May 19, 2024   6 MIN READ

Gimme A Break(out)

Birds D Needs Their Help


Many of the burning questions surrounding a season of uncertainty for the Eagles pertain to defense, a unit where offseason turnover was prevalent but inadequacies seemingly remain.

While the team’s offense appears more cutting-edge and cohesive, it’s the Vic Fangio-led defense that must establish an identity and take shape to avoid another pendulum swing.

If their defense is to return to respectability, the Eagles will need some elevated performances.

Here’s my top breakout candidates on defense for the 2024 season:

ITB PHOTO: Fourth-year DL Milton Williams (93) will see his opportunities increase in a contract season.

DL Milton Williams

The absence of Fletcher Cox shouldn’t be taken lightly, as the veteran mainstay was the defense’s most consistent player last season. There was little, if any, drop-offs in his play, which alleviated the inevitable pressure that’s soon to be placed squarely on the shoulders of former first-round defensive tackles Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis. We’ll get to Davis in a moment, but the player I’ve highlighted as my top defensive breakout is Milton Williams.

To this point, Williams, entering a contract year, has proven to be a high-energy, impactful interior lineman whenever his number has been called. Williams has accrued 108 tackles (18 for loss), 6.5 sacks and 19 quarterback hits through three seasons despite never eclipsing 46 percent of the defensive snaps.

His obstacle, however, was that he was unable to climb any higher than fourth in the pecking order given the composition of the room – until now. That the Eagles have so far avoided adding another significant interior lineman speaks volumes of what they think they have in Williams.

With the Eagles ushering in veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who implemented a shallow rotation of defensive lineman last season in Miami, the thinking here is that an expanded role for Williams will only accentuate his hair-on-fire play style and disruptive tendencies.

The 25-year-old ideally complements Carter and Davis in terms of skill set while also offering positional versatility.

Jordan Davis

GETTY IMAGES: All eyes are on third-year DL Jordan Davis, who needs to be an anchor of the line for the defense to succeed.

DL Jordan Davis

Few players on defense fall under more intense scrutiny than Davis, who will undoubtedly be pushed by the demanding Fangio. In light of Cox’s retirement, the foundation of the Eagles’ new-look defense will be built upon Davis and Carter. And in his third-season, Davis is expected to encounter his most challenging test.

The mammoth defensive tackle has showcased dominance in spurts, flashing his burst and athleticism, but sustaining that production throughout the entirety of the season and remaining in peak condition will be critical to both the success of Davis and the Eagles. Davis already appears to check off one of those boxes, appearing noticeably more svelte at the Eagles Autism Challenge.

Davis, who appeared and started in all 17 games last season, will presumably be asked to assume a workload primed to exceed his 2023 career-high 45 percent of the defensive snaps. Sporting a rare frame and freakish athletic traits, Davis has showcased his potential as an interior force. Consistency, however, will be the determining factor to a breakthrough.

Sydney Brown

GETTY IMAGES: Once he’s fully recovered from his ACL surgery, S Sydney Brown could be a major factor in the Eagles’ defense.

S Sydney Brown

Returning from a late-season knee injury, Brown’s availability to contribute in a prominent capacity remains unclear, but the rookie’s emergence down the stretch last season qualified among the scant bright spots of an otherwise dismal collapse. If their notably thin position group is any indication, the Eagles are presumably counting on Brown to undertake a major sophomore leap.

An intense, fast-flowing defensive back who plays like heat-seeking missile, Brown, a 2023 third-round pick, was gradually implemented into the defense as a rookie, beginning the season behind Justin Evans, Reed Blankenship and Terrell Edmunds. He logged snaps at nickelback early last season before carving out a role as a versatile backend defender, appearing in 14 games (6 starts) and accumulating 45 tackles (one for loss), forced fumble and returning his lone interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

In addition to his special teams contributions, Brown should see plenty of time on defense in three safety looks, providing value with his versatility and penchant for playing a physical brand of football. A throwback kind of player, Brown should endear himself early to an old-school coach like Fangio. Last season offered a glimpse of what Brown can ultimately become, but due to opportunity and a year of experience, a breakthrough feels imminent.

Bonus: LB Ben VanSumeren

A name that came up several times in my X replies when I asked which player is tabbed as their breakout defensive player is Van Sumeren’s. The “breakout” label is largely relative, and in VanSumeren’s case, merely seizing a situational role in a new defense would qualify.

The 24-year-old often gets lost in the shuffle when assessing the linebacker group, but he shouldn’t. The Michigan State product boasts uber-athleticism, developing instincts and the ability to pick things up quickly. Notable leadership qualities constitute as another perk.

One could make a legit argument that VanSumeren’s lone start, on Christmas against the Giants, was the most encouraging single-game showing from any Eagles linebacker all season.

Perhaps he’s able to build on that momentum. And on multiple occasions, special coordinator Michael Clay has name-dropped VanSumeren, suggesting the second-year linebacker is viewed as a core component. With the final spot(s) on the linebacker depth chart seemingly up for grabs, my thinking is VanSumeren’s explosive traits and youth figure to pique Fangio’s interest.

Earlier this offseason, I caught up with VanSumeren, discussing a multitude of topics with the second-year linebacker. Originally recruited to play fullback for Michigan, VanSumeren acknowledged his offensive stint offered unique insight in his transition to linebacker.

Ben VanSumeren

ITB PHOTO: Second-year LB Ben Van Sumeren could move up the depth chart with an impressive spring and summer.

“Where it’s really helped me is the blocking schemes. Just understanding how these reads really progress for a running back, or really as you see it as an offensive coordinator as well. I think I do a good job of feeling the running back’s leverage, or whoever is the ball-carrier at the time.

“I think that’s something, until you carry the ball quite a bit, you really hone in on that. A lot of guys take a while to really pick that up. I feel like I’ve had that for a while. And then really just feeling the flow of the blocking scheme; not just knowing how they’re blocked up, because I’ve been ‘em and felt it myself. My run defense is one of the best parts of my game, I feel like, and I attribute a lot to me being a running back before.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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