The Eagles have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to in-house business with the new league year looming on March 15, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
When it comes to the interior of the defensive line — a documented strength — GM Howie Roseman must make decisions on Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox and bid adieu to late-addition, ring-shopping veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh.
Part of the plan moving forward is youth with players like Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, and Marlon Tuipulotu expected to take steps forward in 2023.
Davis, the No. 13 overall pick out of Georgia in the 2022 draft, headlines that trio and is the one almost expected to become a star due to his unique physical gifts that saw him run a sub-4.8 forty at nearly 350 pounds at last year’s combine.
A pure nose tackle, Davis was the type of player former defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon wanted in order to toggle between his 50 and 40 fronts with the intent of winning early downs in order to create known-pass situations on third downs.
Davis’ early role was supposed to be tying up blockers to open up things for the other playmakers, a bit of an esoteric definition for a player selected so high in the draft. In other words, premium picks have to put up premium numbers if they are to be deemed successful picks by those outside the building.
To their credit, the Eagles typically don’t care that much about uneducated outside voices and were comfortable enough with the kind of imprint Davis could provide that they used a targeted approach to trade up to get him.
Things were actually improving as the season wore on with Davis garnering more playing time until a high-ankle sprain against Pittsburgh derailed things and sent Davis to IR. His playing time ranged from 17 snaps in Week 4 against Jacksonville to 29 the next week at Arizona.
In Davis’ absence, the run support suffered so greatly that Roseman moved to bring in Joseph, and to a lesser degree Suh, who played a sifferent role than Joseph and Davis, more 3-technique out to 4I and 5.
A veteran two-time Pro Bowl selection, Gannon knew from their days together with Minnesota, Joseph was more refined than the rookie Davis and played so well that the now-former DC kept the status quo as the stakes got higher even when Davis returned from the injury all the way through Super Bowl LVII.
Davis played only 224 snaps in the regular season (20% of the defensive total), and finished with 18 tackles and four quarterback pressures.
So what gives?
“Well, I think he went from a team with a crap ton of talent in college and went to a team in the NFL with a crap ton of talent, so they rolled all those guys through,” lead NFL Network draft analyst and former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah said. “They kind of divvied up those reps.
“Maybe that’s why you didn’t see as much pop or as much production from him. But, I mean, golly, they have such a deep group there, and it’s one of the reasons why they went to the Super Bowl.”
That deep group is about to suffer the aforementioned attrition, however, and Jeremiah has little doubt that Davis will be ready for an increased role.
“I’m still bullish on him,” said Jeremiah. “I think he is going to be really, really good. Obviously, I think he is still learning how to use what’s in his body. It’s all there. He has all the ability in the world. I think he just needs to play. He gets out there and play more. I think you’ll see that start to emerge.”
Jeremiah explained that impatience is real when it comes to young players and noted New York Jets Pro Bowl defensive tackle Quinnen Williams when discussing the start-up costs of even extremely talented rookies.
“With guys like that and defensive linemen, it’s not always instantaneous. … It’s a different game,” Jeremiah said. “Even when you are in the SEC, as great as that conference is, it’s different when you are playing against grown men every week, and I think you’ll see [Davis] grow and continue to develop. I mean, you see it every year. Look at Quinnen Williams early in his career – and he just gets better and better and better and better.
“I think you’ll see Jordan Davis be a better football player next year.”