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April 19, 2019

Eagles 2019 NFL Draft preview: Linebacker

Leading up to the draft, we're taking a look at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. We'll determine if the Eagles are likely to select a player at that position with one of their seven picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, as well as note some players who make sense.

Previous draft preview positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Offensive tackle | Interior OL

Defensive end | Defensive tackle

Today we'll continue on with linebacker, but before we get started, I'll save you the suspense -- The Eagles are extremely unlikely to take a linebacker in the first round. They don't value linebackers much, and this happens to be a very weak linebacker class.

It's debatable whether linebacker is one of the Eagles' biggest needs, depending on your perspective. If you're of the mindset that linebackers don't matter much in the Eagles' scheme, then it's not a big need. If you consider the fact that even the Eagles don't know who their starting MIKE linebacker will be when the season begins, it is indeed a big need.

The thinking here is that the Eagles will eventually trade for a starting-caliber linebacker, but they could certainly also address the position in the draft, though that'll likely happen on Day 3, if at all.

Mack Wilson, Alabama (6'1, 240)

Alabama has had inside linebackers selected early in each of the last three drafts. Reggie Ragland went 41st overall in 2016, Reuben Foster slid to 31st in 2017, and Rashaan Evans went 21st in 2018. As such, like with other positions in Bama's defense, younger players have to wait their turn to get on the field.

As a freshman in 2016, Wilson's impact was mainly felt on special teams, where he produced a lot of big hits on kick coverage. When he got his chance to start in 2017, he responded by intercepting four passes. In 2018, he had two picks, and was an enforcer at times (but a shaky tackler at other times) in the middle of Bama's imposing defense.

At one point, Wilson was thought of as a potential first round pick. Somewhere along the line, his stock fell, as many have concerns about his ability to read and react. I believe his ability in coverage alone should get him drafted in the second round. 

Projected round: 2

Vosean Joseph, Florida (6'1, 230)

Joseph needs a lot of coaching, but his athleticism is obviously excellent: 

I love this quote from his pro day, via

"Whoever wanna draft Vosean Joseph, just draft him and you gonna get a dog,” he said. “That's how I see it."

Jimmy is in on anyone who talks in the third person.

Projected round: 4

T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin (6'0, 230)

Edwards led the Badgers in tackles as a freshman, sophomore, and senior, and was second as a junior in 2017. More importantly, over the last two seasons, Edwards has 10 interceptions. His numbers at Wisconsin:

T.J. Edwards Tackles (TFL)INT Sacks FF-FR-PBU 
 201584 (6.5) 1-0-4 
 201689 (8.5) 0-0-2 
 201781 (11) 0-0-7 
 2018112 (11.5) 0-1-2 
 TOTAL366 (37.5) 10 1-1-15 

Those interceptions are of the impressive variety:

Edwards doesn't have good athleticism, and while you don't want him covering guys like Tarik Cohen or Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, he is good in coverage, particularly in zone assignments, which is what Jim Schwartz prioritizes in his linebackers.

Projected round: 5-6

MORE: Game-by-game Eagles 2019 win-loss predictions | Eagles 2019 schedule

Andrew Wingard, Wyoming (6'0, 209)

Wingard played safety at Wyoming, but I think he fits the mold of linebacker-turned-safety projects (think Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry) that the Eagles have taken on under Schwartz. To begin, Wingard is a good run defender who racked up 454 tackles over his college career.

He's also good in zone coverage, and can be opportunistic when he has had a chance to make plays on the football, as evidenced by his 10 career picks.

Also, he's probably the best skier in the draft, which should appeal to the Eagles, as they took the best skier in NFL history in Jeremy Bloom back in 2006. And his hair is glorious:

Bulk him up a bit, and Wingard could be a sub-package linebacker and core special teamer.

Projected round: 6-7

Khalil Hodge, Buffalo (6'1, 255)

As noted previously, the Eagles have prioritized production, and Hodge certainly has that, racking up 414 tackles (21 for loss) in three years at Buffalo. He doesn't have good speed, and isn't going to make a lot of impressive sideline-to-sideline plays, but he is a strong, physical run defender. Here's his game against Temple this year.

Despite Hodge's production, he was not invited to the Combine, which should tell you what the NFL thinks of his chances of making it at the next level. The Eagles could have interest in him as a high character player they bring in as an undrafted free agent.

Projected round: UDFA

MORE: Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the Eagles' 2019 schedule

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