The Philadelphia Eagles took the risk in getting younger at defensive end by trading Michael Bennett and Chris Long retiring. Both Bennett and Long are 34 years old, so a youth movement was necessary. Philadelphia kept some veterans at defensive end, re-signing Brandon Graham (31) and bringing back Vinny Curry (30, will be 31 later this month).
As for that youth movement? The Eagles drafted Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 draft and have received production out of Barnett in the 21 games he played. They selected Josh Sweat in the fourth round of the 20018 draft and Shareef Miller in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
While Miller is a rookie and a project for the upcoming year, Sweat was in that situation last year. This year, the expectations are higher for Sweat with Bennett and Long out of the picture. The Eagles expect Sweat to produce and become the No. 4 defensive end that can spell Graham, Barnett, and Curry.
Replacing Long and Bennett’s production is asking too much for a player who has suited up for one NFL season, but Sweat has to get to the quarterback when he’s on the field. The time is now for Sweat to show the Eagles what he’s got.
“It’s implied,” Sweat said (via Jeff McLane of Inquirer.com). “I know. I don’t need nobody to tell me. But, yeah, it’s definitely implied. You just feel it in the atmosphere. But I’m ready to live up to it.”
Sweat has been off to a good start this offseason and has been a pleasant surprise in Eagles minicamp, showing incredible burst off the line and showcasing his speed against the Eagles right tackles (Eagles have him lined up at left defensive end). He looked impressive when Lane Johnson was in there as well, but it’s important to remember the Eagles are in helmets and shorts.
Sweat appears to be the front runner to get the No. 4 defensive end snaps in 2019, especially since the Eagles believe they got a first-round talent in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Sweat was a project in 2018, expected to be the No. 5 defensive end on a roster full of veteran edge rushers. The Eagles gave Sweat more snaps when Barnett went down (pectoral muscle), but he compiled just one pressure, one tackle and one quarterback hit in 68 snaps.
Sweat’s season ended in Week 14 with a foot injury. He’ll be relied on to take the next step in 2019, especially since there’s playing time available.
Sweat is in a competition for that No. 4 defensive end spot with Miller, former third-round pick Daeshon Hall, and former undrafted free agent Joe Ostman. The Eagles like Hall and Ostman, but they want Sweat to seize that role and be productive in the No. 4 edge rusher spot.
If all goes according to plan, Sweat will move up the depth chart the next year and eventually line up with Barnett on the edge. This season is a huge test for Sweat, one which the Eagles are banking on him to pass.