Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have released Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, they’re a little thin at the defensive tackle position. The news was somewhat surprising because Patterson was viewed as someone who could potentially play the NT position and Jenkins already has experience as a DE in a 3-4 while with Green Bay.
But alas, these are the kinds of things that happen when you change regimes and schemes.
The interior defensive linemen left on the current roster are Fletcher Cox, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton and newcomer Ronnie Cameron. Besides Cox, the other guys aren’t what you’d call “locks to make the roster”, if you know what I mean.
With the team switching to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 under scheme, the defensive tackle position as we used to know it will change.
The emphasis will now be on finding a couple of players who can play nose tackle – the space-eating, run-stopping, strong-as-an-ox type of guys that take on double-teams the majority of the time – and guys that look like tackles but can play defensive end as well (versatile guys).
Dixon is the only guy on the current roster who really fits the description of a true nose tackle. He has the size at 6’ 3”, 322 lbs, but has only played in parts of seven games in the past two seasons (three with the Colts last season before he resigned with Philly).
Because of his size and strength, Dixon will likely make the team. But the question is whether or not he’ll really be their first option.
The Eagles view Cox as a versatile guy who can play any technique in their hybrid scheme. Thornton and Cameron will probably be looked at more as ends in a 3-4 alignment and both will be entrenched in a battle to make the final roster.
If you’re looking for potential candidates in free agency to fill what you might consider a traditional NT position, there aren’t many to choose from. Most free agent tackles are from a 4-3 scheme.
Further whittling it down may be the age factor. Cullen Jenkins was told upon his release that they were looking to get younger at the position as they changed schemes.
So, in looking for potential free agents who are young and could play nose tackle, keep an eye on two guys: Terrance Knighton from Jacksonville and Ricky Jean-Francois from San Francisco.
Knighton played in a 4-3 but did play some 0-technique as well. At 6’ 3”, 330 lbs, he has the size to play the traditional NT and also offers some versatility. In his four year career, he’s posted 140 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 17 tackles for a loss.
RJF played both the NT and DE positions in San Fran’s 3-4 scheme. He’s spent the past four seasons mostly as a backup and rotational guy where he filled in at NT, RE and LE. At 6’ 3”, 295 lbs, he’s another guy that offers versatility.
In fact, he’s been generating some buzz lately as a few people have reported that there will be multiple teams interested in his services if he hits the free agent market.
In response to a report from Packers writer Bob McGinn about Green Bay being interested in RJF, Ian Rappaport tweeted “Watch the Eagles on Ricky Jean-Francois, too. May have some competition.” Adam Caplan also thinks RJF will draw some serious interest from five or six teams in free agency (including the Eagles).
Hell, how could teams not be interested in someone who can do the Peanut Butter Jelly Dance…
As far as the draft goes, many people considered Utah DT Star Lotulelei as a possible pick for the Eagles at No. 4. However, Lotulelei is now being examined for a potential heart issue that could dramatically affect his draft stock, and his career.
The details aren’t known yet, but his combine participation was cancelled after doctors found an issue with his ejection fraction being abnormally low.
However, the word is that he still plans on performing at his pro day. There’s a chance that his heart issue turns out to be a non-issue and we can go back to entertaining him as a possible first-round draft pick. He would be an ideal nose tackle in a traditional 3-4 alignment.
Other options in the draft, again looking at players who project to be able to play 3-4 NT are:
- Sharrif Floyd – 6’3” 303 lbs – First round prospect
- Johnathan Hankins – 6’ 3” 320 lbs – Late first, early second round prospect
- Jesse Williams – 6’3” 323 lbs – Second round prospect
- John Jenkins – 6’4” 346 lbs – Second round prospect
- Kwame Geathers – 6’5” 342 lbs – Fourth or fifth round prospect
- Montori Hughes – 6’4” 329 lbs – Fourth or fifth round prospect
If the Eagles sign a free agent to be the obvious starter, or to compete for the starting NT position, I don’t foresee them spending their first round pick at this position. In fact, even if they don’t, I still do not see them spending their first pick at this position. Not when they can get good players in subsequent rounds.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles ultimately fill out the “big body” part of their defensive line. They have some options in free agency and numerous options in this draft.
I’ve always been a big fan of finding those space-eating tackle-types, but Andy Reid always liked them smaller and quicker. Hopefully, Chip Kelly finds us a Haloti Ngata kind-of-guy that demands double-teams and frees up other guys to make plays.
Frankly, I’d be happy with any of the guys I have listed above to fill that position. With that said, at this point I’d prefer them to wait until the fourth or fifth round since there are more pressing needs to address in the early rounds of the draft.