How teams should copy the Super Bowl champion Eagles in the 2018 NFL Draft
Suggesting how NFL teams should copy the Super Bowl champs with specific prospects in the draft
The Eagles got super creative in their run to the organization's first Super Bow title, making them one of the most alluring teams in a while to be mimicked in the "copycat league."
Head coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz all added imaginative wrinkles to help Philadelphia's clearly talented roster reach its max potential.
And I'm not talking trick plays on 4th and goal, although "Philly Special" was a tremendous decision -- suggested by Nick Foles -- made by Pederson.
Here are some schematic concepts the Eagles incorporated during the season, in the playoffs, and the Super Bowl along with the 2018 draft prospects who could perform similar tasks for other teams.
The run-pass option (RPO!)
For Eagles: Nick Foles
No football phrase was discussed at length more over the past two weeks -- and in the Super Bowl -- than run-pass option. While the RPO has been around for a few years in the NFL -- most notably starting with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia in 2013 -- the abbreviation "RPO" was the buzzword of the 2017 NFL season and rose in prevalence during the Eagles' run to a championship. The run-pass option is two plays run at the same time -- with the offensive line run-blocking -- and the quarterback reading a linebacker, edge-rusher or defensive back to decide whether he should hand off the football or throw a pass.
It stresses the defense in a new way. Linebackers can no longer solely rely on reading their "keys" -- offensive linemen moving forward doesn't always indicate a run -- to quickly flow to where the football will be. The RPO creates hesitation, and stationary defenders are the best thing for an offense before the ball is released.
Even if the defense is fast to react, the quarterback still has the luxury of making his decision based on what looks like the most appealing option after the snap.
The RPO is a staple in modern-day college football and is a big reason why passing yards and scoring are on the rise and above NFL levels. Heck, the Super Bowl looked like a Big 12 game, didn't it? Doug Pederson provided Nick Foles with a variety of RPOs throughout the playoffs to give him the responsibility of making a rapid decision after the snap which would not only give his offense the best chance at reaching optimum efficiency but also significantly diminishing the opposition's pass rush. Yes, Philadelphia's blocking group was excellent all year, but Foles had a minuscule 1.9 sack rate in the playoffs. Much of that had to do with the rapid-fire component of the RPO.
Speaking of the Big 12, the two most prolific quarterbacks in that conference over the past three seasons were Mayfield and Rudolph, and the two ran many RPOs. In 2017, Lincoln Riley's Oklahoma offense was probably the most creative attack I've ever witnessed. RPOs were utilized frequently from an assortment of pre-snap alignments and motions. Misdirection was a key element to the Sooners' attack and routinely got pass-catchers wide open for Mayfield.
While Oklahoma State's offense wasn't as imaginative, Rudolph ran Mike Gundy's "basketball on grass" scheme brilliantly. Despite his large frame, he wasn't afraid to keep the ball on read-option runs to keep defenses honest. Also, at times he leaned on phenomenal running back Justice Hill when secondaries prioritized covering the pass. Both quarterbacks are proficient reading second-level defenders on RPOs.
Using a smaller defensive linemen as an inside pass-rusher
For Eagles: Brandon Graham
In the Super Bowl, the Eagles kicked Graham inside to face Patriots right guard Shaq Mason often. The biggest defensive play of the game occurred late in the fourth quarter when the 6-foot-1, 265-pound Graham -- primarily a defensive end -- beat Mason one-on-one, pressured Tom Brady and forced a fumble that was recovered by Derek Barnett.
While the Eagles certainly aren't the first team to use one of their defensive ends as a inside rusher in obvious passing situations, it's a defensive wrinkle that should become more and more common, as smaller defensive ends can utilize their burst to beat bigger, slower guards and take the shortest path to the quarterback.
Two different body types, but Mata'afa and Speaks are both ideal defensive ends who'll thrive inside against guards lacking lateral mobility in the NFL. Mata'afa is close to Graham's size and may even weigh in under 260 at the combine. He has the best first-step of any defensive linemen in this class and predominantly played as an one-gap defensive tackle at Washington State. There'll be times when he gets engulfed by professional interior linemen. That's ok. He'll also win due to sheer explosiveness to generate pressure up the middle.
As for Speaks, he'll tip the scales close to 270-ish pounds, but at 6-3, he has a heavy defensive end frame. Due to his athletic gifts and pass-rushing moves, Speaks will probably be best inside because he lacks the bend needed to consistently beat offensive tackles in the NFL but boasts the strength to deal with the power most guards possess.
Ground-game committee featuring two power backs
Blount and Ajayi are nuanced, tackle-breaking runners with impressive elusiveness. But they're both 225-plus pounds and undoubtedly can run with power. Most running back committees feature two contrasting backs. Not the top two runners on the Eagles.
Freeman and Chubb are the two prospects most similar to Blount and Ajayi. They have powerful, compact frames and, in college, proved they can run through arm tackles. Beyond that, the change-of-direction skills Freeman and Chubb possess are reminiscent of much lighter, smaller backs.
Adams is a tall, linear, mostly one-cut train of a running back. Per Pro Football Focus, he averaged 5.2 yards after contact per rush in 2017, the fourth-highest figure of 224 qualifiers at his position. Ballage is the most unique of the bunch, with excellent raw athleticism and pass-catching ability at 6-2 and 222 pounds.
Not asking young defensive lineman to be top pass-rusher right away
For Eagles: Derek Barnett
Barnett was a 20-year-old first-round pick last year, and despite an illustrious, record-setting career at Tennessee, the Eagles eased him into his role as a quarterback-harassing defensive end as a rookie. He didn't hit 30 snaps in one game until Week 6 and played more than 40 snaps only once during the regular season.
In the NFC title game and Super Bowl, Barnett was on the field for 33 and 34 snaps respectively, the most he'd played since Week 11. Overall, he was on the field for 43.4 percent of Philadelphia's defensive snaps. Barnett was fresh for the postseason and had six total sacks on the season. Veteran Brandon Graham played 70.6 percent of the snaps, Vinny Curry's percentage was 56.9, Chris Long's was 47.7
Armstrong is a true junior. Key will still be 21 when he's drafted. Sweat will be 21 for the duration of his entire rookie season in the NFL. Unsurprisingly, all are mostly unpolished pass-rushers who're enticing due to their sleek frames and dynamic acceleration en route to the quarterback.
Like Barnett this season, none of these defensive front players are ready to be an alpha pass-rusher in the NFL. Key has a chance to go in Round 1, while Sweat and Armstrong are likely Day 2 selections. If they can learn counter moves early on in their pro careers then ultimately trust them, they can eventually be reliable full-time players. They just need time to build their repertoire of pass-rushing moves.
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