Looking back at the 2011 season for the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s fairly easy to identify the breakout players on both offense and defense.
On offense, that would be left guard Evan Mathis, who entered training camp as veteran insurance depth on the offensive line, and ended the season as the most dominant guard in the National Football League, according to Pro Football Focus.
On defense, the choice is just as easy. Defensive tackle Derek Landri, who also entered camp as veteran insurance depth on the line, emerged as the fourth best 4-3 defensive tackle in the league last year, according to PFF. Even more impressive is the fact that he did it despite playing in only 12 games, mostly as a backup.
Last season, both Mathis and Landri emerged out of nowhere, literally out of nowhere, to emerge as the breakout players of the year. This season, the defensive player is going to be someone we’ve seen coming from a mile away.
That would be defensive end Phillip Hunt.
I cannot put into words how much I love Phillip Hunt. Hunt is 26 and he joined the Eagles in 2011 after leading the Canadian Football League in sacks in 2010.
In 2011, Hunt played in less than 20 percent of the snaps on defense, yet he still rated as the seventh best defensive player on the Eagles, according to PFF. He collected two sacks and a ridiculous 15 quarterback hurries. Project those numbers to a full-time starter (multiplying his total number of plays by about four), and Hunt records eight sacks and a mind-boggling 60 quarterback hurries last season.
Now I know you can’t just quadruple his statistics. He wouldn’t have collected 60 hurries, obviously, because that’s just about impossible. One of the reasons that Hunt was so effective last season was because he rotated in frequently. He also struggled against the run and there’s no way of knowing if he’ll play as well in 2012.
I don’t think he’ll be as good in 2012. I think he’ll be better.
I have complete confidence that Hunt will record about 10 to 11 sacks and close to 30 quarterback hurries in 2012. Oh, and I predict him to play in about 450 to 500 plays, which would be about half of the snaps.
I also think he’ll force a couple of fumbles (two or three).
He’s been absolutely unstoppable in the preseason. Literally unstoppable. It’s difficult to evaluate a player based on the preseason but when you don’t have much else to look at it, that can tell you a lot.
No matter what he does, he’s not going to be a starter for the Eagles in 2012. That’s because the Eagles have Trent Cole, arguably a top five defensive end in the NFL over the past five seasons, and Jason Babin, who collected 18 sacks last season, as the starters.
Hunt is currently the third defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, but he’s likely going to receive strict competition from 2010 first round pick Brandon Graham, who many predict to also be a breakout player this season.
I think Graham will play very well. I think anybody who has written this guy off as a bust needs to give him a a full season to show what he can do.
But Hunt is my breakout player of the year on defense. A huge year by the 26-year old former CFL star would also come in handy for the Eagles, who may decide to part ways with veteran Jason Babin following the 2012 season. That is, assuming Hunt, Graham, and rookie Vinny Curry all have good seasons in 2012.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.