Eagles

Eagles

Coming off the best year of his seven-season NFL career, go ahead and pencil in Brandon Graham as a starter at defensive end.
 
While his sack number (5½) wasn't nearly high enough, it also wasn't indicative of the type of season he had. Graham, a former first-round pick who took years to come into his own, was extremely disruptive in 2016 and was named as a second-team All Pro selection.
 
So he's a starter.
 
But Connor Barwin was released after the season, and there are several candidates to replace him in the starting lineup: Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett.
 
Either way, there will be some sort of rotation, but it's unclear exactly how this rotation will work. The best chance any of those guys to earn playing time is to win the starting gig.
 
We'll start with Curry. The Eagles tried to give Curry the chance to start last season. They started last spring with Barwin and Curry as the starters, but Graham simply outplayed Curry and never gave up the job. After signing a $46.5 million contract last offseason, Curry played just 43 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
 
And even when he played, the production wasn't there. Curry finished the year with just 2½ sacks, his lowest total since he didn’t get any as a rookie in 2012.
 
Next up is veteran Long, 32, who joined the team on a two-year deal this offseason. He's coming off a Super Bowl win with the Patriots, but it's unclear just how much he has left in the tank. Unless Long comes in and really outplays Curry and Barnett, it seems more likely that he'll be a depth piece. The Eagles would probably much rather have one of their younger players win the job.
 
That leads us to Barnett, the rookie first-round pick out of Tennessee. The 14th overall pick broke Reggie White's Volunteers sacks record in college, and he did it without eye-popping combine numbers. Instead, he did it with his incredible bend and textbook technique.
 
The good news for the Eagles is that technique should translate to the NFL, and Barnett doesn't seem like the type of kid who will rest now that he's heard his name get called on draft night. During the spring, he was a handful for right tackle Lane Johnson, who is one of the best right tackles in the league.
 
Perhaps the biggest question isn't just who starts, but where?
 
Last season, Graham was able to be productive as the Eagles' left defensive end, which meant going up against right tackles, while Barwin struggled against better left tackles. In the NFC East, that is a big deal because of Dallas and Washington, which have two of the best left tackles in the NFL in Tyron Smith and Trent Williams. That means that in four of 16 games — a quarter — the Eagles' right defensive end will face off against an All Pro left tackle.