Three Overlooked Defenders On Eagles Roster That Could Have Major Impact In 2020
The Eagles took the time during free agency to address the defensive side of the ball.
The added a potential cornerstone defensive tackle, returned Hassan Ridgeway, Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod, acquired a shutdown corner and signed the trio of Jatavis Brown, Will Parks and Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The process left the offensive team-building to the draft, where the Eagles came away with just K'Von Wallace and three developmental players in the front seven.
The process would seem to have left the Eagles reliant on these moves prior to the draft - and it wouldn't be a surprise to see all seven of those players on the field at the same time - six of them frequently.
Still, all those splash moves have left a few defenders that are with the team being slept on and they could just surprise a lot of people with their impact on the team.
Starting in the secondary, Darius Slay figures to start outside with Robey-Coleman in the slot. Who will man the second outside position?
Cre'Von LeBlac has been the next most dependable corner on the roster, but plays the slot and figures to back-up that position. That leaves Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas competing with undrafted free agents and practice squad players for the spot. Oh, and Trevor Williams.
Williams was signed to a futures contract before the 2019 season officially ended and could have an enormous impact on the defense.
The Eagles have been shopping Rasul Douglas for months and he really doesn't have much of a shot to start in Philly. The competition is really between Jones, Maddox and Williams. Jones could represent the payoff on a second-round investment in 2017. Maddox represents one of just three potential 2020 starters that's under contract in 2021. Williams represents the no-risk veteran buy.
Williams, though a veteran, is just 26 years old. It was just one and a half season ago that the Penn State product was a starting corner for the Chargers from the end of the 2016 season (his rookie year) through the middle of the 2018 season, when injuries derailed his career.
A knee injury in 2018 landed him on IR and he was unable to return in 2019, making a few appearances with the Cardinals after they picked him up midseason.
If healthy, Williams could easily be a starter again as he is an ultra athletic player and he has the speed that the Eagles are now looking for (4.44 40 time). He answers all the questions Howie Roseman was looking to answer after the 2019 season and has an enormous upside now that he can actually learn the system without being thrown into game action, which is why he didn't work out in Arizona.
Even if he is not the starter, if his play gets back to it's previous level, there may not be a better back-up in the league and Philadelphia has seen how important that spot is the past three seasons.
Moving up the defense, we arrive at the linebacker corps. It is perhaps the most questioned part of the Eagles roster. No one knows who will start. Incumbents Nate Gerry and TJ Edwards figure to have a leg up, but Jatavis Brown brings some huge upside if he can play like he did his rookie year. A dark horse at the position that very few seem to have on their radar is FCS unanimous All-American and Buck Buchanan award finalist Dante Olson. Olson will have to deal with a shortened camp and the fact that the team has little invested in him, but he was one of the top three defenders in the FCS, let alone at the linebacker position. It's fair to question whether that talent will transfer to the NFL, but it can't be counted out - the Eagles top player is a quarterback from the same conference. Olson brings a strong background of playing the position effectively and plays a thumper style of run defense with an ability to blitz the passer when asked to do so. While he has the motor and play diagnosis that should make the Eagles love him, his speed is below normal levels and may not hold up well in coverage unless he becomes an elite play-reader and knows how to position himself at all times. Olson was also named to the AFCA All-Good Works team for his contributions to his community and figures to be a positive influence to the locker room should he earn himself a roster spot.
On the defensive line, the Eagles had Shareef Miller essentially red shirt his rookie season with the team.
When he was taken in the fourth-round of the draft last offsesaon, it was well known that he was a raw player that would need time to develop, but had the raw talent.
Miller ran a 4.69 40-yard dash at the 2019 Combine and while that isn't fast in terms of receivers, it certainly is in terms of linemen. The Birds have put a focus on speed and Miller can provide an internal option to help with that.
It was off to see the fans crucifying Shareef, a Philly native, for his being red shirted and naming him a bust immediately, but the Eagles have been following a pattern of grabbing developmental defensive linemen each season with the intention of developing them.
Since 2015, the Eagles have taken one D-linemen on day three of the draft with the intention of them sitting on the roster or practice squad to develop for future seasons: Brian Mihalik (2015, seventh-round), Alex McCalister (2016, seventh), Elijah Qualls (2017, sixth), Josh Sweat (2018, fourth), Miller (2019, fourth) and Casey Toohill (2020, seventh).
Certainly many of those lower-round picks haven't worked out, but they also didn't use a roster spot on McCalister or Mihalik. Miller showed up in limited preseason reps and showed he was worth the roster spot, something many fans seemed to forget.
In the preseason, Miller showed he was raw by attracting a few penalties, but he also recorded eight tackles and two sacks while working to improve his techniques.
With a season of development under his belt, the second-year man will compete with Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Daeshon Hall and Casey Toohill for reps behind Graham and Barnett. It isn't hard to imagine Miller being one of the two best in that group, especially if the Eagles do intend to use Avery as more of a Joker than a traditional DE.
While many continue to focus on adding players like Logan Ryan and Jadeveon Clowney, the Eagles have some players on the roster on very reasonable deals that could provide that same impact while also allowing the team to carry over cap space that may be of vital importance to the team maintaining an effective roster in 2021, a year where Wentz's new deal takes effect and the team figures to need to cut $50 million.
Keep an eye on these players as they look to fight for a roster spot and provide the team with cost-effective contributions.
Paul Bowman is an Eagles contributor for 97.3 ESPN and Eagles editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @PhillyBallPaul.