News broke Friday that Jason Peters, comfortably last season’s best left tackle, tore his ACL and will miss the majority (if not all) of the 2012 season. A team will clearly suffer when a player of Peters’ quality is lost to injury, but just how much of an impact will it have and how capable is the possible in-house replacement?
When King Dunlap was drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, you couldn’t help but be in awe of his size. The man is a towering 6-foot-9 and is pretty athletic for such a monster. A preseason injury, however, saw him stashed on IR for his rookie year, so an in-game look at him would have to wait. In the seasons since, he’s played in stretches and provided us a glimpse of his abilities. Here’s a sample of what we’ve seen:
Week 6, 2009 at Oakland
Dunlap got his first extended action in the 2009 season (playing 60 of 68 snaps against the Raiders) when Jason Peters took a hit to the ankle. That game saw him going up against a player who, at the time, was one of the most feared defensive ends in football, Richard Seymour. The Auburn product was simply no match for the talented veteran and ended up with an overall PFF grade of -4.3 on the day. He allowed a sack and five pressures and put in a slightly below average performance in the run game. Dunlap logged just seven more snaps in the remainder of that season.
Week 5, 2010, at San Francisco
Dunlap next saw significant playing time a year later when Peters went down with an injury which sidelined him for three weeks. As with his first start as a pro, he struggled. He did have a tough matchup–often going against one of the league’s best in Justin Smith–but three sacks and three pressures is a very poor game, though. Dunlap struggled in the run game that day too, finishing with a -1.1 run blocking rating.
Week 6, 2010, vs. Atlanta
Dunlap’s showing against Smith the week before had everyone expecting a huge game from John Abraham. It was a surprise, then, to see Dunlap post a perfect game. Eagles Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a good job of protecting him with the scheme, but he still handled Abraham and Kroy Bierrmann one-on-one multiple times. Abraham won some of the initial contact, but Dunlap’s anchor allowed him to reset and contain his man. His work in the run game was also impressive as he dominated linebackers and consistently sealed Abraham away from plays.
One of Peters’ best assets in Howard Mudd’s blocking scheme is his athleticism. The Eagles’ delayed draw took full advantage of this as it allowed him to get upfield. How good is Dunlap in this regard? Go back and watch him block for Desean Jackson’s touchdown on an end-around with 12:20 to go in the first quarter of this game against Atlanta. Dunlap sets as if he’s going to take Curtis Lofton out of the play but then sees him react too late and flies upfield to take out a chasing Chris Owens, leaving Jackson an easy path into the endzone. Starting at the 31-yard-line, Dunlap contacts Owens a good 10 yards further. Later in the same quarter (4:09) he pushes Abraham inside before getting to Stephen Nicholas’ outside shoulder and sealing him away from an outside run that picks up good yardage.
Week 7, 2010, at Tennessee
His next start was another positive step for Dunlap who allowed just three pressures on a ridiculous 51 drop backs by Kevin Kolb. That year, Titans defensive ends Dave Ball and Jacob Ford combined for a +11.1 grade rushing the passer, so it wasn’t as if he was facing easy opposition. Dunlap did have a mixed afternoon in the run game, making as many positive plays as he did mistakes. His highlight in that area was a solid block on Stephen Tulloch on a short yardage play.
Week 14, 2010, at Dallas
Dunlap didn’t get another chance to start again until Week 14 when the Eagles met the Cowboys. This time he had to fill in at right tackle with Winston Justice suffering a knee injury the week before. Demarcus Ware is a challenge for anybody, but Dunlap’s going to have to be able to match up with him if he ends up the full time starter in 2012. Ware beat Dunlap for a pair of pressures as the Cowboys moved him around while Anthony Spencer also got in on the act, also picking up some pressure. This was Dunlap’s only other negatively-graded game in pass protection in 2010, but it was a poor -2.7.
Week 15, 2010, at New York Giants
A week later Dunlap got a chance to face another division rival in the New York Giants. While the Cowboys’ OLBs proved too much for him in pass protection, Justin Tuck proved a real test for Dunlap in the ground game. The league’s 10th-best run defender won most of the battles as Dunlap graded at -1.1.
Week 17, 2010, vs. Dallas
Dunlap would get his revenge against the duo of outside linebackers who had given him so much trouble in Week 14. The game was meaningless for the Eagles, with the division already wrapped up, but the quality of the performance is still worth noting. Both Ware and Spencer played the entire game for Dallas and Dunlap was perfect against them. His performance was especially impressive considering he had to pass protect for 46 snaps, with Andy Reid committing to the passing game. This was also Dunlap’s best game as a run blocker as he amassed an impressive +3.6 grade, bullying Keith Brooking on the inside.
Wild Card Game, 2010, vs. Green Bay
The final action Dunlap saw was in the Wild Card Game against Green Bay when Winston Justice was benched. Dunlap was perfect in around 15 pass pro snaps, a number of them facing the dangerous Clay Matthews.
Overall, Dunlap allowed four sacks, two hits and 10 pressures in 242 pass blocks in 2010, good enough for a pass blocking efficiency of 94.6. He only started a couple of games this past season–just once at tackle. Again he did a solid job, allowing just a single pressure against the Bills in 45 snaps. Dunlap even filled in at guard against Arizona and did an admirable job against one of the league’s most dangerous 3-4 pass rushers in Calais Campbell. He allowed just two pressures in that game; only one to Campbell.
All of this may well be irrelevant if the Eagles sign Marcus McNeill or Demetrius Bell, but it may also be that they won’t be better off, what with the inconsistencies and injury concerns of those potential additions. Its always difficult projecting how a guy will play when given a full time starter’s role, but Dunlap has done enough to suggest he’d at least be adequate. There’ve been some poor games and some good ones, but that’s about what you’d expect from a young player who wasn’t very highly regarded coming out of college. Now entering his fourth year, he may surprise some Eagles fans, even if he doesn’t make them forget Jason Peters.