Eagles

Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Jerry Tillery

Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Jerry Tillery

Jerry Tillery arrived at Notre Dame as an offensive lineman, and with his quickness and athleticism he probably would have been a pretty good one. But he moved to defense as a freshman, and the move certainly paid off.

Tillery had some issues early in his career. He was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State as a freshman for violating team rules and in a game against USC as a sophomore got into trouble for stepping on a player’s leg and kicking another player while he was on the ground. But he grew into a leader and one of the most dominating interior linemen in the country.

Tillery blossomed as a junior with nine tackles for loss and 4 ½ sacks and earned All-America status this past year with 10 ½ TFLs and eight sacks. At 6-6, 295, Tillery is a force against the run but also a ferocious pass rusher. Tillery is still raw and prone to occasional technique breakdowns, but his upside is off the charts.

Current roster at DT: The Eagles desperately need help at defensive tackle behind projected starters Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. With Haloti Ngata retired, the only other interior linemen on the roster are former practice squadders like Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector. 

How he would fit: He’d play immediately. The combination of Hester, Hector, Ngata and Detiny Vaeao played more than 800 combined snaps on defense last year, so if ideally Cox and Jackson play about 75 percent of the snaps, that leaves about 35 snaps per game for the third defensive tackle. Perfect for a rookie.

Eagles history at DT in draft: The Eagles have taken four defensive tackles in the first round since 2000 – Corey Simon, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Cox. All but Patterson were among the first 14 picks. Only the Rams and Jaguars have also taken four tackles since 2000. Before that there was Leonard Renfro in 1993 and Jerome Brown in 1987.

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Other options at 25 

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Every conversation we’ve had about Josh Adams this offseason, every podcast, every roster projection, every Twitter discussion, has come to the same conclusion.

“Oh, he's not going to make the team.”

It’s an understandable opinion.

The Eagles’ backfield is crowded. Corey Clement is back, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been added, Boston Scott had an impressive summer. Wendell Smallwood always seems to find a way to stick around. One-time fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is still here.

And Adams? Because his production dropped late in the season and then he was the forgotten man in the postseason, playing just one combined snap against the Bears and Saints, we’ve all just kind of assumed he’s gone.

And maybe he is.

But let’s take a minute to take a fresh look at Adams.

There was a stretch in the middle of last season when he was actually one of the more productive running backs in the league.

From Week 7 through Week 14, a span of seven games, Adams averaged 5.1 yards per carry, seventh-best among all running backs in the league who had at least 75 carries during that stretch.

Look at this stretch from the Jaguars game in London through the overtime loss to the Cowboys in Dallas:

9-for-61, 6.8 at Jaguars
7-for-47, 6.7 vs. Cowboys
7-for-53, 7.6 at Saints
22-for-84, 3.8, vs. Giants
20-for-85, 4.3 vs. Redskins
7-for-36, 5.1 at Cowboys

That’s solid, consistent production, especially for an undrafted rookie who began the year on the practice squad.

Here’s one thing I really liked about Adams: He was always good for at least one long run per game. During the seven-week stretch from the Jaguars game through the first Redskins game, he ripped off six runs of 18 yards or longer, and during that period, only Saquon Barkley (8) and Joe Mixon (7) had more in the entire NFL.

Now at some point late in the season, Adams hurt his shoulder seriously enough that he needed post-season surgery to repair a torn labrum.

It’s not clear when Adams got hurt, but he kept playing, and the injury would certainly help explain the late-season drop in production.

Adams averaged just 2.7 yards per carry the last three weeks of the regular season and then got that one postseason snap, a two-yard carry against the Bears.

But when evaluating Adams and his possible future as an Eagle, we have to take the injury into consideration.

Adams did enough during that two-month stretch in the middle of the season to at least warrant an honest look this summer.

Even starting the season on the practice squad, getting just 11 carries the first seven weeks of the season and then getting hurt, Adams still led the Eagles in rushing and became the 20th undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 500 yards, three or more TDs and an average of 4.3 yards per-carry or higher.

When you step back and look at his season, he was pretty darn good in all but the two December games against the Rams, the NFC champs, and the Texans, who had the No. 3 rush defense in the NFL.

Obviously, Sanders and Howard project to be the heart of the running attack. A healthy Clement can catch, run, block and play special teams. Smallwood and Scott can both run, catch and return.

Adams is limited. He isn’t a polished receiver — he caught just seven passes last year — and he plays very little on special teams — just 48 snaps as a rookie, only two in the last six games.

That puts him at a disadvantage from the start. So for him to win a spot on the 53 the Warrington native and former Notre Dame star has to have a healthy training camp and show exceptional production as a runner.

The odds are against him. But Adams is 22, he was the Eagles’ leading rusher last year, and undrafted rookies don’t have an eight-game stretch averaging 5.1 yards per carry by accident.

If we got rid of every rookie running back who had two mediocre games at the end of a productive season there wouldn’t be any running backs left.

Adams is talented. It’s tough to say where he fits in, but it’s way too early to say he doesn’t.

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

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AP Images/Winslow Townson

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at defensive end?

It was out with the old, and in with some more of the old for the Eagles at defensive end this offseason. Will the returning players make the unit better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Vinny Curry (free agent, Buccaneers), Shareef Miller (draft, fourth round) 
Key departures: Michael Bennett (trade, Patriots), Chris Long (retired)

Why they could be better: Derek Barnett’s potential

Barnett had a nice rookie season with 6.0 sacks, including playoffs, and finished fourth on the club with eight tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits, all while playing only 41 percent of the snaps. It was looking like he could take the next step in 2018, too, with 2.5 sacks four games into the campaign — until a shoulder injury struck. Then it was a matter of weeks before he wound up on the injured reserve list. Up to that point, it looked like the former 14th-overall draft pick was very much on the verge of a breakout season.

There’s really no reason that can’t still be the case. At least, nobody ever expects a shoulder injury to derail a defensive end’s career. The Eagles are likely penciling him in for the starting job on the opposite end from Brandon Graham, and why not? As long as he’s healthy, Barnett’s body of work thus far suggests he’s on his way to enjoying a successful NFL career.

Why they could be worse: Michael Bennett’s proven production

One can assume the real reason the Eagles’decided to part ways with Bennett was over something (or things) behind the scenes. It wasn’t the return — a fifth-round pick for Bennett and a seventh. It wasn’t the contract, because the Patriots only wound up giving him an additional $1.25 million in base salary and no new years. And it sure as hell wasn’t production, because the three-time Pro Bowler was the Eagles’ most disruptive pass-rusher off the edge by a wide margin.

Bennett finished with 10.0 sacks last season, including playoffs, and it should’ve been 12.0 except for two blatantly incorrect roughing penalties. He also ranked fourth in the entire NFL with 30 quarterback hits, and narrowly finished outside the top-10 with 15 tackles for loss. Granted, Bennett turns 34 in November, and it’s possible his personality simply wasn’t a fit here. Regardless, the numbers speak for themselves.

The X-factor: Brandon Graham’s inevitable decline

Everybody loves BG. The sack totals haven’t always been there, save for the 9.5 he registered in 2017 — plus one pivotal strip sack in the Super Bowl — but he was always more productive than traditional counting stats indicated. Graham is 31 now, though, and last year was his least effective rushing the passer in a long time. His 4.0 regular season sacks and 1 forced fumble were his lowest since 2013, and this wasn’t merely a matter of racking up a bunch of Mamulas, either, as he landed just 11 quarterback hits.

Fortunately for the Eagles, who just signed Graham to a new three-year deal worth $40 million in the offseason, there are reasons to believe he could bounce back. First, he was coming off of offseason ankle surgery and only rejoined the team in mid-August. Second, he was still stout against the run. Third, Graham showed signs of life in the playoffs with 1.5 sacks and a strip. So, was his down season a matter of circumstance, or is this the new BG?

Are the Eagles’ defensive ends better or worse?

If he’s 100 percent, Barnett has the ability to blossom into a star. He was well on his way last season. Yet, the Eagles are depending on him to replace Bennett’s production, re-signed Vinny Curry to replace retired Chris Long’s production, and Brandon Graham to stop aging so noticeably. It also wouldn’t hurt if one of Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat or Joe Ostman became a reliable fifth rusher. The Eagles got younger, and arguably more talented, but there are too many questions to say the ends are better on paper. 

WORSE

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