Philadelphia Eagles: Why can’t Patrick Johnson make an impact this fall?

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

For better or worse, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ defense is going to look a good bit different in 2022 than it did in 2021.

For one thing, the Birds finally have a true, traditional nose tackle in Jordan Davis, who is quite literally one of the biggest players in the NFL and will immediately unlock a world of possibilities both playing alongside Fletcher Cox or Javon Hargrave or alongside both Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in a traditional 3-4 defensive front.

And then there are the linebackers, oh goodness, the linebackers; from Hasson Reddick on the outside as a certified speedster opposite Josh Sweat’s weakside defensive end to the dynamic duo of Kyzir White and Nakobe Dean, who, alongside T.J. Edwards, may form the best inside linebacker corps of any Eagles team to take the field in midnight green.

But hey, just because the Philadelphia Eagles got a whole lot of new doesn’t mean their pre-existing players are all chopped liver destined for the scrap heaps of history. No, if anything, this new, hybrid approach to the defensive front should do wonders for Patrick Johnson, the Birds’ seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and one of the most prolific defensive players in the history of Tulane University.

Patrick Johnson could be a player for the Philadelphia Eagles this fall.

Before Patrick Johnson wore the number 48 for the Philadelphia Eagles or was the 234th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he was a member of the Tulane Green Wave and was a darn good defensive performer at that. A four-year performer who recorded two of the four double-digit sack seasons in the school’s history and left New Orleans as the all-time sacks leader at 24.5.

Largely deployed as a traditional 4-3 defensive end both with his hand on the ground and standing upright, Johnson was the best defensive player on an alright American Athletic Conference team and was often moved around by his head coach, Willie Fritz, to capitalize on mismatches, even if that meant deploying him out wide to hold things down against the likes of future teammate Kenneth Gainwell.

And yet, unlike his fellow 2021 draftee Tarron Jackson, who was allowed to stay at defensive end after a similarly record-setting college career at Coastal Carolina, Jackson was kicked back to strongside off-ball linebacker, where he was tasked with serving as a backup for Genard Avery. Though he didn’t play very many snaps, well over doubling his special team snaps (254) versus his defensive efforts (111), he looked pretty good as an off-ball defender tasked with slowing down the run, as, even at 6-foot-2, 248 pounds, Johnson was able to flood gaps and give opposing ball handlers a very hard time.

And guess what? In 2022, that experience will come in handy, as the SAM linebackers spot is going to become much more of a featured part of the team’s defensive strategy, and Johnson will already have a leg up on Kyron Johnson, the team’s 2022 sixth-round pick, for that role. While Johnson is a good bit faster than Johnson, Johnson is a much wider player and may find himself used more as a rotational SAM who plays in place of Reddick when he needs a break on obvious passing downs.

Confusing? Totally but hey, I didn’t draft two players with the same last name to play the same position; if you want to be mad at someone, blame Howie Roseman.

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In the NFL, getting any sort of meaningful minutes out of a seventh-round pick is great. Sure, teams will occasionally find a Jordan Mailata who well overshoots expectations to become a starter at a premium position, but for the most part, finding a solid backup in the round is considered a success. That’s all Patrick Johnson has to become to make an impact for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022; a solid reserve who can play something like 20-25 percent of the team’s snaps and find utility both situationally and on special teams. Fortunately, those are aspects of the game that Johnson practiced in 2021 and thus already has a leg up on heading into his sophomore season.