The Philadelphia Eagles were lauded as immediate winners from the 2023 NFL Draft after landing two Georgia Bulldogs in the first round. With the dust settled from the offseason, we’re diving further into the Eagles’ season outlook. We break down whether defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith will even help this Super Bowl-caliber roster as rookies.
How Jalen Carter Can Help the Eagles in 2023
How well have the Eagles drafted in the last two years? Well, if it were based on my own big board of prospects, they landed players I had in the top three of their respective classes in 2022 and 2023 in Jordan Davis and Carter.
Davis had a solid rookie season when he was healthy in 2022, but a sprained ankle ended up costing him four games, and, eventually, his starting job. Philadelphia signed veteran Linval Joseph to soak up his snaps while he was out, then the team decided to rotate Davis in for a few snaps after Joseph proved to be more ready to help now. Davis took it in stride, saying he was just “grateful” to have a rotation spot at a deep position on the team.
Despite averaging under 12 snaps per game after returning from injury, Davis will have a bigger role in 2023 with Joseph, Javon Hargrave, and Ndamukong Suh gone. But where that leaves his reunited teammate isn’t a guarantee.
The trio of veteran defensive tackles totaled 1,077 snaps last year. The Eagles only added Carter, seventh-rounder Moro Ojomo, and backup veteran Kentavius Street from the Saints. It’s fair to expect the majority of those snaps to go to Davis, Carter, and third-year tackle Milton Williams.
We know Davis and Carter can play together, which can be key for the unit. Davis is more of a nose tackle who penetrates but is excellent at eating blocks. Carter is another freaky athlete but weighs 30 pounds less, and gets upfield into backfields more effectively.
New Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai said Carter allows him to be more “creative” with his pairings at the position. Although Hargrave ate 721 of the 1,077 departed snaps, I’d expect this year to be more of a rotational situation than one star taking the majority of those opportunities.
Carter will help sop up snaps and should be a productive pass rusher as well. I’d expect him to finish behind veteran Fletcher Cox in sacks but ahead of Davis and Williams.
How Nolan Smith Can Help the Eagles in 2023
While Carter seemingly has a clear path to playing time, barring a veteran being added to the room, Smith may not have the same opportunity. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was clear post-draft that he went after the edge position to help them “in the future” as their needs change. Next year, edge defenders Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham will be free agents.
However, that doesn’t mean we may see Smith take on a bigger role as those two face their exit. Barnett is a tougher player to project because he missed the 2022 season with a torn ACL suffered in Week 1. But even without him, the Eagles almost exclusively played Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Graham off the edge.
Adding Barnett to the mix could be another roadblock for Smith to see the field. Though Smith is a lankier, speedier option in comparison to Barnett’s thicker build and more power-based game, Reddick’s emergence as a near All-Pro sack artist is also a factor. Smith likely can’t steal snaps from Reddick, but he’s also not the same style of defender as Barnett.
It seems unlikely Smith will be a major contributor in 2023, barring several injuries. With that in mind, he’ll need to stay ready while also improving his functional strength as a run defender. His focus has to be preparing for a bigger role in 2024, when Graham may be retired and Barnett on another roster.