By Dylan MacKinnon
We have looked at WR, OL, and CB, but still there are more needs on the Eagles roster to cover. This week, we will look at a position the Eagles are famous for overlooking, Linebacker. Should the Eagles finally break the trend and take a LB with their first round pick?
Don’t Value Linebackers
The last time the Eagles took a Linebacker in the first round was 1979. They selected Jerry Robinson out of UCLA. That is 41 drafts without selecting a LB in the first round. Over that time they have only taken 8 linebackers in the second round and 7 in the third round. That’s 15 linebackers in the first three rounds over the course of 41 years. It is safe to say this is not a position they put much stock in.
And it’s not just draft capital they won’t invest in linebackers. Going into next year, the Eagles have zero linebackers who make more than a million dollars a year. In 2020 only 2.08% of their cap was used on the linebacker position. The year before was 3.77%, and 2018 was 4.14%. The Eagles have had a linebacker with a cap hit larger than one million only three times in the last few seasons. Two of those times were Nigel Bradham, the other was Jordan Hicks.
Don’t Use Linebackers Much
Under Jim Schwartz the Eagles ran very little Base Defense. For those unfamiliar with that term, a base defense is either the 4-3, or the 3-4 formation. Meaning there are only 4 defensive backs. In the Eagles case it would be 4-3. The Eagles ran that set less than 30% of the time in his time here, and over the last three years under 20%. They opt more often for the Nickel, or even the Dime formation. Nickel features 5 defensive backs, and Dime features six. This all means that more often than not there are at most two linebackers on the field at once.
And when they are on the field, Eagles blitzed only 22.2% of the time, 28th in the NFL. The linebackers primary role has been pass coverage and run stopping. That is a big reason why the Eagles have tended to use converted safeties at LB.
But now Schwartz is out, and former Colts’ Secondary Coach Jonathan Gannon is in. He has never called plays on defense before, so we don’t know how he will use his linebackers. We could see the linebackers play a much larger role this year. He is coming from the Colts who were 31st in blitz rate, but they did use their linebackers in an interesting way.
The Colts blitz the second least amount in the NFL, only blitzing 18.5% of the time. That doesn't mean the Colts don't put pressure on opposing offensive lines. The Colts do a great job of simulating pressure by stacking the line, confusing OL assignments, yet still rushing 4 pic.twitter.com/Iqv6q3e3xh— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 11, 2020
Just because that is what Matt Eberflus does in Indy, doesn’t mean its what Gannon will do, but it is worth noting. Perhaps Gannon will come in and give linebackers a primary role in his scheme. Perhaps because of that Howie Roseman will start to value the position. But the Eagles lack of love for linebackers didn’t start with Schwartz, so don’t count on it ending with him.
Don’t Have Many Linebackers With Experience
The Eagles currently have four Linebackers under contract. There is also Alex Singleton who is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent which means he will likely be back. Even still that leaves them with only two players that have at least 100 NFL snaps at Linebacker. Here are the 5, and how many snaps they took.
So they have TJ Edwards and Alex Singleton. Both played well this year, but two linebackers isn’t going to cut it. Nate Gerry is a Restricted Free Agent and could be back as well, but with how he played that may not fix the issue here.
The name a lot of people will bring up is Penn State’s Micah Parsons. He’s a highly touted prospect projected to go right around where the Eagles will be picking. If they want a LB, he will most likely be the guy. ESPN’s Todd McShay has mocked Parsons to the Eagles, but he also had them taking Patrick Queen last year.
The Eagles are without a doubt in need of a linebacker. They have almost no experience currently on the roster. The question is will they take one. It would be breaking with a 40+ year trend to take anyone that high.
Next week we will take a look at QB.