Will this finally be the year that the Eagles draft an LB in the early rounds?


Tee Higgins, Henry Ruggs III, insert receiver here, a top corner; rinse and repeat. So has been the story for early Eagles mock drafts in 2020. The same lines of thinking are likely to be repeated up until Philadelphia is on the clock in late April. It makes sense, after all, the Birds have an aging receiver room and huge holes in the secondary. The receiver and corner positions have been a place of emphasis for the Eagles even before Doug Pederson’s arrival in Philly.

In the last 3 drafts, the team has selected three corners and three receivers — a pattern that does not seem to be slowing down. 2020 is also being tagged as one of the deepest and most talented receiver drafts in recent memory, furthering the narrative that this is the draft in which the Eagles will solve their pass-catching problems of the future.

But then there are mock drafts like the one put forth by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox. A spurious outlier for certain, but one that spurns the notion that the Eagles will only have eyes for corners and receivers early on in the draft. Instead, Knox suggests Philadelphia will select linebacker Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma.

Contrary to the Eagles’ drafting history with receivers and corners, the team has only taken one linebacker in the last three years — Nathan Gerry, who actually played safety in college. In fact, Philadelphia hasn’t spent a day one or two pick on a linebacker since 2015, when they took Jordan Hicks in the third round. For a full breakdown, PSN’s Chris Infante decided to dive deep into Howie Roseman’s history with linebackers.

So, why is this year any different?

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Eagles will have a big haul of draft picks — projected 10 total. They likely will head into the April draft with a first, a second, two thirds, three fourths, two fifths, and a sixth-round selection. With it being an incredibly deep class of receivers, Philadelphia will have plenty of opportunities to scoop up a young playmaker at the position and it may still very well be the choice in round one. There have been plenty of reports that suggest significant changes are on the horizon in the receiver room.

However, while Philly is getting long in the tooth at the position, they are not barren of talent. They clearly need an infusion of youth, but could realistically compete without making any major changes before the season starts. While it may be unexpected, the Eagles are in a position where they could wait until next year to get a new number one guy if the prospect they covet does not fall to them. After CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Tee Higgins, and Henry Ruggs III, there is a noticeable drop off in projected talent. There is a very real chance that none of these players are available at pick number 21. Personally, I wouldn’t put Higgins on the same plateau.

Jalen Reagor, Laviska Shenault Jr. and Justin Jefferson are all good prospects, but feel more like late first to second-rounders at this point in the draft process. Reagor or Shenault are the most likely targets. Most people wouldn’t be unhappy with either selection. Still, Howie Roseman has always subscribed to a ‘best player available’ approach to the draft and unless the Eagles have a different assessment of the position than most draft pundits — not unlikely — they may miss out on their top choices at receiver.

At corner, there will be a bevvy of free-agent options available. While they won’t come cheap, the Eagles have plenty of cap space to land an impact corner. Big names such as Byron Jones, Bradley Roby, Darqueze Dennard, Logan Ryan, Trae Waynes and Kendall Fuller headline a class of free agents that is deep enough for the Eagles not to have to spend early picks on multiple corners. They may also decide to bring back Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby and have a great supporting cast of young hopefuls waiting for their opportunity.

Adding to that, this is a fairly strong draft for corners, but the class is missing top-end talent. Outside of Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, there may only be two or three other corners with the opportunity to hear their name called on day one. LSU’s Kristian Fulton is a name to watch, but may not be available by the time the Eagles are on the clock.

Both positions will likely be addressed early on in the draft, but with a first-rounder and three day-two selections, there are ample opportunities for the Eagles to do so. The team has talented starters across the defensive line as well as good depth at each position. They also have both experienced talent and young up and comers on the offensive line. This leaves certain picks unaccounted for that the team may very well use on a linebacker.

But, why a linebacker?

Reason number one is the current state of the Philadelphia linebacker room. The Eagles have a few promising young players, but no real full-time starters outside of 30-year-old Nigel Bradham, who has not been as good the last two years. Last year’s undrafted free agent rookie T.J. Edwards looked every bit the part of a future middle linebacker, but the coaching staff doesn’t seem fully ready to hand him the reigns. Nate Gerry has failed to leave a lasting impression in his time as a starter and Kamu Grugier-Hill hasn’t proven himself either. Despite the front office’s refusal to value the position, it may be high time to address the position.

It’s easy to point to the team’s recent success as proof they don’t need to spend on the position. The fact of the matter is that in 2017, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, their roster included 2nd round pick Mychal Kendricks, 3rd round pick Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham — who when they acquired was a top free agent. The truth is: the Eagles did spend.

Being that their last day two linebackers were Hicks (3rd in the league in tackles in 2019) and Kendricks (who became an integral part of the Seahawks’ defense), the Eagles shouldn’t be hesitant to try their luck again. A second or third-round selection spent on a linebacker could make an immediate impact, arguably as much as a corner or receiver.

Take a look at potential options listed on the page below.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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