Philadelphia Eagles: James Lynch is a quirky rusher built for Philly

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

While James Lynch may not be every team’s cup of tea, his ability to win in space against tackles makes him a great fit as an inside-out rusher in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Wide-9 scheme.

James Lynch is one of the weirder players in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Measuring in at 6-foot-4, 289 pounds with short arms and tree trunk legs, Lynch played defensive end in Matt Rhule‘s Baylor Bears attacking defense and was uber-productive. After stepping into a starting role as a sophomore, Lynch became one of the Big 12’s deadliest rushers, amassing 100 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, and 20 sacks including a staggering 13.5 sacks alone as a junior.

These numbers helped make Lynch the Bears’ all-time sack leader, not to mention the 2019 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

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But here’s the thing, Lynch can’t play remain an edge rusher in the NFL, at least not consistently.

While a handful of players still line set the edge with his height weight profile, specifically stocky 4-3 defensive ends like Cameron Jordan or Philly’s own Vinny Curry, these players both ran sub-4.9 40-yard dashes, notably faster than Lynch’s 5.01. Factor in a 7.39 cone drill, a 29-inch broad jump, and 23 reps on the bench and Lynch is not what you’d call an athletic freak of nature.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be successful in the NFL.

No, to be successful at the game’s highest level, Lynch needs to transition inside to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. This position shift would force him to play over stouter guards more frequently and fill in holes against the run.

In college, this was not Lynch’s strong suit.

When asked to play on the inside, Lynch gets lost in the shuffle and bodied up in the trenches. Because he doesn’t have ideal arm length to generate separation and lacks the elite burst to power his way through a double-team block, Lynch can’t be relied on to generate pressure between in the A Gap, let alone on the inside shoulder of offensive guards.

So in summation, Lynch can’t continue on as an attacking defensive end in the NFL because he lacks the athleticism to beat offensive tackles consistently on the outside, and he’s yet to show an ability to make an impact on the interior as a traditional defensive tackle. Is Lynch a tweener destined to endlessly bounce around the league a la Penn State defensive lineman Anthony Zettel?

Not if he happens to land with the Philadelphia Eagles.

You see, unlike most other teams in the NFL, the Eagles run a 4-3 base defensive package out of the Wide-9, Jim Schwartz‘s preferred alignment that places its defensive ends obnoxiously outside the, well, outside shoulders of the offensive tackles. This alignment allows the rushers, specifically speed rushers, to artificially generate a straight line to the quarterback, but also forces the team’s interior tackles to play noticeably wider as well. That’s right, unlike a traditional 4-3 where DTs line up either between the guards and the center or over the guards directly, Schwartz allows Fletcher Cox and company to lineup either between the guards and the tackles or over the tackles directly.

Between forcing tackles to kick out wide to challenge the likes of Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham out wide, and the presence of Cox who almost always forces double-teams at the line of scrimmage, Lynch would be afforded a slew of one-on-one opportunities on the outside shoulder of similarly athletic guards in space, a situation that becomes especially advantageous on obvious passing downs. This would allow Lynch to get more one-on-one looks in space against open field linemen, where his motor and effort can shine through.

Lynch can also provide some value as a short-yardage defensive end when the Eagles need size up front. This may only happen in third-and-short and/or goal line situations, but Lynch’s presence could very well turn the favor of a handful of plays a season, specifically a handful that could be the difference between a new set of downs and a punt, or a touchdown and a field goal.

While Lynch may never develop into an every-down starter like the player most scouts are comparing him to, Temple‘s Matt Ioannidis – maybe because of the duo’s shared tutelage under Matt Rhule – the Round Rock, Texas native would immediately step into a defensive line room with a built-in mentor in Malik Jackson, who also started out his career as an oversized defensive end before becoming a defensive tackle worth $10 million a year.

That sounds pretty, pretty, pretty good to me, and makes Lynch far more valuable for a team like the Eagles than, say the Baltimore Ravens, who run a traditional 3-4 front.

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If James Lynch is available in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Philadelphia Eagles have three selections (127, 145, and 146), there is enough to like about the former Baylor Bear’s tape and scheme compatibility to fold him into the fray without having to worry too much about his bust rate. While he may never develop into a star or even a starter, Lynch’s versatility and ability to impact a game from a variety of different positions makes him a safer pick than selecting yet another Day 3 speed rusher who may never crack the rotation with any sort of consistency.