It’s pretty clear what the Eagles think of the linebacker position compared to the rest of the league and now, we may finally be entering an exciting time for the position.
Unfortunately for Howie and Co. offseason signing Jatavis Brown decided to retire from football before playing a single snap for the Eagles. This news obviously depletes an already bare-bones position on paper, but are the Eagles really in trouble at the position?
The Eagles linebacker depth chart
- Shaun Bradley
- T.J. Edwards
- Nathan Gerry
- Dante Olson
- Duke Riley
- Alex Singleton
- Davion Taylor
When you look at this group, you can see where the worry comes from. Their oldest players are Duke Riley and Nathan Gerry, who are entering their fourth year in the league, with the rest of the players either coming off rookie years or being rookies themselves. However, there’s a lot of talent within this group when you look for it.
Nathan Gerry had a really positive 2019 season, tying the teams lead in interceptions with two, ranking third in tackles with 67, only sitting behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod and leading the Eagles in special teams’ snaps with 335, which equates to 74%. Gerry, off those stats and the lack of a real star in that linebacker group, is set up to step up as the glue of the group in 2020.
Duke Riley joined the Eagles during week 5 of the 2019 season after a trade was made with the Falcons. In a shorter season than most, Riley managed to play the fourth-most snaps on special teams with 254 and also had the third most special teams tackles on the team with 10. There have been several reports since that trade identifying strong leadership qualities and that’s exactly what this young new mold of Eagles linebacker needs – a leader in the locker room and on the field.
T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton are both guys who have really impressed in limited defensive action while shining on special teams. Singleton appeared in 44% of the team’s special teams snaps in 2019 over 10 games and tied for the fourth-most tackles in Fipp’s group with 8, whilst Edwards was a true standout in his rookie year in that role, playing one less snap than Gerry with 334 special teams snaps, recording the highest total special teams tackles last season with 14.
Both Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley were new additions to the Eagles during this year’s draft. The pairing perfectly fit the new super-athletic mold Howie desired at a position undergoing a league-wide makeover. Taylor and Bradley have benefitted by Brown retiring, as they’ll for sure see the field a lot more in special teams and maybe actual snaps too.
Obviously four relatively inexperienced and unproven linebackers and a couple of rookies still leave plenty of question marks, but this is where the fun begins for the future of the Eagles linebacker position.
Dante Olson maybe my favorite UDFA that the Eagles signed this year. He’s a true leader on the field and he broke all sorts of records during his college career. He’s an old school type of linebacker who hasn’t got the best of long speed but he knows how to get to the ball and make a tackle – recording the most total tackles in FCS football for two consecutive seasons before making the jump to the NFL.
K’Von Wallace can make some plays at linebacker given his extensive background at safety and as a do-it-all DB. But while he is a longer-term option, it’s free-agent addition Will Parks that can act as the prototype. He’s a very versatile back that fits Schwartz’s system perfectly, even amassing snaps at MIKE during his time in Denver.
There’s one last wildcard – Genard Avery. He hasn’t had the loudest of stints in Philadelphia and is yet to truly hit the ground running after helping bring down Mitch Trubisky in his debut. But all signs are pointing towards some more efficient usage in 2020, be it at defensive end or as an outside linebacker.
With the team stating they’re looking at ways to include Malik Jackson, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave on the field at the same time, having Genard Avery as a stand-up defensive end could really benefit him and the team. He could be a real wildcard player in that defensive set-up, lining up as a defensive end teams won’t know if he’s rushing the offense or dropping back and covering at linebacker.
The Eagles may not have the most experienced corps in the league, but what they do have is an emphatic special-teams unit and a defense that’s getting lighter and faster. With Schwartz leaning more and more towards DB-heavy looks, expect to see more of guys like Wallace and Parks, and less of the traditional 4-3 looks – giving a refreshing look to the defense and keeping the pressure off of a very young Eagles linebacker group.
Mandatory Photo Credit Jerry Habraken, Delaware News Journal, via Imagn Content Services, LLC