The Eagles dove into the bargain bin once again today, signing linebacker Kyzir White to a one-year contract. The former Chargers LB joins a very light and very young position group, but how does he fit Jonathan Gannon’s defense?
A new era
If one thing became inherently clear last year, it’s that the Eagles needed coverage linebackers. Under Jim Schwartz, the linebackers were used heavily against the run and only marginally in coverage as roaming safeties were given that responsibility, picking up routes funneled inside by the corners. Gannon’s defense has a very different spine and it became very apparent very quickly.
Gannon utilized both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, meaning linebackers had to be well-rounded to thrive. That wasn’t the case for players like Alex Singleton, who was great against the run but struggled in coverage, and Davion Taylor, who was still fundamentally raw despite athletic gifts.
Kyzir White fits the bill
White is a player who can tick both boxes. Last year, he played in 514 coverage snaps, allowing 49 receptions for 386 yards and 2 touchdowns, picking off two passes in the process (shoutout to friend of PSN, Conor Myles, for dropping this info on twitter).
Not only is he good in coverage, but he’s fantastic at wrapping up ball-carriers and snuffing out the run. He famously had 144 tackles, but that can be an inflated stat. His 53 stops, however, ranked 4th among all LB’s in the league according to PFF, and his missed tackle percentage is below 6%. That’s outstanding considering how many he made.
Here are the missed tackle percentages of all Eagles LB’s last year:
Davion Taylor: 16.3%
Alex Singleton: 12.3%
Genard Avery: 12.2%
Eric Wilson: 6.5%
T.J Edwards: 6.5%
We can assume that White will become the nickel linebacker in a base package under Jonathan Gannon. He’ll likely split duties with Davion Taylor, while T.J Edwards or (insert rookie here) mans the MIKE spot, and Hasson Reddick can attack from the other side.
White brings the best of both worlds to the table. He brings exceptional amounts of awareness in coverage and enough athleticism to drive down to the line of scrimmage and play the run. His athletic profile is an appealing one and will definitely help him thrive in a defense that will ask so much of him. Sideline-to-sideline speed matters just as much as physicality, and he will go from being asked to drop deep into a cover-2 one minute, to flowing through blocks the next. The fact he’s been able to show strengths in both areas is extremely important.
Can Kyzir White break the trend?
The Eagles haven’t had much luck when it comes to free-agent signings at the LB spot in recent years. Eric Wilson, Corey Nelson, Zach Brown, Paul Worrilow etc, were hardly home runs. There’s every reason to believe that Kyzir White can break the cycle due to just how well he fits this system.
It goes without saying, but switching out Genard very and Alex Singleton for Hasson Reddick and Kyzir White is a huge upgrade for a linebacker position that many deemed to be the Achilles Heel of Gannon’s defense last year.
White is a player coming into his prime years and coming off of an incredibly productive 2021 campaign. The Chargers were forced to sit on their hands while Bobby Wagner’s fate was decided. It ultimately led the young local product into the cold and back to his roots, and hopefully into a position where he can have a similarly solid year in 2022, playing his way to the kind of deal he deserves.
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