By Anthony Licciardi
The Philadelphia Eagles have spent the last few seasons being incredibly inconsistent. Within that inconsistency, however, have been some pretty significant constants.
The quarterback play has been questionable, the injuries have been unbearable, and the linebackers can only be described using words unfit for television.
To address that, general manager Howie Roseman acquired two key pieces for his defense: defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean. Teammates at Georgia, where the national champions boasted one of the best collegiate defenses of all time, the two will look to bring their chemistry and complementary games to Philadelphia.
Can Philadelphia’s rookies change the Eagles’ defense?
Davis is arguably the most athletic defensive tackle the game has seen, especially when you consider his 6-foot-6, 343-pound frame. He ran a 4.78 40-yard dash (no, that isn’t a typo). He’ll instantly step into an Eagles front and change the structure of the defense for the better. With a dominant nose tackle, they can play a more conservative style of defense while still improving both their pass rush and run defense.
Dean, on the other hand, has found himself in a training camp battle, and he isn’t winning. T.J. Edwards has some fans due to his coverage instincts. An unsung hero of sorts, he’s the incumbent Mike linebacker and will be starting Week 1. It’s possible Dean competes for the Will linebacker job, too, though that belongs to Kyzir White.
Both have outperformed Dean in camp, flashing regularly and locking in their starting spots.
Dean is undersized, especially for someone who intends to be on the field on every down. It’s a permanent obstacle, unlike the injuries that tumbled his draft stock. An early-round talent who fell to the third-round due to these concerns, many expected a redshirt year to rehab. For one reason or another, the Eagles didn’t agree with this assessment and he’s getting a shot to play football in 2022.
Is Nakobe Dean going to start?
The case for Dean finding a starting spot sooner rather than later has one significant point: talent. The best linebacker on the best defense on the best team, there’s a reason Dean’s fall was such a surprise. His toughness and processing are legitimate tools that only add to his athleticism.
This was put on display in the team’s first preseason game, where he out-executed his New York Jets opponents time and time again. It’s a hot start to game action after a rather cool training camp and an opportunity to springboard himself back into the starting linebacker conversation.
In the wise words of Kim Kardashian, “He’s here and he’s perfect!”
DraftKings is in on the hype, granting him the seventh-best odds to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year (+1200). Considering he hasn’t yet cracked the starting lineup and the abundance of pass rushers and cornerbacks in the 2022 class, that bet doesn’t excite me too much. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (+1000) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (+550) offer the positional value, talent, and preseason excitement to call themselves safer bets for the award.
Regardless, Philadelphia’s defense is changing for the better. It’s only a matter of time before Dean becomes the centerpiece to it all.