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How Deep Are The Eagles’ Trenches?

Howie Roseman clearly values the trenches. This much has been blatantly obvious during his tenure as general manager. Roseman displays his affinity for his offensive and defensive lines by investing significant capital in both.

Today we examine the effectiveness of his philosophy. We will dive a little deeper into each position across the trenches. We will look at depth, star power and possible room for improvements to allow for the Eagles to continue to dominate the line of scrimmage.

Offensive Line

The offensive line is an evident strength of this Eagles roster.

Their excellence led Philadelphia to the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. The team rushed for 175 more yards than the second-ranked ground attack, Indianapolis. Furthermore, the Eagles managed to have five players over 290 yards rushing, one of which was their quarterback Jalen Hurts.

While the Eagles owe some of their rushing success to their talented group of ballcarriers, the offensive line was the primary reason for their dominance. The physically imposing group pushed the line of scrimmage all season long.

The Eagles offensive line was not only imposing, but exceptionally consistent. The Eagles failed to reach one hundred yards on the ground in only three contests, and under ninety only once. Furthermore, the rushing attack had a staggering five two-hundred-yard performances in the season, which is remarkably dominant.

Nick Sirianni used his rookie coaching campaign to show his flexibility in schematic design. He abandoned a pass-heavy attack just before midseason, choosing to instead establish a physical run-first offense. The style personifies the culture of Philadelphia toughness and enabled the fans to get around a team who swallowed opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage. Moreover, he maximized the effectiveness of a roster that had many areas of weakness in 2021.

The Eagles have had a sound offseason with a plethora of upcoming premium draft picks. Used correctly, these additions can slot into the team’s aggressive mentality to create an even more deadly rushing attack in 2022.

Offensive Tackle

The Philadelphia Eagles most certainly shine brightly at the most premium blocking position.

Jordan Mailata anchors the blind side for Jalen Hurts. The young superstar left tackle was rewarded for his incredible second season with a four-year extension paying up to $64 million. He achieved an incredible 87.4 Pro Football Focus overall grade, which led the entire offensive line.

Mailata has even more potential that remains untapped. His phenomenal size, at a mammoth 6’8″, 346 lbs., along with his inexperience garners expectations of further development. In 912 snaps, he did have seven penalties, allowing twenty pressures, and giving up three sacks. While not poor statistics, expect them to become even better in his upcoming third campaign.

On the other side, standing 6’6″ and weighing in at 317 lbs. is veteran tackle Lane Johnson. The former fourth overall selection is as reliable as they come, allowing not a single sack in 821 snaps. Furthermore, Johnson allowed just 11 pressures all season while matching Mailata with seven penalties. The pair of them make for imposing edges to Jalen Hurts’ protection, as well as established bulldozers in the run game.

The depth behind the starters is also sound. Andre Dillard has been a draft disappointment but is a luxury as a solid backup despite being a former first-round pick. If the Eagles don’t trade him, he will make for a very solid insurance policy for Mailata and Johnson. He did appear for 337 snaps in 2021 at left tackle and three at right tackle. Unfortunately for Dillard, he matched Mailata with 20 pressures allowed, despite 575 less snaps.

Interior Offensive Line

The Eagles have some holes to fill on the interior.

Fortunately for them, center Jason Kelce has returned on a one-year deal. The veteran is the emotional and physical leader of the team. Kelce made his fourth career First-Team All-Pro in 2021 and was the catalyst for the dominant rushing attack.

Additionally, Kelce was a rock in pass protection. He allowed only one sack in 993 snaps and had just four penalties as per PFF. He will continue to mentor the rest of the interior lineman, who are youthful and need development.

Nate Herbig figures to compete with Isaac Seumalo at right guard. While sometimes appearing overmatched in pass protection, the young undrafted guard improved as the season progressed. The Eagles asked him to play snaps at both guard spots and center. He was solid at each. Despite the frequent shifts, Herbig managed a very solid 68.1 PFF blocking grade and showed that he deserves an opportunity to compete for a starting position.

Interior Uncertainty

Isaac Seumalo was bitten hard by the injury bug last season. The 28-year-old guard has appeared in only 12 contests in the last two seasons. Unfortunately, he risks losing his job with the emergence of Nate Herbig and second-year lineman Landon Dickerson. If Seumalo can stay healthy, he will certainly compete for a starting position or add quality depth up front.

Landon Dickerson was inconsistent in his rookie season but did show flashes of brilliant interior play. With a second year in a run-dominant offense, look for him to take a step and solidify himself as the long-term starter on the inside. His ability to play center does set the Eagles up nicely for the swan song of Jason Kelce.

The Eagles also have Iosua Opeta on the roster. He showed solid play in the run game but needs snaps to develop as a pass protector. With the depth on this line and the likelihood of turning to the draft to replace perennial Pro Bowl talent Brandon Brooks, he figures to only gain snaps if injuries occur.

Defensive Line

The Eagles won their first Super Bowl in 2018.

Their defensive line was instrumental in their victory. Although having only one sack, it was the pivotal game winning fumble that ended the game. The Eagles also managed nine quarterback hits on Tom Brady in this Super Bowl, along with the game’s only sack. It was the culmination of the team’s investment in the defensive line throughout the years and paid big dividends synonymous with their physical identity.

Philadelphia has enjoyed significant success along their stout trenches. This success has not been accidental. The Eagles have perennially invested heavily in the defensive line. In a passing league, excelling at the most disruptive position is of the utmost importance. Even so, the Eagles’ investment has sometimes been to the detriment of the rest of their roster.

In this context, the Eagles staunch proclivity to their trenches has weakened their linebacking corps significantly. Their schematic approaches have needed to be parochial and tailored specifically toward front-four dominance. Furthermore, their linebackers are often exploited in the passing game.

Even as Philadelphia fans clamor and plead for a more well-rounded defense, particularly at linebacker, Howie Roseman’s philosophy will prevail. The GM agreed to a three-year extension with the team and is likely to further galvanize his proclivities into the Eagles’ roster.

Free Agency

Roseman reasserted his conviction clearly within the free agency period. This offseason saw him ink superstar edge rusher Haason Reddick to a three-year deal, prying a Pro Bowl talent from the market. He followed that by releasing and then subsequently re-signing veteran pocket-destroying defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, in a savvy move to shift salary around.

After that, Roseman perplexingly re-signed Derek Barnett to a two-year extension worth up to $14 million. In one of the biggest surprises of the offseason, the defender was brought back after being thoroughly disappointing in his first four seasons. Despite a game-winning fumble recovery in the Super Bowl, Barnett has underachieved in the most disappointing way.

Roseman committed to a man who gave him rose colored glasses as he approached free agency (pun definitely intended). As tweeted by Victor Williams of the Philly Pod, Barnett has had 21.5 sacks since being drafted and 28 penalties. His costly penalty yards will hopefully be reduced, but it seems likely not by improvement in play but reduction in snaps as depth at edge defender improves.

Defensive Tackle

Superstar defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is back. Eagles’ fans around the world got a shock when the veteran was cut, only to be told hours later that the big man was renegotiating a one-year deal. The six-time Pro Bowl selection regressed last season, but still provides valuable pass rush and run stuffing ability. He will lead the line emotionally and physically.

Cox’s running mate in the early part of the 2021 season was Javon Hargrave. The sudden and explosive emergence of the defensive tackle fizzled quickly, however. Hargrave had six sacks and 11 pressures in his first five games of the season, leading to Pro Bowl buzz among fans. He ended the year with 7.5 sacks and 24 pressures, which are still solid numbers, but certainly disappointing considering his early dominance.

Milton Williams provided depth in his rookie season and was able to develop slowly while showing flashes of pocket-pushing aggression and run-stuffing brilliance. Despite appearing in only 41% of the defensive snaps on the year, Williams had 11 pressures, two sacks, two passes defended and six tackles for loss. He exhibited the toughness that the Eagles value across their line and figures to become a fixture in the rotation moving forward.

On The Edge

The Eagles are loaded at edge rusher.

What went into the offseason as a concern, became fortified once again. Roseman’s aggression in acquiring Haason Reddick allowed for a youthful injection of talent into the aging position group.

This means that the Eagles go into the 2022 season with the following options at edge rusher:

  1. Haason Reddick (11 sacks, 33 pressures in 2021)

  2. Brandon Graham (59 sacks and 105 tackles for loss in career)

  3. Josh Sweat (7.5 sacks and 25 pressures in 2021 despite only playing 62% of snaps)

  4. Derek Barnett (More than 20 pressures his last three seasons)

This unit, coupled with a three-headed monster at tackle, is deep and four-player rotational. Despite the Philadelphia fanbase’s incredulity of the Barnett re-signing, a reduced role may help his productivity in a ferocious unit. Furthermore, the four have complimentary skill sets that can allow a confusing number of packages to cause panic attacks for opposing offensive coordinators.

Do The Eagles Improve The Trenches In The Draft?

Almost as inexorable as the sun rising and setting, the Eagles will most certainly supplement their plethora of talent in the trenches come draft day.

There are significant concerns with age across both lines. Veterans like Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham and Lane Johnson need to be consolidated with capable contingency plans as their retirements approach. Moreover, the interior of both lines will likely receive reinforcements to bolster depth.

The most likely scenario for the Eagles is a trench upgrade on the second day of the draft. There are multiple prospects that should be on the board for Philadelphia to consider. We will explore them here:

Potential Day Two Picks:

Travis Jones: Interior Defensive Lineman, UCONN

At 6’5″ and 333 lbs., Travis Jones can provide a successor to the mighty Fletcher Cox. The UConn product has great size and had a PFF grade of 86.8 against the run. He also had a solid 11.5% pass rush win rate according to PFF, culminating in 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Darian Kinnard: Offensive Line, Kentucky

The Eagles have some big, empty shoes at right guard. Brandon Brooks’ retirement has left a hole at the position. Darian Kinnard, at 6’5″ and 345 lbs. (though currently listed as a tackle) is the right man for the job.

The Kentucky product has almost the same measurable size as Brooks and is also a highly graded run blocker. He could provide late second-round value if the Eagles choose to trade down and can provide nasty run blocking and sound pass protection inside. Despite playing 414 pass sets at right tackle, Kinnard allowed only one sack and a total of four hurries.

Potential Day Three Picks:

Amare Barno: Edge, Virginia Tech

At 6’6″ and 245 lbs., Amare Barno is an intriguing prospect. Despite being ranked as the 171st player on the PFF Big Board, the Virginia Tech defender offers tantalizing athletic traits. His blistering 4.36 40-yard dash is mind blowing for an edge rusher.

Barno’s upside seems to be enormous. His speed and athleticism are not his only strengths, as he also has a turnstile-like spin move that is explosive and deceptively fast. His speed allows him to pursue with ease.

At first glance, Barno’s production dipped significantly from his first season of college to his second. However, it is apparent that statistically he just shifted his production from sacks (which dropped from 6.5 to 3.5) and tackles for loss (which dropped from 16.0 to 5.5) and moved them toward quarterback hurries (rising from six to 22) and quarterback hits (rising from three to seven).

If available, the Eagles should pursue Barno and utilize the incredible mentorship they have in Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to develop him into a dominant force.

The Potential Draft Night Steal:

Thayer Munford: Guard, Ohio State

The Eagles value size in their offensive linemen. Thayer Munford has a terrific frame at 6’6″ and 320 lbs., being big enough to play both tackle or guard at the professional level.

The Ohio State lineman saw excellent production in the past two seasons. In 2021, he fought through injuries and played both left tackle and left guard, allowing only one sack in 704 snaps. Moreover, his 2020 NCAA season saw 512 snaps in seven games with no sacks allowed and only three quarterback hurries. PFF awarded him a phenomenal 91.8 overall blocking grade during that season.

The Eagles should take advantage of Munford’s slipping value in the 2022 NFL Draft. His projection as a potential second-round pick has now slid down into the third day of the draft. If he does drop here, he offers terrific value with incredible versatility across multiple positions.

Where To Now?

Win the line of scrimmage and you will win the game.

This old adage is as synonymous to football as coffee is to morning. There is significant merit within the cliche however, and Philadelphia’s continued investment in these positional groups allowed them to overachieve significantly in 2021.

Continuing this trend seems not only likely but ingrained in the very fabric of the organization. This will allow the Eagles to lean further into their identity and build a scheme around their solidified and sustainable strengths.

What do you think of the Eagles’ trenches going into 2022? Do you think they are strong enough, or would you like to see some more moves?

Let us know in the comments below.

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