By Jeff Warren:
There was speculation that one of the NFL’s best and most dominant defensive tackles, Nick Fairley, would head to the Eagles during this offseason. A few teams were vying to give him a contract, including the Birds. However, Fairley chose to sign a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Why did the Eagles target the aging Fairley? They need some help and depth on the defensive line, specifically the defensive tackle position. At the moment, they have productive starters with Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan who continue to develop year after year. Behind them on the chart is Beau Allen, Taylor Hart and Travis Raciti. That’s it. They released Brandon Bair just a couple weeks ago.
Could they still pick up a player since we’re still in free agency? Sure. But check out this available crop of players: Terrance Knighton, Jason Hatcher, Mike DeVito, Randy Starks, Kevin Williams, Chris Canty, and Henry Melton. Of course, this list of players isn’t too impressive and Melton is the only one under 30.
The Eagles will need a bit more depth behind Cox and Logan especially if they’re going to be playing Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 defense. Fortunately, the 2016 draft class is deeper at defensive tackle than any other position. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles used one of their two third-round picks on a defensive tackle.
Penn State’s Austin Johnson is projected to be drafted in the latter part of the second-round. However as we know, anything is possible in the draft and he could slip. If he does, the Eagles should look to draft the dominant 6’4”, 314 pound offensive hole clogger. According to CBS Sports, Austin is “stout at the point of attack, showing the coordination and leg drive to anchor as well as good core strength to stand his ground even when caught off-balance. When he attacks with his hands, Johnson can stack and shed blockers in the hole. Locates the ball quickly and hustles laterally or downfield in pursuit. As a pass rusher, he shows more effort than explosiveness or technique, chopping his hands to fight through would-be blockers but rarely slipping by them freely.” One of the only negatives about his scouting report is that Johnson isn’t as dominant a pass rusher as he is at stopping the run.
On a recent podcast show I mentioned Chris Jones as a defensive tackle the Eagles may want to look at. He’s slated to be a second- or third-round pick. From Mississippi State, Jones is 6’6” and weighs 310 pounds. CBS Sports said about Jones, he has a “quick initial step with an efficient spin move. Agile lower body to sidestep blocks and operate in small spaces, redirecting himself without losing momentum in pursuit. Quick hands and attacks the shoulder of blockers to wedge himself through gaps. Understands how to split double-teams, using his body to gain leverage.” A negative with his play is that he’s still plays flat-footed and struggles to control his momentum in his rush. He also has only one season as a full-time starter in college.
The Eagles should also be taking a very hard look at Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State. Playing at the FCS level, Hargrave didn’t get much fanfare this past season. But his stats are pretty tremendous for a player who is only 6’1” tall. As a senior he had 59 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, along with 11 quarterback hits. His junior year was also remarkable as he accumulated 55 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. According to CBS Sports, he “launches himself out of his stance with terrific initial quickness to break up the rhythm of blockers. When he wins off the snap, he’s able to disrupt the pocket’s rhythm. Moves very well for a 315-pounder due to his flexible lower body to easily change directions in space and play low to the ground to get underneath blocks.” His one negative is that has a bad habit of stopping his feet mid-play, which can certainly be worked on with coaches as he enters the NFL.
Perhaps the Eagles and Jim Schwartz will want to not only look in the third-round, but also the later rounds as well for defensive line talent as it has become an apparent need that wasn’t addressed in free agency. Again, it’s a deep draft at this position and there’s a lot of talent. Whether it’s one or two defensive tackles, the Eagles will look to draft at this position for sure in less than a month.