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August 19, 2020

A look at Jim Schwartz's history of playing rookie linebackers

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected a pair of linebackers in Davion Taylor (Round 3), and Shaun Bradley (Round 6). They also added undrafted free agent Dante Olson.

With the surprise retirement of free agent acquisition Jatavis Brown, the Eagles are thin at linebacker, with only Nate Gerry all but assured of a starting spot this season. As such, the Eagles could really benefit from one of their rookie linebackers having a standout training camp, and earning some early playing time.

Jim Schwartz indicated that expectations for rookies should probably be tempered, especially in a shortened offseason.

"Linebacker and safety are two of the most difficult positions for guys to get up to speed," Schwartz said. "That’s including having a full offseason program for rookies, OTAs, minicamp, a full preseason schedule, and preseason games. So their learning has to be accelerated. [Taylor, Bradley, and Olson] are smart guys and have adapted well. Now it’s just a matter of accumulating as many reps as we can get, and when we do have those heavy contact practices, those are going to be very important in our evaluations.

"There’s no grading on the curve for this. It can’t be, ‘Well, it’s Week 7, a guy has to play,’ or ‘It’s Week 2, a guy has to play,’ or ‘It’s Week 16 and a guy has to play, and sorry but he didn’t have any training camp so we can’t expect much of him.’ Our job is to get those guys ready, and we have confidence in those guys. They’re working really hard and they’re really good athletes, and I feel good about their prospects."

Back in 2017, we determined that Schwartz has never been afraid to play his rookie cornerbacks. The following is a look at Schwartz's history of playing drafted rookie linebackers in his stops as a defensive coordinator or head coach in Tennessee, Detroit, Buffalo, and Philly.

Year Player Draft slot Games Starts Tackles 
2017 (Eagles)Nate GerryRound 5, pick 184101
 2016 (Eagles)Joe Walker Round 7, pick 251 
 2014 (Bills)Preston Brown Round 3, pick 73 16 14 109 
 2014 (Bills)Randell Johnson Round 7, pick 221 
 2013 (Lions)Brandon Hepburn Round 7, pick 245 
 2012 (Lions)Ronnell Lewis Round 4, pick 125 
 2012 (Lions)Tahir Whitehead Round 5, pick 138 14 11 
 2012 (Lions) Travis LewisRound 7, pick 223 13 
 2011 (Lions)Doug Hogue Round 5, pick 157 13 
 2009 (Lions)DeAndre Levy Round 3, pick 76 16 10 85 
2009 (Lions) Zack Follett Round 7, pick 235 12 10 
 2008 (Titans)Stanford Keglar Round 4, pick 134 13 12 
 2006 (Titans)Stephen Tulloch Round 4, pick 116 16 54 
 2006 (Titans)Terna Nande Round 5, pick 137 
 2006 (Titans)Spencer Toone Round 7, pick 245 
 2004 (Titans)Robert Reynolds Round 5, pick 165 14 14 
 2002 (Titans)Rocky Calmus Round 3, pick 77 13 27 
 2002 (Titans)Rocky Boiman Round 4, pick 133 16 15 
 2001 (Titans)Keith Adams Round 7, pick 232 


• If you'll notice, it's not just the Eagles who don't value linebackers early in the draft. Teams that have employed Schwartz as their defensive coordinator or head coach (19 total years) have never drafted a linebacker in either the first or second rounds.

• Of the 19 linebackers drafted by Schwartz teams in the last 19 years, only three had at least 30 tackles as rookies. We included the tackles column to differentiate between guys that may have played in the majority of the games, but may have only had a role on special teams, or perhaps just a small role on defense.

• The three linebackers that had at least 50 tackles as rookies -- thus indicating a legitimate role in the defense -- were Preston Brown, DeAndre Levy, and Stephen Tulloch. That would be 16 percent of the drafted linebackers in Schwartz's various stops. Brown and Levy were two of the three linebackers above drafted in the third round, and Tulloch went in the fourth round. While late-round cornerbacks often had significant roles in Schwartz's defenses, linebackers have not.

Davion Taylor was drafted in the third round, so in theory, history would show that he has a decent chance of playing a significant role in the defense, but he has two things working against him in comparison to the third rounders mentioned above:

  1. The pandemic-shortened offseason, as noted above, will limit the amount of time Taylor has to learn the defense, duh.
  2. Taylor hasn't played much football, as religious beliefs kept him off the field until his mother finally allowed him to play in college, where he only played for two seasons.

If sixth rounder Shaun Bradley were to play a legitimate role in the defense as a rookie, he would be breaking a trend of late-round linebackers sitting as rookies.

As for Dante Olson, there's hope for him in the form of T.J. Edwards, an undrafted linebacker who played in all 16 games as a rookie last season, and even stood out as a run defender. Of course, Olson's first step will simply be making the team, which is already probably an uphill climb.

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