Among all the issues plaguing the Philadelphia Eagles right now, the linebacking corps is easily the most glaring.
Without Malcolm Jenkins playing that linebacker/safety hybrid for Jim Schwartz’s defense, they’ve had to rely heavily on Nate Gerry in pass coverage. And as well know, he’s been absolutely terrible. Gerry has been targeted 23 times, with each one being completed. He’s given up 267 passing yards, 4 touchdowns and quarterbacks have a 154.6 passer rating when throwing his way. There’s literally no way you can get any worse than that.
The worst part about this is that the Eagles don’t even have anyone capable of taking over for Gerry in their linebacker group. The combined payroll for this group is just $4.475 million, so none of us should be surprised that the best they have to offer is Nate Gerry. Unless Howie Roseman pulls off a splash trade for a solid linebacker on a bad team — like Myles Jack or maybe even Eric Kenricks — there’s no feasible way the linebacker play will improve this year. It’s an issue that can only be corrected fully during the offseason.
But luckily for Schwartz, he’s about to get Will Parks back in the lineup. No, he’s not someone who’s going to outright replace Gerry as the starting linebacker. Parks was brought to Philly because he fits that Malcolm Jenkins archetype — someone who can play all over the field and do it effectively.
In 2018, Parks’ best season as a pro, the Broncos used him in the same fashion the Eagles will once he’s on the field. He finished that year with 41 tackles while playing just 53% of the snaps, showing his willingness to play physically and attack the running game. But he was even more impressive in coverage, finishing that season with a PFF coverage grade of 75.7. For reference, Darius Slay currently has a 70.4 PFF coverage grade.
Parks allowed 18 receptions on 28 targets for 191 yards and no touchdowns that season. Not to mention quarterbacks had a measly 69.2 QB rating when targeting him. Once Vic Fangio arrived in Denver and implemented his own defensive scheme, Parks was relegated to playing a pure safety position, which just doesn’t fit his skillset. Leading to his release this past offseason.
That kind of production trumps everything the Eagles have put forth so far in 2020. Schwartz’s defenses over the past few seasons have relied so heavily on Jenkins and what he brought to the field. By most accounts, he was the most valuable player on this defense for the past three seasons.
Parks has the opportunity to be the Malcolm Jenkins for this defense moving forward. He’s only 26 years old and has all the skills required to excel in that role.
Having him out there will take a lot of responsibility away from Gerry, which I think we can all agree is a good thing. Parks may not turn this defense into a top-5 unit, but he’ll provide much more consistency to their pass coverage, especially against tight ends or big physical slot receivers.
Parks didn’t necessarily get a lot of hype heading into this season, but fans should be ecstatic about his return. He could end up being an X-factor for Schwartz’s defense.