The Patriots and the Eagles were the two best teams in football for the vast majority of the season. Both teams sport talent at every position, and the depth to sustain injuries as the season wore on. These are two of the top five rosters in football, and both teams deserve to be here. In a pretty evenly matched game, one player could swing the game either way, which begs the question: what one player from the Eagles roster would most help the Patriots defeat Philadelphia on Sunday?
My initial thought was the best right tackle in football, Lane Johnson. The Patriots are going to be starting third string Cameron Fleming on Sunday, and Lane Johnson’s talent against the ferocious Eagles defensive line would be a big help. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that the difference between Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, and Fleming at right tackle has been virtually non-existent this year. Waddle filled in for Cannon admirably, and when Waddle got hurt Fleming has been just as good.
Instead of trying to strengthen a non-weakness to face the Eagles best unit (defensive line), I decided it would be better to take from their strength, which also happens to be one of the Patriots “weaker” positional groups. Nigel Bradham would be a massive linebacker upgrade, but the position isn’t quite important enough with Kyle Van Noy back to justify this selection. This left me with three choices: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Timmy Jernigan.
For as good as the defensive tackle Jernigan has been this year, the Patriots have been stout on the interior since Ricky Jean Francois entered the rotation. Given this and the talent gap between he and Cox/Graham, Jernigan was pretty quickly taken out. This leaves the two best players on Philadelphia’s defense, Cox and Graham.
Fletcher Cox is the better overall player, a monster who can move up and down the line and wreak havoc in all facets of the game, while Brandon Graham is their most efficient pass rusher off the EDGE, though he is no slouch versus the run either. Either would be a big loss for the Eagles and huge gain for the Patriots, but one choice became clear...
Brandon Graham. While Cox is the better overall player, the Patriots are really missing one more very good pass rusher, and Graham would provide just that. Graham led the Eagles with 9.5 sacks this year, three more than Patriots leader Trey Flowers. Graham would allow Flowers to become the secondary rusher on the line, where he would flourish, and it would give the Patriots two stout run defenders on the edge to go along with their pass rushing prowess. Graham would instantly become the best player on the Patriots front seven, and would go a long way towards making sure Nick Foles doesn’t repeat his NFCCG performance in the Super Bowl.
On the Eagles side of things, losing Graham would likely slide former friend Chris Long or Derek Barnett into a starting role. Don’t underestimate either of these players in their current roles, but as a starter they would be a more manageable match-up for Fleming than Graham figures to be, where they’ll likely give him plenty of help. If the Patriots could somehow pluck Graham from the Eagles roster for this Sunday, the entire makeup of the match-up changes.
Alas, this is not the case, and the Patriots will instead need to figure out a way to quiet Graham if they want to win ring #6 (which I think they do, for the record: 27-17).
This concept got me thinking about the reverse scenario as well, so I reached out to my pals and Locked on Eagles podcast hosts Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL on Twitter) and Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak on Twitter) with the question: “What one (non-Tom Brady) player would you take from the Patriots for the Eagles?”
Mike: “Would Gronk be tight end overkill?... prob losing (Trey) Burton.. (Brent) Celek old.. I’ll go Gronk.”
Probably should’ve seen that coming, so I requested a backup player.
Mike: “Gronk again?” followed by “Cooks or McCourty...Hmmm...Cooks to replace Torrey (Smith).”
Luckily, a freshly-cleared Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, and Devin McCourty will all be suiting up for New England, and all three are primed for big games. Go Patriots, friends.