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February 21, 2016

NFL Combine positional previews: Linebackers who could interest the Eagles

Eagles NFL
022116JaylonSmith Michael Conroy/AP

Notre Dame stud LB Jaylon Smith could be tempting if he fell to the Eagles at 13.

One of the bigger mysteries in terms of what traits the new-look Eagles will value at each position is at linebacker. Will Jim Schwartz prefer bigger linebackers who are stout against the run, to account for the bigger gaps that could be created by wide nine alignments? Or will he prioritize fast, athletic linebackers who can fly around and make plays.


In terms of what the Eagles already have in place, Jordan Hicks will almost certainly start in the middle for the Eagles, with Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso the best current options to play OLB. Meanwhile, it has been speculated that DeMeco Ryans could be a potential cap casualty. At a minimum, the Eagles could use some extra linebacker depth, especially if they part ways with Ryans.

As far as Schwartz's preferences at LB, your guess is as good as mine. Still, here are five linebackers competing at the 2016 Combine that might make sense for the Eagles:

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame (6'3, 229)

Smith has it all. Size, speed, toughness, cover skills, you name it. He was a potential top 5 overall pick before tearing both his ACL and MCL in 2015. Smith will not compete on the field at the Combine as he continues to rehab his knee, but will undergo medical checks, as well as team interviews.

If the Eagles felt comfortable enough that Smith will recover fully from his ACL/MCL tears and once again be the athletic phenom he was at Notre Dame, it could be hard to pass on him at 13. That would be one insanely athletic defensive front seven.

Deion Jones, LSU (6'1, 219)

Jones doesn't have the same kind of size and elite athleticism as Smith above, but he does have good speed, a little thump in his game, and excellent cover skills. In that sense, he can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL. He is also a guy who can contribute on special teams from Day 1.

Joe Schobert, Wisconsin (6'1, 247)

Schobert finished his season with 10 sacks as an edge rusher in Wisconsin's defense, but at 6'1, 247, he's probably going to have to transition to a 4-3 in the NFL, which works for the Eagles.

Schobert isn't thought of as a good athlete by some. Eh, I see athleticism in his game. Athletically gifted or not, he can play. Against Iowa this season, he nearly single-handedly wrecked the second half of the game, when he had 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, several additional knockdowns, and he killed the QB while throwing, which led to a pick.

Antonio Morrison, Florida (6'1, 232)

Here's Morrison's overview, via Dane Brugler of CBS:

Arguably the most intense player at the college level, Morrison wasn't supposed to play the first half of the 2015 season due to a serious knee injury in the Gators' bowl game last January. He was expected to miss 10-12 months, but was back on the field in only six months and has played at a very high level as a senior.

Do yourself a favor and just watch Morrison's game against Ole Miss, and you'll see what Brugler is talking about when he says he's an intense player. I mean, watch this crazy bastard throw his body around. He's in on everything.

The Eagles have players with talent on defense, but do they have a psychotic badass like this? A psychotic badass would be nice in the later rounds.

Nick Kwiatkowski, West Virginia (6'1, 232)

The Eagles gave Kwiatkowski a little extra attention at the Senior Bowl. Over the last three seasons, he has racked up 275 tackles, with decent pass breakup numbers in 2015 from his linebacker spot:

Nick Kwiatkowski Tackles Sacks FF PBU 
 2014103 0.5 
 TOTAL275 5.5 11 

Kwiatkowski played all three linebacker spots as well as special teams for the Mountaineers, which could make him a late-round target as a versatile reserve linebacker.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski