A half dozen Eagles defenders named as top players at their respective positions

Six familiar faces land on Pro Football Focus's rankings of the top 32 players at their respective defensive positions.
Reed Blankenship, Philadelphia Eagles
Reed Blankenship, Philadelphia Eagles / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Guess what happened this morning. Here's some behind the scenes access. I know you didn't ask for any, but I decided to give you a peek anyway. My day started with the usual cup of Morning Joe. I did some stretching exercises and tried my hand at a little exercise. The session ended a few minutes prematurely. That's when I moved on to an activity I participate in daily, grabbing my phone to see if I missed any Philadelphia Eagles news...

I hadn't...

That wasn't a surprise. The latter stages of June are normally quiet. I found my way to my email and found a recent story published by Pro Football Focus. This one ranked the best players at every position ahead of the 2024 NFL season. It looked interesting. I gave that one a gander.

A half dozen Birds were named that play on the defensive side of the ball. Here's who they are and the positions that they play.

Edge rushers: Bryce Huff, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat

Three Eagles landed on PFF's list of their top 32 edge rushers: Bryce Huff (14), Brandon Graham (23), and Josh Sweat (31). Here's some of what Glenn Erby, the writer of this one, says about each player.

Josh Huff:
"Huff has been on an absolute tear as a pass rusher over the past two seasons, recording pass-rush grades of 88.0 and 86.8 with pass-rush win rates of 25.6% and 22.9%. His run-defense grades remain poor, but he is very impactful as a pass-rush specialist."

Even at ages 34 and 35, Brandon Graham was still getting it done. He recorded a 90.1 overall grade in 2022 and an 84.0 mark in 2023. His run-defense grades remain steady, and his pass-rush win percentages of 20.2% and 19.8% in each of the past two seasons were two of the higher marks of his 14-year career.

Josh Sweat:
Sweat didn’t have as strong a 2023 season as in 2022, but his 72.1 pass-rush grade last year was still respectable and his 14.4% pass-rush win rate was a career high. His 53.1 run-defense grade was a career low, though, and so he needs to bounce back to climb this list.

Interior defenders: Jalen Carter

The Eagles have seen good fortune during recent NFL Drafts. It's still hard to believe that they landed Jalen Carter ninth-overall last season.

Carter lands ninth on Sam Monson's ranking of interior D-linemen thanks, in part, to 50 quarterback pressures and an 84.6 PFF pass-rushing grade. He's staring up at Chris Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Quinnen Williams, Derrick Brown, Cameron Heyward, Deforest Buckner, former Eagle Javon Hargrave, and Jeffrey Simmons. We know it's early, but Carter can be just as good as all of those guys.

Linebacker: Zero Eagles are mentioned, but a former Bird lands in the top ten.

Howie Roseman earned a well-deserved pat on the back for taking more initiative in upgrading Philly's linebacker corps this offseason. It seems, however, that PFF is unimpressed.

The Eagles were shut out on a list of the NFL's top 32 linebackers, but T.J. Edwards earned a spot in the top ten at number nine.

Hopefully, we'll see stellar seasons from Devin White, Nakobe Dean, Zack Baun, and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. If we're being honest, however, there are still days where we wonder why this organization couldn't pay Edwards.

Cornerback: Darius Slay

Seasons pass. So do the years. Darius Slay is as certain as death and taxes. He lands 28th on John Kosko's list of the top 32 corners.

"We might have seen the cliff for Slay, as his 65.4 coverage grade marked a three-year low while his advanced metrics looked even worse. His career-long play kept him on the list, though, and he’ll have a lot to prove in 2024 as the Eagles look to get back on track."

Regression has to come at some point, even for someone as gifted as Slay. Fingers are crossed that he has a couple of years left though.

Safety: Reed Blankenship

No one seems to remember this. When the polls opened for Pro Bowl voting, there was one juncture where Reed Blankenship led all vote-getters at the safety position.

Ultimately, when the final roster was released, Reed had been snubbed. That's okay. He's still learning, and our friends at PFF see him as a top-20 player.

Zoltán Buday lists him at 17.

Worth mentioning:

Stating the Eagles underachieved on defense is an understatement. There's hope that an experienced coordinator, Vic Fangio, will fix the issues.

Fangio began his coaching career at Dunmore High School is Pennsylvania as a D-coordinator. He's been going strong ever since and hasn't taken a break.

His professional coaching career began as a defensive assistant in 1984 as a member of the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. He has said his professional career has come full circle and that he hopes it ends in the same city that it began. We hope his wish is granted and another Vince Lombardi Trophy is won.

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