July 17, 2019
Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team. In case you've missed any of them, you can catch up here.
Today we'll look at the linebackers.
|OLB||Nigel Bradham||L.J. Fort||Alex Singleton|
|MLB||Zach Brown||Paul Worrilow||T.J. Edwards (R)|
|OLB||Kamu Grugier-Hill||Nate Gerry||Joey Alfieri (R)|
If you look at Bradham's stats in 2018 vs. 2017, there isn't much of a difference:
|Nigel Bradham||Tackles (TFL)||Sacks||INT (PBU)||FF-FR|
|2017||88 (5)||1||0 (8)||1-1|
|2018||97 (4)||2||0 (4)||0-1|
And yet, Bradham clearly had more of an impact in 2017 than he did in 2018. For example, Bradham was a monster in the Eagles' Thursday night win in Carolina in 2017. Those moments were mostly absent in 2018. Of course, he played part of the 2018 season with a thumb that was broken in three places, so the dropoff in play is understandable.
The Eagles have an interesting situation at linebacker, in terms of who will be relaying the play calls from Jim Schwartz to the defense. In the past, that guy has always been Jordan Hicks, but Bradham has assumed those responsibilities whenever Hicks has gone down. While Schwartz has always maintained that Bradham has done a good job with that when called upon, I believe the preference of the team (and Bradham, for that matter) would be to just let Bradham make plays and not have to worry about those added responsibilities.
However, he's the only linebacker on the roster likely to be on the field for close to 100 percent of the plays, which makes him the top candidate for that job.
Grugier-Hill's defensive snap totals have risen each year, from 0.1 percent in 2016, to 8.2 percent in 2017, to 31.7 percent in 2018. He was sneaky-productive when he got his opportunities last season, as he had 45 tackles, (5 for loss), an INT, a forced fumble, a sack, and a couple pass breakups.
Grugier-Hill has always had plenty of athleticism, but over the last few years, he has worked hard to transform his body into that of a linebacker, and the Eagles' staff thinks that he is now there. Grugier-Hill now also has three years of experience in the Eagles' scheme, and should be comfortable executing all his assignments. In my view, there's little reason Grugier-Hill can't be a starter for this team, and not "just" a special teams ace.
In 2019, I expect him to take on an even bigger role, and wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the "No. 2 linebacker" alongside Bradham. He would have to beat out free agent acquisition Zach Brown, and I believe that he can.
After something of a disappointing start to his career in Tennessee as a second-round pick in 2012, Brown, who turns 30 in October, began filling up the stat sheet in free agent stops in Buffalo (2016) and Washington (2017-2018), as he was something of a tackle machine. Over the last three seasons, Brown had 372 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. He earned a second-team All-Pro nod in Buffalo in 2016.
On the downside, Brown has just 7 pass breakups over the last the last 3 seasons, which goes against the tendency of previous Eagles linebacker additions known for their ability in pass coverage.
When Brown signed with the Eagles this offseason, I sort of penciled him in as a starting LB. In spring practices, I can't recall seeing Brown making any plays in any of the media-attended practices, and he was often with the second-team defense. He'll need to do more in training camp.
I could see a scenario in which Brown plays something of a Dannell Ellerbe / Joe Walker type of role (third linebacker, mainly on run downs), but at a higher level than those guys.
Gerry is a core special teamer and is a competent reserve linebacker when asked to do certain things (like coverage), but his run defense was ugly at times in 2018, and needs significant improvement. He'll very likely be on the roster again in 2019.
Fort is a very interesting case. He's been a good special teams player over his career, but only has three starts in 61 games over a seven-year career. The Eagles curiously made him a priority signing very early in free agency, giving him a three-year, $5.5 million contract, which is more than enough for him to count toward the compensatory pick formula. He is currently cancelling out a fourth-round pick the Eagles would otherwise gain if they cut him. (You can catch up on the compensatory pick stuff here.)
To note, if the Eagles were to release Fort, they would have a dead money charge of $1.9 million.
So the question that the Eagles will have to ask themselves about Fort this camp as they evaluate his play is, "What would we rather have? A fourth-round pick minus $1.9 million, or L.J. Fort?"
During an interview session with Eagles assistant coaches, linebackers coach Ken Flajole was lobbed a softball question about Worrilow's progress returning from a torn ACL. Flajole praised Worrliow's work effort, but he also sort of went out of his way to note that Worrilow missed some time because his knee flared up. In my view, Worrilow is going to have to be significantly better than his competition to make the team, or else the Eagles are just going to keep the healthier players.
Edwards was the prize of the Eagles' undrafted rookie free agent class. In college, he led Wisconsin 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:
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 man-to-man, he is good in coverage, particularly in zone assignments, which is what Schwartz prioritizes in his linebackers.
Edwards would be my pick as the most likely UDFA to make the team.
Flajole noted that Edwards and Alfieri are two of the best undrafted free agent linebackers he's had in camp since he was hired by the Eagles in 2016. Of course, no undrafted rookie linebackers actually made the team at 53-man cutdowns during his tenure.
According to Doug Pederson, Singleton is the best bowler on the team.
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