When the Eagles signed Javon Hargrave this offseason, they knew it was a projection.
After four years in Pittsburgh’s two-gapping 3-4 defense, they looked at Hargrave as a player who could play in their 4-3. Heck, they looked at Hargrave as a player who was actually better suited to playing in that aggressive front. That’s the style of defense he played at South Carolina State and there were glimpses during his time with the Steelers that made the Eagles think he’d be able to make the transition and thrive.
But the Eagles didn’t count on missing all of OTAs and they didn’t count on Hargrave suffering an injury that would keep him out all summer and the first week of the season.
So here we are, nearing the midway point of the 2020 season, and Hargrave hasn’t had nearly the production the Eagles need from him. Through six games, Hargrave has just 1 sack, 2 QB hits and 7 tackles.
Earlier this week I had a chance to ask DL coach Matt Burke about Hargrave and whether or not he expected that production to come soon. Here’s what he said:
“I think it’s kind of on an upward stroke every week. He’s also missed some time with us early in the season and not really having the offseason and whatnot. Man, he does some things every game where you’re like, ‘OK, here we go.’ His get off has been really, really good the last couple games. We’re heading in that direction. So I think the more he plays the more he gets comfortable doing the things we’re asking him to do. It’s just going to keep going and going.
“We had that mini-practice yesterday and we kind of had a little get off challenge set up for the guys. I’m not sure if I should say it, but [Vinny Curry] won. Vinny’s the get-off king. But Javon was second for the group. He’s showing that trend. I think it’s just the consistency of doing it play-in and play-out. But he’s been flashing more and more, so it’s every week more of the flash plays we’ve kind of been expecting from him. And we’re excited for where he’s heading. I think we’re sort of on the cusp for like falling off the cliff and really getting it play-in and play-out from him.”
The Eagles better hope Hargrave starts producing soon because they could certainly use it. They already had a lot of money invested in their defensive line and then they signed Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million contract this offseason.
All that money on the interior DL is fine if those guys really dominate but it hasn’t been consistent enough. Playing next to Cox, that other DT needs to be able to beat a 1-on-1. Hargrave hasn’t done that enough in 2020. Hargrave has actually been the Eagles’ fourth best defensive tackle this season behind Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and even Hassan Ridgeway, who is now out for the season.
In fact, that’s how ProFootballFocus ranks him. They have Hargrave as the 95th best interior lineman in the NFL. He’s behind Cox (14), Jackson (38) and even Ridgeway (50). This season, Hargrave has just 12 total pressures.
It isn’t easy for a defensive lineman to break free of habits and muscle memory. For the first four years of his NFL career, Hargrave played in a much more passive front. I remember when Tim Jernigan joined the Eagles back in 2017, he was surprised it took him as long as it did to get comfortable in Jim Schwartz’s defense.
It seems like we’re seeing some of that with Hargrave.
“It's definitely different,” Hargrave said in late September. “You know how I played in Pittsburgh for four years, so it ain't gonna take a long time, but I just need to get some reps under my belt and I feel like I pick up quickly, and I'mma just start progressing as more reps as I take.”
The Eagles signed Hargrave to a three-year deal, so it’s not like he doesn’t have time to prove he was worth that contract. And my guess is that eventually, he’ll start playing more like the guy the Eagles expected. But almost halfway through his first season here, it’s also fair to wonder when that production is going to come.