One year ago, inside linebacker was arguably the Philadelphia Eagles‘ deepest position group. Now, it may be one of their thinnest.
Now that the NFL Draft is done and the Eagles have finalized their 90-man roster before OTAs, it’s becoming a bit clearer which position groups are deep and which aren’t. After the dust has settled, it’s clear linebacker is the Eagles’ worst position group.
There’s no doubting the talent of Mychal Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, who are both essentially guarantees to start. Hicks will likely start on the inside and Kendricks will be one of the outside linebackers, likely the weak side guy. It appears former Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham will start on the strong side. He’s been a primary starter for Buffalo over the last two years, but recorded just 42 tackles and one sack in 11 games last year.
That’s a solid starting trio, but the depth is worrying. The only other linebackers on the roster are Najee Goode, Quentin Gause, Deontae Skinner, Myke Tavarres, Ty Powell and Joe Walker. That group doesn’t exactly ooze talent. Three of those five are rookies, and Goode and Skinner didn’t spend much time on the field last year. It’s possible one of the rookies will break out in training camp and become one of the top backups, but with their lack of experience, it could create issues.
Hicks and Kendricks have been known to have injury problems over their careers, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see at least one of them miss some time in 2016. Rarely were there games where the team had all four of their top four linebackers on the field. Injuries are bound to happen. It’s important to have some depth, and without either Kiko Alonso or DeMeco Ryans on the inside and with Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham moving to defensive end, the new linebacker group is pretty weak.
Bradham already has experience playing under Jim Schwartz’s defense, which should help, but it will take some time for the rest of the players to get used to playing in a 4-3, especially if they’ve never done it at an NFL level. No linebacker on the Eagles roster has more than four years of NFL experience anyway, so they’re going to have to get by without any veteran leadership at the position.
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For a defense that could be much better than it has been in past years, the team will need to find a way to keep its three starters on the field as much as possible and off the injury list. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick up a veteran through a trade or free agency during the preseason or training camp. However, if they’re unable to do that, it’s fair to be at least a little worried.
Goode, who’s the most experienced of the projected backups, didn’t have much of a role last year on defense, but has been solid on special teams in the past. With all the linebacker injuries last year, Skinner had to play in a few games, recording a season-high six tackles against the Bills. However, he wasn’t anything special and probably can’t be trusted to fill in for a significant period of time if Kendricks and/or Hicks were to go down.
Tavarres is one player I’m excited to see. The undrafted rookie from Incarnate Wood is a great edge rusher who has a good burst and can do it from both a stand-up position and a three-point stance. If he plays outside linebacker, the former FCS standout could provide a good pass rush from a position the Eagles struggled to get many sacks from last year. His 2015 highlights can be found here.
OTAs and training camp should give a better idea of where the Eagles stand at the position, but they better hope they don’t have too many serious injuries.