This sleeping giant will emerge for the Eagles in 2015

Despite playing just 397 defensive snaps, Vinny Curry finished with nine sacks in 2014. Curry is on the fast track toward additional playing time at outside linebacker, in addition to defensive end, in 2015.

Bill Streicher/Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles have made a lot of changes to their roster since Chip Kelly got involved. On both sides of the ball, Kelly has molded his roster to fit a blueprint that he has created. Long cornerbacks, stout defensive tackles, running backs who don’t dance in the backfield–at almost every position, Kelly has a preference.

Last week we talked about anticipating the inevitable breakout of rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Last season, the Eagles enjoyed the breakout of rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews on the offensive side of the ball.

If the Eagles want to take that next step forward, and advance in the postseason, they will need to have someone step up on the defensive end. After following the reformation of the roster on defense this offseason, here is the breakout player I would place my bet on:

Vinny Curry

Curry is one of the few remaining holdovers from the Andy Reid era. Originally drafted to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense, Curry has served as a rotational defender in Bill Davis’ 3-4 base scheme. Many expected head coach Chip Kelly to trade Curry, and he has been the subject of many trade rumors over the last two seasons. The Eagles were wise enough to keep him, and he could be looking at a much bigger role on defense in 2015.

Despite playing just 397 defensive snaps in 2014, Curry was a highly effective pass rusher. The Eagles used him at right defensive end, or the five-technique spot in their 3-4 defense instead of as an edge-rushing outside linebacker. Curry thrived in this role. Pro Football Focus tallied him with nine sacks, four additional quarterback hits and 21 additional hurries. He finished as their ninth-best pass rushing 3-4 defensive end.

Curry struggled against the run, and this could be a reason why Davis used him in a rotation with Cedric Thornton. At 6-foot-3 and 279 pounds, Curry does not provide the prototypical length for a 3-4 defensive end. This problem is exaggerated on a Chip Kelly team because he has specific preferences for the position. Back in May, Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard reported that, "Kelly would like to have defensive ends that measure at least 6’6".

One way for Curry to get on the field more often in 2015 is by rotating in at outside linebacker in addition to right defensive end. Earlier this offseason, beat writer Geoff Mosher from CSN Philly reported that Kelly would like to expand Curry’s role. Curry was seen taking snaps at both defensive end and outside linebacker during the Eagles’ spring practices.

It makes sense that the Eagles want to get Curry on the field more at outside linebacker. Veteran outside linebacker Trent Cole left the team via free agency this offseason, and the Eagles did not address the void via free agency or the draft. Cole leaves behind 834 defensive snaps, most of which will be funneled to Brandon Graham, but Graham can’t play two spots within the Eagles’ top three on their depth chart at outside linebacker.

Graham saw 524 snaps as a rotational outside linebacker in 2014. Curry has a great opportunity to emerge as the Eagles’ third outside linebacker, a role where he could see up to 500 snaps. He will be competing with disappointing 2014 first-rounder Marcus Smith for the third outside linebacker role. Assuming talent will win out, Curry could be in line for more than 800 defensive snaps in 2015. Give Curry 800 defensive snaps and it won’t just be Eagles fans who know his name by this time next year.

For more opinions, news and analysis on the Philadelphia Eagles and the rest of the NFC East, you can find Dan on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports