It’s time for the Eagles to acknowledge the importance of the linebacker position

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Eagles
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) fumbles the ball in front of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Mario Goodrich (31) and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nicholas Morrow (41) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Philadelphia. The play was negated by a penalty on the Eagles. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Kansas City Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in as many years and have now become a dynasty after their thrilling 25-22 overtime win Sunday in Las Vegas in Super Bowl LVIII. This season, the Chiefs weren’t led by perhaps the best quarterback of all-time Patrick Mahomes, but by their stingy defense.

That defensive unit was impressive at all three levels all season long, but the linebackers made quite an impact in the big game Sunday night for the Chiefs.

Linebackers.

The position group that has historically been ignored by Howie Roseman and the Eagles for over a decade made key plays in big moments to win another championship for Kansas City. A performance like that makes the news coming out of the Eagles’ camp Saturday that they granted permission to Hasson Reddick to seek a trade even more puzzling.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick reacts following an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New York Giants, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 38-7. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Yes, Reddick is considered an EDGE player, and will command a hefty price tag, but in a 3-4 defense which newly hired defensive coordinator Vic Fangio runs, Reddick would be lined as an outside linebacker to pressure the quarterback, which is his specialty and help with sealing the edge on runs and would be a major piece for a defensive unit that has numerous glaring holes heading into the offseason and historically ignores the importance of good linebacker play.

Inside the Numbers

The Chiefs’ defense was led by linebacker Nick Bolton who tied for a game-high 13 tackles with San Francisco’s linebacker, Fred Warner. Kansas City also had strong contributions from fellow linebackers Leo Chenal (6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL), and Willie Gay (4 tackles, 3 solo).

Chenal was the one who forced the fumble on a Christian McCaffrey run which ended a promising opening drive for the Niners.

For the season, the Chiefs defense ranked second in both yards and points allowed this season. That trend proved to be a difference maker in the Super Bowl, holding the explosive Niners to just 22 points, the third-lowest output for Brock Purdy and Kyle Shanahan’s offense this season.

The front seven held McCaffrey, who led the NFL in rushing during the regular season averaging 91.2 yards per game and an impressive 5.4 yards per carry, was held to 3.9 yards per carry on 22 rushes, all while battering one of the league’s most prolific running backs throughout the game.

Eagles Need to Invest in Linebackers

Eagles Nakobe dean
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 02: Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) enters the field during training camp on August 2, 2022 at the Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

Andy Reid and the Chiefs have invested draft capital in their linebackers selecting one in the first three rounds in three straight drafts. Gay was a third-round pick in 2020, Bolton heard his named called in the 2nd round in 2021 while Chenal was selected in the 3rd round in 2022.

To put it in perspective, aside from Nolan Smith who was taken with the 30th overall pick in last year’s draft and Nakobe Dean being chosen in the 3rd round in 2022, the Eagles have drafted a linebacker in the first three rounds just three times since 2010. (2012, Mychael Kendricks, 2nd round, 2015, Jordan Hicks, 3rd round, 2020, Davion Taylor, 3rd round)

The jury is still out on Smith and Dean who were highly touted coming out of college, but the early returns have not been nearly as significant as the Eagles have hoped for. Smith played sporadically this season in his rookie season, tallying 18 tackles, 10 solo to go along with a sack while Dean has been battling injuries since joining the league, playing in just five games this season and 22 overall with 43 tackles.

Of course, evaluating and drafting players has a risk involved and expecting immediate returns from rookies is also unfair. However, those two would be the only notable linebackers on the books for the Eagles next season if they decide to move Reddick and don’t get a linebacker in return. Expected to join them are Patrick Johnson and Ben Vansumeren.

Eagles
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz (10) runs for a first down in front of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Ben VanSumeren (57) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Roseman and the scouting department needs to hit on a linebacker in the draft with names like Clemson’s Barrett Carter, Penn State’s Abdul Carter and Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman leading the way for linebacking prospects. Of course, fans would love to see Jeremiah Trotter Jr. selected by the Eagles. The Clemson linebacker’s father, Jeremiah, was a 2nd round pick back in 1998 by Philadelphia.

Free agency is also another route for the Eagles, but they have to stop picking off the heap of washed-up, aging linebackers or lesser names that are more suitable for depth instead of starting. The excitement of the team signing Shaq Leonard quickly fizzled after seeing his play, Nicholas Morrow had a solid season, but the move didn’t move the needle and the signing of Zach Cunningham was a solid move, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this season.

It’s a process finding and developing talent. We all can name some of the biggest draft busts in the history of the sport, but we can also name some of the biggest draft hits. The Eagles need to figure out to hit at a greater clip like their former head coach has been able to do en route to building the newest dynasty in the NFL.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke