Eagles 2022 season: 5 defensive players with something to prove

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5 Eagles on defense with something to prove in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With NFL training camp rapidly approaching, we recently took a look at five offensive players with something to prove in 2022.

Today, we’ll highlight five defensive players with something to prove for various reasons. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

James Bradberry

Because the Giants were trying to trade him, they ended up holding on to Bradberry well into the new league year and didn’t cut him until May, well after most teams had already spent the bulk of their cap space. The Eagles ended up signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million (and up to around $10 million). That’s not a bad payday for one year but it’s not the $15 million APY deal he signed to join the Giants back in 2020. After a Pro Bowl season in 2020, Bradberry wasn’t as good in 2021. Despite, a career-high four interceptions, Bradberry wasn’t the same player in his second season in New York. ProFootballFocus ranked Bradberry as their 58th-best cornerback last season after he came in at No. 6 the year before.

Bradberry will turn 29 in August and this season has the chance to prove that he’s still a top cornerback in the NFL. One of the major reasons he joined the Eagles was because of Jonathan Gannon’s scheme and Gannon’s propensity to use zone coverages. Bradberry has traditionally thrived in zone. If he can do it again in 2022, he might be leaving the Eagles with a big free agent deal coming after the season.

Fletcher Cox

On one hand, what the heck does Cox have to prove to anyone? He was a first-round pick, has made six Pro Bowl teams and has made well over $100 million in his 10-year NFL career. He’s already one of the greatest players in franchise history. But Cox didn’t play up to that standard in 2021, a season he admitted had its ups and downs for him. The Eagles released him this offseason to avoid paying $18 million in guaranteed money but then brought him back on a one-year, $14 million contract for the 2022 season. That kept him in the top 10 highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL.

Last December, after his streak of six straight Pro Bowls — one shy of Reggie White’s franchise record of seven consecutive — ended, Cox proclaimed that he could “still play at that level.” Cox said that he knows he’s still one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Let’s see if he can prove it in 2022.

Nakobe Dean

Sure, every rookie in the NFL has something to prove. In that respect, Dean is like everyone else. But he was also considered by many to be a first-round pick who tumbled out of the first and second rounds into the Eagles’ laps at No. 83 overall in the third round. While Dean has said that draft day free fall won’t be one of his primary sources of motivation … but it’ll stick with him on some level. The main reason Dean fell so far was fear about his injuries, mainly his pec. There were some reports that he needed surgery and was perhaps looking at a redshirt rookie season. The Eagles, after drafting him, said immediately that wasn’t the case. Dean was on the field during OTAs and should be ready to play in Year 1.

While at Georgia, Dean was the leader of the best defense in the nation and helped guide the Bulldogs to a national title. While Dean was the leader of that team, he watched as seven of his teammates heard their names called before him. He has a chance this season to prove he can be a difference-maker at the NFL level.

Marcus Epps

The Eagles tried to make a major splash at the safety position this offseason but they didn’t land Marcus Williams or Justin Reid or Tyrann Mathieu. They eventually signed Jaquiski Tartt very late in the process, giving them a trio of Tartt, Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps all fighting for playing time. Keep an eye on Epps. Because despite their attempts to sign a big-time free agent, the Eagles kept talking up the fourth-year safety out of Wyoming.

We’ll have to see how this safety position shakes out, but Epps has a chance to solidify himself as a high-level NFL safety this season. Oh yeah, and he’s entering a contract season. He’ll play out the final year of his four-year rookie contract in 2022.

Kyzir White

Coming off a major breakout season with the Chargers in 2021, White expected to cash in on a big multi-year deal. Didn’t happen. White settled by joining the Eagles on a one-year contract worth just $3 million with the potential to be worth up to $5. That’s a pretty low salary for a guy who had 144 tackles, 7 TFLs, 2 TFLs and 2 interceptions and started all 17 games last season.

White, 26, will likely figure prominently in the Eagles’ linebacker landscape in 2022 along with Dean, T.J. Edwards and Davion Taylor. White will probably be the starter at the weak side position in 2022 with a chance to prove his breakout season wasn’t a fluke and earn himself some money in the process.

Bonus: Arryn Siposs

While he got off to a pretty good start last season, punter Arryn Siposs really struggled toward the end of the 2021 season. He ranked 24th in the league in net average (out of 29 qualifying punters) at 38.8 yards per punt and 26th in gross average at 43.9. In the last six games of the season (including the playoff loss in Tampa), Siposs averaged just 37.0 yards per punt. Despite all that, he’s the only punter on the 90-man roster. Could the Eagles’ still sign another punter at some point? Sure. But Siposs is going to have the opportunity to prove himself at training camp and then likely in the season too.

Siposs, 29, played his first NFL games last season, so the hope is that he’ll get better. The Eagles really like their field goal operation, of which Siposs is the holder. And kicker Jake Elliott is coming off a career year as a punter, so you’ll understand why the Eagles aren’t in a hurry to make changes. But that’s not Siposs’s primary job. He needs to be a better punter in 2022.

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