How long has it been since the Eagles had an impactful linebacker?
Ok, not that long.
You could argue that Jordan Hicks was the last one, and that was just a few years ago. Before that? Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, and Connor Barwin. Before that? Uhhhh… Jeremiah Trotter?
With Bradham not returning, Grugier-Hill a free agent, and the depth being slim, it’s time Howie invests in a young, long-term option at linebacker.
Take a look at some of the linebacker prospects you should watch at the combine this weekend in hopes they get selected in April by the Eagles.
Note: I’m excluding Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray. Both are projected first round picks, and as much as I dream about the Eagles selecting a first round linebacker, a source close to the Eagles confirmed to me that “they don’t believe in drafting LB’s high.” Now that may be a “duh” moment for you, but I’ve been in denial about it and now my dreams are shattered. So thank you and let me weep.
A tackling machine with an injury history – Jordan Hicks is that you?
David Woodward has all of the physical skills you want in a MIKE linebacker. He has the football IQ, zone coverage skills, and gap penetration ability you want as the “captain of the defense”.
We need to talk more about David Woodward in this ILB class man. This game against Wake Forest is some of the best ILB tape I’ve seen this year.— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 9, 2020
He’s instinctive, athletic, and a playmaker. He’s all over the field. I’m extremely impressed. pic.twitter.com/VqGcAFhwqa
He’s often first to the football and rarely overplays outside zone runs.
He had 93 tackles in seven games in 2019, including five for loss and two sacks. In 2018, he had 134 tackles in 12 games, including 12.5 for loss and five sacks. In the season opener against Wake Forest in 2019, he registered 24 tackles. You read that right.
The huge knock on him is injury history. Woodward was lost in 2019 after seven games due to an undisclosed injury. He’s also suffered several concussions and he had fractured vertebrae in high school.
If his medicals check out, Woodward could be a steal in round three or four.
If the Eagles spend big on a MIKE LB this offseason, they could turn their focus to depth at the SAM and WILL positions.
Dye fits the mold as a blitzing linebacker who can also drop back in coverage. He makes some missteps, but has the speed to recover quickly. He has impressive range and sideline to sideline speed that you want in the SAM or WILL position.
Oregon LB Troy Dye has some solid fluidity in his movements when he drops into coverage. Few false steps, but able to recover and break up the pass pic.twitter.com/YKyVyYe8dO— Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 25, 2020
He’s also one with an injury history, playing 2019 with a broken thumb.
Another thumper for the Eagles to think about at MIKE, Harrison brings the hammer on offensive players. He has sideline to sideline ability and a downhill motor most linebackers covet. Brooks had 16.5 tackles for loss last season.
He can shed blocks with the best of them and plug holes that the wide nine defensive line creates.
Ohio State LB Malik Harrison – 6’3 251— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 15, 2020
Enormous LB that can glide/scrap – but he knows how to stack/shed blocks too! Watch a few examples of him taking on blockers and keeping himself clean!@nfldraftscout recently mocked Harrison to the #Packers in the 2nd round – 62 overall pic.twitter.com/O1qpWznHLt
He’d be a second round target, although the Eagles most likely won’t look there. We can dream.
Adding to the list of players that will probably go higher before the Eagles look to address the position, Jordyn Brooks has closing speed, gap penetration ability, and a tackling prowess that we haven’t seen in an Eagles linebacker in quite sometime.
Brooks will penetrate a gap before the running back even realizes he received the hand off, as evident by Brooks’ 20 tackles for loss in 2019.
Check out the thread below on his closing speed and his ability in run defense:
Texas Tech LB Jordyn Brooks is a good run defender. Doesn't waste much movements and does a nice job of shifting around bodies to make a tackle pic.twitter.com/xf1oHIDact— Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 26, 2020
The Eagles love their former safeties as linebackers players (Gerry), so how about one that is actually good.
Davis-Gaither was an average safety prospect coming out of high school, but then he transitioned into a very effective linebacker.
He had 101 (52 assisted) tackles in 2019 with 14.5 tackles for loss and also added five sacks and eight pass deflections.
He profiles as a nickel/dime linebacker and prolific special teams player, but can develop into a starter over time. We all love what Isaiah Simmons can do, but Akeem Davis-Gaither can develop into a poor man’s version of that.
Akeem Davis-Gaither (24) is lean at just 219 lbs., but how does he deal with linemen in the run game and as a pass rusher? His quick hands and athleticism make him a hard target.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) February 18, 2020
When you think of athletic linebackers, think of Akeem. pic.twitter.com/8K0BjBvDPE
Want a potential stud but with injury risk? (Jordan Hicks, stop showing up already) Well then Markus Bailey is your guy.
He had two ACL injuries in his five years at Purdue, the last one coming in September of 2019. It does look like he’s rehabbing well:
He’s coming along great and is gonna be a steal for someone! pic.twitter.com/I1Q3G9brvD— Steve Caric (@Caricsportsmgt) February 15, 2020
However, when he was healthy, he produced.
In 42 career games, he racked up 324 tackles (7.7 per game), 28 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, and six interceptions.
He has the range to play linebacker on every down and can identify plays before they happen. He’d be a high-risk/high-reward selection and one that would excite Eagles fans on game day.
Last Markus Bailey clip, I promise. Here Bailey does a great job reading the eyes of the QB and getting back to make the INT. pic.twitter.com/4lw3h5rbud— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) February 22, 2020
Late round gems are what the Eagles will probably be looking for, and Strnad fits that narrative.
In 41 career games, he produced 244 tackles, 22.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, and four interceptions.
He has a high IQ, was the leader of the Wake Forest defense, and can cover exceptionally. Strnad can shoot the gaps and ticks every box on the Eagles’ list.
Check out his highlight reel below and I’ll be shocked if you don’t come away impressed:
He’ll most likely fall to the fourth round, maybe even fifth, due to other linebackers in front of him and other teams’ needs, but the Eagles would get an absolute steal if they can nab him.
Is there anyone I missed? Let me know!
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports