Philadelphia Eagles News

Eagles Roster Breakdown: Defense And Special Teams

Here is a position-by-position look at the defense and special teams units following the cutdown to 53 players.


Defensive Line (9): Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Bruce Hector, Chris Long, Haloti Ngata, Josh Sweat, Destiny Vaeao

Fletcher Cox is in the prime of one of the best careers by a defensive lineman in franchise history. Franchise history.

He earned his third straight Pro Bowl nomination last season, which ties him for the most by an Eagles defensive tackle. He is second in the team record books for most career sacks by a defensive tackle. In the 2017 postseason, Cox tied for the team lead with 13 QB pressures. Brandon Graham is the longest-tenured player on defense. Entering his ninth NFL season, Graham is coming off a season in which he led the team with career highs in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (16). Graham is relentless off the edge and causes disruption even when he doesn't get to the quarterback. He can slide inside and rush the passer from the interior as well.

Defensive end Derek Barnett showed a ton of promise as a rookie. The team's first-round pick a year ago, Barnett had five sacks in the regular season. In the playoffs, he strip-sacked Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game and recovered Tom Brady's fumble in the Super Bowl. Chris Long was a key addition last season providing pass-rush help off the edge. He tied for third in the league in forced fumbles with four.

The Eagles fortified the line with two outstanding offseason additions in defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Bennett can rush from the edge and the inside as well. He has 54 career sacks on his résumé. Ngata has earned Pro Bowl honors five times and is a mountain of a man in the middle of the line at 340 pounds.

Third-year defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao rotated in with the starters throughout Training Camp and the preseason. He's primarily a run-stuffer but showed some flashes in terms of improving his ability to get into the backfield. He battled a hand injury last season and it hurt his ability to win at the line of scrimmage. Bruce Hector earned a spot as a rookie free agent out of South Florida. He started in the preseason finale against the Jets and earned high praise from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for his ability to establish himself early and improve all throughout the summer. The depth at defensive tackle will be something to watch with Tim Jernigan on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list to start the year as he recovers from offseason back surgery.

Josh Sweat was the team's fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He's a long, lean athletic pass rusher who would have been selected higher if not for a high school knee injury.


Linebacker (5): Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jordan Hicks, LaRoy Reynolds, Joe Walker

Jordan Hicks is poised to regain his spot in the middle of the Eagles' defense after missing the second half of 2017 with an Achilles injury. When healthy, Hicks has been one of the top playmaking linebackers in the league over the past three seasons. He was on the field all throughout Training Camp.

Nathan Gerry made the conversion from safety to linebacker in his rookie season and is poised for a bigger role on defense. He's always in the right place at the right time. Kamu Grugier-Hill emerged as one of the league's best special teams players last year but will also be an integral part of the defense with his incredible athleticism.

LaRoy Reynolds, a former member of the Atlanta Falcons, adds a physical presence to the defense and special teams. He plays with an attitude that will fit in well in this city. Joe Walker is the primary reserve at middle linebacker and bounced back once again from injury after a neck ailment prematurely ended his 2017 campaign.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins called Nigel Bradham the "unsung hero of the defense" on the team's run to the Super Bowl. The Eagles agreed as they re-signed Bradham to a five-year contract at the start of free agency. However, he will miss the regular-season opener due to a suspension and does not count toward the active roster.


Cornerback (5): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills

The quality and depth at this position have vastly improved over the course of a year. The Eagles return both starters on the outside in Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Darby had a phenomenal summer as he is fully recovered from his 2017 ankle injury and more comfortable in the defense. His ability to plaster opposing receivers is the best on the unit. He netted three interceptions in the second half of last season with his impressive athleticism. Mills in tough and instinctive, rising to the occasion against the game's best wide receivers last year.

Now, Sidney Jones, the team's second-round pick in 2017, enters the fray after rehabbing from an Achilles injury for nearly all of his rookie season. He's earned playing time, as he worked in as the starting nickel. Rasul Douglas, also entering his second year, has a knack for making plays on the ball with his 6-2 frame. Rookie fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox battled with Jones all summer for the starting nickel job, earning snaps with the first-team defense.


Safety (4): Corey Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Tre Sullivan

At safety, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod form one of the best duos in the NFL. Jenkins is a valuable chess piece with the ability to play many roles on defense. McLeod is the deep safety who can read offenses and fly to the football in both the run and pass game. Corey Graham was welcomed back early in Training Camp. A trusted veteran, Graham allows the Eagles to play the big nickel package with three safeties on the field. Tre Sullivan broke through in his second Training Camp with the team to earn a spot on the 53.

Chris Maragos is one of the league's preeminent special teams players who is working his way back from a season-ending knee injury in 2017. He opens the season on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list.


Specialists (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato

Jake Elliott engineered one of the best seasons by a rookie kicker in NFL history. He set the team records for the longest regular-season and postseason field goals. He was also clutch with four game-winning kicks as well as the fourth-quarter score that provided the Eagles extra cushion in the Super Bowl. Cameron Johnston competed for the punter job in last year as a rookie and showed vast improvement in the preseason. He has a strong leg and helps the field goal operation go smoothly as a holder. Rick Lovato is steady and reliable as the long snapper.

Take a look at the 53 players that makeup the Eagles' initial roster.

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