At the beginning of the season people everywhere were talking about how none of our linebackers have any talent, how we need to draft 3 LBs to start in the first 3 rounds of the 2012 draft, etc. Lots of hyperbole. But I think these linebackers have shown their ability and potential in the past 4-5 games. It’s actually remarkable how well they’re playing given their low-draft status, lack of starting experience, and constant reshuffling by Juan.
First of all to the Brian Rolle doubters out there, this kid was a great steal in the 6th round and he seems like a perfect WILL in this system. I don’t care how tall he is, he’s the most physical player we have, he’s always playing downhill and he’s the only LB we have who’s constantly in the backfield. Considering the fact that he’s a rookie and that players usually make a huge jump from rookie to sophomore season, this kid has the potential to be a very good player for a long time.
Chaney is improving every week and getting more and more effective shedding blocks behind those penetrating DTs. And he IS our best coverage linebacker no matter what some here seem to think. 2 INTs and 6 passes defensed through 10 games is excellent for a LB. He was thrown into the fire early and had to learn 2 different systems in 2 years, but Chaney will be a seasoned vet by next season and he's earned his stripes as the defensive playcaller and the leader in the huddle. (Good article on Chaney’s rise as the defensive leader, BTW: http://articles.philly.com/2011-11-13/sports/30394156_1_jamar-chaney-eagles-defense-huddle) You don’t mess with that and bring in some rookie to run your defense no matter how good he was in college. (ie, no Burfict at MLB) And by definition, the MLB DOES run the defense.
I also like what Castillo did by inserting Keenan Clayton as the “passing downs” nickel linebacker alongside Chaney. Teams were attacking Rolle's lack of height/reach in the passing game, which is ironic because he was drafted as a projected nickel LB. Turns out he's more effective as a wrecking ball. But Clayton was a safety in college, he's 6’1” and good in coverage and open field tackling. He had a nice tackle in Giants game, stopping the WR one yard short of the first down on 3rd down. We will get to know a lot about what kind of player he is this week, because the Pats tight ends will be his biggest test of the season.
The LB position they DO need to upgrade is the SAM linebacker; the Fokou/Jordan tag team just doesn't cut it. Fokou has an incredible knack for not being around the ball. So does Jordan, despite his one nice tackle vs the Giants. And here is where I'd like them to take Burfict if they can get him. Brian Baldinger compared Burfict (unfavorably) to LaVarr Arrington; more than anything he reminds me of his fellow ASU alum Terrell Suggs-- a high-octane guy whose primary responsibility is to get into the backfield and blow people up. I know 4-3 and 3-4 OLBs don't have the same exact duties, and I know Burfict played MLB in college while Suggs always played outside. But the similarities between these guys’ games and playing styles are uncanny.
Burfict is one of the LBs in this draft who is NFL-ready in terms of size. I don’t think it’s a good idea to put him at the MIKE with all the responsibilities that entails—calling audibles, handling misdirection, covering the deep middle on passing downs, etc. But I think he would be a great player in this league off the edge.
A great blitzing LB is the one thing this defense is missing… when our DL can’t get to the QB (CUTLER!) teams have all day to throw, because we don’t have any good blitzing LBs or DBs like Dawkins. Burfict would bring physicality and attitude to this defense and would be a great component so long as he wasn’t given too much responsibility and expected to run the defense.
Now if the Eagles keep playing well and fall out of the top 15 picks (which is probably where Burfict will go) and won’t trade up, then I still think they should concentrate on a SAM linebacker in the early rounds. Djaxfan had the Eagles taking Zach Brown in his mock draft, though he’d probably need to put on 10-15 pounds to be NFL-ready… and if they start this HGH testing I don’t know how easily these college guys will be able to bulk up.