EAGLES NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: Linebackers

Could Penn State's Micah Parsons end a 40-plus year drought in the first round?
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PHILADELPHIA - Every year there is someone, somewhere in Eagles Nation who will tie themselves into a pretzel claiming that the Philadelphia Eagles might take an off-ball linebacker in the first round of the NFL Draft.

I mean a nearly 60-year championship drought ended in 2018 so what's 40-plus years of no LBs at the top of the draft?

When the top 'backer in the draft class also happens to be from Penn State, the crossing of the fingers only seems to intensify in the Delaware Valley and that's certainly the case at No. 12 overall this year where Micah Parsons has to be put in the hopper.

At 6-foot-3 and nearly 250 pounds with a sub-4.4 40 time, it's conceivable that Parsons doesn't even last to the Eagles in what is a down year for the defense as a whole at the top of the process.

Most betting outfits have Parsons or Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain as the two top defensive players likely to come off the board in what will be an unprecedented offensive-dominated top 10.

The Eagles, of course, haven't taken an off-ball LB in the first round since Jerry Robinson in 1979 but the new coaching staff, spearheaded by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, figures to put a bit more emphasis on the position judging by Gannon's history in Indianapolis and Minnesota where players like Darius Leonard, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks are regarded as staples.

To that end, the Eagles have already signed a potential three-down LB in Eric Wilson, who replaced an injured Barr on the Vikings defense last season and became a bit of a playmaker with 122 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions.

Penciled in next to Wilson, for now, is Alex Singleton, who had a breakout season under the old Eagles coaching staff in 2020, leading the defense in tackles with 120 espite starting just 11 games.

When Gannon goes into the 4-3 base T.J. Edwards remains the top run-stuffing option available while it will be interesting to see what the new staff thinks of the extremely athletic but raw Davion Taylor as well as Shaun Bradley, two 2020 draft picks.

Also returning to fight for roster spots are 2020 late-season pickups Joe Bachie and Rashad Smith while undersized defensive end Genard Avery has been moved to SAM LB by the new coaching staff.

If the Eagles consider LB in the first round, it will be about the league-wide shift to the so-called positionless player in the back seven, and Parsons is likely the only option be in the mix.

"I just feel I’m the most versatile player in this class, said Parsons. "I can play middle linebacker, I can play outside and I can pass rush. There’s no place I can’t play and utilize my skills.

"I’m going to make plays at the next level just like I did at Penn State."

The other potential first-round LBs include Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as well as the lesser-known duo of Zaven Collins of Tulsa and Jamin Davis of Kentucky.

Those players are likely headed for the bottom half of the first round, however, although there has been at least a little smoke when it comes to Collins and the Dallas Cowboys, who pick No. 10 overall.

Owusu-Koramoah might be the most gifted player in the class but his 220-pound frame is a concern for some.

"In terms of Philly, I think I fit better than other guys in terms of my mentality," JOK explained when asked about meeting the Eagles in advance of his Pro Day. "It's a gritty place. You’ve got to have some fierceness to survive in Philly. You win in Philly they love you, you lose in Philly they hate you. So you have to deal with that.

"Coming from my background even here at Notre Dame. There’s a lot of situations I had to persevere through. I think that mentality prepares me more than some other players in terms of Philly, in terms of physicality at the point of attack, in terms of physicality in block-shedding. I think I excel at those things."

Collins is a late-riser on social media but not among NFL scouts, who regard him as perhaps the most instinctive option available.

“[I'm] a very smart player, instinctual player," Collins said. "Those things are what helped me succeed last year in the 2020 season and I think those are the things that are going to help me move on throughout my career in the NFL.”

Day 2 options could include Mizzou's Nick Bolton and athletic North Carolina prospect Chaz Surratt.

EAGLES DEPTH CHART:

THREE-DOWN LBs - Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton

MIKE - T.J. Edwards

DEPTH - Genard Avery (SAM), Davion Taylor (WILL/SAM), Shaun Bradley (WILL), Joe Bachie (MIKE), Rashad Smith (WILL)

BUILDING THE PERFECT LINEBACKER

Instincts - Zaven Collins, Tulsa: Collins' recognition skills are what stands out first about him.

Run stopper - Monty Rice, Georgia: A downhill, two-down LB who likes contact.

Pass coverage - Jeremiah Owusu-Koraamoah, Notre Dame: I'm convinced JOK could move to safety full-time and not miss a beat.

Blitzer - Micah Parsons, Penn State: The arm length is not ideal for an edge rusher but Parsons will project as more of a pass-rusher to me.

Speed - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame: Parsons wins with the stopwatch but when you're talking about field-fast, start with JOK.

Green dot - KJ Britt, Auburn: The QB of the defense days are over for LBs, but if old becomes new again, Britt is the old-school MLB who is a natural leader and can control everything from the huddle to pre-snap adjustments.

EAGLES MAVEN TOP 10:

1. Micah Parsons, Penn State

2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa

4. Jamin Davis, Kentucky

5. Nick Bolton, Missouri

6. Jabril Cox, LSU

7. Chaz Surratt, North Carolina

8. Baron Browning, Ohio State

9. Pete Werner, Ohio State

10. Monty Rice, Georgia

Sleeper: Riley Cole, South Alabama

Boom or Bust: Micah Parsons, Penn State

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.