5 Newcomers Who Will Play Biggest Roles for Philadelphia Eagles

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 6, 2012

5 Newcomers Who Will Play Biggest Roles for Philadelphia Eagles

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    Last year, I could've given you more than a dozen newcomers primed to play major roles in Philadelphia.

    This year, the Eagles spent the offseason doing some fine-tuning and adding youth on defense. As a result, very few newbies are expected to impact Philly's 2012 season. 

    A handful of players still make it onto our radar, starting with the team's biggest veteran acquisition of the offseason.

DeMeco Ryans

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    No newcomer is expected to impact the 2012 Eagles as much as DeMeco Ryans, who comes over from Houston to take over at middle linebacker. 

    Only the Buccaneers missed more tackles than Philadelphia did last season, according to Football Outsiders.

    And while his last two years in Houston were marred by an injury and a scheme change, he's healthy now and back in a 4-3 defense.

    Ryans averaged 130 tackles per season in his first four years in the league. That's good.

    But there are still some concerns. He's replacing Jamar Chaney in the middle, but Ryans missed just as many tackles as Chaney last season, per Pro Football Focus.

    In fact, he ranked 31st among 37 qualifying inside linebackers in tackling efficiency in 2011, 47th out of 50 in 2010 and 27th out of 39 in 2009.

    Considering that he also can't be relied upon to be an asset in coverage, it's easier to understand why the Texans were willing to part with the two-time Pro Bowler in exchange for only a fourth-round pick.

    I'm not saying he won't help considerably. A new environment should provide a boost, and Ryans has a chance to become a veteran leader in Philly.

    His presence will be valued. But we also shouldn't expect him to single-handedly erase all of the team's problems on defense.

Brandon Boykin

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    Eagles special-teams coordinator Bobby April admitted this week that the Eagles were "terrible" on kick and punt returns last season.

    That's probably a big reason why the team used a fourth-round pick on Brandon Boykin, whom Pro Football Weekly rated as the second-best returnman in the draft.

    Dion Lewis and DeSean Jackson lacked electricity on returns last season, and the Eagles would probably prefer to use Jackson less on punts.

    Last year at Georgia, Boykin averaged 12.9 yards on 14 punt returns, and he took one to the house. He also had four kick-return touchdowns during his time with the Bulldogs.

    In addition to being the favorite to earn key roles as a returner, Boykin could also compete for defensive snaps as a nickel corner. 

Mychal Kendricks

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    Don't be surprised if rookie second-round pick Mychal Kendricks has more of an impact than any other Eagles newcomer in 2012.

    The versatile linebacker out of Cal can span the field, contribute in coverage and rush the passer, and thus he's expected to get the first crack at earning a starting job on the strong side.

    During his final three years with the Bears, Kendricks put up 244 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, four interceptions and nine passes defensed. 

    The only knock on Kendricks is that he's a little short at 5'11", but his athleticism—he dominated all linebackers at the scouting combine—should compensate for his lack of size. 

Fletcher Cox

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    The Eagles felt so strongly about Fletcher Cox that they dealt away a fourth- and a sixth-round pick to move up three spots and select him in the first round of April's draft.

    And when you consider that one of the league's best defensive lines is getting up there in age, the move made a lot of sense.

    Plus, Cox fits in well with what the aggressive Eagles like to do on defense. He'll join the rotation immediately, improving the pressure Philly gets up the middle.

    Barring some injuries, don't expect the 21-year-old No. 12 overall pick to be an every-down player in his first season, because there's a crowd up front and he has to work on his run-stopping skills and improve his overall technique. 

Demetress Bell

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    Demetress Bell didn't join the Eagles under happy circumstances.

    He's an insurance policy, installed as the team's new left tackle only because All-Pro Jason Peters is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury.

    Bell himself is injury-prone. He's missed large chunks of the last two seasons.

    But when the 28-year-old was healthy last year, Pro Football Focus rated him as the sixth-best offensive tackle in football in terms of pass-blocking efficiency—only one spot behind Peters.

    Bell only gave up one sack in seven games, but that sample size is a little too small. There's gotta be a reason the Bills let him walk as a free agent, and it might have had something to do with a 2010 campaign in which Bell rated out as PFF's 42nd-best tackle in the league. 

    Will we see the healthy Bell in 2012? And if so, will it be the 2011 version or the 2010 version? Regardless, with few other options in Philly, he'll play a significant role.