If you haven’t already, take a look at my offensive and defensive grades for the Eagles as the team head to Training Camp in just a few days. There’s good, there’s bad and there’s uncertainty.
With Jim Schwartz taking over the reigns of the Eagles defense, we’re expecting to see a dramatic change. But will it happen? Probably not right off the bat, which is why our expectation level needs to be tempered. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a great amount of talent on this defense. The question is, can a new coach and system make it effective in the NFC East and against high powered offenses the Eagles will face this season?
Heading into Training Camp, here are my grades by position for the Eagles defense:
Defensive Line: A
The starters, and two in particular, are the reasons why I give this crew an “A”. The depth is very much a concern, but this grade was given mainly because of Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan. These two gentlemen, in my opinion, have the ability to not only make the Pro Bowl, but scare the skin off any offensive lineman they go up against in the NFL. They could and may just be the two best defensive tackles in the game come December. I have high hopes for DE Connor Barwin after his 14.5 sacks in 2014 and seven sacks last season. Can he find the middle-ground? I’m confident he can. While DE Brandon Graham hasn’t really impressed me at all during his Eagles tenure, he’s been steady. They’ll need more from Graham this season. His 6.5 sacks last season and 5.5 sacks in 2014 aren’t cutting it for me.
Perhaps I’m down on Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks (and the backups), but I don’t think these players are by any stretch of the imagination a major threat for offenses. Can Jordan Hicks be in the future? Absolutely. But he’ll need to stay healthy, which doesn’t seem likely. Ever since college, he’s been injured in some way shape or form keeping him off the field. Kendricks has not developed into the kind of linebacker I thought he would be – dominant. He’s made great plays over the years and he’s taken himself out of plays, too. Inconsistency continues to plague him. When it comes Bradham, we’re not too sure what to expect. Perhaps he’ll excel in coverage because over the past four seasons he’s accumulated 3.5 total sacks.
It’s the one position – much like the wide receivers – where we, as fans, have no clue what to expect. Heck, even the coaches probably don’t completely know what to expect at this position. The one thing for sure is that the players at the cornerback position are younger and seem hungrier. Veteran Nolan Carroll returns on a one-year deal and free agent pick up, Leodis McKelvin seems to be the favorite at this point to win the other starting spot. He’s a 30-year-old veteran who’s passion and energy shows on the field. He’s a guy who consistency has made great plays throughout his career. It’ll be interesting to see if Eric Rowe can develop further during camp. As someone who was very high on him being drafted in the second-round in 2015, I think there’s a chance he’ll be a strong contributor.
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod – two guys that will show us how secondary football is played this season and it’s the reason why they get the highest grade from me at any position on the roster. The Eagles project to have one of the best safety tandems in the league as Jenkins, statistically, was one of the top safeties in the NFL last year. He made his first Pro Bowl last year and looks to do it again. McLeod is one of those guys who may get flagged from time to time. He’s, at times, overly aggressive and will sacrifice his body to lay out opponents. Overall, these guys are going to be fun to watch. Jenkins has elevated his stature as a true leader on this team and that will shine through on the field.
On this week’s podcast show, there was discussion about the high expectations for the Eagles defense. Frankly, there will bumps in the road early on and that’s to be expected. Presuming this defense will control other offenses and have their number right out of the gate seems unrealistic. Remember, it’s once again a new system for these guys to learn. There will be growing pains.