Kincade & Salciunas: Weekdays 6am – 10am

Kincade & Salciunas: Weekdays 6am – 10am

Kincade & Salciunas: Weekdays 6am – 10am

Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles applauded Howie Roseman for loading up the roster with Georgia Bulldogs in two straight NFL Drafts. The back-to-back National Champions dominated the NCAA with defenses imposing their will on the nation’s best teams.

Eagles Stocked With Georgia Defenders

The Eagles started the trend when they selected Jordan Davis with the 13th-overall pick in 2022. Nakobe Dean looked like a steal two rounds later.

Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and Kelee Ringo joined the party one year later. The Eagles waived the character risk and drafted Carter with the 9th-overall pick. Roseman received all the credit in the world for landing arguably the most talented player in the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Chief of Security Dom DiSandro did the legwork on Carter’s background, and character endorsements from Davis and Dean even factored into the decision. It looked like the Eagles landed an additionally incredible break when Smith fell to the 30th-overall spot.

What better place to shop than an established SEC powerhouse? The celebrations didn’t give enough consideration to the proper way to evaluate the NFL Draft. Grades assigned on draft day as an immediate reaction don’t always age well.

An Epic Collapse

The Eagles plummeted defensively in 2023. They finished 29th in the NFL in defensive DVOA after a relatively successful start. The unit embarrassed themselves during a late-season skid in losses to some of the worst offensive teams in the league.

The five Georgia Bulldogs did very little to stop the bleeding on defense.

Two of the five picks look promising relative to expectations. Both still have plenty of room for improvement before they’re considered success stories, and the other three haven’t lived up to their prospect profiles.

  • Jalen Carter

    The hype surrounding the 9th-overall pick skyrocketed during the first half of the 2023 season. Jalen Carter finished his first five NFL games with 3.5 sacks, four TFLs, and two forced fumbles. It appeared the Eagles had somehow drafted a rookie game-wrecker after a Super Bowl appearance.

    His performance late in the season leaves a lot to be desired. He recorded just 2.5 sacks and four TFLs in his final 11 games after the hot start. 

    His entire body of work in his first NFL season looks impressive. He finished third in sacks, third in TFLs, and fourth in quarterback hits on a team with big names across their defensive line. Carter was a candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, scrutiny of the timeline is necessary to understand the deeper context of his accomplishments.

    Early in the season, Carter looked poised to establish himself as an immediate star in the NFL. Barrett Brooks spoke on 97.5 The Fanatic when the Eagles were 5-0 about how the rookie 1st-rounder was playing like a savvy veteran handling the game plans that offensive coordinators threw at him.

    It seemed like he would follow the blueprint of Fletcher Cox, who emerged as Philadelphia’s top defensive tackle by the end of his rookie season in 2012 despite accomplished veterans on the roster. The presence of Cox also looked like it was helping Carter and Davis grow as NFL players who could responsibly handle their conditioning and diets. 

    The notion of a rookie wall might sound like a reasonable way to analyze a player adjusting to the NFL. However, the circumstances early in the season certainly didn’t seem like they were aligning for Jalen Carter to hit a rookie wall.

    Carter offered very little impact while the Philadelphia defense went down in flames late in 2023. The Eagles could’ve used a spark from their younger standout players at the end of the season. Instead, aging franchise heroes like Cox and Brandon Graham were the ones making plays against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Carter and the other young players offered little solution after the promotion of Matt Patricia as the primary decision-maker on defense. They have a fresh start with Vic Fangio, who the Eagles consider a premium choice as an NFL defensive coordinator.

    Fangio should use a lot of 3-4 packages featuring an athletic tackle like Carter on the outside of a three-man front and outside linebackers rushing the passer beside him. His value will increase if he’s able to eat up double-teams to help the run defense.

    Some people might point to the rookie wall, but Carter left plenty of meat on the bone during his rookie season. If he can’t reach a new level with Fangio in charge, there will be no excuses after the 2024 season.

    Grade: B

    Jalen Carter, formerly of the Georgia Bulldogs and currently with the Philadelphia Eagles

  • Jordan Davis

    Davis didn’t emerge as the primary nose tackle in 2022, and he wasn’t effective down the stretch in 2023. The Eagles risked settling for a specialist when they took Davis at a premium draft spot. He hasn’t proven his doubters wrong.

    The former All-American averaged only 26% of the defensive snaps per game during his rookie season in 2022. He ceded the position as the primary run-stopping nose tackle to Linval Joseph during the stretch run to the Super Bowl.

    Davis started all 17 games in 2023 after starting five in 2022. He increased his snap count to 45%. The 6-foot-6, 336-pound mountain stormed out of the gates with 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in the first two games. He recorded one sack and no TFLs the remainder of the season.

    Davis impressively chased down Josh Allen in overtime of a Week 12 thriller. He contained the Buffalo Bills star quarterback to help the Eagles improve to 10-1. The reported influence of Fletcher Cox pushing Davis and Carter to control their diets and stay in shape looked like it had paid off.

    Davis’ impact wore off during the late-season slide. Issues on defense spiraled out of control and became a root cause of Philadelphia’s epic collapse. A run defense that ranked first in the NFL in the middle of the season slipped to a 23rd-overall finish.

    The Arizona Cardinals gashed the Eagles with 221 yards on the ground in Week 17. The embarrassment led Brian Baldinger to question Davis for poor conditioning.

    Davis admitted his own shortcomings after the season ended. The accountability won’t mean anything if the Eagles continue to see an underwhelming impact on defense from a former 1st-round pick.

    “(I) have to look in the mirror at the end of the day. I’m a man. I can admit when I’ve fallen off. I fell off at the end of the year. I can admit that, but at the end of the day, we’re human. We have the ability to change… I think we’ll be able to do that. It takes a lot of faith, a lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, I’m here.” -Jordan Davis

    Grade: C

    Jordan Davis, formerly of the Georgia Bulldogs and currently with the Philadelphia Eagles

  • Nolan Smith

    Fans applauded Howie Roseman for grabbing Nakobe Dean at the 2022 NFL Draft. Another well-known Georgia star slipped down the draft board to the Eagles one year later. Nolan Smith didn’t justify the hype in a highly disappointing rookie season in the NFL.

    The Eagles desperately needed pass rushing depth to take pressure off Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat down the stretch in 2023. They lost their strength to rotate pass rushers effectively while Brandon Graham took a step back at age 35. Smith could’ve seized the wide-open spot, and he could barely earn playing time.

    Smith finished with one regular-season sack and one playoff sack. He was supposed to be a speed rusher with a ferocious attitude, but three quarterback hits and one TFL define his statistical impact.

    After the 9-1 Eagles let Derek Barnett go, Smith’s snap counts barely increased. He showed a lack of strength to supplement expected advantages that didn’t prove effective in his rookie season. 

    Matt Patricia questionably moved Smith to somewhat of a middle linebacker role late in the season. The usage reflects on both Patricia’s poor adjustments and Smith’s initial lack of impact in his natural position. 

    Smith’s skill set didn’t fit the position, and the experiment presumably won’t continue under Vic Fangio. The new scheme will depend on players like Reddick and Smith to provide pressure as stand-up outside linebackers who can collapse the pocket and assist three down linemen to rush from the interior.

    It’ll be up to Nolan Smith to prove whether or not the coaching staff limited him in 2023.

    Grade: F

    Nolan Smith, formerly of the Georgia Bulldogs and currently with the Philadelphia Eagles

  • Nakobe Dean

    The Eagles looked like they found a steal in the 3rd round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Fans celebrated Howie Roseman had just landed a supposed 1st-round talent. Nakobe Dean’s underwhelming performance in two NFL seasons will now make people think otherwise.

    Injuries crushed Dean’s season in 2023. However, that doesn’t fully excuse the lack of impact. Part of the reason the 5-foot-11 linebacker slipped in the draft was concern about his durability. Roseman didn’t properly account for that variable when he let T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White walk away in free agency. 

    The 2023 Eagles entered training camp counting on Dean as their best linebacker. He played five games and started four. Zach Cunningham played more defensive snaps than Dean in all five, indicating the coaching staff’s lack of confidence even when Dean was healthy.

    The Dallas Cowboys torched the Philadelphia defense for 374 passing yards in a Week 9 thriller. Jake Ferguson and CeeDee Lamb attacked the middle of the field with ease. Nakobe Dean struggled to offset the absence of Avonte Maddox and cover receivers lining up in the slot.

    Dean has three tackles for loss, .5 sacks, and one quarterback hit in his first two NFL seasons. He finished 14th on the team in tackles in 2023 and 21st in 2022.

    While circumstances out of his control have unquestionably impacted that performance, the reasoning shouldn’t give Roseman and the front office the confidence to depend on Dean as their best linebacker in 2024. The Philadelphia GM publicly indicated a lack of awareness of that reality in his postseason press conference.

    “I think maybe there are some preconceived notions that at the linebacker position, that we don’t care who we play at linebacker… I think if anything, it’s my belief in the players that we have, the young players that we have. I have a lot of belief, and I know Coach (Nick Sirianni) does as well in Nakobe Dean. I believe in the player. I believe in the person… We drafted him for that role. Obviously, it didn’t work out perfectly for him this year. That doesn’t change the belief we have in the player.” -Howie Roseman

    Grade: D

    Nakobe Dean, formerly of the Georgia Bulldogs and currently with the Philadelphia Eagles

  • Kelee Ringo

    The Eagles invested considerably in Kelee Ringo by sending a 2024 3rd-round pick for the chance to draft him in the 4th round in 2023. He is a former top high-school recruit who won’t turn 22 until June. He was the youngest player on the Philadelphia roster in 2023.

    Ringo couldn’t get on the field despite significant injuries in the secondary during the first half of the season. However, the idea of a long-term project provides at least somewhat of an explanation. When Darius Slay missed the final four games of the regular season, Ringo stepped in and showed his progress.

    Cornerback is the toughest position to play in the NFL. An incredibly raw rookie who isn’t a liability deserves credit. Ringo earned enough trust from the coaching staff to play 50% of the defensive snaps when Slay returned for the NFC Wild Card Round.

    James Bradberry only played 56% of the defensive snaps, and Ringo could replace the veteran corner in the starting lineup in 2024. Eli Ricks also showed flashes, but he’s more likely to play in the slot next season. Ringo outplayed Josh Jobe, and he’ll have to compete with Isaiah Rodgers after he likely returns from a season-long suspension.

    Never expect a rookie corner (or really any corner) to look flawless against NFL wide receivers. However, expect Kelee Ringo to receive more playing time and an opportunity to prove himself as part of the long-term future of the Philadelphia secondary.

    Grade: B+

    Kelee Ringo, formerly of the Georgia Bulldogs and currently with the Philadelphia Eagles

  • 97.5 The Fanatic

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