Is DeMeco Ryans the long term answer at one of the ILB spots for the Eagles? Can Mychal Kendricks continue to grow into the play maker he has the potential to be? How will the Eagles improve their ILB depth in 2014? Let's take a look.
This is part 7 of an 11 part series, this part will focus specifically on the inside linebackers on the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles and how the team can improve heading into the 2014 season. Each part will focus on a specific positional group with 11 in all (QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, ILB, OLB, CB, S and ST [K, P, KR and PR]). Now let's talk Eagles' inside linebackers.
How'd they do?
DeMeco Ryans: Ranked #54 overall 3-4 ILB according to Pro Football Focus (second to last). 4 sacks, 1 QB hit, 3 QB hurries, 111 solo tackles, 27 assisted tackles, 16 missed tackles and 45 stops in 1,263 snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
Also allowed 54 receptions on 72 targets (75.0 completion %) with 3 touchdowns, giving up an average of 11.1 yards per reception when he was targeted. He also had 3 interceptions and 4 passes defended according to Pro Football Focus.
Coming into the 2013 season, many people were wondering if DeMeco Ryans would fit well in the new 3-4 defensive scheme. He had experience in the system since he played in it for a year or so for the Houston Texans. But he didn't play well in the 3-4 at Houston and many believed he would also struggle in the scheme once again in 2013.
When you look strictly at Ryans' numbers on a site like ESPN, you think to yourself "wow, he's pretty good" but luckily we have the luxury of sites such as Pro Football Focus that go deeper into the numbers. Ryans' looks like a pro bowler caliber player when you look at the 137 tackles, 4 sacks and 3 interceptions he had in 2013. But when you dive deeper into the numbers, he actually wasn't that great.
He was ranked second to last out of 55 3-4 ILB's according to Pro Football Focus. With only Redskins' London Fletcher, who is now retired, ranked lower than him. Ryans struggled in every facet of the game and never really got comfortable in the 3-4. He was especially bad against the run, where he would attack the wrong hole and couldn't shed any blocks.
But I don't believe Ryans was as bad as Pro Football Focus' numbers say either. He had a solid season overall but needs to be better if he wants to stick around in Philadelphia. Ryans was forced to play a ton of snaps, the most of any 3-4 ILB, according to Pro Football Focus and that had to have an impact on his performance.
The Eagles will have to add some solid ILB depth to give Ryans a break here and there. But if Ryans doesn't pick up his play in 2014, that reserve that was giving him a breather, might just end up taking Ryans' starting job in Philadelphia.
Overall Grade: C+. Ryans struggled for most of the year but was also forced to play way too many stats. But he'll still have to perform a lot better when he's on the field to stick around in an Eagles' uniform.
Mychal Kendricks: Ranked #36 overall 3-4 ILB according to Pro Football Focus. 4 sacks, 6 QB hits, 13 QB hurries, 85 solo tackles, 23 assisted tackles, 23 missed tackles and 48 stops in 1,096 snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
Also allowed 59 receptions on 71 targets (83.1 completion %) with 1 touchdown, giving up an average of 10.9 yards per reception when he was targeted. He also had 3 interceptions and 1 pass defended according to Pro Football Focus.
After a promising rookie season in 2012 as an OLB in a 4-3, Kendricks was ready to burst on to the scene in 2013. He had experience in the 3-4 at Cal in college so the transition wasn't as hard for Kendricks to learn as it was for some other players on the team. This new system would allow him to show off his athleticism and sideline to sideline play making ability.
Kendricks had a rough start to the season but that was expected with the rest of the defense learning the 3-4. The linemen in front of him were learning how to play two gaps at once so it was tough at the start of the season. But as the season progressed and everyone started to really learn their roles, Kendricks got a lot better.
After only sacking the quarterback once and forcing just one turnover in the first twelve games he played in, Kendricks went on a tear down the stretch. In the regular season's final three games, Kendricks had three sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions on top of 25 tackles.
This new 3-4 scheme really allowed Kendricks to show how great of a play maker he was, especially at rushing the passer. Although Kendricks will have to improve in coverage and against the run, he showed a ton of promise in his second season and I think he'll only get better in 2014.
Overall Grade: B. Kendricks got off to a slow start and struggled all season long in coverage and against the run but he showcased his potential. He has a bright future ahead of him, that's for sure.
The Eagles currently have four other inside linebackers on there roster in Emmanuel Acho, Najee Goode, Jake Knott and Casey Matthews. Goode was the only player to get any real playing time last season. He started in place of Kendricks week 11 against the Washington Redskins and actually played very well. He finished with 5 tackles, 1 sack and 1 pass defended. I believe Goode will be on the roster again in 2014.
Acho and Knott looked great in the preaseason for the Eagles in 2013 and should be back fighting for a roster spot in 2014. Matthews is a solid special teams player but isn't a very good linebacker. He might be back in 2014 just because of his special teams' abilities but I doubt it. His time might finally be up in Philadelphia.
That being said, I believe the Eagles will try and add some inside linebacker depth and maybe a potential starter in the 2014 NFL Draft. Ryans needs to be challenged and having a young, hungry rookie breathing down his neck for playing time might be just the thing he needs. Ryans seemed too comfortable this year and Chip Kelly loves competition at every position.
Although I do not believe the Eagles will add an inside linebacker through free agency, there are some intriguing players that are still young with a ton of upside. The Eagles could possibly give them a look if the price is right, here they are.
Former New England Patriots' LB Brandon Spikes is an intriguing option. Although he may cost a bit too much for the Eagles, they could give him a look. Spike has battled a lot of injuries but is still just 26 years old. He's also one of the best run defending linebackers in the game which Ryans and Kendricks struggled with last season. If he's available for the right price, Spikes might be a great signing to push Ryans. Either he gets better or Spikes takes his spot, it's that simple.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers' LB Larry Foote is another name that interest me. Yes, I know he is going to be 34 before the 2014 season begins and he missed almost all of 2013 after tearing his biceps. But before that, Foote hardly missed any games at all in his entire career. He was inactive for just 15 games from 2002 to 2012, that is insane. Foote also had a great season in 2012, finishing with 113 tackles and 4 sacks. If he's willing to take a cheap, one or two year deal to come across Pennsylvania and be a veteran reserve for the Eagles, I wouldn't mind that at all.
2014 NFL Draft:
Now here is where I think it's a real possibility that the Eagles take an inside linebacker or two. There are quite a few prospects in this years draft that could challenge for a starting job right away and eventually take Ryans' spot. Here are a couple of players that really stand out to me.
Alabama's C.J. Mosley is the best inside linebacker in the draft, hands down. He has elite instincts and the athleticism to do it all. Mosley is great against the run, in coverage, everywhere. He isn't huge like Chip Kelly wants them but he has good enough size at 6-2, 234 lbs. Mosley has to be a bit more fundamentally sound when he's tackling but that is a minor problem that can be fixed with proper coaching. If Mosley is sitting there when the Eagles are picking at #22 overall in the first round, he's going to be very tough to pass on.
Stanford's Shayne Skov is one of my favorite players in the draft. He reminds me a lot of Buffalo Bills' LB Kiko Alonso. Skov is a very charismatic player that shows a ton of passion and emotion on the field. He's a bit bigger than Mosley at 6-2, 245 lbs. but is also a lot more explosive than him. Skov has great instincts and really knows how to shoot a gap and get in the backfield in a hurry. He gets a bit too aggressive at times, which he'll need to fix though. That being said, Skov is a hard hitting tone setter that could be available on day two of the draft. He'd complement Kendricks perfectly and an eventual replacement for Ryans.
That's all for Evaluating the Eagles: Part 7, Inside Linebackers. Be sure to check out the rest of the series in the following days leading up to free agency!
If you'd like, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @Anthony_DiBona. Thanks for reading!