Despite relocating almost 3,000 miles away from Oregon, Taylor Hart should feel right at home as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only will the enormous defensive end reunite with head coach Chip Kelly but former Ducks defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro as well.
The Eagles scheme won’t be 100 percent the same as Oregon's, but it should be close enough that Hart can step in and contribute on defense immediately. Given his familiarity with Azzinaro, he’ll be able to pick up the subtle differences relatively quickly.
That’s partly what made him such a logical pick in the fifth round. There’s no mystery here. Both parties know exactly what they’re getting.
What the Eagles are getting is a 6’6”, 281-pound lineman with natural power and length that make him NFL-ready from Day 1. Hart is a football player. He’s relentless and will do the dirty work—exactly the kind of guy you want to have in the trenches.
Initially, he will be counted on to solve the unit’s depth issues, particularly behind Fletcher Cox, who started last season strong but seemed to fade down the stretch. That might have something to do with the Eagles asking him to play roughly 75 to 85 percent of the defensive snaps in 10 of the final 12 contests, according to game-charting numbers from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The 12th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Cox is expected to anchor the Birds’ defensive front for years to come, but he still needs a breather once in a while. Most teams rely on a rotation on the defensive line. The Eagles simply didn’t have the talent last year.
Now they do.
If that’s all that Hart is—a defensive substitute—that’s still fine value for a fifth-round pick. However, he should eventually have an opportunity to be more.
For the time being, Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry form a nice platoon at the opposite end. Thornton came from nowhere to become one of the most dominant run defenders in the NFL in 2013. Once the decision was made to implement Curry in the game plan, he started to make the most of his limited opportunities to rush the passer, racking up 4.0 sacks.
That combination is not necessarily viable for the long haul, though.
As good as Thornton is at stuffing the run, that’s literally all he’s shown the ability to do. And as one-dimensional as he is now, he’ll likely never become more than a two-down player.
Curry’s name keeps popping up in hypothetical trades because he’s not a true fit for the 3-4. When the Eagles called his name in Round 2 of the 2012 draft, they were still operating out of a 4-3.
Thornton will be a restricted free agent next offseason, when the team will have a decision to make on his value. Meanwhile, it makes sense to hang onto Curry for now—he has two years remaining on his deal, and defensive line depth is still an issue. But unless he better acclimates himself to the defense, it might be time to pull the trigger on a deal next offseason.
Either way, Hart is likely to challenge for a starting job in a year or two, provided he’s earned it.