While the Eagles upgraded their two biggest areas of need this offseason — wide receiver and corner back — the front office somewhat neglected to add to the linebacker position, another huge question mark for this team.
Only one player in the group, Nate Gerry, played at least 60 percent of the Eagles defensive snaps last season. Nigel Bradham played 70 percent of the snaps, but he’s gone. Kamu Grugier-Hill was the only other linebacker who came close, and he only saw 29 percent of the snaps.
The few linebackers from last year’s squad who are returning in 2020, T.J. Edawards, Duke Riley and Alex Singleton played a combined 130 defensive snaps in 2019. New comer Jatavis Brown from the Los Angeles Chargers only played in 10 percent of his team’s defensive snaps last season as well.
Then we have two rookies in Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley, both of whom will probably need time to adjust and develop before having a big impact on the defense.
For the Eagles, there isn’t another position with as much uncertainty as linebacker. They literally don’t know what they have, other than Gerry, but even with his larger sample size in 2019 it’s still hard to predict what we’ll see out of him this year.
In a recent article published by Pro Football Focus, they discussed some of the potential breakout stars entering their sophomore campaigns. One name listed was T.J. Edwards. Here’s the excerpt from PFF’s article:
“Arguably the least proven player on the list, T.J. Edwards nevertheless earned an 86.6 overall PFF grade as a rookie, which would rank him among the best linebackers in the game if he played than just 112 total snaps. Why this is interesting, though, is that he had back-to-back seasons with a grade above 90.0 in his final two seasons at Wisconsin before going undrafted due to mediocre measurables and athletic profile. His NFL preseason grade was also consistently good, meaning Edwards has been an exceptionally productive linebacker at every level we have seen. He also excelled in coverage — unusual for a player with athletic limitations. He has a real shot to start for the Eagles this season and could be one of the surprise breakout players in 2020.”
Although some of these grades are promising, seeing Edwards take command of the defense and cement his spot as the team’s starting middle linebacker seems like a long shot. But the door is wide open, so the opportunity for Edwards to shine will be there.
Based solely off experience and familiarity with the defensive scheme, Gerry will probably be the primary backer heading into camp. With the handful of new faces in the Eagles secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Jim Schwartz decides to utilize his dime packages more often in 2020.
I’d like to see the rookie Taylor get on the field to see some of that freakish athletic ability, he certainly has the physical tools to be the best backer of this bunch, even in year one.
He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine and posted a 35-inch vertical leap. He figures to fit nicely in Schwartz’s defense, where coverage ability and speed are the focal points of the linebacker position.
This position group has the potential to surprise a lot of fans this year, but there’s also the possibility of all these guys failing to live up to that potential. It’s truly a crap shoot and I’m not sure if anyone can give you an accurate projection for this group at this point.
Jim Schwartz has a lot of potential on his hands, let’s just hope he can make the most of it.