying on a DE who will be 34 and coming off an Achilles injury would be a mistake. Other than that, Derek Barnett is a free agent, and is unlikely to be back given how little production he offers. Ryan Kerrigan played almost a third of the snaps on defense for the Eagles, and had no sacks and only 3 tackles. He wont be back either. Tarron Jackson may be back as a rotational guy, but he is not yet someone you can rely on. Then there is Milton Williams who can take snaps at DE, but is more of a DT at the end of the day.
So Josh Sweat is the only fulltime DE they have on this roster going into next year. And while he has been very good, he alone is not enough. They need someone to line up on the other side of the line that can be just as if not more productive as Sweat. The Eagles line may very well still be built from the inside out, with their DTs being the most productive players. And that is fine. But they cannot have another year with so little production from the edge.
What Can They Do to Fix It?
Almost every draft comes with a plethora of quality defensive ends. It is just a matter of picking the right one. The last two defensive ends they drafted early did not pan out well. Derek Barnett has 26 penalties in his career, for 187 yards, vs just 21.5 sacks, that took away 165.5 yards. Then there was Marcus Smith, who was a roster cut before the end of his rookie deal. This past failure should not make them shy away from taking another DE. Much like how they broke a track record of 1st round busts at WR this year with Devonta Smith, they can break the trend of first round busts at DE this year with the right pick.
So who is the right pick? The first name you might hear connected to the Eagles is David Ojabo out of Michigan. We will talk about him more in depth later in the week, but stock is rising and he may not even be there for them. Some other names to watch if Ojabo does not get to them is Kingsley Enagbare out of South Carolina, Drake Jackson out of USC, Mjayi Sanders out of Cincinnati, and Arnold Ebiketie out of Penn State. I will touch on almost all those names before draft night.
They could also choose the free agency route. Chandler Jones is slated to hit the free agent market and would certainly be quite the splash. Jadeveon Clowney will also be on the market. They could also try to steal Randy Gregory from the Cowboys if they want. Some less splashy options are are Emmanuel Ogbah and Melvin Ingram.
Whether it is via free agency, the draft, or both, they need to add multiple DE options this offseason. They can not have another year where they only get production from one edge rusher. Especially with a defensive coordinator who does not like to blitz. This Eagles team relies on the defensive line to get pressure because they rarely send an extra rusher. So the d Line needs to get pressure almost every snap, or QBs will have all day to throw the ball.
Again, given that they have 3 first round picks, I will be surprised if one of them is not spent getting a defensive end to line up opposite Josh Sweat.