The deepest part of the Eagles’ defense entering the 2022 season on paper is Tracy Rocker’s interior defensive line room, a group with significant talent and a nice blend of experience and youth.
The four cornerstones are veterans Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, along with the 13th overall pick in April’s draft Jordan Davis, and Milton Williams, a 2021 third-round pick who showed significant upside as a rookie.
Cox, one of the franchise’s all-time great defensive players, is set to turn 32 in December and the Eagles rebooted his overleveraged contract by taking a significant dead cap hit in the offseason, essentially rebooting things and moving to a year-to-year basis with the veteran. The fact that Philadelphia gave Cox $14 million to stay, though, indicated that the organization still believes he can be a valuable player.
Hargrave, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his $13M AAV deal at the age of 29 after coming off his first Pro Bowl season. The seven-year veteran tied for the team lead with 7 1/2 sacks from the interior and was graded out by Pro Football Focus as the second-best pass-rushing DT behind only LA Rams superstar Aaron Donald. The issue with Hargrave is run support, however, and the South Carolina State product needs to elevate that aspect of his game to a more neutral territory.
Davis’ presence is a direct result of Gannon wanting and needing a true nose tackle who can tie up multiple blockers. Having Davis around as an early-down run stuffer should help Gannon toggle between odd and even fronts seamlessly with the goal of confusing opposing quarterbacks.
Williams has inside/outside versatility and has the chance to develop into an explosive pass-rushing three-technique but may have to take a step back when it comes to playing time after a rookie campaign in which he was on the field 40% of the time.
The rest of the interior group is largely unproven and led by 2021 sixth-round pick Marlon Tuipulotu, a couple of futures signings in Marvin Wilson, who spent significant time on the practice squad last season, and Renell Wren, a 2019 former fourth-round pick of Cincinnati.
The most intriguing developmental player, however, is 6-foot-4, 346-pound undrafted free agent Noah Elliss. Noah was adopted by his uncle, former NFL All-Pro defensive lineman Luther Elliss, and his older brother Christian is an Eagles linebacker.
Noah Elliss originally signed with Mississippi State as a four-star SEC recruit before transferring to Idaho, where Luther is the defensive line coach. So that talent is there and Elliss could fit as Davis’ backup.
Plenty left in the tank. 😤#FlyEaglesFly | @fcoxx_91 pic.twitter.com/X3ykQ0dgaw
— JAKIB Sports (@JAKIBSports) July 16, 2022
Depth Chart Entering TC:
NT: Jordan Davis; Noah Elliss; Marlon Tuipulotu; Renell Wren
3-Tech: Javon Hargrave; Milton Williams
4i/5-Tech: Fletcher Cox; Milton Williams; Marvin Wilson;
Adding Davis not only upgrades the talent level it makes it easier for Gannon to use a variety of fronts, everything from a five-man overhang with SAM LB Haason Reddick, to a four-man traditional front and a 3-4 look with Hargrave and Cox toggling between 4i and 5 techniques. Elliss could be of understated importance if he can prove to be a competent backup to the traits Davis is supposed to offer.
The August Angle:
The rotation is going to be interesting because there are four very capable players and only so many reps. Perhaps the Eagles can convince Cox that scaling back his playing time could result in more longevity which would open up a little more time for Williams. There is also the returning Brandon Graham to think about on the inside because the veteran, who is back from a torn Achilles, has shown the versatility to kick inside at times.
Who Stays on the 53:
Cox, Hargrave, Davis, and Williams figure to be one of the top groups in the league and Elliss is the one prospect on the back end who has the traits to be more than just a back-end-of-the-roster player.
PREVIOUS TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW PIECES:
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Quarterbacks
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Running Backs
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Wide Receivers
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Tight Ends
Eagles Training Camp Preview: Interior Offensive Linemen
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Offensive Tackles
Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Edge Rushers