Monday, June 20, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.
By Reuben FrankCSNPhilly.com
Weve seen some big-time all-pro defensive linemen pass through Philly. Reggie White. Jerome Brown. Hugh Douglas. William Fuller.
And weve seen some of the worst defensive linemen in NFL history pass through town, as well. Jon Harris. Greg Jefferson. Leonard Renfro. Bruce Walker.
Lets put aside who are the best and the worst defensive linemen the Eagles have had over the years and in our sixth installment of the Most Underrated and Overrated Players in Eagles History, take a look at the D-linemen who time has treated too kindly or too harshly.
Next Monday: Quarterbacks.
He was supposed to be the next in the long line of great Eagles defensive ends. Reggie White. Clyde Simmons. William Fuller. Hugh Douglas. Jevon Kearse.
Kearse wasnt the next Reggie White. He wasnt even the next Hugh Douglas. Heck, Kearse wasnt even the next Mike Mamula.
Although Eagles fans inexplicably embraced Kearse as a star right up until the very end, Kearse in reality was a colossal bust after the Eagles made him the highest-paid defensive end in NFL history after the 2003 season.
Kearse had recorded 26 sacks in 1999 and 2000 with the Titans, fourth-most ever by a player in his first two seasons (Reggie White had 31, Derrick Thomas 30 and Shawne Merriman 27).
And in his next two full seasons, he remained an effective pass rusher, with 19 12 sacks in 2001 and 2003.
As soon as the Eagles got him, he was done. Kearse managed only 22 sacks in four seasons with the Eagles, which ranked him precisely 43rd in the league during that span.
Mike Mamula had two seasons as an Eagle with at least 8.0 sacks.
Jevon Kearse had zero seasons as an Eagle with at least 8.0 sacks.
Mike Mamula averaged 6.3 sacks per year as an Eagle.
Jevon Kearse averaged 5.5 sacks per year as an Eagle.
Maybe because he had a great personality, was generally available for interviews, was well-liked by the media and came across very well on TV, Kearse was never perceived as a failure here until his very last days in 2007.
The numbers dont lie. He wasnt Mike Mamula. He was worse.
His career began with such a bang that we all thought Corey Simon was a star. And he was. Just not for very long.
Simon, the Eagles first-round pick in 2000, recorded 9 12 sacks as a rookie and 7 12 more in his second year. That put him in pretty elite company. Only four NFL defensive tackles had more sacks during that two-year period (LaRoi Glover, Warren Sapp, Trevor Pryce, John Randle), and only five D-tackles have ever had more sacks in their first two NFL seasons (Kevin Williams, Keith Millard, Dennis Byrd, Dana Stubblefield, Bill Pickel).
This was historic stuff. Simon could do it all.
And then, before he even turned 25 years old, it was all over. Simon began gaining weight and losing his quickness. You would think the extra weight might make him a better run stuffer, but it didnt. It hurt his ability to move across the line of scrimmage, beat offensive linemen and harass the quarterback and get to ball carriers.
In Simons final five seasons, he had just 15 sacks fewer than he had in his first two. Despite his sudden drop in production and his lack of postseason big plays he had just one sack in 12 playoff games for the Eagles there was the usual outcry when the Eagles cut ties with him after the 2004 Super Bowl season.
How could the Eagles let him go? Why werent they committed to winning? Why would they let the Colts sign him? Why wont they spend money?
Simon never recorded another sack.
Hes now going into his sixth NFL season, hes going to be 28 years old in November, and what exactly does Brodrick Bunkley have to show for being the 14th pick in the 2006 draft?
Six sacks, including just one in his last 39 games, and fewer than 40 tackles per year during his three full years as a starter.
And about 10.7 million in salary.
Bunkley is big and strong and fast, but the production has never lived up to his reputation. Throw out his rookie year, when he rarely played, and this past year, when he played much of the year hurt, and he still is averaging fewer than 40 tackles per season.
A defensive tackle picked in the first half of the first round should have something hes really, really good at. You dont expect a ton of sacks, but you hope hell collapse the pocket. You do expect big run-stuffing numbers, but as a starter, Bunkley has averaged 2.39 tackles per game.
Of the 33 defensive tackles taken among the first 14 picks from 1982 when sacks became an official stat through 2006, when Bunkley was drafted, only four recorded fewer sacks than Bunkley in their first five NFL seasons (Ryan Sims 5.0, Jimmy Kennedy 4.0, Jonathan Sullivan 1 12, Wendell Bryant 1 12).
Over the past two years, 69 NFL defensive tackles have more sacks than Bunkley.
Hes still a young guy, so maybe Bunkley will blossom under new defensive line coach Jim Washburn. But so far? The epitome of overrated.
One of the most surprising stats in Eagles history is this: From 1989 through 1992, a four-year span in which Reggie White established himself as one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history and the Eagles won at least 10 games every year and reached the playoffs three times, Reggie didnt even have the most sacks on his own team.
Clyde Simmons did.
Simmons spent most of his career playing in the shadow of the legendary White, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But for many of those years, Clyde was right up there with Reggie as one of the leagues most feared pass rushers.
From 1989 through 1992, Simmons recorded 55 sacks, or nearly 14 per year. No defensive lineman in football had as many during that span, during which the Eagles won their only playoff game during the 1981-1994 stretch. White had 54 during that same four-year period. Second-most in the league, second-most on his own team.
Simmons wasnt Reggie, but he remains one of the greatest defensive ends in history. When he retired after the 2000 season, Simmons ranked 10th in NFL history with 121 12 sacks, sixth-most among defensive linemen.
Now, you can make the case that Simmons was the beneficiary of having White on the opposite side. Opposing offenses devoted so many blockers to account for White that it gave Simmons plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback. This may have been true to an extent, but Simmons recorded 45 sacks after leaving the Eagles, and in 1995 ranked seventh among all NFL defensive ends with 11 sacks on a bad Arizona team.
Plus, Simmons was a monster run stopper and averaged 102 tackles from 1987 through 1993, his seven seasons as a starter for the Eagles.
Simmons recorded seven or more sacks in nine seasons. Only 12 players had more seasons with at least seven sacks, and seven of them are in the Hall of Fame. And he was still a good player well into his 30s. He had seven sacks for the Bears in 1999 at 35 years old, and only 10 defensive linemen have ever had more sacks in a season at that age.
Clyde was a quiet, humble guy and never got the attention that his Hall of Fame friend and teammate got, but no matter who he played alongside, he was one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play the game.
From 1992 through 1995, there were very few defensive tackles in the NFL better than Andy Harmon. He stopped the run, he collapsed the pocket, he sacked the quarterback, and he did it for a defense that after the departures of Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner and all the others did not have a lot of talent remaining.
Injuries cut short Harmons career, but during his four years as a starter 1992 through 1995 he quietly did everything for a defense in transition from Bud Carson and the Rich Kotite coaching staff to Ray Rhodes and new defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas.
Harmon, a sixth-round pick out of Kent State in 1991, is the only defensive tackle and one of just five players overall the Eagles have ever drafted to record more than one season with double digit sacks.
Only four defensive tackles in NFL history have been drafted later than Harmon or gone undrafted and recorded more sacks in their career.
When Harmon retired after the 1997 season, he had 39 12 sacks, which at the time ranked 14th in NFL history among defensive tackles even though he had only four healthy seasons. Only one defensive tackle had more sacks through 1997 and didnt go to a Pro Bowl (that was Mike Pitts, who had most of his 48 12 with the Falcons and Patriots though he did have 19 12 in six years with the Eagles).
We were so used to Reggie and Clyde and Jerome and Seth and Eric Allen and this whole cadre of Hall of Fame-caliber defensive players that came through Philly in the late 1980s and early 1990s that we never stopped to notice just how productive Andy Harmon really was.
Kenny Clarke had the misfortune of not becoming a starter with the Eagles until the 1982 season and being released by the Eagles after the 1987 season. So during the Super Bowl season, he was a deep reserve and special-teamer. And by the time the Eagles started going to the playoffs regularly, he was gone.
But from 1982 through 1987 six losing seasons under Dick Vermeil, Marion Campbell and Buddy Ryan Kenny Clarke was quietly one of the most productive defensive tackles in the NFL.
Clarke, who didnt start a game or record a sack from 1978 through 1981, recorded 32 12 sacks during his six years as an Eagles starter and was a consistent, steady and active run stopper.
During some dark years for the Eagles 1984 through 1986, combined record of 18-28 Clarke had 25 12 sacks, sixth-most of any DT in the NFL during that span. Expanding to go from 1984 through 1990 a seven-year span during which he played for three teams but mainly the Eagles Clarkes 38 sacks were fifth-most of any NFL defensive tackle.
Only two undrafted defensive tackles in NFL history (and eight undrafted players total) recorded more career sacks than Clarkes 43 12. They are Hall of Famer John Randle and Joe Nash.
When he retired after the 1991 season, Clarke had played in more than 200 games, starting 110, and his 43 12 sacks ranked fifth in NFL history among tackles (behind Steve McMichael, Bill Pickel, Keith Millard and Randy White).
Because he didnt play on very many good teams and never started a playoff game, Clarke has been largely forgotten. But he was one of the most productive defensive tackles of his generation and one of the best the Eagles have ever had.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RoobCSN.
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