Linebacker was one of the biggest needs facing the Eagles defense heading into the 2021 offseason.
Alex Singleton emerged as a viable starter in 2020, but the team still needed to add another starting caliber backer to the bunch. Insert Eric Wilson, the former Viking who’s made a name for himself as one of the better coverage linebackers in football.
If Singleton continues to develop and improves his game this season, along with Wilson being as advertised, the Eagles linebacking corps isn’t nearly as bad as some may think.
With that being said, let’s dive into this edition of the Eagles Position Profile.
Arguably the best aspect of this linebacking group heading into 2021 is that Nate Gerry will no longer be a part of it. He was one of the worst starting linebackers in the NFL last season and his departure alone makes this position group better. Pro Football Focus had Gerry ranked as the 68th-best out of 83 qualifying linebackers last season, handing him an overall grade of 45.7.
Now that he’s gone, Singleton will have his opportunity to be the Week 1 starter. He led the team in tackles last season with 120, along with recording 1 interception, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and 5 tackles for loss. Jonathan Gannon will probably opt to put Eric Wilson on the field in passing situations, given his coverage ability.
Philly was able to sign Wilson to a bargain 1-year, $2.75 million deal this offseason. At just 26 years old and coming off his best year as a pro, this is a complete steal by Howie Roseman. He’s a bit of an undersized backer, standing at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, which makes him susceptible to pulling guards coming down hill on running plays. His 38.3 run defense grade from PFF reflects that.
If Wilson proves to be too big of a liability in running situations, Gannon can always turn to T.J. Edwards. The 24-year-old backer could very well be the most well rounded LB on this defense. He’s great at diagnosing run plays and finding the ball carrier in traffic. PFF had Edwards ranked as the 19th-best linebacker in football last season, despite only playing 45 percent of the Eagles defensive snaps. It’ll be interesting to see who ends up being the two starting backers in Gannon’s base defense come Week 1.
As for the depth behind Singleton, Wilson, and Edwards, the Eagles have a handful of young, unproven players. Rashad Smith, Davion Taylor, and Shaun Bradley are all entering their second years in the NFL and all three have seen minimal playing time thus far.
Overall, I really like the potential this linebacking group presents. Singleton is a grinder who will look to improve on his solid 2020 campaign, Wilson is a great coverage linebacker, and Edwards is your prototypical MIKE linebacker.
But as we all know, potential doesn’t win championships in this league. As far as realizing that potential, I like their chances, but it’s not a given at this point.
The team has some young, exciting talent to work with at the linebacker position, there’s no denying that. But they lack a veteran presence who’s a proven starter in this league. Wilson is the only backer on the team who has started a full season in their career, and last year was the one and only season.
He’s technically the veteran of the group at 26 years old. Singleton played just 68 percent of the defensive snaps last year, while Edwards played 45 percent.
While each of the projected starters in this group are certainly starting caliber, they’re not necessarily great all around backers. They each have their niche that gets them on the field. For Wilson, it’s his pass coverage. Singleton is a great blitzer, and Edwards is great against the run.
Each one of them have their downfalls. Wilson was abysmal against the run last season, posting a 38.3 run defense grade per PFF, 71st out of 83 qualifying backers. Singleton got exposed in pass coverage last season, allowing 30 completions on 40 targets and 3 touchdowns. The same can be said for Edwards, who allowed a passer rating of 107.2 when targeted.
It’ll be up to Gannon to mix and match this trio in order to get the most out of the group. Thankfully, they are good at certain things, which should make it easier to determine which one sees the field depending on the game situation.
There’s certainly a chance one of these guys develops their areas of weakness and becomes a viable three-down linebacker. But at this point, none of them qualify as good all around backers.
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