There’s been a lot of talk about how the installation of Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles will affect the team’s defensive linemen. Discussion that Fletcher Cox will thrive in a move to the “three technique” tackle spot. Chatter that 2016 will be the year Brandon Graham finally “breaks out” at defensive end.
However, in the opinion of Andy Benoit of the MMQB, the player who will benefit the most from Schwartz’s “wide nine” scheme is end Vinny Curry. “A few months ago,” Benoit wrote, “I was studying film with an NFC East offensive lineman. I asked him who were the two toughest players he faced last season. One was Cameron Jordan. The other? You guessed it (but only because you’re reading this story). That offensive lineman also didn’t understand why Curry played only 35 percent of Philly’s snaps in 2015, the 16th-most on their defense.”
Teammate Connor Barwin told Benoit he thinks Schwartz knows how to best take advantage of Curry’s quickness off the edge. “Vinny is an interesting guy because, in my opinion, you have to know how to coach him,” Barwin said. “He’s so explosive, you have to more or less let him just go. When you try to give Vinny a lot of different assignments, places to be, it can slow him down. But when you really just cut him loose, that’s when you see him have a lot of success.”
Schwartz agreed, stating that Curry should fit much better into his 4-3 than the two-gap 3-4 ran by Billy Davis in 2015. “There are some guys that really fit in the defense here last year,” Schwartz said. “I think he was one guy who wasn’t a great fit. He played in that square stance. They play a lot of two-gap. That’s been proven to be an effective system, also, it just didn’t fit Vinny very well. I think we can cut the handcuffs off of him, so to speak, and cut him loose along with the other guys up front.”
It isn’t just Benoit who predicts a breakout for Curry in 2016. ESPN’s Tim McManus is beating the drum as well. “The former second-round pick out of Marshall has been used rather sparingly since being drafted by the Eagles in 2012,” McManus said, “and he was stuck in a two-gapping system that didn’t fit him for the past three seasons. Curry has still been productive despite those obstacles — he posted 9.0 sacks in 2014. The Eagles saw the value and handed him a five-year, $47.5 million contract this offseason. Now in an aggressive 4-3 scheme that will maximize his quick get-off, Curry has a chance to bloom into one of the league’s most productive pass-rushers.”
For his part, Curry told Matt Lombardo of NJ.com he’s looking forward to earning that fat new paycheck. “It should help me, a whole lot,” Curry said when asked how much of a boost it will be to open the season as a starter. “I have a goal. I’m just trying to be one of the cornerstones of this defense and one of the major parts when you walk away talking about the Eagles this season, I just want my name to come up in the conversation.”
But there’s a catch, because of course there is. In the preseason at least Curry hasn’t always been the “starter,” and with Barwin and Graham also in the mix the Eagles front has the makings of a true rotation. All three players have seen time at both end spots. All three ends will play enough to potentially have value for IDP owners. But all three ends could also see their fantasy ceilings capped somewhat by the presence of the others.
It creates a bit of a sticky wicket for fantasy drafters, but Jene Bramel of Football Guys (the Obi Wan Kenobi of IDP pundits) isn’t hearing it — he’s all aboard the Curry express. “All three players are going to get looks on the open end and it looks like they’ll all get about 45-50 snaps a game while sitting out one of three series each,” Bramel said. “I still like Vinny Curry over Graham, with Barwin a half tier back of both.”
I’m not quite as high on Curry as Bramel, but I’m also not far behind either. There’s a reason why so many pundits are calling for that breakout season from Curry in 2016. This is a player who managed nine sacks two years ago in a role he was miscast in. His combination of size, speed and strength would appear to make him the best fit of the trio on the strong side. And while I’ll be closely watching Saturday’s “dress rehearsal” against the Colts, at this point my money’s on Curry to lead the Philly DE in both snaps and fantasy points — and it wouldn’t surprise me even a little if he leads the team in sacks.
OK, maybe I am as high on Curry as Bramel. Deep breaths, Gary. Deep breaths.
Given that Graham and often Barwin are coming off IDP draft boards ahead of him, that makes Curry the fantasy equivalent of a unicorn — a player who can be drafted as a DL3 who has an excellent shot at becoming a weekly starter and a real chance at cracking the top 10 in 2016.