Maybe Sydney Brown will develop into a starting safety. Maybe Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks can replace James Bradberry and Darius Slay. Maybe Nakobe Dean in Year 3 will live up to expectations. Maybe Christian Elliss can grow into a consistent starting linebacker.
A lot of questions, but the reality is when it comes to the future of the Eagles’ back seven, the Eagles don’t have a lot of answers.
And that’s the scariest part of what we’ve seen lately.
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Over the past six weeks, the Eagles statistically have the worst defense in the NFL.
Since they shut down the Dolphins in Week 7, they’re allowing 29 points per game, 435 total yards per game, 306 passing yards per game and 4.8 yards per rushing attempt. They’re last or next-to-last in each of those categories since Week 8.
The Eagles are only the fifth team in NFL history to allow 2,000 net yards, 1,500 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns and 4.8 yards per carry in any five-game span.
They’re one of only seven teams in history to allow 27 or more TD passes while recording six or fewer interceptions through 12 games.
And there are no easy fixes on the horizon.
The Eagles are loaded with young talent up front. Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis have faded a little bit under the weight of too many snaps the last few weeks, but both have been very good this year and both will be studs for years to come. Josh Sweat is still only 26 and Milton Williams is 24.
But what about the back seven? What does the future look like in the secondary and linebacker?
The 42-19 loss to the 49ers only brought to the fore issues that have been bubbling beneath the surface for a while now.
It’s scary. And Howie Roseman has a lot of work to do.
Reed Blankenship is a very good young safety, and he’s the one guy in the back seven you feel really good about when you look at the future.
But who else gives you confidence they can one day be starters?
And what makes this especially concerning is that Darius Slay and James Bradberry are both in their 30s and aren’t the players they used to be. Bradley Roby and Kevin Byard are better than the alternatives, but Roby is 31 and Byard is 30 and neither is signed beyond this year and it’s not like they’re playing at a Pro Bowl level. The Eagles added former all-pro Shaq Leonard on Monday, but he’s coming off back surgery, was benched and released by the Colts and doesn’t appear to be the player he once was.
And Roby, Byard, Morrow, Cunningham and Leonard are all unsigned beyond this year and all are older veterans so it’s not like any of them are long-term answers.
There’s plenty of young firepower on offense.
A.J. Brown is 26, Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith are 25, Cam Jurgens is 24, Landon Dickerson is 25, D’Andre Swift is 24. All but Swift are signed at least through next year.
But in the back seven?
Where are the future stars?
Or forget stars. Where are the future starters?
Roseman has done a remarkable job building two Super Bowl teams in a six-year span and stocking the roster with enough talent to get the Eagles to 10-2 on the heels of 14-3 and a Super Bowl appearance.
But his drafting when it comes to defensive backs and linebackers in recent years hasn’t been great, and although he’s had some success acquiring stop-gap veterans off the street and in trades, that’s not the ideal way to build for the long haul.
And as much as I agree with the general philosophy of building from the two lines out, I wonder if Roseman has done that too much, at the expense of the defensive backfield and linebacker.
Maybe that’s a knee-jerk reaction after an ugly loss to the 49ers, but when you look at the back seven and the nearly complete absence of promising young talent, it seems fair.
Here are the Eagles’ linebackers and defensive backs 26 or under who have played on defense this year along with their snap counts:
681 … Reed Blankenship
296 … Terrell Edmunds
219 … Josh Jobe
182 … Nakobe Dean
173 … Sydney Brown
149 … Eli Ricks
119 … Christian Ellis
83 … Nolan Smith
70 … Mario Goodrich
27 … Mekhi Garner
17 … Josiah Scott
1 … Kelee Ringo
Realistically, who on that list other than Blankenship could you one day see being an above average starter? Maybe Dean, although we haven’t seen it yet. Possibly Brown, although his snaps keep going down. Jobe is an outstanding special teamer but that's probably it. Isaiah Rodgers will be 26 next year when he’s presumably allowed to return from his suspension. Rodgers had three interceptions for the Colts in 2021 at 23 years old so maybe he can help.
But none of these guys are sure things.
The Eagles need play-making linebackers who can change a game. They need young corners who can run and tackle and young safeties who can cover and hit.
The last Pro Bowl linebacker the Eagles drafted was Trott, the last Pro Bowl corner they drafted was Lito and the last Pro Bowl safety they drafted was Michael Lewis.
There’s a lot to like about this team. They’re still 10-2, they still have one of the NFL’s most electrifying offenses, they still have the best record in the NFL and they still have a realistic chance to get to 14 wins.
But there are deficiencies and concerns on defense. They’ve been there for a while, but they were all on full display on Sunday, and there are no easy fixes.