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PFF: Front Seven Could Be NFL's Best


The offseason additions on the offensive side of the ball to help second-year quarterback Carson Wentz were enough to excite Eagles fans as the 2017 season quickly approaches.

However, the key to the Eagles' fortunes could be the front seven on defense.

Pro Football Focus ranked each team's front seven and put the Eagles' unit at No. 3 on the list behind only the Houston Texans and the Seattle Seahawks. But, don't be surprised if the Eagles challenge for the top spot during the year.

"There is no real weakness to this front seven," wrote PFF's Louie Benjamin.

The Eagles return three of the league's most productive players at their respective positions in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, defensive end Brandon Graham, and linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Cox earned Pro Bowl honors as he led the team with 6.5 sacks. Graham paced the entire NFL with 78 combined sacks, hurries, and quarterback knockdowns, according to STATS LLC. Hicks was not only first on the team with five interceptions, no linebacker in the league had more than the third-year man in the middle.

"We've got a very instinctual guy who had a solid year for us and I think is trending up right now. Smart kid," linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. "He had a full offseason to weight train whereas going into the 2016 season he really didn't just because of that (pectoral) injury. I think he's got a high ceiling for us right now. I'm anxious to watch him ascend and play in 2017. He's done a nice job and I expect him to be a cornerstone for our defense."

The Eagles added to this group in the offseason with defensive ends Chris Long, a former No. 2 overall pick with 58.5 career sacks on his resume, and Derek Barnett, the team's top pick in this year's draft, along with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan.

Jernigan's presence may allow defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to come up with some ways to create mismatches along the line for Cox.

"One of the big things we're going to try and address with him is him attacking on the perimeter at times, moving him around to not only use his size but some of the speed and quickness he possesses on the edge and different places," defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. "Fletcher's been really receptive. He wants to win. That's the page we're all on right now."

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