Still The One
2023 Season Preview Series: D-Line Still Rules Roost For Birds
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth story in a series by Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles season. In Part 6, they identify the Eagles’ strongest position on offense for 2023).
Follow the whole series:
Part 1: Most impactful rookie
Part 2: Biggest second-year player impact
Part 3: Breakout 2023 performer
Part 4: Most significant free-agent addition, offense
Part 5: Most significant free-agent addition, defense
Part 6: Strong position, offense
Andrew DiCecco: Defensive Line
Apart from a maligned linebacking unit, the cupboard appears to be well-stocked in terms of talent and optionality to build around for new Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
The margin separating the defensive line from a veteran-laden secondary would be far narrower if not for an uninspired safety outlook, giving the nod to the trenches once again.
The Eagles last season notched an NFL-most – and franchise-record – 70 sacks, with four players collecting double digit sacks.
Despite the seismic free-agent departure of interior disruptor Javon Hargrave, who totaled 11 sacks in 2022, the Eagles executed a contingency plan via the draft, selecting former Alabama defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9 to complement a unit which includes Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, and Milton Williams.
Haason Reddick, the team-leader in sacks last season with 16, represents the heart of a smothering, attack-style pass rush poised to contend for the league lead once again.
Reddick, by the way, could conceivably get off to a faster start this season, with Josh Sweat drawing considerable attention following the first double digit-sack season of his career, and with 2023 blue-chip draftee Nolan Smith waiting in the wings while Derek Barnett returns from injury.
The wealth of talent and depth allows Desai the luxury of deploying his rushers in waves as well as conjuring various personnel groupings. The unit should again stake claim to the league’s most formidable defensive line.
Added bonus: the secondary should yield a turnover bump as a result.
Geoff Mosher: Defensive Line
On the surface, it appears defensive line is hands-down the strongest position on the Eagles’ defense.
But this year’s D-line isn’t the same as last year’s. No more Javon Hargrave, a major fixture of the pass rush. No more Linval Joseph, an important midseason fill-in at starting nose tackle. No more Ndamukong Suh or Robert Quinn, either.
This year’s line is long on upside, especially with 2022 first-round pick Jordan Davis entering Year 2 and with 2023 first-round pick Jalen Carter expected to make an immediate impact as as the draft’s top overall defensive talent.
Until then, though, Davis and Carter are unproven talents, and with Fletcher Cox turning 33 in December, the underbelly of the Eagles’ defensive line is a slight question mark.
The edges, though, set the Eagles apart from most NFL teams – and makes the D-line a little stronger than the team’s next-strongest position, cornerback.
To have Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat on opposite sides is to have one of the NFL’s most fearsome 1-2 punches, with Reddick’s elite speed and burst complementing Sweat’s speed-to-power and bull rush.
Throw in veteran Brandon Graham and anything you might get from Derek Barnett along with another first-rounder, Nolan Smith, and it’s easy to see why the Eagles are expected once again to cause problems for opposing quarterbacks.
At cornerback, once the team’s weakest spot not very long ago, major strides have been made. The veteran tandem of Darius Slay and James Bradberry can also be considered one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at any defensive position, although Bradberry’s All Pro season of 2022 will be difficult to replicate.
Inside, the Eagles have a really good nickel corner in Avonte Maddox, whose only major weakness is durability.
If any of the reserves – especially veteran Greedy Williams or fourth-round pick Kelly Ringo – can emerge this year, they’ll perhaps push this position to the forefront.
But for now, D-line wins out.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffpmosher) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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