Eagles’ Haason Reddick ‘just getting started’ as NFL pass rusher

Haason Reddick couldn’t help but grin during his press conference on Thursday as he was introduced for the first time as a Philadelphia Eagle. The local product is thrilled to be home in Philly where it belongs.

Now we just have to figure out where he belongs on the football field.

For what it’s worth, the Eagles are calling him a linebacker. Reddick in his Twitter bio calls himself a weapon. Most folks say he’s an edge rusher.

“I’m a football player,” said Reddick, who officially signed his three-year contract with the Eagles on Thursday. “Just get me on the field and go play football.”

When you look back at Reddick’s first five years in the NFL, the thing he’s done better than anything else is rush the passer. In the last two seasons, he’s fifth in the NFL in sacks. So no matter what the Eagles call him, no matter where they line him up, it would be wise to let him hunt quarterbacks in 2022.

And because Reddick didn’t really get a chance to do that until his fourth NFL season, he thinks he’s still ascending as an NFL pass rusher.

“I definitely do,” Reddick said. Rushing against NFL tackles is different than rushing in college. While I have been able to have success, I’m still growing in this thing. I’m really just getting started. I don’t even think I’ve tapped into a lot of my potential yet. By God’s will, I just hope that I can continue to ascend.”

The Cardinals drafted Reddick with the No. 13 overall pick back in the 2017 draft but his career didn’t really begin to take off until the 2020 season, when they changed his position from off-ball linebacker to the edge, something that felt “natural” to him.

It paid off immediately.

In 2020, Reddick had 12 1/2 sacks for the Cardinals and had 11 in 2021 with the Panthers. His 23 1/2 sacks over the last two years ranks fifth in the NFL behind TJ Watt (37.5), Myles Garrett (28.0), Trey Hendrickson (27.5) and Aaron Donald (26.0).

In a lot of ways, it’s amazing it took that long for the Cardinals to get him out on the edge. Here’s the percentage of edge snaps during Reddick’s first five years in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus:

2017: 57%
2018: 15%
2019: 19.9%
2020: 90.0%
2021: 96.1%

It clearly made a huge difference in Reddick’s career when the Cardinals moved him outside. Before that, his NFL career was going nowhere in a hurry; he was considered a bust in Arizona. In fact, when he was still an inside linebacker, he was benched in December of 2019 for former Eagles’ seventh-round pick Joe Walker.

But in 2020, once the Cardinals moved him outside to a spot he admitted he felt more comfortable in, his career began to take off. It happened much later than it should have, but Reddick was finally able to unlock the athleticism that made him a first-round pick and he’s been showing it ever since.

So while Reddick on Thursday said he hasn’t gotten too far into the X’s and O’s talk, it would behoove the Eagles to use him in a similar way. Jonathan Gannon prides himself on having a “multiple” defense and Reddick’s versatility will help in that regard. He’ll be the team’s starting SAM linebacker but can also play defensive end and line up on both sides.

Reddick will give the Eagles the kind of explosive pass rusher they haven’t had in quite some time.

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As silly as it seems now that the Cardinals were so hesitant to move Reddick from the off-ball linebacker position to the edge, they had their reasons. Reddick was drafted in the first round because of his incredible athleticism but at 6-1, 235 pounds, he’s much smaller than traditional edge rushers.

“I’m faster than traditional edge rushers,” Reddick pointed out on Thursday.

Hard to argue that.

This offseason, Reddick has been working to put on a little more weight too. He’s listed at 235 pounds but as of Thursday afternoon, he said he’s weighing in at 242. His initial goal was to get to 250 but he’s taking it slow to make sure he doesn’t lose any of his special burst or athleticism along the way .

Why did he decide to gain weight?

“I just wanted to open up my rush plan a little bit more,” he said, “being able to move guys out of my way at my will, whenever I wanted to.”

Remember, Reddick thinks he’s still getting better at this NFL pass rusher thing. If that’s true, it could be awfully scary for Eagles opponents the next few years.

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