Of all the positions, the defensive end unit is easily the deepest and most talented group the Eagles have. While this is a blessing, it also makes it hard for the team to decide on who will make the team and who will be let go.
Obviously Trent Cole and Jason Babin aren't going anywhere, but behind them the team still has a very talented group. Most notably, the Eagles have Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Daryl Tapp and Philip Hunt.
The team also has depth at other positions, which means they cannot stack the defensive end position. It is a good bet that the team will keep five players, with two of those spots going to Cole and Babin. That leaves three spots for the remaining four on the list.
Brandon Graham will earn one of those spots, if only because the team is not yet ready to give up on the former first-round pick. His first two seasons did not go as expected and many fans are ready to label him a bust, but Graham flashed promising pass-rushing skills early on in his rookie season before getting hurt. Last season, he didn't look like himself as he struggled to come back from his knee injury. 2012 may be his last chance to prove himself to the team and to the fans. The talent is there, and if healthy Graham should push for more playing time this year.
Vinny Curry is also assured of a roster spot after the team spent a second-round pick on him in April's draft. Many analysts considered him a first-round talent and a steal in the second, and he has the requisite high-motor energy that head coach Andy Reid loves. He will be an interesting player to watch in training camp.
That leaves Daryl Tapp and Philip Hunt to fight for the last spot. Ultimately, I think Hunt has more pass-rushing potential, which may be enough for him to secure the final DE spot. Tapp is talented enough to earn playing time this season, but it may be with another organization.
The only thing we know for sure at defensive end is that Jason Babin and Trent Cole are the starters and at some point, Darryl Tapp will be the odd man out. Cole and Babin combined for 29 sacks in 2011. They are locked in as starters at this point.
Darryl Tapp has already reached his ceiling, and it isn't that high. At his best, he might give you five or six sacks a season. He will still be a quality reserve defensive end in 2012, just not in Philadelphia.
The Eagles will most likely keep five defensive ends, and use four on game day. Which two will rotate in with Cole and Babin is completely wide open. Brandon Graham has the most potential, Vinny Curry is the most natural pass rusher and Philly Hunt might actually have the most upside.
Graham had a nightmare of a 2011 season where he showed up to training camp about 20 pounds over weight and managed to play in just seven games. Curry was a monster in college, playing for lowly Marshall. He didn't get a lot of help around him on defense, but still managed to post back to back double digit sacks in 2010 and 2011. Hunt is in his second season removed from the CFL. He is still really raw, but during OTAs he looked both faster and stronger than he did last season.
You could draw two names out of a hat from these three players and be pretty happy with whoever rotates with the starters at defensive end. I predict that all three make the roster, while Graham and Hunt are active for week one. The great thing about the active roster is that it isn't set in stone for the whole season.
All three of these defensive ends will see action on game day at some point. It may come down to who is hot and who isn't injured or worn down from the previous week. This really is a great problem to have. The depth that the Eagles have at defensive end is something I don't think I have every seen before.