Nigel Bradham signed a two year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles after the hiring of new Defensive Coordinator, Jim Schwartz. One of the reasons behind signing the 26 year old was the success he enjoyed under Schwartz in 2014, the other reason was to fill a relatively big hole for the birds. There may be nine linebackers on the roster..but with injury risks running deep into the position, star power relatively low and depth being filled by low-round draft picks and undrafted rookies..the Eagles needed a veteran presence.
So the question is, what are they getting in Nigel Bradham? In many cases he’s an exception to the trends that the Eagles have been setting. He isn’t overly versatile and has averaged 55 tackles a year in the three season’s spent in Buffalo without Jim Schwartz.
The answer, a raw pass rusher. The film will explain this much better, but to give you an idea of just how much more efficient Bradham was under Jim Schwartz in a system that constantly allowed him to rush the quarterback, here are how his stats compare:
Bradham wasn’t just better under Jim Schwartz, he was much more consistent. Out of the 14 games he played, he recorded 5 tackles or more in 6. An average of 0.5 passes defensed per game for a linebacker who doesn’t specialize in coverage is one thing, but to almost double your total tackles? That’s dominant.
At 6’2 and 241 pounds, Bradham is the perfect prototype for a Jim Schwartz linebacker..but what makes him so good in an attacking system and more importantly, why is he so valuable to the Eagles?
If you look at where the Eagles struggled defensively last system, they are areas of the game in which Bradham strives.
– Stopping the run
– Setting the edge
– Closing down receivers after a catch
We’ll start with arguably the most important, stopping the run. Last year the Eagles gave up more rushing yards than any other team in the NFL with 2,153. Teams were able to blast through the trenches with ease, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. Under Jim Schwartz, the Bills allowed just 1,703 rushing yards. When watching the tape, it’s easy to see just how crucial Nigel Bradham was to the Bills run Defense.
If you were to choose one play to show what Bradham brings to the table, it’s this one. It may not seem like much..but Spencer Ware isn’t exactly the easiest back to bring down. The Chiefs Offensive Line pushes heavily to open up a hole. Bradham reads it, shifts to his right and engages Spencer Ware who tries to push through the block. Bradham loses his balance, falls to one leg and yet is still able to force himself up to a dominant stance before being joined by teammates to send Ware to the ground. We saw the Eagles struggle to contain backs way too often in 2015, Bradham seems to have the inverse effect.
In the above play, CJ2K uses his elusiveness to find space and carve an opening..but it isn’t enough to get more than a few yards. Bradham pushes off of his block and wraps his hands around Johnson, bringing him to the ground.
Here’s another example of Bradham’s ability to shut down the running game. Not only does Bradham plug the hole, but anticipates a quick cut and leaps to make sure Knile Davis is stopped in his tracks. Bradham’s hard hit caught the Chiefs back off-guard, coming before he had time to decide where he was going to run. The end result was a fumble.
With the exception of Jordan Hicks and a streaky Mychal Kendricks, the Eagles struggled to establish any kind of “speed” at the linebacker position. DeMeco Ryans was often targeted by Defenses purely because if the reception is made and Ryans can’t make the tackle, there wasn’t much the linebacker could do. Nigel Bradham is a different animal entirely. This hugely athletic play sees him quickly read a quarterback rush, position himself in front of the versatile Michael Vick and force yet another fumble. Next season, the Eagles are set to encounter some of the league’s most intimidating dual-threat quarterbacks.
Robert Griffin III
This kind of athleticism is not only extremely useful in shutting down the running game as aforementioned, but it helps prevent those stunning quarterback runs that have been such a big part of the modern game.
But what does Bradham do best? Come off the edge and make an impact. It’s a huge risk leaving him unaccounted for as he oh-so nearly proves here. Garret Graham completely ignores Bradham and instead runs a curl route..that very almost results in a sack or an incompletion. Bradham took full advantage of the space on the outside and wasted no time in hitting the quarterback with ferocity.
Of all the film I’ve watched on Bradham, this may be my favorite play..which is strange considering that on the surface, it’s not that impressive. But when you pay closer attention, it shows just how athletic Bradham really is. Rushing to the outside, Bradham cuts inside of an incoming block to create a lane for himself. Shedding the block of Bryce Quigley, Bradham powers around yet another road block and loses next to no ground. The Chargers finally realize that Bradham is an oncoming force and turn their attention to him. The moment this happens, Rivers is subjected to a blindside hit from a now completely free Defensive Lineman. Bradham then helps finish what he started with an assist on the sack.
Michael Vick really didn’t seem to be able to do much against the Bills in 2014, largely because of how impressive Nigel Bradham was. Vick rushes to the outside again here, but what’s really impressive is the amount of ground that Nigel Bradham covered in order to make the tackle.
Sackleticism should be the word used to describe Bradham here. Completely running over his blocker, Bradham gets back up on his feet and amidst all the carnage is still able to see the quarterback scramble. Because of his athleticism though, it’s all that play became as he shut it down moments later.
The final aspect of Bradham’s play that makes him so valuable to the team is his ability to finish his tackles. Something that the Eagles struggled with in 2015. He may not be the perfect coverage linebacker, but his physical dominance means that he’s still able to stop a play developing on his own..which when the pressure is on and it’s one-on-one, is pivotal.
The more tape you watch, the more you see how Bradham really is a perfect fit under Jim Schwartz. When you think “Eagles offseason additions”, you think Rodney McLeod, Leodis McKelvin and Reuben Randle. Perhaps the most overlooked addition to the roster could prove to be the most important. Not only is Bradham filling a huge depth hole at linebacker, but he’s bringing with him a tenacity and aggression that is going to directly impact the effectiveness of the unit.
We all love Jordan Hicks..and we’re hoping to see continued improvement from the now converted DE’s and linebacker core. But in terms of a “specialist” who can lead by example in 2016, Bradham can help transform the unit and develop it into one of the most intimidating in the league.
He may be overlooked now, but he won’t be for long. Nigel Bradham is an incredibly dominant pass rusher. His skill set doesn’t lie in coverage and he isn’t as versatile as Jordan Hicks..but this most likely means he’s going to assume the role of the MIKE linebacker. You don’t need to be versatile when you can overpower blockers with ease, shed tackles as if they were snake skin and hit with as much impact as a truck. Bradham isn’t going to fly in Philadelphia..he’s going to soar.
Photo credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
GIF credit: NFL Films