Eagles roster analysis: the defense

The defensive line is loaded, but the cornerbacks are dependent on two players who were injured last year

Earlier this week, I broke down the Eagles’ roster on offense.

Here is my breakdown of the defense:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Tim Jernigan, Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, Hassan Ridgeway

Analysis: These guys are the engine that make defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense run, and it’s not hard to see how dominant they can become, especially at defensive tackle, where Cox, Jackson, Jernigan and Ridgeway should be a handful for any defense. The defensive end position looks a bit under-experienced after Graham and Curry, but the Eagles don’t think so. Still, this is a group that must make up for the trade of pass-rush producers Michael Bennett and the retirement of Chris Long.

What Roseman says: “I think that that's one that probably we have a different opinion than maybe has been popularly reported. … Derek Barnett we think is a really good football player and he's going to get an opportunity here to start. We all know about Brandon Graham, and what he can add. Vinny looks better than he did two years ago.

“And then we are excited about our young group. If you were scouting and looking around and saying what young defensive end had the best preseason, I don't know that there's a better young defensive end in football than Daeshon Hall this preseason. … Josh Sweat had a really good camp and we expect him to be able to contribute, too, a fourth-round pick. Then Shareef, Shareef looked good in the games and you see his athleticism and you see he has tools in his body.”

VIDEO: Doug Pederson talks about the depth of his roster

LINEBACKER

Nigel Bradham, Zach Brown, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, L.J. Fort, T.J. Edwards

Analysis: It wasn’t that big of a surprise that the Eagles kept six linebackers on the roster. There are, after all, injuries to take into account. Bradham is likely to play after not doing anything team drills during training camp and Grugier-Hill is expected to miss at least the first month of the season with an MCL sprain. Without Jordan Hicks, who left in free agency for Arizona, the Eagles are without a true middle linebacker other than Edwards, who is an undrafted free agent rookie and likely a game-day inactive, at least to start the season.

Brown can play the middle, as can Bradham, and they will likely be counted on to do so. Gerry can also fill that role, though his preseason was up and down in both coverage and getting off blocks.

What Roseman says: “It a good thing that they are shorter-term. We are excited about that and it's a testament to our training staff and really when you look at it, our soft-tissue injuries were down dramatically this year in training camp (knocking on wood), and so we're excited those guys are going to have an opportunity to come back.

“It does complicate in terms of how we are trying to sort everything out, and at the same time our roster is set now for now (Saturday) at 4 (p.m.), but we are constantly looking to evolve and get better, and we are looking at areas we can improve. As we get some of those guys back, we'll have to make some other decisions.”

CORNERBACK

Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones (pictured above with Malcolm Jenkins), Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Jalen Mills (PUP, does not count toward 53 man roster)

Analysis: Darby and Jones will start the season on the outside with Maddox getting work at nickel and Douglas playing as needed. Mills can’t come off the PUP list until midseason.

Darby is coming off knee surgery at the midpoint of last season and Jones is coming off a disappointing season that was also ruined with a lingering hamstring injury. Fully healthy, it’s time for Jones to live up to the faith the Eagles showed in drafting him the second round two years ago even though he had just torn his Achilles.

Maddox was a revelation last year when pressed into service due to injury and he figures to take another significant step up this year.

**What head coach Doug Pederson says: “**You're going to have on game day two designated corners obviously, but they are all going to play. They are all going to have to play and I feel like that's one of the areas that we got better this off-season and through training camp. … Top two guys? Well, obviously going in, we'll see where Darby is at at the end of the week. But Darby and Sidney obviously could be the top two. Rasul is going to play quite a bit and Avonte is going to be in the mix at nickel, so all four guys are going to play.”

SAFETY

Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Johnathan Cyprien, Rudy Ford

Analysis: Jenkins and McLeod are as good as it gets in the NFL. McLeod’s injury in Week Three was a major factor in some of the breakdowns the team had in the weeks after he tore his ACL. Jenkins is another year older but shows no signs of slowing down.

You could make the argument that this is an older group and that would be true, though Ford is just 24. Still, Sendejo will be 32 the day after the season opener, Jenkins is 31, and McLeod and Cyprien are 29. Maddox is just 23 is also capable of playing safety and maybe that is his future role.

What Roseman says: “I think when you look at that group as a whole and you talk about, first, obviously Malcolm and the kind of player he is and then getting Rodney back and how big that is. Then you look at Sendejo … he's been really one of the biggest surprises for us the whole offseason and really training camp and just the kind of player he is.

“And then bringing in Cyp (Cyprien), we talked about here just about transitioning, and transitioning from collecting talent to having roles and responsibilities, and for Cyp, this is a different role for him. … And then Rudy Ford. Rudy for us was one of those guys on special teams that just jumped off the tape, and he can fill specific roles.”

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