The Eagles shockingly parted ways with Mychal Kendricks today in a move that while many would deem ‘a long time coming’ still found a way to splinter a very stable offseason. Within the space of 24 hours, the Eagles lost Paul Worrilow to a torn ACL and parted ways with a resurgent six-year starter. But do they need to go out of their way to replace him? Let’s have a look at the bigger picture.
Nelson is the obvious ‘next of kin’ here. Acquired by the Eagles this offseason he had reportedly been told that there would be starting opportunity. Little did we know just how quickly that would present itself. The 25-year old was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 draft and during his time with the Broncos, he amassed 88 tackles, one sack, six PBU’s and a fumble recovery. Nelson saw his role gradually increase after carving out a niche on special teams, tallying 18 total tackles on returns during that timespan.
Nelson eventually became Denver’s third option at inside linebacker and a key option in dime and sub packages. But the 2017 season escaped escaped from the 6’2, 225 lbs linebacker. Denver deviated from their natural 3-4 scheme which left Nelson out in the cold, tallying just 4 tackles in 5 games.
His 2017 season ended abruptly after 5 games. The Broncos had went away from their base 3-4 scheme in the beginning half of the season and played more of a nickel and dime scheme. This took both Nelson and Davis Sr. out of the equation for the first 5 games. In 5 games, Nelson accounted for 4 total tackles before suffering a season-ending injury in practice. He saw 115 special teams snaps in that time along with 44 on defense.
The young linebacker probably makes the most sense here for a few reasons. Not only is he cheaper and younger, but he wouldn’t need to be a full-time starter. For context, Malcolm Jenkins played more snaps at linebacker than he did at Safety last season, acting as a personal homing missile for Jim Schwartz, blowing up everything in his path. With Jordan Hicks back int he fray, it’s unlikely Kendricks would have seen the volume of snaps he did in 2017, so paying him $8M didn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. Nelson however, is on a much cheaper contract and has the experience to fill that role, while developing under the likes of Nigel Bradham. This allows Jenkins to soar around the defense like a rocket.
If the Eagles were going to keep it solely in-house, Nelson would likely be the strongest candidate.
Playing just one defensive snap in his rookie year, ‘KGH’ made his presence felt on special teams, playing in 42% of snaps. It was in 2017 however that saw his impact soar through the ceiling. Playing in a whopping 75.2% of snaps, Grugier-Hill led the Eagles in special teams tackles (and even made a special appearance as an emergency kicker) and saw a total of 85 snaps on defense, registering 22 tackles in the process. He was also named a Pro Bowl alternate. The development speaks for itself, with the linebacker continuing to improve and find new ways to contribute. While his stunning form on special teams may have flown under the radar for many, it didn’t get past Howie Roseman.
“When we look at Kamu, we think he has a chance to be not only one of the better special-teams players on our team, but in the league.” The Eagles GM said after making the final roster decisions last season.
‘KGH’ showed plenty of potential last season, but a big leap would take some of his special teams prowess out of the equation and after leading the team in tackles, it’s unlikely that the Eagles would want to hamper that level of dominant production. He could well factor into the rotation, but moving up the depth chart full-time may be a much bigger Mountain to climb. Having said that, there’s a long way to go until week one.
One player forgotten by many, was selected by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Former Oregon Ducks linebacker, Joe Walker. He ended his 2015 campaign leading the Oregon Ducks in tackles with 87 and recorded 6 for a loss as well as 2 sacks. He may not have the best size for the position, but a 40-yard dash time of 4.56 and a 6’2, 236 pound frame make him incredibly elusive. In a very gritty and aggressive system implemented by Jim Schwartz, Walker stood out in Training camp and flashed during his first taste of preseason action, before a torn-ACL saw him watch the 2016 season from the sidelines.
In 2017, Walker did finally get his taste of NFL action in wake of some injury setbacks, but he didn’t set the world alight. Amassing 6 tackles in 12 games. It would be an almighty leap to suddenly fill the boots left by Kendricks, but Walker does have the skillset to do so. The question simply becomes, ‘is he ready to assume such a hefty amount of defensive snaps?’ Injuries have hurt his career so far and it’s going to take a stunning offseason to really force his way into the equation here.
The former Nebraska Safety carved a niche in the Eagles defense last year after grinding out results on special teams. A hybrid player who is build in the same vein as Kurt Coleman, Gerry would be the perfect ‘hybrid backup’ to Malcolm Jenkins…if that role exists.
At 6’2, 218 lbs, he’s a big bodied athlete who has an eye for the football but isn’t afraid of contact and can contribute all over the defensive backfield. Gerry was a captain of the Nebraska Defense, totaling 13 interceptions during his last three years with the team, but like Coleman, is also a hard hitter. From an 11 tackle game against Iowa, to 68 tackles last year, Gerry simply excels when he’s closer to the Football.
With five tackles to his name in his rookie year, the ceiling remains high for Gerry and perhaps when partnered with Walker in a rotational role, could prove to be the perfect replacement for Kendricks. Preseason will go a long way in deciding whether or not that is a possibility or not, but the potential is there for Gerry to one day grow into that role.
Who do you think should fill the boots left by Eagles draftee Mychal Kendricks? Do the Eagles need to hit the trade block and scour the list of remaining free agents? (Psst, that’s for another article.) Let us know in the comments!
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports