LINEBACKER is one of two positions where the Eagles have an extremely spotty Draft history. If you go back to 1975 (the year I was born), there have have only been nine LB’s drafted by, and panning out, as a four year starter for the Eagles: Reggie Wilkes 1978, Jerry Robinson 1979, Anthony Griggs 1982, Seth Joyner 1986, Byron Evans 1987, William Thomas 1991, Jeremiah Trotter 1998, Mychal Kendricks 2012, Jordan Hicks 2015.
Let me say that again. In 45 years, and after spending 52 draft picks on the LB position, the Eagles have had just NINE of them pan out. Since Jeff Lurie bought the team in 1994, the numbers are just 3 out of 27. Keep in mind that 1994 was 26 years ago. So we’ve drafted just three successful LB’s, in the last quarter century.
Which brings us to our current situation.
Many media types are wondering if the Eagles did enough in the 2020 Draft to shore up our holes at the MLB and OLB position. Let me disabuse you of the notion that this is a question. No. The Eagles have not done enough to patch the holes at LB.
DC Jim Schwartz has given OLB Nate Gerry a few starts at MLB, and every time yields disastrous results. Gerry playing MIKE gives us sideline to sideline hustle, and better than average fluidity in coverage because he played Safety in college. Due to his size, in the NFL he was either going to be a fast LB, or a slow S. The Eagles opted for fast LB, and as long as Gerry stays on the outside, he’s an absolute asset and a playmaker. But he lacks the sand in his pants to play inside, or to start vs a run heavy offense, that has a good blocking TE.
Right now OLB Genard Avery is sitting in limbo. As an edge defender, his speed and power adds juice to our pass rush. He also has a history of playing ILB, and does a good job of not staying blocked when facing offensive linemen. Since opposing blocking schemes already are going to struggle with the Eagles DT’s, if Avery could make the move to MLB, our interior could become a virtual No Man’s Land. That however, is speculation on my part. To date there is no word of Avery making a move inside.
OLB Jatavis Brown was added via Free Agency. In 2018, injuries forced the Chargers to start him in 10 of the 15 games he played. He made such an impact that he started just 1 of 13 in 2019. At 220 pounds, he’s a big S, but an undersized LB. In the limited video I can find of him, he needs help to finish many tackles. In coverage he’s no ballhawk, with zero interceptions in 4 years. He’s got speed, but what’s the point of speed, if you don’t make impact plays? I hope he makes me eat my words.
The Eagles are high on Second year MLB T.J. Edwards, despite him having what keeps being referred to as “athletic limitations”. While he may not be a great individual athlete, he might be a great team concept football player. It’s worth noting that the Eagles are 4 – 0 when he starts, despite playing a combined 11 snaps in those games. (Perhaps he’s a human rabbit’s foot?) Also in those four games, our Defense which gave up a season average of 22.1 points per game, gave up 13, 14, 17 and 9 points respectively. He made no splash plays in the preseason, regular season or postseason, despite playing in all 21 of those games.
MLB Duke Riley is a 218 pound Special Teamer who saw just 28 defensive snaps in 2019. (This is compared to 111 for the rookie Edwards).
Second year LB Alex Singleton may be among the first wave of cuts. He’s a Special Teamer who didn’t see any defensive snaps during the season. That isn’t exactly a vote of confidence from the team, about his ability to play his position.
Rookie OLB Davion Taylor is a tweener in the Nate Gerry mold. Doesn’t seem to offer much vs the run. he’ll have to add weight to his 225 frame to handle the NFC East.
Rookie MLB Shaun Bradley is nice “local boy makes good” story, but his tape says Practice Squad at best.
Rookie free agent signee, MLB Dante Olson looks like a genuine Tackle to Tackle presence, but that may not be the best scheme-fit. I like him. I really do. However, unless the Eagles are about to alter what we do at MLB, I don’t know how he fits.