October 24, 2017
The Philadelphia Eagles' win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football came at a steep price, as the Birds lost their star LT Jason Peters as well as their best linebacker Jordan Hicks for the entirety of the season.
Earlier today, we looked at how the Eagles will move forward without Peters. Now we'll take a look at the Eagles' linebacker situation, with Hicks done for the year.
To begin, the Eagles spend more time in their nickel set than they do in their base defense. As a result, they typically only have two linebackers on the field for more than half of their defensive snaps. The top two linebackers were, of course, Hicks and Nigel Bradham, with Hicks wearing the helmet equipped with radio communication from Jim Schwartz. The third linebacker was Kendricks, who was considered a "starter," I guess, but played less than half the snaps whenever Hicks and Bradham were both healthy.
With Hicks out, the linebackers behind him essentially move up a spot. Bradham will take over Hicks' job of getting the defense lined up, and will wear the radio helmet, while Kendricks will slide into an actual starting role, taking over for Bradham.
Bradham is new at having radio helmet responsibilities, but he got some experience in the Eagles' Week 6 win against the Carolina Panthers, after Hicks left the game with an ankle/calf injury. That also happened to be the game Bradham played like an absolute animal, which bodes well.
"Part of that guy's role is getting everybody on the same page, and that's something that Nigel has never really had to do before," said Jim Schwartz a few days after the Carolina game. "He's embraced it and he’s done a really good job with it."
Still, with Hicks, there was never any concern about his ability to get the defense lined up. With Bradham, considering his inexperience in having those responsibilities, it's not a given that he will handle that role well consistently over the rest of the season. That's to be determined, although Bradham has more than shown this season that he is an instinctual player who often finds a way to be around the football.
In his first year and a half in the NFL (in 2015 and 2016), Hicks proved to be an outstanding playmaker. In just 24 games (he missed eight games his rookie season), here were his numbers:
That is incredible production for a player as young as Hicks. In 2017, however, Hicks did not make much of an impact. He will finish this season with 28 tackles, no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, no pass breakups, and one fumble recovery.
In significantly fewer snaps, Mychal Kendricks had better production:
While Hicks has yet to flash this season, there was reason to believe he eventually would. But there has to be some solace in knowing the Kendricks has outplayed Hicks this season, even if he tends to wander from his responsibilities.
Najee Goode is now the third linebacker, and will play in the Eagles' base set, barring some sort of linebacker acquisition. After Goode, it will be second-year player Joe Walker. The Eagles also have Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry on the 53-man roster.
This season, Schwartz has done a much better job maximizing the skill sets of his players than he did a year ago. For example, one of Kendricks' biggest strengths is his blitzing ability, and yet, Schwartz sent Kendricks after the quarterback a grand total of nine times last year. In 2017, Kendricks has blitzed the quarterback 23 times already in only seven games, according to PFF.
As such, I'll hold off for now in over-speculating how players like Goode and Walker will be used if need be. The thinking here is that Schwartz will look to give them easier responsibilities whenever possible.
That is certainly possible. The Eagles are going to place Peters and Hicks on IR, which will open up two roster spots, and linebacker will make as much sense as any other position.
In our Peters piece, we noted that adding a competent offensive tackle to the roster could prove to be difficult, as there's a shortage of good ones in the NFL. If the Eagles wish to add a linebacker, that will be a much easier task.
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