Since 1999, three of the Eagles' 10 first-round picks have been used on defensive tackles.
As I outlined earlier this week, that's more than any other position during the Andy Reid era.
With the draft just 15 days away, what are the chances that the Birds will go that route once again?
Let's start by taking a look at who's currently on their roster.
Here's a chart with the percentage of snaps played by the Eagles' defensive tackles in 2010:
||Percentage of snaps
A few notes. These are unofficial numbers that I kept during the season. Rookie defensive tackle Jeff Owens was injured as soon as he got on the field so he's not included here. And these do not include the Week 17 game against Dallas when many of the starters sat.
As you can see, the Eagles have invested quite a bit in this position since 2005. Patterson and Bunkley were each first-round picks (31st and 14th in '05 and '06, respectively). And the Eagles selected Laws in the second round (47th overall) in 2008.
Dixon was undrafted and joined the Birds prior to the '09 season. Sometimes, we make too big of a deal when a player seemingly comes out of nowhere and plays well. That really wasn't the case with Dixon though.
As you can see, his playing time was still somewhat limited, but when he was on the field, Dixon was a beast. According to Pro Football Focus, Dixon graded out as the eighth-best interior linemen against the run last season. I've argued before that he might have been their third-best defensive player behind Asante Samuel and Trent Cole. And that's no exaggeration.
When judging Patterson and Bunkley, it's more important to look at their performance against the run since they were often replaced by Laws and Darryl Tapp in passing situations.
Overall, the Eagles limited opponents to 4.2 yards per carry, which ranked tied for 13th in the NFL last season. By comparison, that number was 4.1 in '09, 3.5 in '08, 3.8 in 2007, 4.5 in 2006 and 3.7 in 2005.
After a Week 4 loss to the Redskins, the Birds inserted Moise Fokou and Juqua Parker into the starting lineup. In the 12 remaining games (including the playoff loss to the Packers, but not the Week 17 loss to the Cowboys), the Eagles allowed 4.03 yards per carry.
However, it's important to keep in mind that the Eagles' shaky linebacker play was probably a bigger factor than the defensive tackles. Patterson graded out as the 10th-best interior lineman against the run; Bunkley was 46th; and Laws was 33rd, according to PFF.
When looking at contract situations, Bunkley is signed only through 2011. Patterson is signed through 2016. Dixon's future could be affected by a new CBA, but he's under contract for next season, and the Eagles figure to control his rights beyond that.
Dixon turns 26 in June; Bunkley turns 28 in November; and Patterson turns 28 in September.
Laws (turns 26 in June; signed through 2011) has been used primarily as a pass-rusher so unless something changes, it doesn't appear that he'll be in the mix as an every-down player, although that could change.
Looking ahead, Owens could get a shot, but last year's seventh-round pick will be coming back from a torn patella tendon.
The guess right now would be that Patterson and Dixon have the inside track to start at defensive tackle, although we have to see how new line coach Jim Washburn wants to use his personnel.
Considering that Bunkley and Laws are only signed for one more year, the Birds could certainly use some depth. In terms of need, I'd put cornerback, right guard and linebacker ahead of defensive tackle.
Having said that, if the Eagles see a true difference-maker available, particularly someone that fits Washburn's scheme, I wouldn't be surprised to see them go DT in the first few rounds.
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