We’re just over a month away from Eagles training camp, which means it’s position profile szn.
We already looked at the most important position for the Eagles, quarterback, and now it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebacker.
Linebacker hasn’t been a position of strength for the Eagles in some time now, but the front office actually added real talent to the position this offseason. Signing Kyzir White and Haason Reddick, along with drafting Nakobe Dean in the third-round of the NFL Draft, gives the Eagles legitimate linebackers for the first time in awhile.
Let’s take a look at the projected starters and breakdown what they bring to the table.
The best thing the Eagles linebacking corps has going for them right now is the amount of differing skill sets they have with their personnel.
T.J. Edwards and Dean are your prototypical off-ball linebackers who can diagnose plays and find ball carriers. Davion Taylor and White are the more athletic backers of the bunch, who have the ability to carry tight ends and running backs in coverage, along with mixing it up against the run when need be. Then we have the pass rushers, Reddick, Kyron Johnson, and Patrick Johnson.
Mixing and matching these players in order to maximize their talents will be on Jonathan Gannon. The group of talent he has at his disposal this year as opposed to 2021 is night and day, so that shouldn’t be an overly difficult task for the Eagles defensive coordinator.
Who will be the primary starters?
Although we don’t know the specifics of what Gannon’s scheme will look like in 2022, it’s safe to assume there will be more odd fronts, given the type of defensive talent the team acquired this offseason. Reddick aside, Jordan Davis is a prototypical nose tackle, and veterans like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave all have experience playing in a 3-4 system.
With that being said, I imagine Reddick will see the majority of playing time of all the linebackers as the starting SAM backer. He is a bit undersized to play every single down, but in clear passing situations, Reddick’s skill set will be utilized.
As for the MIKE and WILL backers, this is where the mixing and matching will really matter. Gannon will likely want to keep one of Edwards/Dean and White/Taylor on the field at all times. To start the season, all signs are pointing towards Edwards and White being the primary starters, with Taylor and Dean backing them up.
This doesn’t mean Taylor and Dean won’t get playing time throughout the season, though. Dean is good enough to start from day one, but his pectoral injury may hinder him from cracking the starting lineup right away. With Taylor, he showed a lot of promise last season before he was shut down with an injury. Another full offseason in Gannon’s system should do wonders for his development. If either of these guys impress during camp, they could knock off White or Edwards. The linebacker depth chart is far from set in stone.
Gannon could also look into giving every one of his linebackers specific role to help maximize their production. For example, maybe Dean is utilized as a quarterback spy in certain packages. Or perhaps Taylor will be inserted as a blitzing linebacker who can attack the interior of an offensive line — his 71.2 pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest mark he received last season.
We’ll get a better idea of how this linebacking corps is going to shape up once camp gets underway. It’ll be one of, if not the most interesting position group to watch come August.
Concerns for the LB group
While each of the linebackers who are projected to get playing time have high ceilings, all of them still have something to prove.
Edwards was really solid last year, but with his lacking athleticism, can he be a sustainable player?
Taylor and White have all the athleticism in the world, but can either be consistent enough on early downs to warrant a starting role?
Dean was the best linebacker in the country last year, but will his lack of size and speed deter from his game in the NFL?
You get the point.
The silver lining here is the team will have flexibility at the position. If Edwards doesn’t meet the standard he set for himself last season, Dean will get a shot. The same can be said for White and Taylor. If just one of these guys sticks, the Eagles defense will be in good shape.
While we’ve all clamored for the Eagles to add real linebackers over the past few years, the common sentiment around the league still reigns true — NFL linebackers are a dime a dozen and simply don’t have the same value they once carried. If a given defense has one really good linebacker, that’s all they really need.
We still need to see it materialize on the field, but seeing at least one of these young backers cement their status as a long-term solution to the position is a strong possibility.
Eagles fans should be excited to watch this linebacker group develop throughout the 2022 season. I know I am.
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