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 Gerry||Round 5, pick 184||10||1||5 |
| 2016 (Eagles)||Joe Walker ||Round 7, pick 251 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
| 2014 (Bills)||Preston Brown ||Round 3, pick 73 ||16 ||14 ||109 |
| 2014 (Bills)||Randell Johnson ||Round 7, pick 221 ||5 ||0 ||1 |
| 2013 (Lions)||Brandon Hepburn ||Round 7, pick 245 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
| 2012 (Lions)||Ronnell Lewis ||Round 4, pick 125 ||8 ||0 ||2 |
| 2012 (Lions)||Tahir Whitehead ||Round 5, pick 138 ||14 ||0 ||11 |
| 2012 (Lions)|| Travis Lewis||Round 7, pick 223 ||13 ||0 ||3 |
| 2011 (Lions)||Doug Hogue ||Round 5, pick 157 ||13 ||0 ||6 |
| 2009 (Lions)||DeAndre Levy ||Round 3, pick 76 ||16 ||10 ||85 |
|2009 (Lions) ||Zack Follett ||Round 7, pick 235 ||12 ||0 ||10 |
| 2008 (Titans)||Stanford Keglar ||Round 4, pick 134 ||13 ||0 ||12 |
| 2006 (Titans)||Stephen Tulloch ||Round 4, pick 116 ||16 ||3 ||54 |
| 2006 (Titans)||Terna Nande ||Round 5, pick 137 ||1 ||0 ||1 |
| 2006 (Titans)||Spencer Toone ||Round 7, pick 245 ||3 ||0 ||0 |
| 2004 (Titans)||Robert Reynolds ||Round 5, pick 165 ||14 ||1 ||14 |
| 2002 (Titans)||Rocky Calmus ||Round 3, pick 77 ||13 ||1 ||27 |
| 2002 (Titans)||Rocky Boiman ||Round 4, pick 133 ||16 ||0 ||15 |
| 2001 (Titans)||Keith Adams ||Round 7, pick 232 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
• 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:
- The pandemic-shortened offseason, as noted above, will limit the amount of time Taylor has to learn the defense, duh.
- 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.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski.
Like Jimmy on Facebook.
Like the new PhillyVoice Sports page on Facebook.