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Ranking the NFC East, 2019: Interior defensive lines

SB Nation logo SB Nation 7/12/2019 Bill-in-Bangkok
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Hogs Haven looks at all four teams in the division in an effort to identify the best and the weakest of the NFC East

The draft is done, the free agents have been signed, the coaches have met their players. Now there’s not much to do but wait for training camp. While we wait, it seemed like it might be fun to evaluate and rank the NFC East position-by-position.

Last off-season, Hogs Haven published articles that focused on ranking position groups and head coaches in an effort to identify what the division would look like in 2018. This year, we’re going to look at the division again.

Click here to read previous Ranking the NFC East articles

Interior DL play can be really difficult to quantify. These guys get more stats than, say, offensive lineman, but they are often the most invisible players on the field — especially in 2-gap systems, or where they often are simply asked to “eat space” by demanding double-teams to free up other players, in particular, linebackers, who rack up the tackling stats. The Redskins, in recent years, have changed both defensive philosophy and personnel where the interior defensive line is concerned. With the Giants changing to a 3-4 base scheme not so long ago, and Jim Schwartz running a somewhat unique system in Philly, the defensive philosophies in the NFC East run across a range, but with the focus on strong offensive lines and strong running attacks, the interior defensive linemen in the division have had to become stronger and more position-flexible to keep up.

The fact that the base defensive schemes in the division are diverse also makes comparisons a bit of an ‘apples to oranges’ exercise, but — hey! — it’s the deadest part of the off-season. What else you gonna do?

The Redskins, of course, are returning a solid and established veteran unit that is led by two first round selections - both Alabama defensive linemen. In 2017 it was Jonathan Allen; in 2018, it was Daron Payne. The ‘Skins double-dipped in last year’s draft by taking Tim Settle, from Virginia Tech, in the 5th round. With Matt Ioaniddis returning healthy and on a freshly minted contract extension, and Caleb Brantly back for another season as a Redskin, there is an expectation that the Redskins interior DL will be able to both control the running game of opponents and get a disruptive interior push on the passer, as they did in the first seven games of 2018. I’m sure Redskins fans everywhere will have their fingers crossed that the team can carry that kind of strong performance through a full 16 games in 2019.

The Giants have been investing heavily in the defensive line as well. In fact, over the past three drafts, they have used a 2nd, 5th and 1st round pick, respectively. The most recent addition is Dexter Lawrence, taken with the 17th overall pick in April — the one most people thought Dave Gettleman would use to draft Daniel Jones. He joins R.J. McIntosh and Dalvin Thomlinson to form a young and talented starting defensive line, so Washington is not the only team in the division that has been building the trenches.

The Eagles run a base 4-3 defense, so their interior DL group is likely to be a slightly smaller group than the Redskins and Giants, who each run a base 3-4 scheme. The Eagles will likely have 4-5 DTs on the roster: Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Timmy Jernigan, Treyvon Hester, and Hassan Ridgeway. Cox, of course, is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Malik Jackson, who is new to the Eagles, is going into his 8th NFL season, having played for the Broncos (where he won a super bowl ring) and the Jaguars (where he did not). Tim Jernigan has been a reliable rotational DL for the Eagles for some years, but he had off-season back surgery a year ago, and missed most of the 2018 season, returning to the roster in late-November. Because Philly declined his 5th year option, he was actually a free agent for a short time this off-season, but he was signed to a one-year deal, helping maintain some continuity in the defense for the Eagles. Ridgeway is a 24 year old, who was originally drafted by the Colts in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. Howie Roseman traded a late-7th round pick in the 2019 draft to acquire him, indicating that the Colts and Eagles valued him just ahead of an udrafted free agent.

The Cowboys just spent a 2nd round pick to draft Trysten Hill, so he’s basically a lock to make the team, as is returning veteran starter Maliek Collins. Tyrone Crawford has been a Cowboy since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, and he’ll be back for his 8th season. The fourth ‘lock’ seems to be Antuan Woods, who was a 2016 UDFA who has been active for 16 games in his career, and has collected 17 tackles & 1.5 sacks.

This is quite a mix of DL rosters, with the Cowboys having a mix of younger and older players, but mostly home-grown, while the Eagles have an older group of defensive linemen consistently anchored from year to year by Cox and Jernigan, with a parade of veterans acquired via trade or free agency to maintain the rotational depth. Both the Giants and Redskins have invested heavily into the DL in the past three drafts, though it seems that the Redskins are a bit ahead of the G-men in terms of quality and depth.

A look at the top of the depth chart for each team

Of course, in a sport that is as physically demanding as football, one in which player injuries are common, the unit depth is as important a factor as the skill of the star players.

Here, we’ll take a look at the top of the depth chart for each team — the pool of players from which the ones on the final 53 seem likely to be chosen. Not all the players listed will make the team, and I might easily miss — especially for the Redskins’ division rivals — players who will make the Week 1 roster, but this list should give some idea of the relative depth of the four positional groups.

Redskins

Giants

Eagles

Cowboys

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