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August 04, 2018

Doug Pederson says Eagles' linebacker depth is the best since he's been in Philly

Eagles NFL
052718JordanHicks Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Hicks participated in individual drills during the Eagles' first OTA session.

Whenever the topic of the Philadelphia Eagles' depth arises, a common sentiment is that the team can use more bodies at linebacker. After all, on the same day back in May, the Birds released Mychal Kendricks and lost newly signed Paul Worrilow for the season with a torn ACL.

Doug Pederson disagrees. "I think this is the first time we've had this much depth at the linebacker spot since I've been here," Pederson said on Friday.

There's certainly an argument to be made that this year's group is better than last year's group. Let's look at each spot, one-by-one:

Linebacker No. 1: 2017 Jordan Hicks vs. 2018 Jordan Hicks

In his first 24 career games (21 starts) in the NFL in 2015 and 2016, Hicks had 135 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries, and 14 pass breakups. Those are outstanding playmaking numbers.

2017 Jordan Hicks, however, clearly wasn't the same guy when the season began, as he was playing hurt with an ankle injury. Hicks has stated that he thinks he tore his Achilles because he was overcompensating for his ankle injury, a common occurrence in major leg injuries.

2018 Jordan Hicks looks healthy and motivated, and has been a full participant all throughout training camp, including live tackling sessions. If 2018 Hicks can be what 2015 and 2016 Jordan Hicks were, he will be a major upgrade over 2017 Jordan Hicks.

Of course, all the aforementioned Hickses were/are injury risks.

Linebacker No. 2: 2017 Nigel Bradham vs. 2018 Nigel Bradham

Linebacker No. 2 really isn't much different than linebacker No. 1, at least as long as Hicks and Bradham are healthy. They're interchangeable, and almost never come off the field.

2018 Nigel Bradham will be missing the first game of the season due to suspension, but he should otherwise be the same guy he was a year ago.

WILL: Mychal Kendricks vs. Corey Nelson / Nate Gerry / Kamu Grugier-Hill

"Is the team better with Mychal Kendricks, or without him? Answer the question! ANSWER IT!!!"

That was a common thing some Kendricks fans asked when it was suggested that the team could trade or release him due to his bloated $7.6 million cap hit in 2018.

Anyway, to answer that question, the team would be marginally better, I suppose. Obviously, Jim Schwartz ultimately chose Kendricks to start him over guys like Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill a year ago. There's certainly an argument to be made that the Eagles were fortunate to have Kendricks on the roster after Hicks got hurt. But let's not overstate it.

At one time in his career, Kendricks looked like he was going to be a playmaking linebacker. That did not materialize. Over the last four seasons, Kendricks has zero interceptions. Over the last two seasons, he has zero forced fumbles. On a defense that lived off of takeaways a season ago (they had 31 of them during the regular season), Kendricks was directly responsible for none. He was indirectly responsible for one, when Eli Manning threw a pass directly at him that hit him in the hands, it deflected up in the air, and was picked off by Patrick Robinson. 

On the open market, Kendricks didn't find much in the way of teams interested in signing him, as he ultimately settled for a meager one-year deal.

In other words, the rest of the NFL agreed with the Eagles that he was not worth what he was set to make in 2018 before the team released him.

The third linebacker spot is being fought between Corey Nelson, Grugier-Hill, and Gerry. None of those guys have a name as recognizable as Kendricks, but they all have a skill set geared around coverage, an area where Kendricks has struggled at times over his career.

Frankly, the whole heated third linebacker debate is kind of amusing, seeing as whoever wins that battle is likely to play less than a third of the snaps anyway, as long as Hicks and Bradham stay healthy.

The rest: Joe Walker, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Grugier-Hill, and Gerry vs. Walker and LaRoy Reynolds

I'm not actually analyzing this.

Conclusion

If you really, really liked Kendricks, and you don't see anything in Nelson, Grugier-Hill, or Gerry, then you can maybe make an argument that the 2017 linebackers are better. Otherwise, in my view, a healthy Hicks (obviously, he has to stay that way) makes this linebacker group vastly improved.

As for depth, Nelson, Grugier-Hill, and Gerry are all young linebackers with a chance to emerge this season, and it's not as if they're trying to replace a guy who made big plays.


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