Eagles Breakdown: It’s time to give Nakobe Dean a shot on defense
At 8-0, you’d be hard pressed to find a glaring flaw on either side of the ball for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philly is top-10 in nearly every major category. They’re top-10 in total offense and defense, top-10 in scoring on both sides of the ball, and they sit atop the NFL in turnover differential by a pretty wide margin. Why change anything they’re doing, right?
If history is any indication, the all-time great teams throughout this league’s history don’t stand pat, even when they’re winning at a rapid pace. The best teams are always tweaking things, looking for the most optimal way to win each and every Sunday. Up to this point, the Eagles have done a fine job towing that line between sticking to their guns and adjusting accordingly to their opponents.
There’s also a fine line between playing to win now and preparing for the future. At the linebacker position specifically, the Eagles are at a bit of a crossroads.
TJ Edwards has been phenomenal this season, grading out as the fifth-best linebacker in the sport per Pro Football Focus. His running mate Kyzir White, while not a liability, hasn’t exactly been the difference make Edwards has been.
As it stands, White has earned a 58.1 defensive grade from PFF, good for 51st out of 80 qualifying backers. His run defense grade isn’t much better, sitting at 55.1, 56th out of 82 LBs.
When he was signed this past offseason, White was heralded as a great coverage linebacker, something the Eagles desperately needed opposite of Edwards. Although White has been better in that area than in run defense, he hasn’t been elite by any means. Per PFF, White boasts a 60.3 coverage grade, which ranks 38th out of 78 linebackers.
Has White been bad enough to lose his job? I wouldn’t go that far, he’s certainly had his standout moments. But, the Eagles have Nakobe Dean waiting on the bench. A prospect who, by almost all accounts, was the best player on Georgia’s defense in 2021. A defense that will go down as arguably the best college defensive unit of all-time.
Dean has barely sniffed the field this year for Gannon’s defense. He’s played a total of six defensive snaps, while tallying 141 snaps on special teams.
Though he was taken in the third-round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Dean was considered to be the best linebacker in the country by several draft analysts. White has been fine in his role, but imagine two game-changers at the linebacker position with Dean and Edwards.
White is only on a one-year deal as well. With Dean waiting in the wings, the chances of White getting an extension from the Eagles are pretty slim. Seeing what Dean can do now rather than waiting until next season makes sense.
Dean living up to expectations is no guarantee, to be clear. Playing devil’s advocate here, maybe the reason Dean hasn’t seen the field much is simply because he isn’t ready for that type of workload. It’s certainly a plausible explanation, but it’s impossible for any of us to know until we see him in action.
For the record, Dean was excellent during the preseason. Granted, it is just the preseason, but it’s still impressive seeing a rookie fly around like this in his first NFL action.
On 62 defensive snaps during preseason play, Dean racked up eight total tackles and five defensive stops (a PFF metric that records tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense). He finished the preseason with a defensive grade of 76.3 and a run defense grade of 87.5.
I imagine Gannon would want to bring Dean along slowly. Insert him for about 10-15 defensive snaps per game in packages he feels comfortable running, before handing him the reigns to start full-time.
The way I see it, the Eagles have nothing to lose here. If Dean isn’t ready, then he’s not ready. Leave White in the starting lineup and let it ride for the remainder of the season. But if Dean is ready and makes an impact, then an already great Eagles defense just got a little better.
Especially now that Jordan Davis is sidelined with injury and the Eagles run defense is susceptible, Dean could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
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