The Philadelphia Eagles have had subpar linebacker play for the better part of the past three years.
Nigel Bradham had a nice run, but his age started showing towards the end of his Eagles tenure. Nate Gerry was, well, he was Nate Gerry. And while guys like Alex Singleton and Davion Taylor have shown flashes, T.J. Edwards has really solidified his status as the future of the position in Philadelphia.
It’s pretty remarkable considering where Edwards started at the beginning of the season. He played an average of 33.1% of the defensive snaps through the first seven weeks of the season. In the games since, he’s played an average of 90% of the defensive snaps, and he hasn’t gone under 90% since Week 8 against Detroit.
During that time, the Eagles defense has done a complete 180. A rush defense that was allowing 133 yards per game through the first seven weeks of the season has only surrendered one 100-yard rushing performance since, allowing just under 80 yards per game.
It’s not a coincidence that once Edwards was inserted into the starting lineup the run defense drastically improved. Entering Week 17, Edwards is posting an overall defensive grade of 75.2, per Pro Football Focus, and a run defense grade of 74.0, both rank seventh-best among 81 qualifying linebackers.
Not only has Edwards contributed to the success of the Eagles run defense, he’s been an all-around asset at the linebacker position. His 70.5 coverage grade ranks ninth out of 78 qualifying backers. On the year, Edwards has only given up two touchdowns in coverage, while recording one interception and four pass breakups.
Through hist first two seasons with he Eagles, what really held Edwards back from being a mainstay at linebacker was his inconsistency in coverage. He’s a clearly more athletic and instinctive backer at this stage in his career and the Eagles defense has benefited from his development.
Without Edwards’ emergence in 2021, who knows what this Eagles defense would look like.
With a stout backer roaming the middle of the field, it allows the entire defense to function in ways they couldn’t have prior. The defensive line looks better now that they have a linebacker who can confidently fill gaps in the running game. The backend of the defense doesn’t have to worry about covering the middle of the field as much now that Edwards has proven to be a much improved coverage linebacker.
NFL defense is truly a game of chess. If one piece of the puzzle isn’t playing their role effectively, the entire unit can suffer.
For years, the linebacker position held the Eagles defense back from being a formidable unit. Now with Edwards playing at a high level, we finally see the full potential of this defense.