EAGLES ROSTER ANALYSIS: Linebackers
Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons would be perfect linebacker fit for the Eagles, but there’s no way he’s still around when they are on the clock with pick No. 21 on the first night of the NFL Draft, April 23, and there’s no way he’s even within range of a trade up the draft board, either.
Patrick Queen, though? The LSU linebacker will be there. He may even be around in the second round when the Eagles are on the clock with pick No. 53.
With news that the Eagles will not pick up their option on Nigel Bradham’s 2020 contract, thereby casting him adrift into the free agent market, there is a hole in the middle of the Eagles’ defense.
Queen might be too undersized to play the middle at 6-1, 227, but he is terrific in pass coverage and is exceptionally fast going sideline to sideline, so maybe there could be a home for him in Philly.
While it’s true the Eagles don’t really play much with more than one linebacker on the field, Bradham was that one linebacker on the field. He rarely came out and he called the defensive signals.
The Eagles can’t feel comfortable turning over the operation to Nathan Gerry or T.J. Edwards, can they? They are two of the four linebackers remaining on the roster, in addition to Duke Riley and Alex Singleton.
To replace Bradham, the Eagles are likely going to either pay big money for a free agent – along the lines of say someone like Corey Littleton or Joe Schobert, if they are available when the new league year begins on March 18 – or draft one early. By early, that means in the first three rounds, maybe even in the second round.
Could they even spend their first-round pick on one?
That would a break from their philosophy. The last linebacker they took in the first round was in 1979 when Dick Vermeil and company chose UCLA’s Jerry Robinson, who is now 63. Robinson gave the Eagles six strong seasons, helping them get to the Super Bowl in the 1980 season before playing his final seven years with the Oakland Raiders.
Technically, Marcus Smith was listed as a linebacker, but the Eagles drafted him in the first round of 2014 to play defensive end.
Since 2010, the Eagles have drafted 10 linebackers. Here they are:
2010: Keenan Clayton (fourth round), Jamar Chaney (seventh round)
2011: Casey Matthews (fourth round), Brian Rolle (sixth round), Greg Lloyd (seventh round)
2012: Mychal Kendricks (second round)
2014: Marcus Smith (first round)
2015: Jordan Hicks (third round)
2016: Joe Walker (seventh round)
2017: Nathan Gerry (fifth round)
Here are some linebackers in the draft that could interest the Eagles in the first three rounds:
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma. Ideal size at 6-2, 238 who is fast and physical. Problem is he probably slots in the range between where the Eagles pick at No. 21 and No. 53. Perhaps the Eagles can trade back into the first round or climb higher in the second round and land him. Either way, he is a perfect fit, a strong blitzer who can play inside and out.
Jacob Phillips, LSU. Not very flashy but a steady, in-the-middle presence for the Tigers with 113 tackles. Not quite the sideline the sideline speed you like from a three-down linebacker but may be worth taking in the third or fourth round.
David Woodward, Utah State. A sleeper in the draft who can play both inside and outside. Has good size at 6-4, 245 and is a tackling machine. Could be available in the third or fourth round.
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama. Another prospect with the ability to go inside or out. Just 6-1, but a stocky 252, his strengths are as a blitzer and sturdy run defender. He should also still be around in the third or fourth rounds.
Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech. Mostly an inside linebacker, he may come off the board in the middle of the second round, right around where the Eagles are slated to pick at No. 53. At 6-1, 245, Brooks brings speed and athleticism, to the point where some see his future home as an outside linebacker. That is the kind of versatility that would suit the Eagles.
Troy Dye, Oregon. Rugged inside linebacker who played with a cast on his hand at the end of the Ducks’ regular season. At 6-4, 225, Dye ended last year with 84 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions.
As for the free agent market, the Rams are up against the salary cap and will be hard-pressed to keep Littleton. He is a priority for them, though, so they will probably find a way to keep him.
Schobert and new Browns general manager Andrew Berry are a solid relationship, so Schobert could be sticking around Cleveland.
Even if one or both shake loose, the Eagles would have to open the vault to land one of them.
Some others the Eagles could pursue in free agency are Green Bay’s Blake Martinez or Chicago’s Nick Kwiatkoski.
Martinez is 26 and an excellent cover linebacker, but struggled in run support last year while Kwiatkoski, 27, is somebody the Eagles liked when he came out of West Virginia in 2016 and was drafted in the fourth round by the Bears. Kwiatkoski made eight starts last year and finished with 76 tackles, eight for loss.