All-22: Breaking Down Javon Hargrave
The Eagles wasted little time in addressing a key need in the early stages of free agency, inking former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a three-year deal worth $39 million with $26 million guaranteed.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound interior mauler served as the primary nose tackle in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defensive alignment over the past four seasons. Selected in the third-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Hargrave went on to appear in 63 games (52 starts) with the Steelers, amassing 168 tackles (22 for loss), 14.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown over that span. Last season, Hargrave played 680 out of a possible 1,067 defensive snaps for the Steelers, which accounted for nearly 63 percent of the total. The 27-year-old played in all 16 games in 2019, including 13 starts, and registered a career-high 60 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble.
Staying true to his philosophy of prioritizing the trenches, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman saw an opportunity to add Hargrave to a talented defensive line room that already included Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and the recently re-signed Hassan Ridgeway.
On the surface, it might appear as if the team overpaid for a player who's projected to be a rotational third tackle behind Cox and Jackson. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that quality depth in the trenches is hard to come by in the NFL. Injuries have severely depleted the Eagles’ interior defensive line over the past two seasons, forcing the team to rely heavily on fringe players such as Destiny Vaeao, T.Y. McGill, Bruce Hector, and Albert Huggins in critical spots as a result.
The impact of this move is largely contingent on the health of Malik Jackson, who is returning from a significant foot injury that ended his 2019 season prematurely. If Jackson is healthy, he gives the Eagles another penetrating presence along the interior, but perhaps more importantly, he offers the versatility to kick outside as a defensive end. Provided he returns without setback, Jackson gives Schwartz the flexibility to mix up his looks and keep teams on their heels.
Much like Tim Jernigan who came before him, Hargrave will be tasked with adjusting to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’ 4-3 alignment. While Jernigan’s career in Midnight Green got off to a promising start, injuries quickly mounted, and he never truly evolved into the pass rusher the team envisioned when they acquired him in a trade with Baltimore three seasons ago. Hargrave, however, has the requisite power and burst off the ball to thrive as a one-gap penetrator in Schwartz’ defense. Though he lacks prototypical arm length for the position, he uses his hands well to disengage from blocks and stoutly defend the run.
The clips below provide a bird's-eye view of what the Eagles' newest addition can bring to the vaunted defensive line. Here's an example against the Ravens of Hargrave showcasing his study and powerful base in bull-rushing All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda into the backfield, which effectively moves Lamar Jackson off his spot.
Hargrave also demonstrated efficient hand usage at the last second, disengaging to bring Jackson down for a 3-yard loss.
The next clip comes from a game against the Rams and showcases Hargrave's burst off the snap. In this formation, Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward are standup rushers aligned on the left, with Hargrave (79) lined up over Rams right guard David Edwards (73) and TJ Watt rushing from the far right side. Watch as Hargrave explodes off the line and beats Edwards off the edge -- quickly closing in on a hapless Jared Goff -- who, while scanning the left side of the field, never saw Hargrave bearing down.
The pressure resulted in a forced fumble that was returned by Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 43-yard touchdown.
An added benefit of adding Hargrave to the Eagles' rotation is that he provides an interior presence that warrants double teams, which can also help in run defense. In this clip, Hargrave (middle) draws attention from rookie center Patrick Mekari (65) and right guard Parker Ehinger (70), which keeps Devin Bush (55) clean so he can come up and make the stop on running back Justice Hill.
Though it's hardly a common occurrence, when Hargrave does get into trouble, it's due in large part to playing with poor pad level. In the next clip, he fires high off the ball, allowing the center, Jonotthan Harrison (78) to catch him off balance.
Bell didn't rip off a long run here, however, as safety Terrell Edmunds flies in to assist Hargrave in bringing him down. But Hargave should've played lower to make him tougher for the center to generate movement. Here's another occasion where Hargrave doesn't stay low and pays the price. This time, he's put on skates by Seahawks right guard D.J. Fluker (78) on an outside zone run to the strong side.
You can see Fluker (78) sealing the edge perfectly to spring running back Chris Carson for a 16-yard pickup as Hargrave struggles to disengage. There's a lot to like about Hargrave's pass rush and presence. He just needs to fine-tune some techniques.
-- Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network. Listen to the latest Inside the Birds podcast here: