Defense continues its rise with creative, efficient roster adds

You never say goodbye in the NFL. Players come and go, but there is always a tracker of performance, a grade for reference, an understanding of how that player, any player, might fit into the system. What the Eagles have done before and after the NFL Draft is proof positive of the collaboration required to build a roster.

The Eagles selected five players in the 2019 NFL Draft and they feel great about those picks and the developmental futures for Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Shareef Miller, and Clayton Thorson. In the days sandwiching the draft, the team added four veterans to the mix and, if you want to peek into the future, those moves could have some pretty significant impact for 2019.

By signing defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, claiming safety Godwin Igwebuike off of waivers, signing linebacker Zach Brown, and then claiming safety Blake Countess off of waivers from the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles have addressed important areas of the defense, created depth, and added to what is going to be a down-to-the-wire battle for 53 roster positions in the summer.

What do the moves mean? Let’s take a snapshot of the four players who have joined the roster …

TIM JERNIGAN, DT

What we saw from Jernigan last season was not representative of the kind of player he’s been throughout his career. A post-Super Bowl injury that required surgery limited Jernigan to only three games and 46 snaps in the 2018 regular season. Jernigan just never had a chance to knock off the rust and get into prime-time football shape.

But now he has that chance, and he has a chip on his shoulder from not signing a big-time deal in free agency, and, well, you just know that Jernigan is going to play with tremendous energy and raw power and explosiveness working into what is a terrific three-man defensive tackle rotation that includes All-Pro Fletcher Cox and veteran Malik Jackson, who has fit right into the culture of the team in the offseason program. This is a lethal three-man rotation, but the Eagles also are high on Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector, and they traded for Hassan Ridgeway on Day 3 of the draft, so the defensive tackle position has been upgraded in a very large way in this offseason.

GODWIN IGWEBUIKE, S

Originally signed as an undrafted rookie by Tampa Bay in 2018, Igwebuike played one game on special teams for the Bucs before being released, and then he spent time during the season with San Francisco, playing five games for the 49ers.

He is a 6-0, 212-pounder who will compete for time on special teams and as a reserve safety. He’s young and he runs well. Igwebuike will have to show the Eagles that he can cover in space and be versatile as a safety who can play multiple positions in the secondary. Maybe a change of scenery into this system is what Igwebuike needs to flourish. We will see. There is a lot of competition at safety all of a sudden.

ZACH BROWN, LB

A veteran starter in this league and a former Pro Bowl player, Brown checks a lot of needs for the Eagles. He’s productive, he’s versatile, and he’s a proven player. Brown has a chance to win a starting job at any of the three linebacker positions, and the Eagles will take a look at him across the board. He’s played inside in a 3-4 front, which gives him a chance to feel comfortable in the middle of this defense, where Jordan Hicks was the starter the last four seasons.

The Eagles didn’t address linebacker in the draft, so adding Brown in the post-draft days is a very strong move. He’s coming in to compete. That’s how the Eagles see every roster addition at this point. But given his track record, there is every reason to think Brown has a chance to make a positive impact at a linebacker position that had some questions prior to his arrival.

With Brown on board, the Eagles have some depth, including Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nathan Gerry, and Paul Worrilow. There are some moving parts and some unknowns, but it’s going to be a competitive unit to watch through the preseason.

BLAKE COUNTESS, S

A sixth-round draft pick by the Eagles in 2016, Countess was a numbers victim as a rookie and was released. He quickly found a home in Los Angeles and made himself into a productive, versatile player. This is a move that could be one of those no-risk, high-reward situations for the Eagles and for Countess.

A cornerback who has become a safety, Countess can cover, he can run, and he can tackle. That makes him an ideal candidate to help at the safety spots for the Eagles. He played in 37 games with four starts for the Rams and also averaged 24.6 yards as the primary kickoff return man for the Rams last season.

With Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins as the starters at safety in this defense, the Eagles then added Andrew Sendejo, Igwebuike, and now Countess to bolster depth and competition. Countess is young and on the rise as a player. He’s someone the Rams wanted to return, but the Eagles had their scouting report on him and were ready to pounce.

They did just that, adding themselves a solid player who can help in a lot of ways.

With these four players – five if you want to count Ridgeway, acquired from the Colts in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick – the Eagles have done exactly what they want to do: Bolster the roster, increase the defensive depth, and bring in players in creative and efficient ways.

Go ahead and add these four players to the Eagles’ draft haul and an offseason that has been extremely productive. The defense just made itself a lot better from front to back before and after the three-day NFL Draft.

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