The Eagles went through several injuries at the inside linebacker position last season and still somehow managed to remain functional. While "functional" is better than awful, the Eagles could clearly use upgrades and youth at the center of their defense. DeMeco Ryans has been the leader of the defense for the last three seasons, but he is coming off an Achilles tear and is due a big salary this season. His future with the team is cloudy and even if he were to remain in Philadelphia, he would likely be replaced within the next year or so.
The Eagles have Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode as potential replacements for Ryans next to Mychal Kendricks. While Goode showed promise in 2013, he missed almost all of last season due to a pectoral tear. Despite flashing occasionally, Acho has been cut from the team three times in the last two years. Also, Ryans' replacement from last season, Casey Matthews, may look for a starting opportunity or more money elsewhere as he is a free agent. That's why the team may consider upgrading their depth in the draft. TCU middle linebacker Paul Dawson could be a Day 2 option for Philadelphia.
A high school wide receiver from Dallas, Texas, Dawson converted to linebacker in 2011 while attending Trinity Valley Community College. In 2012, Dawson committed to TCU and served as a depth linebacker while appearing in all 13 games. He notched 14 tackles (one for loss) and a forced fumble. In 2013, Dawson led the team with 91 tackles and played in all 12 games (seven starts). He had 10 tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups.
In 2013, Dawson dominated with 135 tackles, six sacks, four interceptions and five pass breakups. He was voted a consensus All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Dawson is an athletic freak at linebacker. Dawson is a sound tackler and is good at taking down ball carriers in space due to his athleticism. He gets through blocks with speed and quick hands, and has a bit of nastiness to his game. He is a proficient blitzer and has very impressive speed at his position. He is very aggressive and hits with force. A very vocal leader, Dawson is a "do everything" linebacker. He was used in coverage and has pretty decent play-making ability with the ball in the air.
Dawson is slim for an inside linebacker which may cause him to struggle to get off blocks at the next level. While he was used in coverage and got the occasional interception, he still needs a lot of work against the pass. He tends to take awkward angles against the run and relies primarily on speed to get around linemen.
When will the Eagles be ready to replace Ryans? Coming off a serious leg injury, the Eagles need to hedge their bets on him heading into this next season. That is why it is important to at least have a backup plan in case Ryans doesn't perform well. Kendricks has also proven to be no stranger to injuries, so having another option for him would make sense as well. Dawson could play either inside linebacker position and could replace Ryans on obvious passing downs. The Eagles would likely need to take Dawson on Day 2, so if the price is right, the Eagles may jump.