PHOENIX — The Eagles have a big test in Super Bowl LVII and it’ll take a team effort to slow down the top offense in the NFL.
But the Eagles’ defense was pretty good this season too, finishing second in yards allowed in Jonathan Gannon’s second year as defensive coordinator.
Here’s a closer look at every defensive player on the roster as we get ready for the last game of the season:
Edge Josh Sweat: It’s crazy to think that the Eagles got Josh Sweat in the fourth round of the 2018 draft and then shut him down with an “ankle” injury halfway through his rookie season. Because the growth since then has been incredible. Sweat always had the raw tools but he’s put them all together the last two years since becoming a starter. The 2022 season was his best yet with 11 sacks in 16 games going up against left tackles every week. Sweat also had that incredible pick-6 against the Cowboys, really showing off his athleticism. As great as Haason Reddick has been on the other side, Sweat has been tremendous too and almost as hot. In his last 10 games, Sweat has 10 sacks, including 1 1/2 in the divisional round game.
DT Fletcher Cox: Cox is no longer in his prime but the 32-year-old proved that he still has something left with his performance this season. His 7 sacks in the regular season is his highest total since that All-Pro year in 2018. The nice thing about this Eagles’ rotation and the blowouts in the two playoffs games is that it has limited Cox’s snaps. He played just over 50% in the first two playoff games and said he is feeling incredibly fresh going into Super Bowl week.
DT Javon Hargrave: ProFootballFocus just released its list of the top 100 free agents in 2023 and Hargrave’s name came in at No. 3. The Eagles’ defensive tackle is in for a big payday this offseason. Hargrave is another member of the double digit club this season, finishing with 11 in 17 games but he added another last week in the NFC Championship Game. The Chiefs have a couple good guards but any 1-on-1 with Hargrave gives him a chance to get pressure up the gut.
Edge Haason Reddick: Reddick should have gotten more love as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He now has 19 1/2 sacks in 19 games and his 3 1/2 sacks in the playoffs are already the most for any Eagle ever in a single postseason. And he’s done that in just two games. He’ll get an advantageous matchup in the Super Bowl against right tackle Andrew Wylie, which could make him a trendy pick to win Super Bowl MVP. It’s not crazy. That’s how disruptive he has been. His strip sack early in that NFCCG made a huge difference. That’s the thing about Reddick; it’s not just sacks. Those forced fumbles matter a ton and Reddick has a knack for getting the ball out.
LB T.J. Edwards: Another key pending free agent, Edwards has worked his way up from being undrafted in 2019 to being the Eagles’ top linebacker on a Super Bowl team. That stigma of going undrafted is hard to shake but Edwards is doing it. As the green dot in the Eagles’ defense, Edwards has a really important job. And playing behind such a great defensive line has made him the cleanup man; he finished with 159(!) tackles this season.
LB Kyzir White: The free agent acquisition finished the season strong. At times, offenses have attacked White in the passing game but the former college safety rebounded nicely and played well down the stretch.
CB Darius Slay: He’s 32 now but Slay was named to his fifth Pro Bowl in 2022 and again assumed the role of CB1 for Gannon’s defense. He was also named to the inaugural NFLPA Players-Only All-Pro team, which tells you how much his peers respect him. In these two playoff games, Slay has been a lockdown corner. He’s been targeted 5 times and has given up just 3 catches for 32 yards with a long of 17, according to PFF.
CB James Bradberry: Bradberry also found himself pretty high on that list of pending free agents, coming in at No. 14 in the NFL and for good reason. Bradberry wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl this year but was named a second-team All-Pro. It’s likely he and Slay split some votes for those honors. The 29-year-old was super steady all year and finished the regular season with 3 picks and 17 pass breakups. It seems likely that Bradberry is going to break the bank this offseason and sign elsewhere but this is a one-year deal that has worked out in a major way.
NCB Avonte Maddox: The Eagles are trying to manage Maddox’s toe injury as much as possible. That’s why we saw him with a walking boot on his left foot at practice on Friday; that boot was gone when reporters watched practice on Saturday. Maddox knows he won’t be 100 percent but the team still expects him to be able to play, which is a big deal when you’re about to face Patrick Mahomes. Maddox has missed time with several different injuries this season but feels fortunate that he’ll be able to play in the Super Bowl. Because Maddox is 5-9 and because he plays such a physical style, his durability is something to keep in mind going forward.
S Marcus Epps: After being a part-time player last season, Epps was a full-time starter in 2022 and played more defensive snaps (1,096) than any other player on the roster. He just didn’t leave the field. Now, Epps didn’t make a ton of splash plays but he was steady. He finished the year with 94 tackles, 4 TFLs, 6 PBUs and 1 FF.
S C.J. Gardner-Johnson: The Eagles traded for Gardner-Johnson just before the start of the season and it took a little bit of time for him to fit in on the field and in the locker room. But once he did, he became a really key member of this defense. Gardner-Johnson is a constant source of energy, always talking at practice and in games, but the Eagles have really embraced that. And he’s been a valuable player too with 6 interceptions and the versatility that allowed Gannon to play him at nickel corner when Maddox was out. Another pending free agent, Gardner-Johnson had been to the playoffs with the Saints but is excited for his first crack at a Super Bowl.
S Reed Blankenship: Not only did every team pass on Reed Blankenship in the draft, but the Eagles handed him the second-lowest total guaranteed money and signing bonus of their undrafted rookies in the spring. But Blankenship made enough plays to earn a spot on the roster, then he earned a role in the dime defense and then when CJGJ went down, Blankenship found his way on the field as a starter. In a rookie class that featured two of the best players from Georgia’s National Championship defense, Blankenship has made the biggest impact among Eagles rookies in 2022. And entering the Super Bowl, he’ll still have a role in dime and has to be ready if Maddox’s toe can’t hold up.
NT Jordan Davis: The Eagles’ first-round pick was really starting to come on strong when he suffered that high ankle sprain in the Steelers game in late October. During his absence, the Eagles signed Linval Joseph and Davis hasn’t started a game since. But in the two playoff games, Davis has out-snapped Joseph 35-20, which is something to keep in mind going into this Super Bowl week. Davis isn’t always going to flash and sometimes his impact goes under the radar but there have still been encouraging signs from him during this rookie season.
LB Nakobe Dean: I really thought Dean was going to play more on defense this season but then we got to training camp and Edwards and White simply earned their spots. With that said, I have no doubt that Dean would do a fine job on defense if the Eagles needed him to play. And with both of the starters about to hit the open market, there’s a really good shot Dean could be a starter in 2023. For this year, he’s been a key special teams contributor. He was tied for second on the team with 7 special teams tackles in the regular season and has 2 in 2 games in the playoffs. And I also loved seeing him get in Trent Williams’ face in the 49ers game after Williams tossed K’Von Wallace, a move that somehow got both of them ejected.
K Jake Elliott: Yeah, we included the special teams guys here because I wasn’t going to do a special-teams only list. Deal with it. Elliott is what you want in a kicker. He’s proven himself to be clutch in big situations and we saw that when he drilled a couple field goals in the Super Bowl during his rookie season. In his career, Elliott is 13/13 on field goals in the playoffs. This season, Elliott wasn’t asked to kick a whole lot, but he did make 20 of 23 field goal attempts and was 5 for 6 from 50+.
LB Christian Elliss: One of the unsung heroes of this team, Elliss began the season on the practice squad and was impressive enough when the Eagles elevated him that after his three elevations, they signed him to the active roster. He had four special teams tackles in just six games this season and there was a clear correlation to when he started playing and when the special teams units got better.
DE Brandon Graham: BG should have been the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. He’s a 34-year-old defensive lineman coming off an Achilles tear, playing under 50% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and he finished with a career-high 11 sacks. That’s incredible. The longest-tenured pro athlete in the city is still playing at a very high level and his personality hasn’t changed from the first day he stepped into the building.
CB Josh Jobe: The undrafted cornerback from Alabama carved out a role in his first season as a special teamer. He was active in 11 of 17 regular season games and has been active for both playoff games too. Heck, because of these blowouts, he’s actually gotten snaps on defense in the playoffs. He is tied for the team-high in special teams snaps this postseason with 36.
LB Kyron Johnson: The sixth-round pick from Kansas was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles during the regular season with eight but he’s been inactive in the playoffs. The emergence of Elliss has limited Johnson’s role and has kept him off the field.
LB Patrick Johnson: The second-year edge player from Tulane played 213 defensive snaps (19%) this season, which seems surprisingly high. There wasn’t a ton of production to show for it but he did get some pressure this year with 3 QB hits and 1 forced fumble. He’s played some on defense and a lot on special teams in the playoffs.
NT Linval Joseph: The midseason addition of Jospeh was a good one. He’s become the starter at the nose tackle position, so I could have put him above but he’s not playing as much snaps as those other guys and I tried to limit it to 11. Joseph isn’t going to pop on the stat sheet but he’s been solid and his heads-up play to scoop that fumble on the Reddick strip sack was a heady play.
P Brett Kern: Technically, Kern is still the punter on the roster but Arryn Siposs says he’s ready to come off IR and says he’s ready to play in the Super Bowl. It might seem like it doesn’t matter but that could be a nice upgrade. Siposs has a higher average (45.6-42.2) and a higher net average (39.5-37.7) than Kern this season.
LS Rick Lovato: Haven’t seen a bad snap yet.
CB Zech McPhearson: For the most part, Slay and Bradberry have been healthy this season so we haven’t seen much of McPhearson who is the backup for both of them. But he has become a major special teams contributor. He shared the lead in special teams tackles with eight in the regular season.
DE Robert Quinn: The Eagles traded away a draft pick at the deadline, hoping that Quinn would bolster their pass rush and it just hasn’t worked out that way. The 32-year-old just looks like he doesn’t have much left and he’s dealt with a couple different injuries since getting to Philly. Still, if he makes one play in the biggest game of the year, it would all be worth it.
CB Josiah Scott: The Eagles’ backup nickel cornerback had to play a lot in the middle of the season and got mixed results. So when Maddox got hurt again late in the year and once Gardner-Johnson was back, they moved CJGJ to the nickel spot and played Blankenship at safety. That told you that the Eagles had more faith in Blankenship playing safety than they did Scott playing nickel.
DT Ndamukong Suh: The Eagles brought in Suh in the middle of the season and he’s been another nice addition. He’s another guy who’s not in his prime anymore but he’s filled his role and has provided the Eagles with some quality defensive tackle depth. He had two QB hits in the 49ers game, including the one that knocked Josh Johnson out of the game. Suh (36-037) on Sunday will become the fourth oldest Eagles player to play in the Super Bowl behind Donnie Jones (37-214), Woody People (37-162) and Claude Humphrey (36-210).
S K’Von Wallace: Give Wallace a ton of credit. He lost his job this year to Blankenship and lost the opportunity to start a few games when Gardner-Johnson went down but he never pouted. Instead, when he got chances to mark plays, he made them. And in the playoffs, he has four special teams tackles in two games to lead the team.
DT Milton Williams: Because he’s on a line with a bunch of guys who were first-round picks and have gotten major accolades in their careers, Williams has flown under the radar. He got off to a slower start this season because of a couple injuries. Williams played through turf toe and a hyperextended elbow. But once he got healthy, he started to cook.
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast
Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube