Unlike the offensive MVP, predicting the defensive MVP for a team without a huge star in the makes of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt or Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman is rather difficult. Playmaking defensive players are getting more and more scarce as today’s NFL is catering more towards the offense. A good part of making key defensive plays (such as fumble recoveries, interceptions, sacks, etc.) comes from a multitude of factors such as positioning, preparation, skill, and well, luck. With those factors in mind, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, safety Malcolm Jenkins, and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans are three potential defensive playmakers that could end the year as the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive MVP.
In the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith, the heir apparent for Trent Cole. Or so we thought. Kelly has actually had Smith shadowing Connor Barwin’s position during OTA’s. Marcus Smith, the reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year with his 14 1/2 sacks, has already shown a knack for getting after the quarterback. Head Coach Chip Kelly has paired the two up in hopes that Smith can learn a tip or two from Barwin for this upcoming season. Barwin dropped into coverage more than any other 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013, consequently leading all OLB’s in passes defensed. Hopefully he can impart some of his wisdom on the young rookie during training camp and the preseason.
Trent Cole’s on the wrong side of 30, and while he still has plenty left in the tank, his cap hit next year may cause him to be released. Smith doesn’t need to learn pass rushing moves from Cole at this juncture of his career. Training a pass rush artist in Smith to round out his skills for when he eventually takes over from Cole is a much better way for Kelly to get the best out of both Smith and Barwin in the future. Barwin has some pass rushing moves up his sleeves as well as evidenced when he tallied 11 1/2 sacks in 2011.
When Smith hits the field in relief of Cole this year, Kelly would be wise to mix up his coverages and blitzes to better hide Barwin’s actual role from the “Joker” position. Compiling 59 tackles, 5 sacks, and an interception last year, Barwin still has room to improve entering his second year in defensive coordinator Billy Davis’s system. Being able to utilize him in a multitude of ways is precisely what makes Barwin so valuable to this defense and terrorizing for offenses trying to gameplan around him.
Free agent acquisition Malcolm Jenkins joins a secondary where he has the chance to absolutely shine. The Eagles’ number 1 priority according to the Philadelphia Eagles website was getting their safety in Malcolm Jenkins to come to Philadelphia. “I think his ability to be a free safety and a strong safety, his ability to cover, his football IQ – those are all factors that kind of led him to be our number one guy that we were going after,” Kelly said.
Having a formidable safety in the secondary that is versatile, can cover, and can diagnose plays quickly, sounds like the ideal type of player Kelly was seeking during the offseason. Jenkins displayed his versatility last year in New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense when he was all over the field compiling 68 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. That is exactly the kind of rangy, multi-faceted defender that Philadephia needed to grab this offseason and succeeded. They missed out on the “big time names” in free agent safeties like former Buffalo Bill Jarius Byrd (now undergoing back surgery) and former Cleveland Brown T.J. Ward (facing an arrest warrant accusing him on misdemeanor assault), but may have landed the jewel of the free agency crop in Jenkins (most likely in the film room now).
Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is the glue that holds the entire defense together, so why wouldn’t he be a formidable candidate for defensive MVP? Ryans led the team with 127 tackles while picking up 4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and 7 passes defensed. He was a well rounded linebacker in 2013 that should improve as the defensive line in front of him gets another year of experience under their belt.
While being the quarterback of Philadelphia’s defense, he aided in the defense’s transition to the 3-4 last year and will help provide leadership and guidance to the rest of his teammates in 2014. Being an inside linebacker, Ryans has an ample amount of opportunity to be involved in game-altering big plays. Ryans and fellow teammate Mychal Kendricks began working cohesively in the latter part of last year making plays both on ball carriers and while back in coverage. Ryans will turn 30 before the start of the season and can use his vetaran savvy to help lead this defense back to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Who do you think will be the Eagles defensive MVP this year?