When the Eagles went on their Dream Team spending spree last offseason, it was the lowest profile signings that got me the most excited, and ended up paying the biggest dividends in a couple of instances.
Evan Mathis was signed for the veteran minimum on a one-year deal, and played his way into a long-term contract this offseason and a healthy pay day. Derek Landri was signed to a similar throw-away contract, and was actually cut before the start of the season in the final round of roster cuts. When the Eagles lost Antonio Dixon for the season they picked him back up and never looked back.
With an impressive season in the Eagles D-line rotation, Derek Landri is Philadelphia’s Secret Superstar.
Flashes of Ability for the Big Cats
Before his time in Philadelphia, Derek Landri spent time in both Jacksonville, where he was drafted, and Carolina, who picked him up after he was waived by the Jaguars. He never established himself in either destination, but was seen as a talent from the outset. Sports Illustrated rated him as one of the Top 10 draft steals when he was selected in the fifth round in 2007, and though he played second fiddle to Rob Meier in 2008 for the Jaguars, he graded much better despite playing around half the snaps.
2009 saw him playing a reasonable amount as a 3-4 end in the aborted venture with that defense under new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. When it became clear that defensive scheme was little short of a disaster for the Jaguars, they went back to the 4-3, but Landri was apparently not seen as a viable option in that scheme, and was deactivated for four weeks before he was waived in December to be picked up by the Panthers. Landri was claimed as a replacement for DT Tank Tyler who had gone down in Carolina’s Week 12 game, but wasn’t activated at all for the remainder of the season.
Somehow his workload went from inactive to the ninth-most snaps of any DT in 2010 for the Panthers in one offseason. The loss of Damione Lewis left a hole in the middle that the Panthers decided to fill with Landri and his 805 snaps in 2010 was almost double the next highest mark for Carolina. The every-down role, however, clearly impacted his effectiveness and ground him down over the season. Though he graded negatively for the year (-7.1) his burst and quickness were still visible on tape and showed glimpses of what he was capable of. In the end though, the negative play was enough for the Panthers to allow him to leave in free agency, eventually electing to start a pair of rookies in 2011.
Redemption in Philadelphia’s Rotation
Though he was signed as a bottom-of-the-depth-chart piece of the puzzle–and very much overshadowed by the massive contract handed to Cullen Jenkins in free agency–Landri quietly set about establishing himself as a force in Philadelphia’s hyper aggressive defensive front. He earned a positive grade last season more often than any other interior lineman in the league with 80 or more snaps. That’s more frequently than any other defensive tackle, and even more often than the unstoppable force that is Justin Smith. Though he only notched a pair of sacks, he did knock the QB to the ground five times and earned 13 more total pressures, registering pressure at a rate of once every 9.5 snaps, also an extremely good rate for an interior lineman.
He remained firmly a depth player for the Eagles (behind Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters) but he became the next option off the bench and was a legitimate force against both the run and pass, making plays in all areas of the game and often outshining his much richer teammates. Unfortunately for him, the Eagles found their cap situation put under stress with the loss of Jason Peters and signing of Demetress Bell, so they could only sign Landri to another one-year deal shortly before drafting Fletcher Cox with their first round pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Prospects in 2012
Looking at the Eagles’ depth chart inside on the defensive line Landri should still figure on seeing some healthy snaps in 2012. Philadelphia’s selection of Cox allows them to either replace Patterson as a starter, or move Jenkins back to a pass-rush specialist role, which is where he really excels. Either way, Landri should be the next option off the bench, as he was in 2011, and Antonio Dixon will battle to see snaps as a run stuffer on the first two downs.
Landri has an impressive burst and motor when he is fresh, but his time in Carolina showed that he is susceptible to wearing down if he is asked to be an every-down player. The Eagles won’t expect that of him in 2012, and if he can start to record some sack numbers to go with his excellent play, he will launch himself onto the radar of people that don’t have the benefit of PFF statistics. Regardless of whether he gets the mainstream recognition, if he is able to replicate the play of last season, PFF will again be singing his praises and he will once again justify his selection as the Philadelphia Eagles’ Secret Superstar.