Genard Avery went from regular to benched in just one season and yet still garnered a fourth-round draft pick for the Browns when they traded him to the Eagles on Monday. It remains to be seen who got the better end of the deal, but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was clearly basing his evaluation of the defensive end on his 2018 film.
Avery played 684 of 1,122 snaps (61 percent) on defense last season as a rookie. But he logged only 5 of 457 this season (1 percent) in just two games, which had many in Cleveland wondering why he had fallen out of favor.
“There’s a lot of depth there,” Avery said Wednesday after his first practice with the Eagles. “They play the guys they play. It is what it is. I’m just taking advantage of my opportunity here.”
The Browns had also changed coordinators during the offseason, and with it their defensive scheme. Former coordinator Greg Williams employed a multiple front that had Avery playing as an end-linebacker hybrid. But new coordinator Steve Wilks has a more traditional 4-3 front, which Avery said was “a lot different.”
Still, effective edge rushers can be used in any system, which appears to be the primary reason why the Eagles gave up a 2021 fourth-rounder for Avery, even though they already have six ends, two of whom are also hardly playing.
“It gives us depth, gives us talent,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s a young player. He’s explosive. We’re excited to get him in and start working with our defensive line … start to pick up Jim [Schwartz’s] defense and see where he can best fit our needs.”
Schwartz said Tuesday that the 6-foot, 250-pound Avery will be an end for the Eagles, but his experience as a linebacker who can drop into coverage could give the coordinator some flexibility. Nevertheless, Avery’s edge-rush skills could be ideally suited to Schwartz’s aggressive, wide-nine front. Here’s a closer look at his film, almost all of it from last season:
Avery was viewed by many NFL scouts as a “tweener” coming out of college. He had played both outside and inside linebacker at Memphis but recorded 8 1/2 sacks his senior year. A fifth-round pick, he didn’t start for the Browns, but he wasn’t exclusively a run-or-pass-down player. Rushing might have been his strong suit.
Avery: I’m a pass rusher. I get after the quarterback.
Avery (No. 55) recorded 4 1/2 sacks and 14 quarterbacks hits in his rookie season. On this rush, he displayed his bend by getting around the right tackle and recording a sack.
Schwartz: As a rookie he did some productive things. He gave them some speed off the edge, was a productive sacker.
Avery not only can turn the corner, but he has a low center of gravity that allows him to power by longer tackles. He can also finish, as he showed here when he strip-sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (No. 7).
Avery: It’s leverage. You have an advantage. But you’ve got to know how to use it. You’ve got to have good technique in certain situations.
Stand up rusher
Avery rushed exclusively from a two-point stance in Cleveland, partly because he would often drop into coverage. Many defensive linemen like to rush from three- or four-point stances to help them explode off the ball like sprinters. But as this clip shows, Avery can generate speed standing up.
Schwartz allows his ends to rush from a variety of stances. Most of his ends mix it up, although former Eagles end Chris Long almost always rushed from a two-point position.
Avery: They told me from jump street to do whatever is comfortable for you and that’s what I’m doing. It depends on the situation, but I’m sure they’ll be having me work with three-point.
Stunts and loops inside
While Avery’s expertise is on the edge, he’s effective on stunts or inside loops. On this rush he penetrated inside and was probably held before a teammate picked up the sack.
Avery: I like moving around and trying to be a game changer.
It’s a scouting cliché, but Avery checks off the high-motor attribute. There were multiple examples on film of him of chasing ballcarriers down the field. On this play, he ran after Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (No. 24) before finally catching him 50 yards downfield.
Avery: It’s how I’ve always been. Effort to the ball, and in everything you do. One day there could be a play, and if you get all effort you could be the one to change the game.
Brandon Graham comparison
Schwartz: He’s not the tallest guy in the world, but he is sort of thick and strong and Brandon Graham is sort of the same way. He’s not quite as heavy as Brandon, but the way we play those edges I think he can be successful in our run defense as well as pass.
Graham’s greatest skill may be how he sets the edge or can diagnose run plays pre-snap. Avery had to only dispose of a tight end on this run play, but he jumped the snap and notched a tackle for loss.
Graham said he liked what he saw out of Avery after his first practice with the Eagles on Wednesday.
Graham: That boy out there, he wants to work hard. I see him. He came in with the right mindset, positive.
Pass rush deficiencies
Because he’s on the smaller side, Avery can struggle to get off blocks vs. tackles.
Graham: Most of these guys are 6-5 and up and most of them don’t want to bend and get low. But the hardest part is sometimes when you do lock up these guys they’re strong enough. You can’t play their game, the big boy game. Sometimes you’ve got to set them up with the speed to power, get them off balance.
The Falcons were up two scores late in this game from last season, but Avery’s effort here was less than ideal.
Dropping into coverage
Avery dropped into coverage on 130 snaps last season. He did so when lined up as an end and also when lined up as a more traditional linebacker. He struggled and allowed 23 receptions on 30 targets for 276 yards and one touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. On this play, he tried to jump the running back when he should have gotten more depth in zone coverage. Chiefs tight Travis Kelce (No. 87) was wide open for 21-yard catch.
Avery’s coverage experience, however, could allow Schwartz to use him in zone blitzes.
Avery: I’m sure they’re going to have me in coverage to do a lot of stuff in this scheme. [Schwartz], I know, he wants me to move everywhere.
Falling out of favor
Wilks plays a traditional 4-3 scheme in base and 4-2-5 scheme in nickel. He doesn’t drop his ends into coverage much.
Schwartz: They changed schemes. So a lot of times that happens when you have guys that are sort of successful in one scheme, there’s a coaching change, they maybe fit one scheme better than another.
The Browns added Olivier Vernon to rush opposite Myles Garrett as starting ends, but backups Chad Thomas and Chris Smith haven’t been productive. But they played ahead of Avery, who played only two snaps in Week 2 and three snaps Sunday. He still managed to hurry Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (No. 12) into a throwaway here.
Avery is normally inactive on social media, but he had posted messages on Twitter seemingly about his unhappiness over the last month. In one tweet, he had a simple hourglass emoji. In another, he showed off a video collection of previous highlights. Two weeks later, he was traded.
Avery: I don’t know how it happened, but it was right.