Position series: Eagles defensive line

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
12:44
PM ET
Our position-by-position analysis of the teams in the NFC East takes a look at the part of the Philadelphia Eagles' roster that's generating the most buzz in NFL circles this offseason -- that very deep defensive line.

Projected starters: DE Trent Cole, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, DE Jason Babin

[+] EnlargeJason Babin
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesJason Babin (93) and fellow end Trent Cole combined for 29 sacks in 2011 for Philadelphia.
Reserves: DT Fletcher Cox, DE Darryl Tapp, DE Brandon Graham, DT Antonio Dixon, DT Derek Landri, DE Vinny Curry, DE Phillip Hunt, DT Cedric Thornton, DE Maurice Fountain

Potential strength: The pass rush, from all angles. Starting ends Babin and Cole had 18 and 11 sacks, respectively, in 2011 as the Eagles tied for the league lead with 50. Jenkins added 5.5 of his own, playing mainly inside but also showing the ability to move outside and play end when it was called for. Adding 2010 first-round pick Graham (assuming he's finally healthy) and 2012 first-round pick Cox to the rotation should make the pass rush even tougher, as each of those players was selected mainly due to his ability to get to the quarterback. And Curry projects as a pass-rusher as well, though it's unclear how soon he'll be able to contribute. Assuming health, Dixon should be in position to make an impact this year. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn has a ton of talent through which to sort as he determines which players are on the field in various situations.

Potential weakness: Even though they improved in this area as the year went along, the Eagles still ended the year ranked just 16th in the NFL in fewest rush yards allowed. They should get some help in this area from an improved linebacker corps. And Washburn's "Wide 9" scheme does appear to leave itself vulnerable to the run. But the Eagles must be tougher up the middle if they're to be the elite defense they believe they can be. Cox was drafted to help with the pass rush but will need to show strength against the run if he's to factor into the rotation with regularity. I projected Patterson as the starter next to Jenkins because the Eagles like him against the run, but he's coming back from brain surgery, and even if he's 100 percent he could certainly lose that spot to Cox or Dixon if either outperforms him in training camp.

Keep an eye on: Graham. This guy was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2010 draft. The Eagles traded up to get him. And while it's tempting to label him a bust (especially since they really could have used No. 14 pick Earl Thomas or No. 15 pick Jason Pierre-Paul last season), the fact is that injuries have kept him off the field and we don't actually know what he can do yet. The Eagles were running a different defense in 2010 when they drafted him, so it's possible he might not fit into Washburn's scheme neatly. But if all he needs to be is a pure pass-rusher, then his raw athleticism could be an asset. Again, assuming he can get on the field.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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