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February 28, 2022

John McMullen: Never bet linebacker with the Eagles

In some ways, Jerry Robinson serves as Philadelphia's scaled-down, localized version of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only perfect team in NFL history.

The remaining members of that Dolphins team always take a moment to pop some corks and open up the champagne when the last unbeaten in the league falls each season. The 2007 New England Patriots made them sweat, going a perfect 16-0 in the regular season before taking care of business against Jacksonville in the division round and the then-San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game. However, the greatest team Tom Brady ever played on came up a little short when the New York Giants upset the Pats, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.

That 1972 Miami team is on a half-century and counting and someday, a team will likely catch them even though the regular season is now 17 games and very likely be 18 sooner rather than later meaning perfection now would have to be 20- or 21-0, not the 17-0 total the Dolphins ended at after downing Washington, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII.

Where's the connection?

Robinson, for those of you who don't know, is the last off-ball linebacker the Eagles chose in the first round of the NFL Draft when now Hall of Fame coach Dick Vermeil made sure that the Eagles reunited the mentor with a player he recruited for UCLA, selecting Robinson with the 21st overall pick in 1979. Every spring since the Eagles haven't gone off-ball LB and it's not difficult to imagine Robinson having a bit of the bubbly to celebrate his spot in Eagles' lore has grown over the years.

Ironically, Robinson was no bust either developing into a two-time All-Pro over his six seasons in Philadelphia. Yet, it's now been 42 years with the anomaly spanning eras of football and generations of fans. In the modern game, the oversight is a little more understandable with the position becoming somewhat devalued around the NFL.

Former Eagles scout and NFL Network lead draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah joked about it last week while doing his pre-scouting combine media availability with reporters.

“The Philadelphia Eagles will never draft a linebacker in the first round because every year we talk about it, every year we talk about do we mock draft this guy here or there, and they're not doing it,” Jeremiah said. “They never do it."

The gluttons for punishment might note this year things could be different because the Eagles have three first-round picks (Nos. 15, 16, and 19) to start the process and while most assume that Roseman won't use all three selections and either trade up, down or out, you always need two to tango. That means if the Eagles are forced to select three players among the first 19 everything should be in play because the luxury of the three picks puts out of the box thinking into the conversation.

The Eagles' core philosophy is well known and really dates back to Andy Reid arriving in 1999.

“When you study Howie and how he operates and how that personnel department operates, you know there's going to be at least one, if not two bigs if they keep all three of those picks,” said Jeremiah.

The most obvious need in Philadelphia is edge rusher and there are enough expected to be available that Roseman and vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl should be able to get that done. From there, another outside cornerback opposite Darius Slay would be nice, and perhaps an interior offensive lineman to bolster things after Brandon Brooks' retirement. If Jason Kelce joins Brooks in looking at the next chapter the latter scenario immediately spiked to Defcon 1 very quickly but Kelce is expected back for the 2022 season.

So why even bother talking about LB?

Back to Jeremiah.

“I said last year in my absolute statement that the Giants would never trade back because Dave Gettleman has never done it, he'll never do it, I'm going to stop talking about it because it will never happen, and lo and behold it happened,” the draft analyst said. “I will say this year I have changed now to my absolute statement (about the Eagles not drafting a linebacker in the first round)."

The NFL played 54 consecutive Super Bowls without any team winning on its home field and now we've seen two in a row do exactly that with Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Rams so how about a Gettleman trade followed by an Eagles' LB?

It was Roseman himself who got Gettleman to trade down, all because the former Giants GM wanted to draft DeVonta Smith at No. 11 and the Eagles jumped in front of the Giants by trading with another division rival in Dallas to select the Alabama Heisman Trophy winner. New York then traded out to 20 and went with another WR in Kadarius Toney while the Cowboys got the player they wanted and best rookie of them all at No. 12: linebacker Micah Parsons.

For those who like to beat Roseman up, the Eagles' GM probably couldn't have gotten Parsons with the trade up, however. In those situations, teams will ask offense or defense and if the Cowboys got the wrong answer they simply would have stayed put. Of course, to also be fair, there is virtually no chance Philadelphia would have considered Parsons at No. 6 (its original draft slot before first trading down to 12), No. 10, or 12th.

Parsons was dubbed by most as the best defensive rookie since Lawrence Taylor and turned out to be much more than just an off-ball linebacker as a heat-seeking missile who could rush off the edge with the best in the business and also play LB like Darius Leonard or Fred Warner.

It's a logical question to ask if the Eagles didn't want Parsons why would they consider the two potential options this year, Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean?

“In terms of the do-everything guys off the ball, on the edge, Devin Lloyd is my first choice,” Jeremiah said. “He's explosive. He's not going to run as fast as Micah (Parsons) did, but he's got length (6-3, 235), he's got instincts, he's outstanding in pass coverage. … he's somebody that can do a little bit of (cover and rush).”

As for Dean, Jeremiah compared him to former Jets and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the New York Jets and New Orleans.

“I remember Vilma when he first came into the league and I remember during the scouting process and something that people had concerns about size or this, that or the other and the guy was just dripping with instincts,” said Jeremiah. “Everything was so natural to him. He saw things and was two steps ahead of everybody on the field. That's who Nakobe dean reminds me of.

"When you talk about the center of your defense and having that intelligence, the toughness, the leadership, he's got all that stuff in spades. I think he's outstanding. He can cover. You see him mirror backs. He's a real crafty blitzer. In my notes, I wrote this guy does everything fast. There's nothing he does that isn't fast. He's probably the greatest disparity in terms of how I have a guy graded and where I have him going because I can't get a feel for where he's going to go in the first round."

The reason for that is Dean's size and what the NFL now covets at LB.

“He's a top-10 player for me, but I know in talking to a lot of teams, teams are obsessed with trying to find the longer, rangier, off-the-ball linebackers," said Jeremiah. "They're looking for Darius Leonard, they're looking for Fred Warner, and I think some of that kind of dings Nakobe because he doesn't have that size and length. I'm curious to see where he goes, but I'll bet on him.”

Roseman, however, probably won't make that bet, especially after T.J. Edwards quietly developed into a solid LB last season in-house for the Eagles, playing with the effectiveness of some of the best LBs in the NFL not named Parsons but downplayed because of his pedigree as an undrafted free agent.

If you're around long enough you see everything in the NFL, however.

Just like Gettleman trading down before he walked away and the Bucs and Rams winning Lombardi Trophies at home, there will be another perfect team in the NFL at some point and Robinson will be footnoted in the local history books by another linebacker in the first round.

Just don't bet your mortgage on the Eagles busting that trend in 2022.

"It's up to Howie to prove us wrong,” Jeremiah said.

John McMullen is a contributor to, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at Follow John on Twitter.