Are the Philadelphia Eagles a Top-5 Defense Heading Into 2023?

The Philadelphia Eagles' defense should once again be impressive. However, with the personnel and coaching changes from last year, can it be a top-five unit?

The Philadelphia Eagles were oh, so close to becoming Super Bowl champions for the second time over the past decade in 2022, and it’s because of the balance of power they possessed between offense and defense. The Eagles had the most efficient and dominating run game in the NFL, with the league’s best passing defense in both EPA and DVOA metrics.

But with so much turnover on the defensive side of the ball, can the Eagles’ defense push to be a top-five unit again in 2023, or are they destined for some defensive regression?

Philadelphia Eagles Defense Sees Several Changes

The changes made are what matters. Monetarily speaking, it was always going to be difficult for Howie Roseman to retain the level of talent he accumulated on the defensive side of the ball a season ago. Philadelphia loaded up, yet they also lost several key pieces from last season.

But that was likely the plan the whole time. Jonathan Gannon was not long for Philadelphia. Whether Eagles’ fans believe he’s a good defensive coach or not is of little consequence because the league adored the defensive coordinator, and he moved on to Arizona to be a head coach.

Sean Desai began his coaching career in Philadelphia, and now he’s back in the city that started it all for him.

“The honest truth is this is an emotional kind of homecoming for me to come back to Philadelphia,” Desai said. “There’s a lot of pride that we take in this city. My wife went to school here (at Temple). I went to school here. I started my coaching career here … down the road, and we helped turn that program around there.”

MORE: Best Cornerbacks in the NFL 2023

Seeing personnel turnover when the coordinator and overall philosophy change is not inherently bad. But let’s take a look at some of the key departures and arrivals amongst the Eagles’ defense.

  • Eagles Departures
    • S C.J. Gardner-Johnson
    • DT Javon Hargrave
    • LB T.J. Edwards
    • LB Kyzir White
    • S Marcus Epps
  • Eagles Additions
    • S Terrell Edmunds
    • LB Nicholas Morrow
    • CB Greedy Williams
    • DE Kentavius Street

That certainly doesn’t look like an even trade.

Edmunds undoubtedly improved late in his career with the Steelers and could be a nice stop-gap until someone else is ready to take over for him on the back end. Street is a larger defensive end who can play anywhere from the 3-technique out to the 5, but he obviously doesn’t hold a candle to Hargrave’s ability. Williams, meanwhile, does provide depth on the outside and might be a viable starting option in future seasons.

But losing five starters along the defensive interior between both starting linebackers, safeties, and a Pro-Bowl defensive tackle certainly isn’t easy to make up for. Yet, Desai should make Philadelphia a more schematically-sound unit, and the Georgia Eagles’ defensive front seven is nearly complete at this point.

With the offensive depth chart practically set before the draft, it was easy for the Eagles to go defense with four of their first five selections. It’s also no coincidence that three of the four played at Georgia.

Sean Desai Brings Vic Fangio-Style Defense

Kirby Smart’s defense differs from the Vic Fangio-style defense that will be played in Philly, but there are more than enough characteristics that match between the two to make Bulldogs fit right in.

Jalen Carter may very well be the best player from the 2023 NFL Draft class, and he goes to a situation with a ton of familiar faces. Nolan Smith is an outstanding fit to play the 7- and 9-techniques in Desai’s defense, where he’ll be asked to rush the passer and defend the flat, something his athletic ability allowed him to do at a functional level at Georgia.

MORE: How Do Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and Sydney Brown Fit Sean Desai’s Defensive Philosophy?

Kelee Ringo is in the perfect situation. He won’t have to play immediately and will get to sponge off Darius Slay and James Bradberry, two outstanding veteran presences. There were some awful inconsistencies in Ringo’s tape, but if the Eagles’ staff can focus on the young man and allow him to grow slowly, he could be a great player in the future.

“We felt like this was a 20-year-old kid who was a good kid, tremendous physical tools, and we really had an opportunity to develop him,” Roseman said after the draft. “He doesn’t have to come in here and be a superhero. He can learn.”

philadelphia eagles
Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

But maybe the 6-foot-2, 210-pound DB never ends up playing cornerback at all. He has the build of a safety, and his best tape came when he was able to play with his belly button to the ball.

Ringo’s also an obviously intelligent defender from a match-based zone coverage perspective, but he needs to remain focused throughout reps. He’s more than physical enough to be an active participant in run fits, which was the team’s only real sore spot in 2022 (23rd in rushing EPA). And just look at the safety depth chart.

But that’s just a theory.

Sydney Brown should also help the Eagles’ run defense as a slot/safety hybrid player. His fit and role are a tad more difficult to nail down because he’s coming from a man-heavy defense at Illinois that had him playing in the box quite a bit, but he’s a talented player who should eventually find his way.

Can the Philadelphia Eagles Be a Top-5 Defense in 2023?

When PFN NFL Analyst Arif Hasan looked at the league’s defenses, he projected Philadelphia to have the eighth-best defense in the NFL heading into 2023.

Yet, the Eagles’ schedule certainly won’t make things easy for them. Including their two games against Dallas, Philadelphia plays seven games against teams Hasan believes are top-10 offensive units heading into 2023.

MORE: 2023 Post-Schedule Release NFL Power Rankings — Eagles Still Elite

If the Eagles want to boast a top-five defense, they’ll have to get some big leaps from Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, and at least one of their safeties. The middle of an NFL defense is becoming more important by the minute, and good safeties play a critical role in running this scheme successfully.

But that pass rush will remain dominant. The Eagles may not scare the sack record again in 2023, but they have a very decent chance of sacking opposing QBs more than anybody this upcoming season. Slay and Bradberry make for an outstanding duo on the outside, and the team should see better run defense with the new pieces they’ve put in place.

Philadephia may fall outside of the top five, but they’ll likely remain one of the best 10 defenses in the NFL. Paired with what could be a top-three offense, that’s more than enough to dominate in the NFC.

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